The impact of ObamaCare on doctors and patients, companies inside and outside the health sector, and American workers and taxpayers

“When she was eight weeks old, Ashlyn Whitney suffered a severe respiratory-tract infection that put her in an intensive care unit for 12 days.
“Because she was so young, she couldn’t handle it,” Ashlyn’s mother, Nicole Whitney, recalled. “They had to give her oxygen.”
The baby, now a year old, recovered from her illness, known as respiratory syncytial virus.The bill for her treatment at the West Boca Medical Center in Palm Beach County came to about $100,000 — a sum that included almost $4,000 in fees for her birth and pre- and post-natal care — but every dime of the tab was picked up by a medical bill-sharing organization set up for its Christian membership.
Such religious groups are exempt from the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that most Americans obtain health insurance or pay a penalty. Although as many as 30 million Americans will remain without health insurance by 2016, despite the best efforts of the ACA’s proponents, all but about seven million of them will be spared having to join the new system because of exemptions created by the act itself, according to an analysis by the Congressional Budget Office and the staff of the Joint Committee on Taxation.”

“Todd Park, President Obama’s top technology adviser and an important figure in the emergency effort last year to fix the federal government’s online health care marketplace after a disastrous beginning, is leaving the White House, a person familiar with the matter said Monday.
Mr. Park, 41, who was only the second federal official to hold the title of chief technology officer, will return to Silicon Valley at the end of the month and continue to help the White House recruit engineers, this person said.
Mr. Park, a son of Korean immigrants and a Harvard graduate who was a founder of a health information technology company when he was 24, joined the White House in March 2012 after three years as the top technology official at the Department of Health and Human Services.”

“Devin Payne had gone years without health insurance – having little need and not much money to pay for it.
Then Payne, who had a wife and four children, realized she could no longer live as a man.
In her early 40s, she changed her name, began wearing long skirts and grew out her sandy blond hair. And she started taking female hormones, which caused her breasts to develop and the muscle mass on her 6-foot one-inch frame to shrink.
The next step was gender reassignment surgery. For that, Payne, who is now 44, said she needed health coverage. “It is not a simple, easy, magical surgery,” said Payne, a photographer who lives in Palm Springs. “Trying to do this without insurance is a big risk. Things can go wrong … not having the money to pay for it would be awful.”
Payne learned in the fall that she might qualify for subsidies through the state’s new insurance marketplace, Covered California, because her income fell under the limit of $46,000 a year. She eagerly signed up in March for a Blue Shield plan for about $230 a month, and began making preparations for the surgery that would change her life.”

“Those who favor women being guaranteed no-cost birth control coverage under their health insurance say the new rules for nonprofit religious organizations issued by the Obama administration simply put into force what the Supreme Court suggested last month.
A demonstrator holding up a sign outside the Supreme Court in Washington in June 2014. The Obama administration announced new measures last week to allow religious nonprofits and some companies to opt out of paying for birth control for female employees while still ensuring those employees have access to contraception. (Photo by Pablo Martinez Mosivais/AP)
“We interpret what [the administration] did to be putting into effect that order,” said Judy Waxman, vice president for health and reproductive rights at the National Women’s Law Center. She’s referring to the controversial Supreme Court order in a lower court case involving Wheaton College, a Christian school in Illinois.
The unsigned order agreed to by six of the nine justices said Wheaton College need not fill out and send to its insurance company a form opting out of offering the coverage. Instead, it could merely inform the government of its objections.
The new rules unveiled Friday require those with religious objections to providing some or all FDA-approved contraceptives to do exactly that – notify the government rather than their insurance carriers that they cannot provide the coverage. Many religious organizations had complained that filing the form to their insurance companies, which would then provide the coverage using other funds, would make them “complicit” in providing the benefit. Under the new regulations, the government would subsequently be responsible for notifying insurers, which would then arrange contraceptive coverage.”

“As more Americans gain insurance under the federal health law, hospitals are rethinking their charity programs, with some scaling back help for those who could have signed up for coverage but didn’t.
The move is prompted by concerns that offering free or discounted care to low-income, uninsured patients might dissuade them from getting government-subsidized coverage. It also reflects hospitals’ strong financial interest in having more patients covered by insurance as the federal government makes big cuts in funding for uncompensated care.
If a patient is eligible to purchase subsidized coverage through the law’s online marketplaces but doesn’t sign up, should hospitals “provide charity care on the same level of generosity as they were previously?” asks Peter Cunningham, a health policy expert at Virginia Commonwealth University.
Most hospitals are still wrestling with that question, but a few have changed their programs, Cunningham says.”

