“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.””
“”Responding to inquiries from federal officials, the California health department has released a plan it says will dramatically slash its backlog of Medi-Cal applications within six weeks.
For months, the state has labored under the largest such pile-up in the country, with 900,000 pending cases reported in May—the combined result of unexpectedly high application numbers and bug-ridden computer systems.
In a letter to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services on Monday, the California Department of Health Care Services said that it had reduced its application backlog to 600,000 by the start of this month. State officials also outlined a plan for technology fixes and administrative workarounds that they project will nearly halve that figure by the end of August—with most of those applications being processed within the allowed 45-day window. The letter was made public Tuesday.”
“Most of the momentum in fights over birth control and abortion has been in the direction of opponents of late. But you wouldn’t know that by watching the U.S. Senate.
Democrats who control the chamber have scheduled a vote for Wednesday on a bill that would effectively reverse the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling regarding contraceptive requirements in the Affordable Care Act. And on Tuesday the Judiciary Committee heard testimony on a separate, sweeping measure that would invalidate many state abortion restrictions.”
“1.) AEI’s Joseph Antos and James Capretta present “A health reform framework: Breaking out of the Medicaid model.” Here’s a peek:
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects that about one-third of the additional insurance coverage expected to occur because of the law will come from expansion of the existing, unreformed Medicaid program. The rest of the coverage expansion will come from enrolling millions of people into subsidized insurance offerings on the ACA exchanges — offerings that have strong similarities to Medicaid insurance. Unfortunately, ample evidence demonstrates that this kind of insurance model leaves the poor and lower-income households with inadequate access to health care….
2.) “Some still lack coverage under health law,” notes The Wall Street Journal:
Months after the sign-up deadline, thousands of Americans who purchased health insurance through the Affordable Care Act still don’t have coverage due to problems in enrollment systems. In states including California, Nevada and Massachusetts, which are running their own online insurance exchanges, some consumers picked a private health plan and paid their premiums only to learn recently that they aren’t insured.
3.) “Brace for the next round of Obamacare rate shock,” comments Philip Klein at The Washington Examiner:
As insurance companies begin to propose premiums for 2015, it’s time for Americans to brace themselves for the next round of rate shock in the wake of President Obama’s health care law. There are several ways in which Obamacare drives up the cost of health insurance. The primary way is that it requires insurance plans to offer a certain raft of benefits specified by the government and to cover everybody who applies, regardless of pre-existing conditions. It then limits the amount that insurers can charge older and sicker patients relative to younger and healthier patients, driving the costs up for the latter group.
4.) “Automatic Obamacare enrollment is anti-patient,” according to Diana Furchtgott-Roth:
With a new Avalere study showing that many Obamacare participants will face premium increases in the fall, the administration’s proposed rule that would automatically reenroll Americans in their existing federal health exchange plan is likely to leave many people paying higher premiums than necessary. Plus, Uncle Sam will be unable to verify correct amounts of health insurance premium subsidies. America is not yet ready for auto enrollment in Obamacare.
“Conservative criticism of the Affordable Care Act has created the impression that liberal, “big government” ideas are driving the health-care system. But plenty of ideas that conservatives like are taking hold in health care as well. To wit:
*The number of Medicare beneficiaries in private Medicare Advantage plans reached nearly 16 million this year, a record, and the Congressional Budget Office projects that it will hit 22 million by 2020. This partial privatization of Medicare is happening despite concerns that reductions in payments to private plans (what some call over-payments) would curtail enrollment.
*More than half of people on Medicaid are enrolled in managed-care plans, which are typically run by private insurers that contract with states on a capitated, or risk, basis. More than 30 million low-income Medicaid beneficiaries are in private plans. The number is growing as states move sicker and disabled populations covered by both Medicaid and Medicare to managed care and as many states expand their Medicaid programs under the ACA, putting newly covered beneficiaries into managed care.
About 50 million Americans covered by Medicare and Medicaid at some point in the year are in private insurance arrangements. Now, this is not the block grant of Medicaid or voucherization of Medicare that some conservatives ultimately seek–just as the ACA is not the single-payer system that some liberals want–but it’s a substantial privatization, and one that has occurred largely incrementally and under the radar.”
“WASHINGTON — A two-page federal form has provoked a titanic clash between the government and many religious organizations.
The form allows some religious organizations to opt out of providing contraceptive coverage, which many insurers and group health plans are required to provide under the Affordable Care Act and related rules.
The opt-out sounds like a way to accommodate religious beliefs. But many religious employers like Wheaton College and the Little Sisters of the Poor are unwilling to sign the form. By signing it, they say, they would authorize their insurers or plan administrators to pay for contraceptives, including some that they believe may cause abortion.”