ObamaCare’s impact on health costs.

“Two years ago, Massachusetts set what was considered an ambitious goal: The state would not let that persistent monster, rising health care costs, increase faster than the economy as a whole. Today, the results of the first full year are out and there’s reason to for many to celebrate.
The number that will go down in the history books is 2.3 percent. It’s well below a state-imposed benchmark for health care cost growth of 3.6 percent, and well below the increases seen for at least a decade.
“So all of that’s really good news,” says Aron Boros, executive director at the Center for Health Information and Analysis (CHIA), which is releasing the first calculation of state health care expenditures. “It really seems like…the growth in health care spending is slowing.”
Why? It could be the pressure to comply with of the federal health law in its first year.
“We have to believe that’s the [first] year,” Boros says, “that insurers and providers are trying their hardest to keep cost increases down.”
But then, health care spending growth slowed across the U.S., not just in Massachusetts, last year.
“There’s not strong evidence that it’s different in Massachusetts; we really seem to be in line with those national trends,” Boros adds. “People are either going to doctors and hospitals a little less frequently, or they’re going to lower-cost settings a little more frequently.”
The result: Health insurance premiums were basically flat overall in the state in 2013.
“2013 was a year in which we were able to exhale,” says Jon Hurst, president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts. But he’s worried the break on rates was short-lived. This year, Hurst’s members are reporting premium increases that average 12 percent.”

“If you get health insurance through your workplace, you’ll probably have a chance this fall to make important decisions about your coverage and costs.
Because many corporate health plans hold their annual open-enrollment periods in October and November, many employees can expect to get a packet of benefits, or instructions for making elections online, as well as updates on changes to their plans required by the Affordable Care Act. Some 55% of Americans have employer-based coverage, according to Mercer, a human-resources consultant.
“From the employee perspective, if there is any year to pay attention to the information, this is the year,” says Brian Marcotte, president and chief executive of the National Business Group on Health, a nonprofit representing large employers.
Starting next year, one change could be an ACA provision requiring some large employers—generally those with 50 or more full-time or equivalent workers—to offer affordable, adequate coverage to employees working more than 30 hours a week.”

“Consumers getting government subsidies for health insurance who are later found ineligible for those payments will owe the government, but not necessarily the full amount, according to the Treasury Department.
The clarified rule could affect some of the 300,000 people facing a Sept. 5 deadline to submit additional documents to confirm their citizenship or immigration status, and also apply broadly to anyone ultimately deemed ineligible for subsidies.
First reported by the newsletter Inside Health Policy on Thursday, the clarification worries immigration advocates, who say many residents are facing website difficulties and other barriers to meeting the deadline to submit additional details. Those who don’t know about the deadline, or can’t meet it because of glitches, could be deemed ineligible for subsidies and lose their coverage.
“We’re very concerned about the implications of this on hundreds of thousands of low-income individuals who are likely eligible, but have encountered significant difficulties with the website, uploading or sending documents,” said Mara Youdelman, managing attorney at the National Health Law Program.
If found ineligible, residents could owe thousands of dollars.”

“When Congress passed the Affordable Care Act, it required health insurers, hospitals, device makers and pharmaceutical companies to share in the cost because they would get a windfall of new, paying customers.
But with an $8 billion tax on insurers due Sept. 30 — the first time the new tax is being collected — the industry is getting help from an unlikely source: taxpayers.
States and the federal government will spend at least $700 million this year to pay the tax for their Medicaid health plans. The three dozen states that use Medicaid managed care plans will give those insurers more money to cover the new expense. Many of those states – such as Florida, Louisiana and Tennessee – did not expand Medicaid as the law allows, and in the process turned down billions in new federal dollars.
Other insurers are getting some help paying the tax as well. Private insurers are passing the tax onto policyholders in the form of higher premiums. Medicare health plans are getting the tax covered by the federal government via higher reimbursement.”

“From Halbig to Sovaldi, this summer was a busy one for health policy and politics. We’ve made it easy to catch up, collecting all of the top stories you clicked on over the past few months. Together, they tell a story about the state of healthcare in the U.S., and offer clues as to where things may be headed when Congress returns in the fall.
Among them: The political battle over Obmacare has become more complicated for Republicans since the government cleaned up the Healthcare.gov mess, and with midterm elections around the corner, the focus will be on how much either party continues to attack or ignore the law. There are policy, legal and business matters to be settled as well – the employer mandate is under attack from the left and the right, the courts have been a wildcard for the health law to this point and could continue to be so, and employers and employees are finding themselves wading through the on-the-ground impacts of the law. That doesn’t even get to our top three storylines of the summer, so be sure to click through to find out what tops the list.”