“Listing to a panel discussion sponsored by the Greensboro Chamber of Commerce Tuesday morning, I heard reference to a metaphor for the Affordable Care Act that I’ve heard a number of time before — the three-legged stool.
Describing the different core components of the health care reform law, three primary tenets offer their support to the law, with, each complementing and reliant upon the others, and the stool falling over if one of the legs falters.
They are: guaranteed issue and community rating (meaning an insurer can’t deny coverage or charge astronomical rates coverage because of pre-existing conditions), the individual mandate (everyone must have coverage or face a fine) and subsidies (financial assistance from the federal government to help low-income consumers can pay for coverage).
I’ve sat in on numerous, similar discussions, and had heard the metaphor before. But it wasn’t until comments from panelist Mark Hall, a professor at Wake Forest University School of Law and a leading health care policy scholar specializing in health care reform, that I realized I was missing a key part of that image.
Those are the three legs — what’s the seat represent?
As Hall noted, if you go by what the law is called, the “Affordable Care” Act, you’d be mistaken.
“One thing it doesn’t do is it doesn’t make care more affordable,” Hall said said during the discussion, which was organized by Pilot Benefits. “Mistake number one was to call it that. It doesn’t change in any significant way how doctors and hospitals are paid.”
As Hall noted, while many opponents might criticize the bill for not reducing health care spending, “the main point is it does not affect how health care is delivered or paid for. … That point is lost on about half of the population.'”

“From Halbig to Sovaldi, this summer was a busy one for health policy and politics. We’ve made it easy to catch up, collecting all of the top stories you clicked on over the past few months. Together, they tell a story about the state of healthcare in the U.S., and offer clues as to where things may be headed when Congress returns in the fall.
Among them: The political battle over Obmacare has become more complicated for Republicans since the government cleaned up the Healthcare.gov mess, and with midterm elections around the corner, the focus will be on how much either party continues to attack or ignore the law. There are policy, legal and business matters to be settled as well – the employer mandate is under attack from the left and the right, the courts have been a wildcard for the health law to this point and could continue to be so, and employers and employees are finding themselves wading through the on-the-ground impacts of the law. That doesn’t even get to our top three storylines of the summer, so be sure to click through to find out what tops the list.”

“A majority of people are worried about employers moving them on to insurance exchanges, with Republicans reporting the highest level of concern at 72 percent. But once they actually get insurance on the exchange, most Democrats and Independents, 43 percent and 39 percent respectively, think the shift would have “no impact” on their coverage. In contrast, most Republicans, 41 percent, think it would have a “very negative” impact. The majority of Republicans and Independents say they would consider looking for another job if they were shifted onto an exchange, at 62 percent and 52 percent respectively. Democrats reported that they would look for another job at a rate ten percentage points below Independents, at 42 percent.”

“Health insurance companies in California may not refuse to cover the cost of abortions, state insurance officials have ruled in a reversal of policy stemming from the decision by two Catholic universities to drop elective abortions from their employee health plans.
Although the federal Affordable Care Act does not compel employers to provide workers with health insurance that includes abortion coverage, the director of California’s Department of Managed Health Care said in a letter to seven insurance companies on Friday that the state Constitution and a 1975 state law prohibits them from selling group plans that exclude the procedure. The law in question requires such plans to encompass all “medically necessary” care.
“Abortion is a basic health care service,” department director Michelle Rouillard wrote in the letter. “All health plans must treat maternity services and legal abortion neutrally.”
Jesuit-run Santa Clara University and Loyola Marymount University notified employees last fall that they planned to stop paying for elective abortions, but said faculty and staff members could pay for supplemental coverage that would be provided through a third party. The two schools said their insurers, Anthem Blue Cross and Kaiser Permanente, had cleared the move with the state.”

“The state of Oregon filed a lawsuit Friday against Oracle America Inc. and several of its executives over the technology company’s role in creating the troubled website for the state’s online health insurance exchange.
The lawsuit, filed in Marion County Circuit Court in Salem, alleges that Oracle officials lied, breached contracts and engaged in “a pattern of racketeering activity.”
Oracle was the largest technology contractor working on Oregon’s health insurance enrollment website, known as Cover Oregon. The public website was never launched, forcing the state to hire hundreds of workers to process paper applications by hand. The website’s failure became a political problem to Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber, who is running for re-election.
A related project to modernize functions for social services also was scrapped. The state paid Oracle $240 million for both projects.”