“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.”

“Nancy Pippenger and Marcia Perez live 2,000 miles apart but have the same complaint: Doctors who treated them last year won’t take their insurance now, even though they haven’t changed insurers.
“They said, ‘We take the old plan, but not the new one,’” says Perez, an attorney in Palo Alto, Calif.
In Plymouth, Ind., Pippenger got similar news from her longtime orthopedic surgeon, so she shelled out $300 from her own pocket to see him.
Both women unwittingly bought policies with limited networks of doctors and hospitals that provide little or no payment for care outside those networks. Such plans existed before the health law, but they’ve triggered a backlash as millions start to use the coverage they signed up for this year through the new federal and state marketplaces. The policies’ limitations have come as a surprise to some enrollees used to broader job-based coverage or to plans they held before the law took effect.
“It’s totally different,” said Pippenger, 57, whose new Anthem Blue Cross plan doesn’t pay for any care outside its network, although the job-based Anthem plan she had last year did cover some of those costs. “To try to find a doctor, I’m very limited. There aren’t a lot of names that pop up.””

“The decision in the Halbig v. Burwell case this week was an unexpected legal boon to opponents of Obamacare. Spearheaded by the Cato Institute’s Michael Cannon and law professor Jonathan Adler, the case will almost certainly lead this debate about the text of the Affordable Care Act back to the Supreme Court. My colleague Sean Davis has written a comprehensive piece on the case, particularly on the nature of the supposed “drafting error” at its core.
But whatever the ultimate outcome for Halbig, the case serves as a reminder of the uneven ground on which Obama’s health care law is likely to be standing over the next two years. Whether facing challenges in the courts, or in implementation, as we saw in the GAO’s security report this week, or simply as a matter of political approval, Obamacare is going to be a subject of uncertainty in 2016, and its survival will depend on who wins the election, as I wrote here last month.
This raises an interesting question about how the presidential candidates will interact with the law. The law’s continued instability and problems will have to be answered – but the odd circumstance likely to result from the political frame of the issue is that Republicans will put forward a plan to replace Obamacare, but Democrats won’t.
One of the lazier memes of Democratic politicians and a few too many members of the media over the past several years has been the myth that Republicans have no alternative to Obamacare. This is the sort of thing that doesn’t pass even the most basic assessment of accuracy in reporting – here is a list of the health care reforms introduced by Republican House members in 2012, and here’s one for 2013. While their plans vary in scope, there are eight things Republicans generally agree about when it comes to health care reform:
•They want to end the tax bias in favor of employer-sponsored health insurance to create full portability, either through a tax credit, deductibility, or another method;
•They want to incentivize the reform of medical malpractice laws, likely through carrot incentives to the states;
•They want to allow for insurance purchases across state lines;
•They want to support state-level pre-existing condition pools;
•They want to fully block grant Medicaid;
•They want to shift Medicare to premium support;
•They want to speed up the FDA device and drug approval process; and
•They want to maximize the consumer driven health insurance model, making high deductible + health savings account plans larger and more attractive.”