“Research published last week in the British Medical Journal Open provides interesting insight into the cause of rising health care costs. Analysis of the study raises concerns that Obamacare could ultimately bend the cost curve up. The University of California at San Francisco research studied variations in the average charges of 10 commonly ordered outpatient blood tests in California hospitals in 2011, using data from the reports of nonfederal, general acute-care California hospitals to the California Office of Statewide Health and Planning Development.
The researchers uncovered significant and substantial variation in hospital charges across the Golden State. For example, the median charge for a basic metabolic panel (a routine laboratory test that includes such tests as sodium, potassium and glucose) was $214. Yet, for the 189 California hospitals that reported this test, the charges ranged between $35 and $7,303.”

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“Most of the political class seems to have decided that ObamaCare is working well enough, the opposition is fading, and the subsidies and regulation are settling in as the latest wing of the entitlement state. This flight from reality can’t last forever, especially as the evidence continues to pile up that the law is harming the labor market.
On Thursday the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia reported the results of a special business survey on the Affordable Care Act and its influence on employment, compensation and benefits. Liberals claim ObamaCare is of little consequence to jobs, but the Philly Fed went to the source and asked employers qualitative questions about how they are responding in practice.
The bank reports that 78.8% of businesses in the district have made no change to the number of workers they employ as the specific result of ObamaCare and 3% are hiring more. More troubling, 18.2% are cutting jobs and employees. Some 18% shifted the composition of their workforce to a higher proportion of part-time labor. And 88.2% of the roughly half of businesses that modified their health plans as a result of ObamaCare passed along the costs through increasing the employee contribution to premiums, an effective cut in wages.
Those results are consistent with a New York Fed survey, also out this week, that asked “How, if at all, are you changing (or have you changed) any of the following because of the effects that the ACA is having on your business?” For “number of workers you employ,” 21% of Empire State manufacturers and 16.9% of service firms answered “reducing.””

“The Obama administration is moving forward with regulations meant to enable certain businesses and charities to steer clear of the Affordable Care Act’s so-called birth control mandate, while ensuring free contraception coverage for women under the law.
The action amounts to an administrative workaround in response to a slew of legal challenges from groups citing religious objections to portions of the mandate. In June, the Supreme Court ruled that closely held religious companies cannot be compelled to offer their employees certain forms of birth control.
Under the proposal, the government would step in and cover the law’s contraception requirements in instances where employers announce their religious objections in writing. The organizations would not have to play any direct role in providing for contraceptive coverage to which they object, according to a final interim rule from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid.”

“The Affordable Care Act gives the president’s cabinet officers sweeping powers to implement the law, but the administration managed to overreach these powers by allowing people in 36 states to illegally access health insurance subsidies.
That was the conclusion of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in July.
At issue is the ability of people who sign up for coverage through exchanges established by the federal government to receive credits to reduce the cost of their health insurance.
D.C. Appeals Court Judge Raymond Randolph said the statute was quite clear in repeating seven times that subsidies are available only “through an Exchange established by the State.”
When the health law was passed, its authors apparently believed they had sufficiently cajoled the states. Jonathan Gruber, a chief architect of the law, said in early 2012, “if you’re a state and you don’t set up an exchange, that means your citizens don’t get their tax credits.”
But when it became clear that most states would not be coerced, the White House called on the Internal Revenue Service to write a regulation that would allow the subsidies to flow through the default federal exchanges as well.
In Halbig v. Burwell, the D.C. court held that subsidies — as well as the coverage mandates that travel with them — apply only in states that have established their own exchanges.”

“The Affordable Care Act (ACA) presents employers and potential employees with a variety of new rewards and penalties. These are, in part, exactly what the law intended: by penalizing potential employees for not purchasing health insurance, and employers for not providing it, the law aims to increase the fraction of the population with health insurance.
Yet these same rewards and penalties have additional effects, including on the incentive to work; Mulligan
(2014), for example, suggests that the ACA may reduce employment by 3 percent on average and have a range of
positive and negative effects on average hours worked.
In the work summarized here, I quantify the number of people who will have essentially no short-term financial reward from working more than 29 hours, since this would either render them ineligible for the ACA’s assistance or increase
the penalties that may be owed by their employer.
This is the first paper to show that the ACA will put millions of workers in the economically extreme situation of having
zero short-term financial reward (or less) to working full-time rather than part-time.”

“Insurance expansion under healthcare reform is starting to yield patient volume for hospitals, but the costs of staffing up for more patients are eclipsing the additional revenue.
Earnings reports for not-for-profit systems in the first half of the year show that many providers are seeing rising salary and benefit expenses cut into revenue gains, leading to smaller operating surpluses.
“As the pieces of the Affordable Care Act are coming together, it’s changing the demand for care,” said Jeff Jones, managing director at Huron Consulting Group. “It’s shifting the way that providers are thinking about their labor pools.”
A report from Standard & Poor’s similarly found that in 2013, expenses increased 7%, outpacing revenue growth of 5%. The rating agency attributed the rising costs to preparations that systems were making to prepare for healthcare reform, including staffing needs.”

“Obamacare puts employers in a bind, two New York Federal Reserve surveys show. Employers’ health care costs continue to rise, and the health care law is driving them to hire more part-time labor, CNBC reports:
The median respondent to the N.Y. Fed surveys expects health coverage costs to jump by 10 percent next year, after seeing a similar percentage increase last year.
Not all firms surveyed said the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is to blame for those cost increases to date. But a majority did, and the percentage of businesses that predicted the ACA will hike such costs next year is even higher than those that said it did this year.
Obamacare’s higher costs will cascade down to consumers. The surveys found that “36 percent of manufacturers and 25 percent of service firms said they were hiking prices in response” to Obamacare’s effects.
The Empire State Manufacturing Survey polls New York State manufacturers, and the Business Leaders Survey polls service firms in the New York Federal Reserve District.
A June Gallup poll found that four in ten Americans are spending more on health care in 2014 than in 2013.”

“Last Saturday, August 16, marked the 60th anniversary of the enactment of the Internal Revenue Code of 1954, which permanently established in federal law generous tax advantages for employer-paid health-insurance premiums. Those group health benefits are excluded from employees’ taxable wages and thereby are not subject to income and payroll taxes. This tax break has been praised as a pillar of our employer-based private health-insurance system, but its age is showing. A growing list of critics agrees that the tax exclusion needs to be changed. The key questions are when and how. We should expect a significant overhaul, but not a full retirement party, within the next five to ten years.
The simplified history of the tax exclusion for health care usually begins with a 1942 ruling by the War Labor Board that allowed employers to bypass wartime wage controls by providing fringe benefits to workers. In 1943, the Internal Revenue Service issued a special ruling that confirmed employees were not required to pay tax on the dollar value of group health-insurance premiums paid on their behalf by their corporate employers. Over the next decade, a number of IRS rulings and court decisions created additional uncertainty over the full scope of the tax exclusion. When Congress codified this area of tax policy in 1954, it provided many employers and unions with even stronger incentives to sponsor group health-insurance plans.”

“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.”

“In April 2014, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) published detailed information on the $77 billion that 880 000 health care practitioners billed for some 6000 Medicare Part B services in 2012. This commentary by a former CMS administrator discusses how these data can be helpful, what is missing that might lead to misinterpretation, and why such transparency is here to stay.”