“Thursday’s announcement that Pennsylvania will expand its Medicaid program brings the country one state closer to the original expansion outlined under Obamacare. But because of the Supreme Court’s 2012 decision making the expansion a voluntary program, there are still 23 states that haven’t expanded public health insurance to all of their low-income residents.
The expansion in Pennsylvania will add about 500,000 low-income to adults to the Medicaid rolls. According to numbers from the Kaiser Family Foundation, about 281,000 of those people were falling into what’s known as the “coverage gap”— people who don’t qualify for Medicaid but also don’t get subsidies for purchasing insurance on their own, either. About 4.5 million people across the country fall into this coverage gap, according to Kaiser.”

“The price tag of the Cover Oregon health insurance exchange fiasco continues to grow.
As Clyde Hamstreet, the corporate turnaround expert hired to lead Cover Oregon in April, wraps up his work he leaves behind a stabilized agency – and a hefty bill.
Initially signed to a $100,000 contract, Hamstreet ended up staying longer than expected, with two associates joining him at Cover Oregon after Gov. John Kitzhaber essentially forced out three top officials there in a public display of house-cleaning.
Through July, Hamstreet has billed $598,699 on an amended $750,00 contract. He hasn’t submitted his August invoice. He says the price tag was driven by the exchange’s increasing needs, as his firm stayed longer and did more than initially planned.
“We didn’t do this job to make a lot of money off the state,” he said Thursday. “Our philosophy was to try and help get the boat righted and try to help clean things up and basically help the state. … It turned out to be a bigger engagement than I expected.””

“Health insurance companies, now required to spend the lion’s share of premium revenue on patient care, are looking for higher investment returns elsewhere. As a result, they’re increasingly putting money into technology ventures where they expect to realize higher returns.
The medical-loss ratio standard under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act requires insurers to spend at least 80% of what they earn from premiums on patient care and related quality improvements. No more than 20% can be used for administrative, marketing and business expenses. The requirement is as high as 85% for large group plans.
Tied to that, insurers are trying to maximize their investment returns while also investing in businesses that are exempt from the 80/20 rule. Technology operations check off both those boxes for them.
“That’s been a catalyst for a substantial amount of investment,” said Joshua Kaye, a Miami-based partner at law firm DLA Piper. “We’re really seeing it on a national scale. Many insurers view health IT as being on the cutting edge.””

“When you need emergency care, chances are you aren’t going to pause to figure out whether the nearest hospital is in your health insurer’s network. Nor should you. That’s why the health law prohibits insurers from charging higher copayments or coinsurance for out-of-network emergency care. The law also prohibits plans from requiring pre-approval to visit an emergency department that is out of your provider network. (Plans that are grandfathered under the law don’t have to abide by these provisions.)
That’s all well and good. But there are some potential trouble spots that could leave you on the hook for substantially higher charges than you might expect.
Although the law protects patients from higher out-of-network cost sharing in the emergency room, if they’re admitted to the hospital, patients may owe out-of-network rates for the hospital stay, says Angela Gardner, an associate professor of emergency medicine at the University of Texas Southwestern in Dallas who is the former president of the American College of Emergency Physicians.”

“Signed into law by President Obama on March 23, 2010, the Affordable Care Act has proven to be its own kind of jobs act, especially when it comes to the Washington-area IT community.
When, in several places, the bill called for the creation of an “Internet website” to allow Americans to find and sign up for new health insurance coverage, it opened the tap on hundreds of millions of dollars that would eventually go to creating HealthCare.gov’s front end and back end, as well as a small universe of accompanying digital sites. On Wednesday, the office of Daniel Levinson, the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services, put out a report detailing the dozens of contracts that went into building out the Federal Marketplace project. And a look at each in the disaggregate paints a picture of an effort far more sweeping than even that suggested by the half-billion dollars the federal government has already paid out to implement the digital side of the health insurance law.
So, how do you spend that much money building HealthCare.gov and its companion sites? A few million here, a few hundred thousand there, and eventually it adds up.”