“Medicaid expansion continues to be a hot-button issue in the 38th District Virginia Senate race, as candidates try to define their positions on a subject that has divided the district — and the state — since the seat was vacated unexpectedly earlier this year.
The June resignation of former Sen. Phillip Puckett, D-Russell County, threw the balanced Senate into Republican control and affected the Senate vote on whether to expand Medicaid. When he resigned, Puckett said it was because of family reasons — his daughter sought to be a judge and the Senate makes the appointments — but others said it was to accept a job with the Virginia Tobacco Commission, which did not happen.
The resignation came just days before the General Assembly voted to pass the budget without Medicaid expansion. Expansion would extend Medicaid coverage to more people who make too much for Medicaid currently, but not enough to pay for coverage — some 400,000 Virginians.
Now, as three candidates vie for Puckett’s seat in the Aug. 19 special election, the Medicaid expansion issue is still on the table.
The stakes are high and the race is being closely watched across the state and beyond.
The candidates are Ben Chafin, R-Hansonville, currently a junior member of the House of Delegates; Mike Hymes, a Democrat from Tazewell who is on the county’s board of supervisors; and Rick Mullins, an independent candidate who is waging his first campaign.”

“The Affordable Care Act—also known as Obamacare—is “not an affordable product” for many people and it does not fix the underlying problems causing high health-care costs, Aetna Chairman and CEO Mark Bertolini told CNBC on Wednesday.
“If we’re going to fix health care, we’ve got to get at the delivery of care and the cost of care,” Bertolini said in a “Squawk Box” interview. “The ACA does none of that. The only person who’s really going to drive that is the consumer and the decisions they make.”
“Getting everybody insured should probably be our goal, but you have to have a more affordable system,” he added. “We have a 1950[-style] health care system in the Unites States.”
Aetna said Tuesday that its medical spending rose more than estimates in the second quarter, due in part to the higher costs of covering patients who bought insurance under Obamacare for the first time. But the third-largest U.S. health insurer also reported better-than-expected earnings and revenue in the second quarter and raised full-year guidance.”

“More Americans are enrolled in individual health insurance plans. In part, though, that’s because under Obamacare fewer are enrolled in group plans. And one health care analyst says this may be the beginning of a trend.
WellPoint Inc., the Indianapolis-based health insurance giant, reported in its latest quarterly earnings that its small-group business fell more than expected.
WellPoint said it ended 218,000 (or 12 percent) of those plans because employers dropped their group health coverage, and cited Obamacare’s tax credits as a reason for the shift, J.K. Wall wrote in the Indianapolis Business Journal.
Edmund Haislmaier, senior research fellow in health policy studies at The Heritage Foundation, told The Daily Signal that the drop in WellPoint’s employer group coverage “is in line with what we were seeing in the first quarter” for the insurance industry — a decrease in group plans but an increase in individual plans.
Haislmaier said many smaller businesses have dropped group coverage plans in instances where they have a higher number of low-income workers who would qualify for subsidies to buy insurance on Obamacare’s federal and state-run exchanges.”

“James Lansberry didn’t blink an eye when the Supreme Court handed down its Hobby Lobby decision last month.
The vice president of Samaritan Ministries, which provides health coverage for more than 37,000 families nationwide, said even though his organization applauds the decision, “it doesn’t have any effect on us.”
Samaritan Ministries, and other health sharing groups like it, cater to a small-but-growing group of Americans who have chosen to opt out of the Affordable Care Act. Not only do these organizations ignore the contraception mandate, they also bypass nearly all the hallmark provisions of Obamacare.
Dr. Andrea Miller, medical director and vice president of Christian Care Ministries, said “the biggest thing to understand” is these groups do not provide insurance. Instead, they “facilitate the direct sharing of medical cost between people of like beliefs.”
Because of this distinction, the Alliance for Health Care Sharing Ministries successfully lobbied Congress for a religious exemption in 2009. This allows medical sharing groups to provide a form of coverage but dodge the deluge of Obamacare regulations governing the insurance industry.
Lansberry calls this exemption the last “isle of freedom” in health care and a “miracle straight from God’s own hand.””

“Mixups on a health plan bought through the state’s insurance exchange have left a Las Vegas family facing more than $1 million in medical bills.
For Kynell and Amber Smith and their five children, the Nevada Health Link has been a six-month nightmare with no end in sight.
“I have spent countless hours on the phone trying to get this resolved,” said Kynell Smith, an aircraft parts salesman. “I have contacted and pleaded with elected officials to help and was told I may have to sue to get this resolved. What kind of answer is that?”
The family’s troubles began in February, when Amber Smith delivered daughter Kinsley five weeks prematurely. Kinsley spent 10 days in Summerlin Hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit, and Amber’s 40-day hospital stay included two surgeries.
The Smiths bought insurance from Anthem Blue Cross through Nevada Health Link in October and made two premium payments in January. Yet the claims are being denied because Amber’s birth year is listed incorrectly on the family’s insurance identification cards, Smith said. It’s one year off — written as 1978, when it should be 1979.
Nor has Smith been able to get baby Kinsley added to the family’s insurance, despite “dozens of calls” to Nevada Health Link and Anthem. So despite never missing a $1,300 premium payment, the Smiths are on the hook for all of Kinsley’s follow-up care. What’s more, some of Amber’s specialists have unexpectedly abandoned provider networks, leaving the family with unexpected out-of-pocket expenses, he said.
The family’s grand total? Roughly $1.2 million.”

