“Andrew Slavitt, a former executive at the technology company tasked with “saving” HealthCare.gov and now second in command at the agency overseeing Obamacare, yesterday ran into sharp questions from a House panel about a potential conflict of interest in his new role.
Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Va., pressed Slavitt on his previous job at OptumInsight/QSSI and that company’s continuing involvement with HealthCare.gov.
“How are you able to manage your former employer, and doesn’t this create a conflict of interest?” Griffith asked Slavitt during the new Obamacare official’s testimony before the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.
Slavitt, the new principal deputy administrator at Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, didn’t go into specifics, but said he had limited contact with his former employer. He assured Griffith and other subcommittee members that he was taking the proper steps to maintain ethical standards and noted that he had signed an ethics pledge.
“As a public servant, I have a very clear set of rules to follow,” Slavitt said.”

“The weighted average increase for plans being sold on the Obamacare California public exchange in 2015 will be 4%. So, that means Obamacare is working really well, right?
Well, wait a minute.
Let’s consider a few things:
1.This week the California insurance commissioner reported that the average unsubsidized 2014 rate increase carriers charged going into Obamacare was between 22% and 82%. That was a pretty healthy bump to get everyone into Obamacare in the first place.
2.California voters will go to the polls this fall to vote on Proposition 45. That ballot initiative would regulate health insurance rates in California for the first time. Big rate increases on part of the carriers would do a lot to get that proposition passed and very low increases would do a lot toward defeating it.
3.The health plans competing in the Obamacare exchanges are limited to tiny losses this year because of the Obamacare reinsurance program that runs through 2016. In effect, anymore underpricing they put into their rates for 2015 is subsidized by the federal government. In fact, the Obama administration recently took the statutory caps off of how much they can pay the carriers to keep their bottom line whole.”

“The price tag for healthcare.gov, the Obamacare website, is approaching $1 billion even as key features remain incomplete, congressional auditors said.
The budget to get the site ready for the next round of enrollments, starting in November, jumped to $840 million as of March, according to the Government Accountability Office. That’s a $163 million increase since December.
Accenture Plc (ACN), the company that took over building the site that failed at its introduction this past October, is expected to be paid $175 million as of June, an $84 million increase from the estimate in January when it signed a contract. The data are part of testimony for a congressional hearing today in the Republican-led House. The GAO places blame for the site’s rising price on poor planning and supervision of contractors who built the federal health exchange.
If the management doesn’t improve “significant risks remain that upcoming open enrollment periods could encounter challenges,” William Woods, the GAO’s director of acquisition and sourcing management, is scheduled to testify according to prepared remarks released by the Energy and Commerce Committee.”

“The recent decision of a three-judge panel in the Halbig case, if it prevails, would have a direct effect on the availability of subsidies under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). People buying coverage on their own in insurance exchanges run by the federal government would be ineligible for income-based subsidies. Depending on how you count, that would take premium subsidies away from 4.6 million people in 34 states, or 4.7 million people in 36 states if you count New Mexico and Idaho (which have signaled their intention to operate their own exchanges but are still using the federal marketplace).
Many more people are eligible for subsidies but haven’t yet signed up. We estimate (using the approach described here that a total of 9.5 million uninsured people are eligible for subsidies in federal marketplace states (or, 9.7 million people if you include New Mexico and Idaho).
Since many low and moderate income people would have difficulty affording insurance without the subsidies, this would no doubt alter the extent to which the ACA is reducing the number of Americans who are uninsured, which recent surveys peg at about 8 to 10 million.
But, there would also be two important side effects of the Halbig case.”

“Cover Oregon has given a $70,000 contract to Aaron Karjala, the health insurance exchange’s former top technology official, to assist with litigation against Oracle Corp.
Clyde Hamstreet, formerly the exchange’s acting executive director, signed the contract with Karjala June 3, less than three months after Gov. John Kitzhaber publicly called for his firing.”

