“How much leeway do employers and insurers have in deciding whether they’ll cover contraceptives without charge and in determining which methods make the cut?
Not much, as it turns out, but that hasn’t stopped some from trying.
Kaiser Health News readers still write in regularly about this.
In one of those messages recently, a woman said her insurer denied free coverage for the NuvaRing. This small plastic device, which is inserted into the vagina, works for three weeks at a time by releasing hormones similar to those used by birth control pills. She said her insurer told her she would be responsible for her contraceptive expenses unless she chooses an oral generic birth control pill. The NuvaRing costs between $15 and $80 a month, according to Planned Parenthood.
Under the health law, health plans have to cover the full range of FDA-approved birth control methods without any cost sharing by women, unless the plan falls into a limited number of categories that are excluded, either because it’s grandfathered under the law or it’s for is a religious employer or house of worship. Following the recent Supreme Court decision in the Hobby Lobby case, some private employers that have religious objections to providing birth control coverage as a free preventive benefit will also be excused from the requirement.”

“Democrats generally are not campaigning on the Affordable Care Act, but in a new campaign ad Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor does just that.
Some have commented on the fact that Mr. Pryor does not mention the ACA by name in the ad, referring to it as “a law he helped pass.” Just as interesting is the part of the law the ad features: its protections for people with pre-existing medical conditions. With all of the focus on the ACA’s rollout problems last fall and the ACA’s coverage expansion, we have not heard much about “pre-x” in some time, but in many respects it’s the mega benefit in the law.”

“Patient advocacy groups say health insurers are violating ObamaCare by discriminating against those with chronic diseases, and the groups are forcing the administration to respond.
A Health and Human Services spokesperson cited by The Associated Press says a response is nearly prepped for advocacy organizations fighting AIDS, leukemia, epilepsy and other diseases.
Groups such as the National Health Law Program and the AIDS Institute have filed complaints with the administration claiming insurers are in violation of the Affordable Care Act’s provisions that prevent them from discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions and chronic diseases.
They argue certain drugs are put on higher tiers, requiring patients with chronic diseases to pay bigger out-of-pocket costs. In some cases, they say, the co-pay for such drugs can be 30 percent or higher.
America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), the largest health insurance lobby group, countered the claim by arguing that patients have the option to select a range of health plans that may suit their budgets better.”

“Obamacare challengers in the Halbig case have asked the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals not to review a three-judge panel’s ruling against federal exchange subsidies, instead calling for “final resolution by the Supreme Court.”
The backstory: one month ago a divided three-judge panel prohibited Obamacare subsidies for residents buying from the federal exchange. The Obama administration asked the full D.C. Circuit bench to rehear the case, which is reserved for matters of exceptional importance.
The challengers don’t want that, because if they lose at the D.C. Circuit it would make the Supreme Court less likely to take the case.
“There is no doubt that this case is of great national importance. Not due to the legal principles at stake—this is a straightforward statutory construction case under well-established principles—but rather due to its policy implications for ongoing implementation of the Affordable Care Act (‘ACA’). Those implications, however, are precisely why rehearing would not be appropriate here, as Judges of this Court have recognized in many analogous cases,” the plaintiffs wrote in the brief filed Monday.
The Obama administration has an advantage in an en banc — or full bench — ruling: it would feature eight Democratic-appointed judges and five Republican-appointed judges. Now that the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled in favor of the federal subsidies, the only way the challengers can win is at the Supreme Court. The plaintiffs at the 4th Circuit have already asked the justices to take the case, which the Halbig plaintiffs pointed out.”

“The deadly Ebola outbreak spreading through Africa is so extreme, it is driving health officials to do something that they would instinctively resist in normal circumstances: Subject patients to unproven experimental drugs.
The drugs are risky. Some have not even been tested on humans. Even so, a World Health Organization ethics committee just declared such use ethical, and its reasoning is hard to dispute, at least for patients who would otherwise die. Some chance is better than none, even with unknown side effects.
Too bad American patients suffering from terminal illnesses have so much trouble getting the same chance.
The process for getting experimental drugs is so daunting that fewer than 1,000 people sought and got federal approval to take such drugs last year.
Food and Drug Administration rules require patients to clear a series of hurdles. First, they and their doctors must find a company to provide its drug. Many drug makers — worried that a patient’s death will spur a lawsuit or harm their chances for final FDA approval — refuse.”

