“WASHINGTON — Ending insurance discrimination against the sick was a central goal of the nation’s health care overhaul, but leading patient groups say that promise is being undermined by new barriers from insurers.
The insurance industry responds that critics are confusing legitimate cost-control with bias. Some state regulators, however, say there’s reason to be concerned about policies that shift costs to patients and narrow their choices of hospitals and doctors.
With open enrollment for 2015 three months away, the Obama administration is being pressed to enforce the Affordable Care Act’s anti-discrimination provisions. Some regulations have been issued; others are pending after more than four years.
More than 300 patient advocacy groups recently wrote Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell to complain about some insurer tactics that “are highly discriminatory against patients with chronic health conditions and may … violate the (law’s) nondiscrimination provisions.”
Among the groups were the AIDS Institute, the American Lung Association, Easter Seals, the Epilepsy Foundation, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the National Kidney Foundation and United Cerebral Palsy. All supported the law.
Coverage of expensive drugs tops their concerns.”

“WASHINGTON — In a policy change, the Obama administration is planning to pay doctors to coordinate the care of Medicare beneficiaries, amid growing evidence that patients with chronic illnesses suffer from disjointed, fragmented care.
Although doctors have often performed such work between office visits by patients, they have historically not been paid for it.
Starting in January, Medicare will pay monthly fees to doctors who manage care for patients with two or more chronic conditions like heart disease, diabetes and depression.
“Paying separately for chronic care management services is a significant policy change,” said Marilyn B. Tavenner, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Officials said such care coordination could pay for itself by keeping patients healthier and out of hospitals.”

“In 2010, President Obama signed into law the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as the “Affordable Care Act,” the “ACA,” or “Obamacare.” The ACA will reduce the number of Americans without health insurance— an important goal—but it will do so by increasing the cost of U.S. health coverage. Increasing the cost of health coverage, in turn, will worsen two of the nation’s most important policy problems.
The first of those problems is the increasing unaffordability of private health insurance, a problem that is straining the budgets of middle-income Americans, and hampering social mobility. The second problem is the nation’s grave long-term fiscal instability, a problem primarily driven by government spending on health insurance and health care.
Indeed, the ACA will especially drive up the cost of private health insurance that individuals purchase directly. The law will dramatically expand Medicaid, a program with the poorest health outcomes of any health insurance system in the industrialized world. And the ACA, despite spending over $2 trillion over the next decade, will leave 23 million lawful U.S. residents without health insurance, according to estimates from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).
In other words, the U.S. health care system remains in need of substantial reform, in ways that address the ACA’s deficiencies as well as the system’s preexisting flaws.”

“Nearly 400,000 people in Massachusetts will need to reapply for health insurance before the end of the year, and many of them probably do not even know it.
They are people who do not have employer-sponsored health insurance and who instead sought insurance through the state. After the Massachusetts insurance website failed last year, most of them were enrolled in temporary coverage that ends Dec. 31, which is why they must select a new plan.
This is the newest challenge facing the Massachusetts Health Connector, the state agency that provides an online place to shop for insurance, as it struggles to emerge from the disastrous rollout of its website last year. Now that state and federal officials have said that Massachusetts has software that will work, Connector leaders want to get people to log on and choose a plan, starting Nov. 15.
To reach them, the Connector plans to place 2 million robocalls and knock on 200,000 doors, along with making personal phone calls, sending mail, buying print and broadcast advertisements, and holding community meetings and enrollment fairs.
The campaign is estimated to cost $15 million to $19 million, money the state will seek from the federal government.”

“This tax season will be a messy one for most of Obamacare’s 8 million enrollees.
Individuals and families who bought subsidized coverage have been receiving tax credits based on whatever amount they thought they would earn this year. Upon filing taxes, the IRS will reconcile the amount of subsidy received, based on expected income, with the person’s actual income.
That’s where things can get ugly.
If the person underestimated their income for the year — and got a higher subsidy than they actually deserved — they’ll owe the government the difference. But if they overestimated their income, and received too small a subsidy, they’ll see a bigger tax return.”

“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.”

“When Covered California unveiled its initial slate of 13 carriers last year, their low rates got some attention — but so did their mix.
While Covered California couldn’t boast Aetna or UnitedHealthcare, which instead elected to leave the state’s individual market, four major insurers were on board: Anthem Blue Cross, Blue Shield of California, Health Net and Kaiser Permanente.
And the exchange also had drawn in several smaller health plans, like Ventura County Health Plan, which were going to compete for share on the individual market for the first time.
“For me, the story is [these] new participants,” Micah Weinberg of the Bay Area Council told California Healthline last summer. “Who exactly they are, and how they are being offered in these marketplaces, is worth watching.”
But Ventura County quietly pulled out. A second small carrier, Alameda Alliance, was kicked out. And earlier this summer, a third carrier — Contra Costa Health Plan — was forced to drop out, citing state rules around offering on- and off-exchange plans.
That’s left Covered California with 10 plans — which would be a bounty for nearly any other state. Not so across California’s vast, 164,000-square-mile expanse, where many regions are essentially dependent on a lone insurer.
As “Road to Reform” tracked throughout last year’s enrollment period, the seven small insurers ended up splitting just a fraction of Covered California’s customers, while the “big four” insurers were responsible for almost 95% of all sign-ups across the state.
“It’s not just an issue of market concentration,” California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones (D) told California Healthline. “It’s the absence of choice that exists for some consumers in some parts of California.””

“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.”

“Backers of the health-care law say they are rushing to make sure tens of thousands of people provide more documents to prove they are in the U.S. legally and therefore entitled to the coverage they obtained through HealthCare.gov.
Immigrant advocates say they felt the Obama administration moved hastily in announcing Tuesday it would cut off health insurance for up to 310,000 people who signed up for plans through online exchanges run by the federal government if they don’t send additional information in the next few weeks showing they are U.S. citizens or legal residents.
The federal government is taking the steps to comply with a requirement in the health law that bars unauthorized immigrants from using the online exchanges to shop for coverage, as well as from receiving federal tax credits to offset the cost of premiums.”

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The law’s supporters inserted the provision to try to tamp down controversy over the prospect that it could help people who aren’t legally in the U.S.