The impact of ObamaCare on doctors and patients, companies inside and outside the health sector, and American workers and taxpayers
“A new problem has emerged with the federal government’s Open Payments system, which is supposed to go live Sept. 30 and disclose payments to physicians by pharmaceutical and medical device companies.
A couple weeks ago, the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said it would be withholding information on one-third of the payments, citing data inconsistencies in company submissions.
Now, a source familiar with the matter tells ProPublica that CMS won’t disclose another batch of payments: research grants made by pharmaceutical companies to doctors through intermediaries, such as contract research organizations. In these cases, doctors apparently have not been given a chance to verify and dispute payments attributed to them, as required by law.
Officials at CMS have not publicly disclosed anything about this latest batch of withheld data and did not answer questions from ProPublica about how many records are involved.
The data is required to be disclosed under the Physician Payment Sunshine Act, part of the 2010 Affordable Care Act. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, one of the main proponents of the law, expressed frustration with the reporting system’s troubles.
“CMS has had more than four years to figure everything out,” Grassley said in a statement Thursday. “It’s disappointing and irresponsible that so many basic questions are unresolved at this late stage.””
“An announcement could be made soon on Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett’s plan to use billions of federal Medicaid expansion dollars under the 2010 healthcare law to subsidize private health insurance policies, a spokeswoman said Wednesday.
Kait Gillis, a state Department of Public Welfare spokeswoman, said negotiations with the federal government are in the final stages, but details remain under wraps.
HHS officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday, and the federal agency consistently has declined to publicly discuss details of Corbett’s plan. The 124-page plan was formally submitted in February, and closed-door negotiations began in April after a public comment period.”
“When Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas went up with a television ad last week alluding to some benefits of Obamacare, partisans on both the left and the right saw the spot as a sign that vulnerable Democrats might finally be embracing the polarizing health-care overhaul in their campaigns.
But in the days since, it’s become clear: there’s little evidence that the hotly debated law is on its way to becoming a central Democratic talking point heading into the fall campaign.
“It’s basically the first pro-Obamacare ad we’ve seen by a vulnerable Democrat for months,” said Elizabeth Wilner, senior vice president of Kantar Media Ad Intelligence, whose Campaign Media Analysis Group tracks political advertising. “It’s like seeing a unicorn – it just doesn’t happen very often.””
“We all know Obamacare is a pretty big law, with plenty of obscure provisions that don’t get much attention. For one, the law targets big executive pay packages at health insurance companies — and based on data released Wednesday, the provision is already going a long way.
Companies have long been able to deduct salaries to top executives from their federal tax bills, although since the early 1990s — in an effort to reduce excessive pay — the government has limited the amount to $1 million.
Starting last year, a piece of the Affordable Care Act lowered the limit to $500,000 for health insurers (although the $1 million limit still applies to the rest of corporate America). It also eliminates the tax carve out for what tends to be much more lucrative performance pay, like stock options, for health insurers. Finally, the cap applies to all health insurance employees, no longer just a firm’s four highest-paid executives.
This obscure provision resulted in a $72 million infusion to the Treasury last year from just the 10 largest publicly traded health insurers, according to an analysis from the left-leaning Institute for Policy Studies. The actual tax tab is probably higher when accounting for smaller insurers. And the Joint Committee on Taxation in 2009, a few months before the ACA became law, projected the provision would mean $100 million in revenue each year.”
“Hundreds of thousands of people risk losing their new health insurance policies if they don’t resubmit citizenship or immigration information to the government by the end of next week — but the federal Healthcare.gov site remains so glitchy that they are having a tough time complying.
Consumers are being forced to send their information multiple times, and many can’t access their accounts at all, immigration law experts and insurance agents say.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services sent letters to about 310,000 consumers two weeks ago, telling them they need to submit proof of their citizenship or immigration status by Sept. 5 or their insurance will be canceled at the end of the month.
CMS spokesman Aaron Albright says letters were sent only to people for whom the government has no citizenship or immigration documentation. Yet agents and others who assisted immigrants with applications say they know documentation was sent during enrollment.
Marielena Hincapie, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, says the problems don’t lie with the consumers. The federal databases for the Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration are outdated, have mismatched Social Security numbers and names, and often transpose names for those from other countries, especially refugees from Africa, she says.”
“Insurers can no longer reject customers with expensive medical conditions thanks to the health care overhaul. But consumer advocates warn that companies are still using wiggle room to discourage the sickest — and costliest — patients from enrolling.
