Who Knew?: HHS’ Less-than-Transparent
“Listening Sessions” on Essential Health Benefits

If you are listening, Health and Human Services (HHS), how about informing the public about the “Listening Sessions” on an Essential Health Benefits package on your website?

Americans care about essential health benefits and HHS should be openly soliciting your feedback.

Some HHS listening sessions have already occurred, more are happening shortly. You’d think with all the health information technology people power in the federal government and HHS, this would have surfaced somewhere on the web, but no, Google comes up empty. Outreach to the public has been pitiful.

Here at the locations and dates of the upcoming HHS Essential Health Benefits “Listening Sessions,” as well as information on how to register:

  • ·    New York: Nov. 14, from 10 to noon at 25 Federal Plaza, Suite 3835, Manhattan.  RSVP to Joynetta.Bell@hhs.gov by Nov. 9 (try anyway)
  • ·     Kansas City, MO: Nov. 15, from 10 a.m. to noon at Bolling Federal Office Building, 8th Floor SSA Conference room, 601 E. 12th Street.  RSVP to Cindy.Cento@hhs.gov by Nov. 10 (try anyway)
  • ·    Atlanta, GA: Nov. 16, from 10 a.m. to noon at 61 Forsyth St., SW, Suite 5B95.  RSVP to ORDAtlanta@hhs.gov by Nov. 14.
  • ·    Denver, CO: Nov. 18, from 9 a.m. to noon at 999 18th St. , South Terrace, Suite 400. RSVP to Ezra.Watland@hhs.gov.
  • ·    San Francisco, CA: Nov. 21, from 3 to 5 p.m. at 90 Seventh Street, Suite 5-100.  RSVP to region9ord@hhs.gov.  No cut-off date for RSVPs has yet been announced.
  • ·    Seattle, WA: Nov. 17, from 2 to 5 p.m. at the Jackson Federal Building, 915 2nd Ave, South Auditorium, Seattle, WA.  No RSVP information has been released yet.

If you missed the RSVP deadline, I urge you to RSVP anyway and see whether you can come.

What are Essential Health Benefits?

The yet-to-be-defined “Essential Health Benefits Package” is part of healthcare reform. What may sound dry and dull, is not. In fact, one colleague of mine called the behind-the-scenes battles over these benefits as “nothing short of Armaggedon.”

People want to be sure that their health care needs are included in the essential health package. You can imagine that people concerned about all sorts of important areas to their healthcare will want a say.

Ten basic areas must be addressed in the Essential Health Benefits Package:
·    Ambulatory patient services
·    Emergency services
·    Hospitalization
·    Maternity and newborn care
·    Mental health and substance use disorder services, including behavioral health treatment
·    Prescription drugs
·    Rehabilitative and habilitative services and devices
·    Laboratory services
·    Preventive and wellness services and chronic disease management
·    Pediatric services, including oral and vision care

An Institute of Medicine Panel report on Esssential Health Benefits  defined essential health benefits this way:

“[Essential health benefits] must be affordable, maximize the number of people with insurance, protect the most vulnerable individuals, promote better care ensure stewardship of limited financial resources by focusing on high value services of proven effectiveness, promote shared responsibility for improving our health, and address the medical concerns of greatest importance to us all.” – Institute of Medicine Report on Essential Health Benefits, Oct. 2011.

The IOM Report is not the easiest reading because it steers clear of anything concrete, instead defining the overall goal of the benefits package as one that “balances comprehensiveness with affordability.” Evidence-based medicine is being promoted as what should be embraced in establishing the floor; affordability and cost also factor in.The Essential Health Benefits package will  set the floor for a set of preventive, diagnostic, and treatment service and products that must be incorporated into health plans participating in the health insurance exchanges.

I hope that many readers have a chance to go and report back. These issues are much too important to be decided behind closed doors.

The Essential Health Benefits package is slated to be determined by the end of 2011.

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