“CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — The dominion of Tennessee’s largest health insurer is reflected in its headquarters’ lofty perch above the city, atop a hill that during the Civil War was lined with Union cannons to repel Confederate troops.
BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee has used its position to establish a similarly firm foothold in the first year of the marketplaces created by the health law. The company sold 88 percent of the plans for Tennessee individuals and families. Only one other insurer, Cigna, bothered to offer policies in Chattanooga, and the premiums were substantially higher than those offered by BlueCross.
Though insurers have been regularly vilified in debates over health care prices, BlueCross’ near monopoly here has been unusually good financially for consumers. Its cut-rate exclusive deal with one of three area health systems turned Chattanooga into one of the 10 least expensive insurance markets in the country, as judged by the lowest price mid-level, or silver, plan. The premium for a 40-year-old for that plan is $181 a month, 30 percent less than for the median cheapest silver plan nationally.”
“Last week, the House of Representatives voted to authorize Speaker John Boehner to file a lawsuit challenging President Obama’s failure to fully implement Obamacare. Specifically, the lawsuit will challenge the administration’s delay of the employer mandate—requiring many employers to provide health insurance or pay a fine—that was supposed to go into effect Jan. 1. It’s clear President Obama repeatedly has abused executive power to circumvent Congress and essentially rewrite the law, but this lawsuit still raises a host of questions.”
“Obamacare plans have shrunk payments to physicians so much that some doctors say they won’t be able to afford to accept Obamacare coverage, NPR reports.
Many of the eight million sign-ups in Obamacare exchanges nationwide already face more limited choices for physicians and hospitals than those in the private insurance market. But with low physician reimbursement rates, the problem could get even worse.
For a typical quick patient visit, Dr. Doug Gerard, a Connecticut internist, told NPR a private insurer would pay $100 while Medicare would pay around $80. But Obamacare plans are more likely to pay closer to $80, which Gerard says is unsustainable for his practice.
“I cannot accept a plan [in which] potentially commercial-type reimbursement rates were now going to be reimbursed at Medicare rates,” Dr. Gerard told NPR. ”You have to maintain a certain mix in private practice between the low reimbursers and the high reimbursers to be able to keep the lights on.”
Narrow networks have become a hallmark of many Obamacare exchange plans, as one of few options left to insurance companies that allows them to save money by lowering reimbursement rates and covering fewer providers. In the health-care law’s first year, 70 percent of all Obamacare plan networks were either narrow or ultra-narrow, according to an analysis from consulting firm McKinsey.”
“Newly hired employees who don’t sign up for health insurance on the job could have it done for them under a health law provision that may take effect as early as next year.
But the controversial provision is raising questions: Does automatic enrollment help employees help themselves, or does it force them into coverage they don’t want and may not need? A group of employers, many of them retail and hospitality businesses, want the provisions repealed, but some experts say the practice has advantages and is consistent with the aims of the health law.
By enrolling people unless they opt out, “you’re changing the default option,” says Caroline Pearson, vice president at Avalere Health, a research and consulting firm. The health law does the same thing by requiring people to have insurance or face penalties, she says.
“You’re not eliminating people’s choice or forcing people into things they don’t want,” Pearson adds.
Under the health law, companies with more than 200 full-time workers have to enroll new, full-time employees in one of the company health plans unless the employee chooses not to join. The Department of Labor said that employers aren’t required to comply until the agency issues regulations spelling out how to do so. The department delayed its initial plan to issue regulations by 2014, and at this time there’s no additional information available about when regulations will be issued, according to a DOL spokesperson. Industry experts are split on when to expect those regulations, with some believing regulations could take effect in 2015, while others say that is unlikely.”
“Francisco Velazco couldn’t wait any longer. For several years, the 35-year-old Seattle handyman had searched for an orthopedic surgeon who would reconstruct the torn ligament in his knee for a price he could afford.
Out of work because of the pain and unable to scrape together $15,000 – the cheapest option he could find in Seattle – Velazco turned to an unconventional and controversial option: an online medical auction site called Medibid, which largely operates outside the confines of traditional health insurance. The four-year-old online service links patients seeking non-emergency care with doctors and facilities that offer it, much the way Priceline unites travelers and hotels. Vetting doctors is left to prospective patients: Medibid does not verify credentials but requires doctors to submit their medical license number for patients to check.
Velazco paid $25 to post his request for knee surgery. A few days later, he had bids for the outpatient procedure from surgeons in New York, California and Virginia, including details about their expertise. After accepting the lowest bid — $7,500, a fee that covered anesthesia and related costs — he learned that his surgeon would be William T. Grant, a Charlottesville orthopedist.”
“If being uninsured were no big deal, presumably Obamacare never would have been enacted. The whole premise of the law is that being uninsured is a bad thing, so it’s well worth wielding a few carrots and sticks to get people into coverage. Unfortunately, Obamacare has had to break more than a few eggs along the way. One of the presumably unintended consequences of this misguided law is the fashion in which it encourages some young adults to become uninsured. These are the very young people that the Exchanges need to sign up for coverage if they are to avoid a death spiral.
It may seem puzzling that a law that both hands out subsidies to encourage coverage and imposes penalties on those who do not could possibly increase the incentive to become or remain uninsured.”
“In an oped for Politico, I explain why ObamaCare architect Jonathan Gruber’s 2012 admissions that “if you’re a state and you don’t set up an Exchange, that means your citizens don’t get their tax credits” matter to the ongoing litigation over the Obama administration issuing those subsidies in federal Exchanges, and why Gruber’s attempts to explain his own words away are not credible. Shortly after submitting that piece, I learned Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt found Gruber’s remarks relevant enough to ask a federal court hearing one of those cases to take notice.
Gruber’s repeated remarks contradict the Obama administration’s legal argument, made in Halbig v. Burwell and three related lawsuits, that it is implausible that Congress would have conditioned those subsidies on states establishing Exchanges. His remarks likewise contradict the amicus briefs Gruber himself filed in two of those cases. (Here’s my response to those briefs.)”
“Florida Blue, the state’s largest health insurer, is increasing premiums by an average of 17.6 percent for its Affordable Care Act exchange plans next year, company officials say.
The nonprofit Blue Cross and Blue Shield affiliate blames higher health costs as a result of attracting older adults this year who previously lacked coverage and are using more services than expected.
Florida insurance regulators plan to release rate information for all companies next week. The exchange plans cover individuals who aren’t covered by employer-based policies.
Florida Blue offers many plans. The 40 percent of its individual policyholders who chose “narrow network” plans called BlueSelect that limit coverage to fewer doctors and hospitals will see rates rise by an average of 13 percent.
Critics of the health law have predicted big rate hikes in the second year of the online marketplaces. Florida Blue CEO Patrick Geraghty noted that premiums in the individual market have been going up for years. “In the individual market, this type of average rate increase is typical,” he told Kaiser Health News. “It’s is not aberrant.””
“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.”