“Obamacare is taking a toll on small businesses, according to a new analysis of the effects of the health-care reform law, which found billions of dollars in reduced pay and hundreds of thousands fewer jobs.
Take-home pay at small businesses was trimmed by some $22.6 billion annually because of the Affordable Care Act and related insurance premium hikes, researchers at the American Action Forum, a center-right think tank headed by former Congressional Budget Office director Douglas Holtz-Eakin, found in a report released Tuesday.
Individual year-round employees at businesses with 50 to 99 workers lost $935 annually, while those at firms with 20 to 49 workers are out an average of $827.50 per person in take-home pay, the report found.”

“The federal government will wait until January to roll out its five-star rating system meant to help consumers compare quality at dialysis centers across the country.
Use of the system on the CMS’ dialysis centers compare website had been scheduled for October, but was met with angst by dialysis providers who questioned the methodology and said the program was likely to be more confusing than helpful.
In response, the federal agency announced Wednesday that it has moved the date by about three months.
The CMS began using the rating program on nursing homes in December 2008 and earlier this year applied a similar rubric to physician groups. In July, the agency announced plans to extend the program to dialysis facilities starting Oct. 9.”

“Obamacare’s defenders are busy declaring victory again. Ezra Klein is touting a new survey of Obamacare benchmark premiums in some regions of the country as evidence that the law is defying the predictions of critics and working to cut costs rather than increase them.
But, as Bob Laszewski notes, the truth about Obamacare implementation is far less rosy than the latest round of cheerleading would indicate.
For starters, the federal and state websites remain largely a dysfunctional mess, although the media isn’t really covering the story anymore. The supposed “fix” that allowed millions of consumers to sign up with plans on the exchanges from December through April really wasn’t much of a fix after all. It was a workaround, allowing consumers to access large federal subsidies with minimal verification.”

“The Obama administration has decided to continue its legal battle against Little Sisters of the Poor, a Catholic charity that objects to Obamacare’s mandate that employee health plans cover contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs.
The order of Catholic nuns argues that the rule fashioned by the Department of Health and Human Services requires them to violate their religious beliefs by offering insurance coverage for 20 specific drugs and devices — some of which the nuns believe could destroy what they consider a human life.
If the Little Sisters of the Poor choose not to abide by the HHS mandate, they face devastating fines by the Internal Revenue Service that could result in millions of dollars a year being diverted from their mission of caring for elderly women and men.”

“Having access to health insurance is slowing the rate of young adults who head to the emergency department for care, a new study suggests. Relative use of the ED decreased among 19- to-25-year-olds after the healthcare reform law allowed them to stay on their parents’ policies. The authors say the results show insurance can reduce ED overuse by removing the economic barriers to preventive care.
“It’s possible that when people have healthcare insurance they are less worried about the financial costs of care,” said Tina Hernandez-Boussard, assistant professor of surgery and biomedical informatics at Stanford University and lead author of a study published Monday in the journal Health Affairs. “They might seek appropriate care elsewhere and take care of conditions earlier. This could lead to a reduction in utilization of the emergency department.””

“Allowing young adults to stay on their parents’ health plans is one of the most popular elements of the president’s health-care law, but a pair of new studies out today raises questions about the overall impact of the coverage expansion to an estimated 3 million people.
The provision, which allows young adults to stay on their parents’ health insurance plans until their 26th birthday, was one of the earliest parts of the law to take effect, in 2010, and researchers are now starting to report on the effects of that expansion. As expected, it increased the rate of health insurance among young adults, who historically had the highest uninsured rates of any age group. But the provision didn’t change whether the age group perceived themselves as healthier or whether they thought health care was any more affordable, according to a new study in JAMA Pediatrics.”

“Americans living in rural areas will be a key target as states and nonprofit groups strategize how to enroll more people in health law insurance plans this fall.
Though millions of people signed up for private insurance or Medicaid in the first year of the Affordable Care Act, millions of others did not. Many live in rural areas where people “face more barriers,” said Laurie Martin, a RAND Corp. senior policy researcher. Brock Slabach, a senior vice president at the National Rural Health Association, said “the feds are particularly concerned about this.”
Distance is one problem: Residents have to travel farther to get face-to-face assistance from the so-called navigators and assisters hired to help consumers figure out the process. And Internet access is sometimes spotty, discouraging online enrollment.
But the most significant barriers may stem directly from state decisions about whether to expand Medicaid eligibility — more than 20 states chose not to — and whether to operate their own health exchanges. States that embraced those parts of the law generally had more federal resources as well as funds generated by their online marketplaces for outreach efforts to boost enrollment, including those aimed at consumers in less accessible areas, and more coverage options, through Medicaid, for which these consumers might be eligible.”

“Large businesses expect to pay between 4 and 5 percent more for health-care benefits for their employees in 2015 after making adjustments to their plans, according to employer surveys conducted this summer.
Few employers plan to stop providing benefits with the advent of federal health insurance mandates, as some once feared, but a third say they are considering cutting or reducing subsidies for employee family members, and the data suggest that employees are paying more each year in out-of-pocket health care expenses.
The figures come from separate electronic surveys given to thousands of mid- to large-size firms across the country by Towers Watson, the National Business Group on Health and PriceWaterhouseCoopers, consulting groups that engage with businesses on health insurance issues.
Bracing themselves for an excise tax on high-cost plans coming in 2018 under the Affordable Care Act, 81 percent of employers surveyed by Towers Watson said they plan to moderately or significantly alter health-care benefits to reduce their costs.”

“When Congress returns this week, action in both chambers will mostly be a show for the voters back home ahead of the midterm election. In the House, that will include a vote on a bill to allow insurance companies to continue offering any plan that was sold in the group market in 2013.
Noticeably absent from congressional politicking in the next few weeks is the Affordable Care Act’s risk corridor program, which was, as recently as a few months ago, a major Republican criticism of the law. But that doesn’t mean the “insurer bailout” fight is dead. Republicans in both chambers are quietly working to challenge the legality and projected cost of the program. And that could tee up the issue to become a bargaining chip in the budget fights to come at the end of this year, regardless of who wins the Senate.
The Affordable Care Act’s risk corridor program runs from 2014 through 2016, and was established to encourage insurers to take a chance on covering an unknown population — the Americans who would be purchasing insurance on state and federal exchanges. The program collects funds from qualified health plans that bring in more money than they paid for medical claims, and then pays that money to plans with claims that cost more than they brought it from consumers.
But what happens if there isn’t enough money from well-performing insurers to pay all of the insurers that missed the mark? The federal government is on the hook, but where they find the money to pay those insurers is a question being debated throughout Washington. That’s because the law did not give the federal government a clear appropriation to spend money to make up for losses. And Republicans are, of course, very unlikely to give them one.”

“In the shrub steppe of Grand Coulee on the banks of the Columbia River, Wash., the town’s two family doctors practice at an unrelenting pace, working on call every other night and every other weekend.
In the coastal town of Port Angeles, the doctor shortage is so acute that a clinic is turning away 250 callers a week seeking a physician.
George and Lynne Rudesill are two of those people. Since learning earlier this summer that their primary-care doctor in Sequim was retiring, the couple have scrambled to find a replacement. Their calls are being met with waiting lists hundreds of people long or advice to call again in a month.
“I’m going to have to drive all the way to Silverdale or Bremerton to see a doctor,” George Rudesill said, citing cities that are about 70 or more miles away from home. “This area is in a medical crisis right now.”
Rural areas have long been strapped for doctors, but now the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is further straining those limited resources. More people with insurance means more people will want to connect with a doctor — just as aging baby boomers require more care and the doctors are retiring.”