ObamaCare’s impact on health costs.

“Nearly one company in six in a new survey from a major employer group plans to offer health coverage that doesn’t meet the Affordable Care Act’s requirements for value and affordability.
Many thought such low-benefit “skinny plans” would be history once the health law was fully implemented this year. Instead, 16 percent of large employers in a survey released Wednesday by the National Business Group on Health said they will offer in 2015 lower-benefit coverage along with at least one health plan that does qualify under ACA standards.
The results weren’t unexpected by benefits pros, who realized last year that ACA regulations would allow skinny plans and even make them attractive for some employers. But the new survey gives one of the first looks at how many companies will follow through and offer them.”

“When benefits enrollment season arrives this fall, employees around the country can expect to see the impact of corporate cost-cutting on their finances.
Benefits costs will rise only 5 percent for employers that take certain cost-reduction measures, instead of 6.5 percent for companies that do not, according to a June survey of employers representing 7.5 million workers by the National Business Group on Health.
Although costs are not rising as quickly, employees are still being squeezed.
The main way companies are keeping healthcare costs in line is by shifting workers into high-deductible health plans, defined by the Internal Revenue Service as having deductibles above $1,250 for an individual. (here)
For 2015, 81 percent of employers will offer a high-deductible plan as an option, up from 72 percent last year; while 32 percent will offer such plans as the only option, up from 22 percent last year.
The challenge employers face is: “How do you keep costs from spiraling out of control but not shift all of it to the employee?” said Karen Marlo, a vice president at NGBH who authored the report.”

“Low-income consumers struggling to pay their premiums may soon be able to get help from their local hospital or United Way.
Some hospitals in New York, Florida and Wisconsin are exploring ways to help individuals and families pay their share of the costs of government-subsidized policies purchased though the health law’s marketplaces – at least partly to guarantee the hospitals get paid when the consumers seek care.
But the hospitals’ efforts have set up a conflict with insurers, who worry that premium assistance programs will skew their enrollee pools by expanding the number of sicker people who need more services.
“Entities acting in their [own] financial interest” could drive up costs for everyone and discourage healthier people from buying coverage, insurers wrote recently to the Obama administration.
Insurers are asking the federal government, which regulates the health insurance marketplaces, to restrict the practice.”

“Small and stand-alone nonprofit hospitals are facing mounting pressure from weak operating margins and lower patient volumes, with more signals of stress on the way, according a report released Wednesday from Standard & Poor’s Rating Services.
The rating agency warned the healthcare sector was at “a tipping point where negative forces have started to outweigh many providers’ ability to implement sufficient countermeasures.” Beginning in 2013 and continuing into this year, credit downgrades outpaced upgrades at an accelerating rate.
In particular, stand-alone providers are under greater pressure from physician departures, rising bad debt, and higher employee benefit costs.”

“AUSTIN — A legislative committee is examining market-based alternatives to providing low-income Texans with health care since the state has rejected the expansion of Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act.
Members of the state Senate Health and Human Services committee plan Thursday to discuss alternatives to the law critics call “Obamacare.”
Some ideas include expanding Medicaid block grants and waivers. Lawmakers are seeking to hold health costs in-check while improving access to care.”

“California is coming face to face with the reality of one of its biggest Obamacare successes: the explosion in Medi-Cal enrollment.
The numbers — 2.2 million enrollees since January — surprised health care experts and created unforeseen challenges for state officials. Altogether, there are now about 11 million Medi-Cal beneficiaries, constituting nearly 30 percent of the state’s population.
That has pushed the public insurance program into the spotlight, after nearly 50 years as a quiet mainstay of the state’s health care system, and it has raised concerns about California’s ability to meet the increased demand for health care.
Even as sign-ups continue, state health officials are struggling to figure out how to serve a staggering number of Medi-Cal beneficiaries while also improving their health and keeping costs down. Many are chronically ill and have gone without insurance or regular care for years, and some new enrollees have higher expectations than in the past.”

“What happens in November will play a major role in shaping President Obama’s final two years in office.
No, it’s not just the 2014 midterm elections that have the White House on edge, but also the return of open enrollment in Obamacare.
After the disastrous rollout of the president’s signature domestic initiative in 2013, the administration needs to avoid the problems that diminished public confidence in the most significant overhaul to the health care system since the creation of Medicare.
The White House believes the technical problems that crashed healthcare.gov will become a distant memory. However, team Obama must worry about much more than just a website.
Here are the top five potential Obamacare headaches looming in November:”

“The Obama administration’s effort to end one political crisis during the 2014 Obamacare rollout may have sown the seeds of another controversy: potential double-digit rate hikes in 2015.
If insurers have their way, some residents in politically key states like Florida, North Carolina and Iowa would face hikes of 11 percent to nearly 18 percent — far beyond the average 7.5 percent increase in proposed rates for much of the country.
Major carriers there in part blame such increases on the administration’s response to the furor that erupted when millions of Americans received notice last fall that their health policies would be canceled because they fell short of Obamacare requirements.
Facing a barrage of criticism from Republicans and some Democrats, who accused him of breaking his promise that people could keep plans they liked, President Barack Obama relented. He told insurers they could continue offering those plans if states agreed. About two-thirds of the states took him up on the offer.
But the president’s decision is now having an impact on upcoming rates, insurers say. Many younger, healthier Americans — the category companies had counted on enrolling when they set their initial prices — stuck with their existing coverage. In states with the biggest numbers of these “transitional” policyholders, their absence from the Obamacare market is pushing premiums higher.”

“Premiums on ObamaCare’s health insurance exchanges will rise by an average of 7.5 percent next year, according to a new analysis.
Data compiled by the Health Research Institute (HRI) at PricewaterhouseCoopers found modest changes in premiums for 27 states and the District of Columbia, with the increases mostly falling short of dire predictions for ObamaCare’s second year.
The average national increase of 7.5 percent is “well below the double-digit increases many feared,” HRI Managing Director Ceci Connolly wrote in an email.
The highest proposed rate increase so far came in Nevada, where consumers with Time Insurance Co. might see their insurance premiums rise by 36 percent. Some consumers in Arizona, on the other hand, could see rates drop by 23 percent.
Overall, the highest average price increases under ObamaCare so far have come in Indiana, where some consumers will see prices rise by 15.4 percent. The biggest average savings were found in Oregon, where premiums will drop an average of 2.5 percent in 2015.”

“If consumers thought logging on to HealthCare.gov was a headache, sorting through complex forms ahead of tax deadline day 2015 is their next big Obamacare challenge.
The health care law’s benefits are rolling out, but its major math problems start next year as the IRS tries to ensure that millions of Americans are correctly calculating their benefits and that those who don’t have coverage are penalized unless they qualify for an exemption.
That means much new paper-shuffling between now and April 15, which could be especially confusing for low- and middle-income Americans unaccustomed to lots of reporting to the IRS. The insurance exchanges and employers must send consumers details about their health plan and benefits or exemptions in time for them to file a tax return. If any of that information is delayed or wrong, tax refunds could be delayed.
“We’re having some trepidation,” said Judy Solomon, vice president for health policy at the liberal Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. “This is going to be another new thing just like the roll out of HealthCare.gov.””