“As the backlash over narrow physician networks continues to make headlines and lawmakers start the August recess, a new nationwide survey found 76 percent of likely voters support a bipartisan proposal to give Medicare patients better medication access and more choice of pharmacy.
Bait-and-switch. That’s the common refrain expressed by patients in recent articles about the narrow network trend, from Morning Consult to The New York Times to USA TODAY. Patients report either not knowing or being misinformed about restrictions on their access to the doctor of their choice. As a result some are racking up significant, unanticipated out-of-pocket costs. Now both regulators and insurance plans alike are reassessing the situation and contemplating adjustments for 2015.
It’s not just doctors, however. Patient access to medication and consultations on its proper use with the pharmacist they know and trust are also suffering. Particularly in Medicare drug plans, insurance middlemen are telling some patients to pay more – sometimes significantly more – or switch pharmacies, even if it means traveling 20 miles or more.
But perhaps unlike the physician narrow network conundrum, there is an easy, obvious solution to the narrow pharmacy network issue in Medicare drug plans: H.R. 4577, the Ensuring Seniors Access to Local Pharmacies Act.
The bipartisan proposal would give seniors in medically underserved areas more convenient access to medication at discounted or “preferred” copays at additional pharmacies that are willing to accept the plan’s terms and conditions. Currently, independent community pharmacies are usually locked out of these smaller or “preferred” networks. Moreover, when community pharmacists offer to accept the same terms and conditions they are still kept out. Independent pharmacies make up approximately half of all rural pharmacies, so their patients must pay this “rural tax” or travel great distances to reach a “preferred” pharmacy.
Three out of four likely voters (76 percent) support this proposal, according to a recent nationwide opinion survey conducted by Penn Schoen Berland, or PSB Research. Support runs across party lines as well as demographic ones, such as gender and age.”

“One of the ongoing questions about the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is its impact on rural areas, many of which had lacked a competitive individual market for health insurance. Would the ACA foster competition among plans in these areas? Or would they be dominated by one or two insurers and face higher premiums and fewer plan choices than their urban counterparts?
This data brief examines 2014 premiums, issuers, and plans offered to residents of urban and rural counties. In 2014, while it appears that residents of rural counties, as a whole, did not face higher premiums than residents of urban counties, substantial differences emerge within a number of states and between states of varying degrees of rurality. In particular, states with largely rural populations face fewer choices and higher premiums. These are the states to watch in the coming months as new issuers enter the marketplaces and 2015 premiums are filed.”

“One of the common arguments against mandating or providing upfront prices for medical tests and procedures is that American patients are not very skilled consumers of health care and will assume high prices mean high quality.
A study released Monday in the journal Health Affairs suggests we are smarter than that.
The insurer WellPoint provided members who had scheduled an appointment for an elective magnetic resonance imaging test with a list of other scanners in their area that could do the test at a lower price. The alternative providers had been vetted for quality, and patients were asked if they wanted help rescheduling the test somewhere that delivered “better value.”
Fifteen percent of patients agreed to change their test to a cheaper center. “We shined a light on costs,” said Dr. Sam Nussbaum, WellPoint’s chief medical officer. “We acted as a concierge and engaged consumers giving them information about cost and quality.”
The program resulted in a $220 cost reduction (18.7 percent) per test over the course of two years, said Andrea DeVries, the director of payer and provider research at HealthCore, a subsidiary of WellPoint, which conducted the study. It compared the costs of scanning people in the WellPoint program with those of people in plans that did not offer such services.”

“Last week, the House of Representatives voted to authorize Speaker John Boehner to file a lawsuit challenging President Obama’s failure to fully implement Obamacare. Specifically, the lawsuit will challenge the administration’s delay of the employer mandate—requiring many employers to provide health insurance or pay a fine—that was supposed to go into effect Jan. 1. It’s clear President Obama repeatedly has abused executive power to circumvent Congress and essentially rewrite the law, but this lawsuit still raises a host of questions.”

“Obamacare plans have shrunk payments to physicians so much that some doctors say they won’t be able to afford to accept Obamacare coverage, NPR reports.
Many of the eight million sign-ups in Obamacare exchanges nationwide already face more limited choices for physicians and hospitals than those in the private insurance market. But with low physician reimbursement rates, the problem could get even worse.
For a typical quick patient visit, Dr. Doug Gerard, a Connecticut internist, told NPR a private insurer would pay $100 while Medicare would pay around $80. But Obamacare plans are more likely to pay closer to $80, which Gerard says is unsustainable for his practice.
“I cannot accept a plan [in which] potentially commercial-type reimbursement rates were now going to be reimbursed at Medicare rates,” Dr. Gerard told NPR. ”You have to maintain a certain mix in private practice between the low reimbursers and the high reimbursers to be able to keep the lights on.”
Narrow networks have become a hallmark of many Obamacare exchange plans, as one of few options left to insurance companies that allows them to save money by lowering reimbursement rates and covering fewer providers. In the health-care law’s first year, 70 percent of all Obamacare plan networks were either narrow or ultra-narrow, according to an analysis from consulting firm McKinsey.”