“A high-level report recommending sweeping changes in how the government distributes $15 billion annually to subsidize the training of doctors has brought out the sharp scalpels of those who would be most immediately affected.
The reaction also raises questions about the sensitive politics involved in redistributing a large pot of money that now goes disproportionately to teaching hospitals in the Northeast U.S. All of the changes recommended would have to be made by Congress.
Released Tuesday, the report for the Institute of Medicine called for more accountability for the funds, two-thirds of which are provided by Medicare. It also called for an end to providing the money directly to the teaching hospitals and to dramatically alter the way the funds are paid.
The funding in question is for graduate medical education (GME), the post-medical school training of interns and residents required before doctors can be licensed to practice in any state.”

“Luis Martinez of Hialeah survived two heart attacks during the more than 10 years that he went without health insurance.
So he was relieved to finally find coverage on the Affordable Care Act’s insurance exchange in March, two weeks before the enrollment deadline.
But four months after he and his wife signed up for a subsidized, bronze-level health plan with Coventry, Martinez, 51, said he feels as though he has fallen into a black hole of government bureaucracy while trying to prove his income and his wife’s citizenship in order to keep their coverage, part of a national effort to verify policyholders’ eligibility.
Martinez, who has stents implanted in his coronary arteries, said he has tried repeatedly for more than a month to comply with the government’s requests for additional documentation to resolve inconsistencies in his personal information — or risk losing his $457 monthly subsidy, and health insurance for him and his wife, Rocio Balbin, 46.
So far, officials with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services are not satisfied with his response.”

“The top federal prosecutors from South Dakota and North Dakota say they have increased their efforts to fight healthcare fraud.
U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson of South Dakota said he has restructured his office to allow lawyers in the criminal and civil divisions to devote “significant time” to investigating medical fraud. He predicted it will be among the fastest-growing area of criminal investigation and wants his office to be in position to pursue increasing “complex and egregious” cases.
“My advice to the medical community is to stay away from gray areas or outright fraud that wastes tax dollars, because we will be watching,” Johnson told the Sioux Falls Argus Leader. “The end result in many of these cases will be that the taxpayers get their money back with interest and penalties, and the medical professional loses their license.”
Johnson’s office recently settled an alleged fraud case involving two doctors at Dakotas-based Sanford Health. Court documents show that Sanford paid $625,000 to settle the lawsuit, in which the doctors and the hospital did not admit wrongdoing. Cindy Morrison, Sanford’s executive vice president for marketing and public policy, said the hospital settled to avoid distraction.
“For us, it’s the issue of time and expense,” she said.”

“Nancy Pippenger and Marcia Perez live 2,000 miles apart but have the same complaint: Doctors who treated them last year won’t take their insurance now, even though they haven’t changed insurers.
“They said, ‘We take the old plan, but not the new one,’” says Perez, an attorney in Palo Alto, Calif.
In Plymouth, Ind., Pippenger got similar news from her longtime orthopedic surgeon, so she shelled out $300 from her own pocket to see him.
Both women unwittingly bought policies with limited networks of doctors and hospitals that provide little or no payment for care outside those networks. Such plans existed before the health law, but they’ve triggered a backlash as millions start to use the coverage they signed up for this year through the new federal and state marketplaces. The policies’ limitations have come as a surprise to some enrollees used to broader job-based coverage or to plans they held before the law took effect.
“It’s totally different,” said Pippenger, 57, whose new Anthem Blue Cross plan doesn’t pay for any care outside its network, although the job-based Anthem plan she had last year did cover some of those costs. “To try to find a doctor, I’m very limited. There aren’t a lot of names that pop up.””

