ObamaCare’s impact on health costs.
“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.”
“New information related to physician-industry interaction is scheduled to be released to the public for the first time on September 30. The public database from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), which is part of the Sunshine Act implementation, will focus on payments that biopharmaceutical and medical technology companies have made to physicians. Although the release date is less than six weeks away, concerns about what the data will look like and its effect on medical innovation are already being brought to light by stakeholders across the board.
One of the primary concerns that PhRMA shares with more than two dozen other patient and industry organizations is that the data needs to include context to explain what the payments represent – collaborations that benefit patient health and innovation. It’s critical to note that the new database will include information on many different types of interactions. For example, the data could reflect an oncologist partnering with a biopharmaceutical company to lead a clinical trial on an innovative cancer treatment or a family practice physician’s attendance at an industry-sponsored speaking event led by a peer to further her education about geriatric care. However, if the data released includes only names and numbers, the public is likely to be confused and the information is left subject to misinterpretation.
Additionally, many physicians are not aware about the Sunshine Act, what it means for them and their ability to be part of this collaborative process. It is important for CMS to provide physicians with more information about their ability to register and review data reported on them.
To compound this lack of information, physicians also face a confusing registration process with a very short timeline. Given how instrumental relationships between companies and physicians are to driving future innovation, we want to ensure that both groups can provide input on the process of Sunshine Act reporting.”
“Next month, when the federal government releases data about payments to physicians from pharmaceutical and medical device makers, one-third of the records will be withheld because of data inconsistencies, an official told ProPublica.
The issue is the latest hurdle for the federal government as it seeks to launch the already-delayed Open Payments database mandated under the Physician Payment Sunshine Act, a provision of the 2010 Affordable Care Act. Making this information public is a crucial step in promoting greater transparency about conflicts of interest in medicine.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services first turned up flaws in the data in the past two weeks, while investigating a physician’s complaint that payments were being attributed to him even though they were made to another physician with the same name. In the process of reviewing that issue, it found “intermingled data,” meaning physicians were being linked to medical license numbers or national provider identification numbers that were not theirs.
“CMS is returning about one-third of submitted records to the manufacturers and [group purchasing organizations] because of intermingled data, and will include these records in the next reporting cycle,” CMS spokesman Aaron Albright said by email. These records won’t be posted until June 2015.”
“Nearly 400,000 people in Massachusetts will need to reapply for health insurance before the end of the year, and many of them probably do not even know it.
They are people who do not have employer-sponsored health insurance and who instead sought insurance through the state. After the Massachusetts insurance website failed last year, most of them were enrolled in temporary coverage that ends Dec. 31, which is why they must select a new plan.
This is the newest challenge facing the Massachusetts Health Connector, the state agency that provides an online place to shop for insurance, as it struggles to emerge from the disastrous rollout of its website last year. Now that state and federal officials have said that Massachusetts has software that will work, Connector leaders want to get people to log on and choose a plan, starting Nov. 15.
To reach them, the Connector plans to place 2 million robocalls and knock on 200,000 doors, along with making personal phone calls, sending mail, buying print and broadcast advertisements, and holding community meetings and enrollment fairs.
The campaign is estimated to cost $15 million to $19 million, money the state will seek from the federal government.”