By nito /

OPM Reports Improvement in Federal Employees Health Benefits Program Performance, and More

A weekly roundup of pay and benefits news.

The Office of Personnel Management announced last week that insurance companies that participate in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program generally improved their performance in 2019.

Since 2016, OPM has assessed insurers’ FEHBP performance on an annual basis, measuring clinical quality, customer service and resource use, or QCRs. The agency then uses individual insurance companies’ QCR scores to determine their service charge and performance bonus.

In all, 31 carriers improved over their 2018 scores, while six companies earned the maximum available bonus, OPM said.

The agency highlighted a number of “critical” areas where insurers improved health outcomes last year. For instance, as part of an effort to reduce the prevalence of heart disease, one of the most common and most expensive conditions, OPM emphasized controlling high blood pressure in benchmarks. Last year, the number of FEHBP carriers in the lowest 25th percentile on this measure fell when compared with private sector insurers.

OPM said that it will include comprehensive diabetes care as a high priority benchmark in its assessment of plans’ 2020 performance. Last year, 56 of the 81 FEHBP insurers were in the top half of performance when compared with commercial carriers, a slight improvement over the 51 carriers in the top 50th percentile in 2018.

Also slated for inclusion as a high priority benchmark in the 2020 assessment is Use of Imaging for Low Back Pain, and OPM will begin including scores on colorectal cancer screening and measures on appointments following up on a patient’s emergency room visits for drugs, alcohol and mental illness.

“As a group, FEHB carriers are demonstrating improvement on QCR measures that are highly correlated with better health outcomes for their members,” OPM wrote. “OPM’s strategic objective remains the improvement of health care quality and affordability in the FEHB program.”

The Thrift Savings Plan this week sent a notice to participants to remind them not to panic in times of market volatility, as the stock market reacted to fears related to the new coronavirus.

Stocks plummeted two days in a row on Monday and Tuesday amid fears that the outbreak could disrupt global trade. The virus so far has infected more than 80,000 people and killed more than 2,700 worldwide.

TSP officials on Tuesday reminded participants of the agency’s motto during times of volatility: "Stick to Your Plan." Chasing market swings at best produces diminished returns, and can in many cases lead to losing money, the plan said.

“The stock and bond markets can change rapidly,” officials wrote. “By the time you react to the situation, the market may be moving in the opposite direction, and you could miss out on significant gains. Remember that investment for retirement is for the long-term. Try not to let short-term market movements steer you off course.”