“MIAMI (AP) — Linda Close was grateful to learn she qualified for a sizable subsidy to help pay for her health insurance under the new federal law. But in the process of signing up for a plan, Close said her HealthCare.gov account showed several different subsidy amounts, varying as much as $180 per month.
Close, a South Florida retail worker in her 60’s, said she got different amounts even though the personal information she entered remained the same. The Associated Press has reviewed Close’s various subsidy amounts and dates to verify the information, but she asked that her financial information and medical history not be published for privacy reasons.
“I am the kind of person the Affordable Care Act was written for: older, with a pre-existing (condition) and my previous plan was being cancelled. I need it and I’m low income,” said Close, who has spent more than six months appealing her case. “The government pledged to me that original tax credit amount. It’s crazy.”

“PORTLAND — Low-income Oregon residents were supposed to be big winners after the state expanded Medicaid under the federal health care overhaul and created a new system to improve the care they received.
However, an Associated Press review shows that an unexpected rush of enrollees has strained the capacity of the revamped network that was endorsed as a potential national model, locking out some patients, forcing others to wait months for medical appointments and prompting a spike in emergency room visits, which state officials had been actively seeking to avoid.
The problems come amid nationwide growing pains associated with the unprecedented restructuring of the U.S. health care system, and they show the effects of a widespread physician shortage on a state that has embraced Medicaid expansion.”

“Anger over limited choice of doctors and hospitals in Obamacare plans is prompting some states to require broader networks — and boiling up as yet another election year headache for the health law.
Americans for Prosperity is hitting on these “narrow networks” against Democrats such as Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, whose GOP opponent Scott Brown has made the health law a centerpiece of his campaign to unseat her. And Republicans have highlighted access challenges as another broken promise from a president who assured Americans they could keep their doctor.
It’s not just a political problem. It’s a policy conundrum. Narrow networks help contain health care costs. If state or federal regulators — or politicians — force insurers to expand the range of providers, premiums could spike. And that could create a whole new wave of political and affordability problems that can shape perceptions of Obamacare.”

“Nine months after Americans began signing up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, a challenging new phase is emerging as confused enrollees clamor for help in understanding their coverage.
Nonprofit organizations across the country are being swamped by consumers with questions. Many are low-income, have never had insurance and have little knowledge of the health-care system. The rampant confusion poses a potential hurdle for the success of the health law: If many Americans don’t understand how health insurance works, that could hurt their ability to use their benefits — or to keep their coverage altogether.
Community organizations are scrambling to keep up with the larger-than-anticipated demand, but they are stretched thin. A federal program to help consumers has also run out of money.
“We are hearing this in probably every state that we work in,” said Christine Barber, a senior policy analyst with Community Catalyst, a Boston-based advocacy organization that works with community groups in more than 40 states. “ ‘Okay, I have my card. What do I do now?’ ””

“The fear was this: The Affordable Care Act would give massive numbers of people new access to health care, creating a surge in demand for medical services and long waits to see the doctor.
But in the seven months since new insurance plans began kicking in, Puget Sound-area, Washington, primary-care providers so far seem to be keeping up with growing numbers of patients. The question now is, can they keep ahead of the demand as the formerly uninsured continue seeking care, and as baby boomers age and a sizable fraction of Washington’s physicians retire.”

“Primary care doctors have reported problems making referrals for patients who have purchased some of the cheaper plans from the federal insurance marketplace. Complaints about narrow networks with too few doctors have attracted the attention of federal regulators and have even prompted lawsuits.
But they’re also causing headaches in the day-to-day work of doctors and clinics. “The biggest problem we’ve run into is figuring out what specialists take a lot of these plans,” said Dr. Charu Sawhney of Houston.
Sawhney is an internist at the Hope Clinic, a federally qualified health center in southwest Houston, in the bustling heart of the Asian immigrant community. Her patients speak 14 different languages, and many of them are immigrants or refugees from places as far flung as Burma and Bhutan. Most of her patients are uninsured, which means she is familiar with problems of access.
But the limited options of some of the HMOs sold on the marketplace surprised even her.
“I was so consumed with just getting people to sign up,” she said, “I didn’t take the next step to say ‘Oh by the way, when you sign up, make sure you sign up for the right plan.’”
Understandably, a lot of Sawhney’s patients picked lower-cost plans, “and we’re running into problems with coverage in the same way we were when they were uninsured.””