“Luis Martinez of Hialeah survived two heart attacks during the more than 10 years that he went without health insurance.
So he was relieved to finally find coverage on the Affordable Care Act’s insurance exchange in March, two weeks before the enrollment deadline.
But four months after he and his wife signed up for a subsidized, bronze-level health plan with Coventry, Martinez, 51, said he feels as though he has fallen into a black hole of government bureaucracy while trying to prove his income and his wife’s citizenship in order to keep their coverage, part of a national effort to verify policyholders’ eligibility.
Martinez, who has stents implanted in his coronary arteries, said he has tried repeatedly for more than a month to comply with the government’s requests for additional documentation to resolve inconsistencies in his personal information — or risk losing his $457 monthly subsidy, and health insurance for him and his wife, Rocio Balbin, 46.
So far, officials with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services are not satisfied with his response.”

“When Sen. Mark R. Warner faces his Republican challenger Ed Gillespie in their first debate today at The Greenbrier resort in West Virginia, the two are likely to clash over the Democrat’s support for the Affordable Care Act, which Gillespie wants to see repealed.
But seven months after entering the race, seven weeks after his nomination as the GOP candidate and three months before the November election, Gillespie, who has repeatedly attacked his opponent for “casting the deciding vote” for the health care law, has yet to roll out his own ideas for policies that would replace the measure.
“I do believe there are reforms that would be helpful,” the former GOP strategist and chairman of the Republican National Committee said in an interview last month. “(But) I haven’t finalized or settled on these in terms of the policy moving forward.””

“The top federal prosecutors from South Dakota and North Dakota say they have increased their efforts to fight healthcare fraud.
U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson of South Dakota said he has restructured his office to allow lawyers in the criminal and civil divisions to devote “significant time” to investigating medical fraud. He predicted it will be among the fastest-growing area of criminal investigation and wants his office to be in position to pursue increasing “complex and egregious” cases.
“My advice to the medical community is to stay away from gray areas or outright fraud that wastes tax dollars, because we will be watching,” Johnson told the Sioux Falls Argus Leader. “The end result in many of these cases will be that the taxpayers get their money back with interest and penalties, and the medical professional loses their license.”
Johnson’s office recently settled an alleged fraud case involving two doctors at Dakotas-based Sanford Health. Court documents show that Sanford paid $625,000 to settle the lawsuit, in which the doctors and the hospital did not admit wrongdoing. Cindy Morrison, Sanford’s executive vice president for marketing and public policy, said the hospital settled to avoid distraction.
“For us, it’s the issue of time and expense,” she said.”

“New Mexico decided Friday to stick with a federal online system for another year to enroll individuals in health insurance plans.
The state’s health insurance exchange governing board voted 11-1 to continue using the federal computer system for determining eligibility and to enroll individuals starting in November when the next open enrollment begins.
A majority of board members worried that New Mexico wasn’t ready to switch to a state-run online system for individuals. Any technical failures could delay enrollment and discourage consumers from trying to obtain health coverage, they said.
Continuing with the federal system for another year is the “safest, most risk-free” way of enrolling New Mexicans, New Mexico Health Connections CEO Martin Hickey said.”

“States running their own Obamacare exchanges were supposed to wean themselves off federal funding by the end of this year, but some of them want that Obama administration spigot open a bit longer.
The states aren’t asking for the feds to dole out more money on top of the $4.6 billion already dedicated to exchange planning and construction. But they do want to be able to spend their federal exchange grants into 2015 as they grapple with core components of the insurance portals that are balky, unfinished or in disrepair.
The viability of state exchanges became more urgent this week after conflicting court rulings created uncertainty about whether Affordable Care Act subsidies would be available through the federal exchange — or whether the state market would be the only legal route.
A POLITICO survey of the 15 state-run exchanges (including Washington, D.C.) found that 11 are thinking about using federal dollars in 2015 — and four of those states have already applied.”