Payer Roundup—John Sculley on tech benefits of Centene-RxAdvance deal; Azar defends HHS budget

Hydrocodone opioid pills
The 2019 HHS budget includes funds to fight the opioid crisis but could also limit women's access to contraceptive coverage. (Getty/smartstock)

Azar defends 2019 budget, which anticipates ACA repeal, before Congress

Alex Azar, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, went before Congress to once again defend the Trump administration's 2019 budget for the agency. Representatives from both sides of the aisle praised the focus on the opioid epidemic, but Democrats on the panel expressed concern about elements in the budget that anticipate a repeal of the Affordable Care Act and new initiatives at HHS that could make it harder for some women to access contraceptive coverage. (FierceHealthcare)

Centene deal would cut staffing costs, says RxAdvance chair John Sculley

The only way to make healthcare sustainable “is to significantly reduce the cost of caring for chronic care patients," John Sculley, the former Apple chief who’s now the chairman of RxAdvance, told CNBC. This week, Centene announced an initial strategic investment in RxAdvance, a Massachusetts-based pharmacy benefit manager, a move that’s in line with the larger trend of payers eyeing PBM deals. Technology, Sculley said, will not only improve quality but will also cut claims processing staff to “a couple thousand people” by the early 2020s. (CNBC)

Bipartisan caucus focuses on value-based care policies

A bipartisan caucus launched by four U.S. representatives will support legislation that helps generate innovative, value-driven healthcare policies. Their push has drawn support from a diverse collaboration of healthcare stakeholders. Their new group will promote legislation encouraging value-based policies, including innovative payment models and the new technologies that underlie them. (FierceHealthcare)

Blues plan expands home-based palliative care program

Blue Shield of California has expanded its home-based palliative care program statewide, saying it’s now the only health plan in California to offer the service in each of the state’s 58 counties. The expansion follows a successful pilot program in the Sacramento area, launched in 2017. The model features home visits from integrated teams that include physicians, nurses, social workers, chaplains and other specialists to form a comprehensive care support system for patients facing serious illness. (Blue Shield of California)

Urban Institute updates, corrects brief on ACA premiums

New information that Vermont and Washington will likely experience the full effects of short-term limited-duration policy expansion has prompted the Urban Institute to update a brief it published last month. The earlier report said that expanding short-term insurance plans would increase premiums for ACA plans by 18% in 2019. The authors also corrected a previous statement that short-term limited-duration plans would not meet the Congressional Budget Office’s definition of insurance, noting that the agency’s determination remains uncertain. (Revised Brief)