ObamaCare’s impact on health costs.

“Despite the president’s assurance that “if you like your health plan, you can keep your health plan,” Obamacare caused significant disruption to people’s coverage as the health insurance exchanges prepared for their first open enrollment. Beginning October 1, 2013, insurers knew they would struggle to price policies in the exchanges accurately.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) included three mechanisms to backstop insurers’ risks: risk adjustment, reinsurance and risk corridors. The first, risk adjustment, consists of perpetual transfers of money from unexpectedly profitable insurers to unexpectedly loss-making insurers and is — at least conceptually — necessary to mitigate risk in a market where insurers are forbidden to charge beneficiaries actuarially accurate premiums.
The other two mechanisms, reinsurance and risk corridors, were designed to protect insurers from unforeseen losses in Obamacare’s first three years, when insurers would not have enough experience to know how much risk they faced. These financial protections are critical to insurers’ ability to survive in the exchanges through the end of 2016. Both schemes persist only through the first three years of Obamacare, by the end of which its architects believed actuarial risks in the exchanges will have stabilized.”

“It was late in the afternoon on a warm Friday in early fall and Doug Sumrell was mowing the lawn outside his suburban home in Evans, Georgia. As he pushed the mower across the yard, Sumrell began to feel faint — his chest tightened and the back of his neck started throbbing — so he went inside to take a break and drink a glass of water. But each time he went outside to finish the job, the feeling came back. He drove himself to the hospital as the sun was setting. On the way there, he left a message for his primary care doctor, Dr. Paul Fischer.
At the hospital, a cardiac enzyme test showed Sumrell’s levels were extremely high, a strong indication that Sumrell had experienced a heart attack. The emergency room doctors said that they wanted to admit him, but it was already after midnight and Sumrell’s symptoms had subsided. His wife was out of town and their dog Buddy needed to be let out. Sumrell checked himself out of the hospital.
He was jolted awake at 7:30 a.m. by the telephone. Dr. Fischer was on the line demanding that Sumrell return to the hospital immediately to meet Dr. Faiz Rehman, a cardiologist and friend of Fischer’s, to examine his heart. Within 15 minutes of arriving, Sumrell was in the hospital’s “cath lab,” where Dr. Rehman inserted a catheter through Sumrell’s groin and into his heart, allowing him to see blockages in Sumrell’s arteries. The news was bad: his left anterior descending artery — also known as the “widow maker” — was up to 98 percent blocked. “Lord, I would’ve stayed home and not told anybody if Dr. Fischer hadn’t interceded and gotten me down there and arranged everything,” Sumrell told me.”

“For all the endless talk about reforming the health care system these past five years, it’s remarkable how little we’ve done to solve its actual problems. Spending hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars to subsidize insurance coverage for several million people? That’s the easy part. The hard part is addressing the fact that American health care is so expensive.
The high price of U.S. health care is the fundamental reason tens of millions of Americans are uninsured. It’s the principal suppressor of middle-class wage growth. It’s a constant threat to businesses’ operating margins, and it’s the primary driver of the federal debt.
In May the American Health Policy Institute surveyed the chief human resource officers of 360 large employers, representing 10 million workers. When asked what troubled them the most about the Affordable Care Act, 85% said “increasing access to the health care system without making significant improvements in the efficiency and affordability of that system.” Only 6% believed that “the ACA will help my company more effectively control health care costs”; 82% disagreed.
According to the Congressional Budget Office’s 2014 Long-Term Budget Outlook, the United States remains on an “unsustainable” trajectory, driven entirely by growth in the big federal health care entitlements: Medicare, Medicaid and Obamacare.”

“Carondelet Health Network, a Tucson, Ariz.-based division of Ascension Health, has agreed to pay $35 million to settle allegations that two of its hospitals inappropriately billed Medicare and other federal health programs for inpatient rehabilitation care.
The settlement is the highest amount paid in Arizona under the False Claims Act, according to the U.S. attorney’s office in Phoenix. From 2004 to 2011, the Justice Department alleged, the Carondelet hospitals billed the government for inpatient rehab services for patients who didn’t meet coverage criteria.
The Roman Catholic hospital system “expressly denies” the allegations in the settlement agreement.”

“Instead of shutting down Obamacare’s insurance exchanges, the government should expand them so that they also include patients who now are covered by Medicaid, Medicare, and veterans health programs.
That’s the gist of a big new health care policy proposal that’s getting a lot of attention.
It’s newsworthy in part because it’s so counter-intuitive. It comes from a think tank, the Manhattan Institute, that’s generally known for conservative, free-market, center-right policy ideas. You’d expect them to be in favor of repealing Obamacare entirely, not expanding it.
The proposal is attracting respectful praise from other conservative voices. Steve Forbes, the former Republican presidential candidate, tweeted a link about the proposal with the words “what true patient-centered, consumer-driven healthcare reform would look like.” (The plan’s author, Avik Roy, is the opinion editor of Forbes in addition to being a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.)
At the conservative web site Townhall.com, Conn Carroll wrote, “Some conservatives will oppose Roy’s plan since it does not begin by repealing Obamacare.” But he insists, “fetishizing full repeal at the expense of smaller, more popular reforms would be a huge mistake… Progressives did not create the modern welfare state in one fell swoop. They did it by incrementally building it up over time. Conservatives should steal a page from their playbook and begin to cut the size and scope of the federal government whenever they can. If we wait to do at all at once, we may be waiting forever.””

“Arkansas, the first state to establish the conservative private-plan model for expanding Medicaid under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, now is looking to join several other conservative-leaning states in requiring low-income beneficiaries to make monthly contributions to their health coverage in the form of a health savings account.
The state has proposed to the CMS that, beginning in 2015, its Medicaid beneficiaries would have to contribute to Health Independence Accounts (PDF). Beneficiaries with annual incomes between 50% and 99% of the federal poverty level would contribute $5 a month to their accounts, while those earning between 100% and 138% of poverty would pay between $10 and $25. The state would provide a matching contribution of $15 into their accounts. Money would be drawn from the accounts for copayments on medical services. Any unused funds in the accounts would be rolled over annually with a cap of $200, which the beneficiary could use for paying private insurance costs.”

“Last Monday, Jed Graham of Investor’s Business Daily reported that insurers say Affordable Care Act enrollment is shrinking, and it is expected to shrink further. Some of those who signed up for insurance on the exchanges never paid; others paid, then stopped paying. Insurers are undoubtedly picking up some new customers who lost jobs or had another “qualifying life event” since open enrollment closed. But on net, they expect enrollment to shrink from their March numbers by a substantial amount — as much as 30 percent at Aetna Inc., for example.
How much does this matter? As Charles Gaba notes, this was not unexpected: Back in January, industry expert Bob Laszewski predicted an attrition rate of 10 to 20 percent, which seems roughly in line with what IBD is reporting. However, Gaba seems to imply that this makes the IBD report old news, barely worth talking about, and I think that’s wrong, for multiple reasons.”

“The number of Connecticut residents covered by health insurance purchased through the state’s individual market rose by nearly 60,000 since last year, a 55 percent increase since the implementation of major provisions of Obamacare, according to figures released by the Connecticut Insurance Department.
The data also show that more than half the people who bought their own health insurance last year have maintained their old policies or other plans purchased late in 2013. But more than 50,000 of them won’t be able to keep their health plans beyond this year, potentially setting up a repeat of last fall’s turmoil and frustration among people whose policies were discontinued.”

“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.”

“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.”