Some insurers are excluding well-known cancer centers from the list of providers they cover under a plan; requiring patients to make large, initial payments for HIV medications; or delaying participation in public insurance exchanges created by the overhaul.
Advocates and industry insiders say these practices may dissuade the neediest from signing up and make it likelier that the customers these insurers do serve will be healthier — and less expensive.
“It’s the same insurance companies that are up to the same strategies: Take in as much premium as possible and pay out as little as possible,” said Jerry Flanagan, an attorney with the advocacy group Consumer Watchdog.”
“Ascension Health, one of the nation’s largest hospital owners, is expanding rapidly with a string of announced deals that its CEO says will grow its reach beyond hospitals to keep pace with rapid Obamacare-induced changes in the marketplace.
But notably, Ascension is not on an acquisition spree. Its latest deals—in Illinois, Michigan, Arizona and Wisconsin—are not outright purchases, but rather agreements with regional rivals and other national players to jointly own, operate or contract for hospitals and insurance companies.
The deals pair Ascension with well-established players in each market and allow the system to avoid costly competition or wasteful duplication by capitalizing on partners’ resources that Ascension lacks, said Robert Henkel, Ascension Health’s chief executive. The strategy also will allow Ascension to jointly develop broader services to care for patients at home, in nursing homes and other locations outside of hospitals. “There are times we don’t have all the pieces,” he said.
The shift by healthcare systems away from providing care in hospitals has accelerated since the 2010 health reform law, as Medicare and Medicaid introduced new financial incentives for lower-cost care under reform and commercial health plans followed. An explosion of dealmaking across healthcare has followed as hospitals, medical groups, insurance companies and drug and devicemakers consolidated or diversified, depending on strategy.”
“Bill Jacobs spent four nights in a hospital in Florida battling pneumonia. His kids visited each day, fluffed his pillows, brought his favorite Sudoku puzzles and got regular updates from his nurses and doctors. Imagine their surprise when they found out that their 86-year-old father was never actually admitted; instead, he was treated as an outpatient under what Medicare refers to as “observation status.”
What difference does that make? Actually, more than you might think. If your parents are on Medicare, the difference between being considered an inpatient or an observation patient could be thousands of dollars out of their pocket, if not more.
First, Medicare Part A will cover all hospital services, less the deductible, but only if you’re admitted to the hospital as an inpatient. The one-time deductible covers all hospital services for the first 60 days in the hospital. Doctors’ charges are covered under Medicare Part B. After you meet the deductible for Part B, you’ll then owe 20 percent of the Medicare-approved amount for doctor services, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ Are You A Hospital Inpatient Or Outpatient?”
“Every day in intensive care units across the country, patients get aggressive, expensive treatment their caregivers know is not going to save their lives or make them better.
California researchers now report this so-called “futile” care has a hidden price: It’s crowding out other patients who could otherwise survive, recover and get back to living their lives.
Their study, in Critical Care Medicine, shows that patients who could benefit from intensive care in UCLA’s teaching hospital are having to wait hours and even days in the emergency room and in nearby community hospitals because ICU beds are occupied by patients receiving futile care. Some patients die waiting.
On one day out of every six, the researchers found, UCLA’s intensive care units contain at least one patient receiving useless care while other patients are unable to get into the ICU.
More than half the time, over a three-month period the researchers examined, the hospital’s intensive care units had a least one patient receiving futile care. The study shows the ripple effects of that futile care within the UCLA hospital and in surrounding hospitals where patients were waiting to be transferred.
“It is unjust when a patient is unable to access intensive care because ICU beds are occupied by patients who cannot benefit,” the authors write.
“The ethic of ‘first come, first served,’” they say, “is not only inefficient and wasteful, but it is contrary to medicine’s responsibility to apply health care resources to best serve society.””
“Thought HealthCare.gov had problems?
Another federal government-run website created under ObamaCare is suffering the same symptoms as the troubled federal health care exchange — grappling with delays, data problems and other hiccups as the deadline to take it public nears.
At issue is a database known as the Open Payments website. It was created under the Affordable Care Act to shed light on the financial ties between doctors and pharmaceutical companies as well as device manufacturers.
The transparency initiative is supposed to include detailed information about drug payments made by doctors as well as the value of gifts and services given by drug makers. Such items can include everything from meals to swanky retreats.
The database project, though, is dealing with a minefield of technical problems and confusion over the data. The problems led the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to shut down what is currently a private site for 11 days earlier this month.”