“Health policy hashed out in Washington is usually discussed in terms of billions of dollars or percentage of market share. But, more often than other areas of policy, it can also lead to a focus on whether it will directly cause unnecessary suffering or even death for individuals.
Pointing to the deeply personal implications of health policy is not unfamiliar. Consider Sarah Palin’s accusation that Obamacare would create “death panels,” or recent debates over FDA approval of Avastin, a cancer drug.
The argument that the government shouldn’t regulate the behavior of a dying patient has sprouted up once again in 2014, and may be setting the stage for a showdown between the states on one side, and the federal government and Congress on the other.
In May, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) signed into law a controversial measure that allows terminally ill patients to obtain experimental medications before they’ve been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
Those who favor the law have a ready-made big government bogeyman in the Food and Drug Administration, as well as some Hollywood glitz in the form of Oscar-winning picture “Dallas Buyers Club,” in which Matthew McConaughey is an AIDS crusader smuggling non-sanctioned medications to patients in the early days of the virus.
They also have a simple and emotionally compelling argument.
“The use of available investigational drugs, biological products, and devices is a decision that should be made by the patient with a terminal disease in consultation with his or her physician, not a decision to be made by the government,” reads the proposed statutory language in the “Right to Try Act” developed by the conservative Goldwater Institute.”

“WASHINGTON — Ending insurance discrimination against the sick was a central goal of the nation’s health care overhaul, but leading patient groups say that promise is being undermined by new barriers from insurers.
The insurance industry responds that critics are confusing legitimate cost-control with bias. Some state regulators, however, say there’s reason to be concerned about policies that shift costs to patients and narrow their choices of hospitals and doctors.
With open enrollment for 2015 three months away, the Obama administration is being pressed to enforce the Affordable Care Act’s anti-discrimination provisions. Some regulations have been issued; others are pending after more than four years.
More than 300 patient advocacy groups recently wrote Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell to complain about some insurer tactics that “are highly discriminatory against patients with chronic health conditions and may … violate the (law’s) nondiscrimination provisions.”
Among the groups were the AIDS Institute, the American Lung Association, Easter Seals, the Epilepsy Foundation, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the National Kidney Foundation and United Cerebral Palsy. All supported the law.
Coverage of expensive drugs tops their concerns.”

“WASHINGTON — In a policy change, the Obama administration is planning to pay doctors to coordinate the care of Medicare beneficiaries, amid growing evidence that patients with chronic illnesses suffer from disjointed, fragmented care.
Although doctors have often performed such work between office visits by patients, they have historically not been paid for it.
Starting in January, Medicare will pay monthly fees to doctors who manage care for patients with two or more chronic conditions like heart disease, diabetes and depression.
“Paying separately for chronic care management services is a significant policy change,” said Marilyn B. Tavenner, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Officials said such care coordination could pay for itself by keeping patients healthier and out of hospitals.”

“In 2010, President Obama signed into law the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as the “Affordable Care Act,” the “ACA,” or “Obamacare.” The ACA will reduce the number of Americans without health insurance— an important goal—but it will do so by increasing the cost of U.S. health coverage. Increasing the cost of health coverage, in turn, will worsen two of the nation’s most important policy problems.
The first of those problems is the increasing unaffordability of private health insurance, a problem that is straining the budgets of middle-income Americans, and hampering social mobility. The second problem is the nation’s grave long-term fiscal instability, a problem primarily driven by government spending on health insurance and health care.
Indeed, the ACA will especially drive up the cost of private health insurance that individuals purchase directly. The law will dramatically expand Medicaid, a program with the poorest health outcomes of any health insurance system in the industrialized world. And the ACA, despite spending over $2 trillion over the next decade, will leave 23 million lawful U.S. residents without health insurance, according to estimates from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).
In other words, the U.S. health care system remains in need of substantial reform, in ways that address the ACA’s deficiencies as well as the system’s preexisting flaws.”