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

“Obamacare challengers in the Halbig case have asked the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals not to review a three-judge panel’s ruling against federal exchange subsidies, instead calling for “final resolution by the Supreme Court.”
The backstory: one month ago a divided three-judge panel prohibited Obamacare subsidies for residents buying from the federal exchange. The Obama administration asked the full D.C. Circuit bench to rehear the case, which is reserved for matters of exceptional importance.
The challengers don’t want that, because if they lose at the D.C. Circuit it would make the Supreme Court less likely to take the case.
“There is no doubt that this case is of great national importance. Not due to the legal principles at stake—this is a straightforward statutory construction case under well-established principles—but rather due to its policy implications for ongoing implementation of the Affordable Care Act (‘ACA’). Those implications, however, are precisely why rehearing would not be appropriate here, as Judges of this Court have recognized in many analogous cases,” the plaintiffs wrote in the brief filed Monday.
The Obama administration has an advantage in an en banc — or full bench — ruling: it would feature eight Democratic-appointed judges and five Republican-appointed judges. Now that the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled in favor of the federal subsidies, the only way the challengers can win is at the Supreme Court. The plaintiffs at the 4th Circuit have already asked the justices to take the case, which the Halbig plaintiffs pointed out.”

“The deadly Ebola outbreak spreading through Africa is so extreme, it is driving health officials to do something that they would instinctively resist in normal circumstances: Subject patients to unproven experimental drugs.
The drugs are risky. Some have not even been tested on humans. Even so, a World Health Organization ethics committee just declared such use ethical, and its reasoning is hard to dispute, at least for patients who would otherwise die. Some chance is better than none, even with unknown side effects.
Too bad American patients suffering from terminal illnesses have so much trouble getting the same chance.
The process for getting experimental drugs is so daunting that fewer than 1,000 people sought and got federal approval to take such drugs last year.
Food and Drug Administration rules require patients to clear a series of hurdles. First, they and their doctors must find a company to provide its drug. Many drug makers — worried that a patient’s death will spur a lawsuit or harm their chances for final FDA approval — refuse.”

“Health policy hashed out in Washington is usually discussed in terms of billions of dollars or percentage of market share. But, more often than other areas of policy, it can also lead to a focus on whether it will directly cause unnecessary suffering or even death for individuals.
Pointing to the deeply personal implications of health policy is not unfamiliar. Consider Sarah Palin’s accusation that Obamacare would create “death panels,” or recent debates over FDA approval of Avastin, a cancer drug.
The argument that the government shouldn’t regulate the behavior of a dying patient has sprouted up once again in 2014, and may be setting the stage for a showdown between the states on one side, and the federal government and Congress on the other.
In May, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) signed into law a controversial measure that allows terminally ill patients to obtain experimental medications before they’ve been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
Those who favor the law have a ready-made big government bogeyman in the Food and Drug Administration, as well as some Hollywood glitz in the form of Oscar-winning picture “Dallas Buyers Club,” in which Matthew McConaughey is an AIDS crusader smuggling non-sanctioned medications to patients in the early days of the virus.
They also have a simple and emotionally compelling argument.
“The use of available investigational drugs, biological products, and devices is a decision that should be made by the patient with a terminal disease in consultation with his or her physician, not a decision to be made by the government,” reads the proposed statutory language in the “Right to Try Act” developed by the conservative Goldwater Institute.”

“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.”

“Congressional Republicans investigating last fall’s botched launch of HealthCare.gov revealed Friday that a top Obamacare official had asked her spokeswoman to delete an email from a senior White House advisor that discussed problems with customer service calls about that website.
Those Republicans now want Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Marilyn Tavenner to explain that deletion request, and to reveal if she has asked staff to “delete or otherwise destroy emails, communications or any other documents relating to HealthCare.gov.” The Republicans said the Obama administration has a “pattern” of being unable to preserve records.
Tavenner’s email asking the subordinate to delete an email was turned over to the House Energy and Commerce Committee last week, just a day after her staff told the committee that some copies of her email communications might have been lost.”

“New information related to physician-industry interaction is scheduled to be released to the public for the first time on September 30. The public database from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), which is part of the Sunshine Act implementation, will focus on payments that biopharmaceutical and medical technology companies have made to physicians. Although the release date is less than six weeks away, concerns about what the data will look like and its effect on medical innovation are already being brought to light by stakeholders across the board.
One of the primary concerns that PhRMA shares with more than two dozen other patient and industry organizations is that the data needs to include context to explain what the payments represent – collaborations that benefit patient health and innovation. It’s critical to note that the new database will include information on many different types of interactions. For example, the data could reflect an oncologist partnering with a biopharmaceutical company to lead a clinical trial on an innovative cancer treatment or a family practice physician’s attendance at an industry-sponsored speaking event led by a peer to further her education about geriatric care. However, if the data released includes only names and numbers, the public is likely to be confused and the information is left subject to misinterpretation.
Additionally, many physicians are not aware about the Sunshine Act, what it means for them and their ability to be part of this collaborative process. It is important for CMS to provide physicians with more information about their ability to register and review data reported on them.
To compound this lack of information, physicians also face a confusing registration process with a very short timeline. Given how instrumental relationships between companies and physicians are to driving future innovation, we want to ensure that both groups can provide input on the process of Sunshine Act reporting.”

“Next month, when the federal government releases data about payments to physicians from pharmaceutical and medical device makers, one-third of the records will be withheld because of data inconsistencies, an official told ProPublica.
The issue is the latest hurdle for the federal government as it seeks to launch the already-delayed Open Payments database mandated under the Physician Payment Sunshine Act, a provision of the 2010 Affordable Care Act. Making this information public is a crucial step in promoting greater transparency about conflicts of interest in medicine.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services first turned up flaws in the data in the past two weeks, while investigating a physician’s complaint that payments were being attributed to him even though they were made to another physician with the same name. In the process of reviewing that issue, it found “intermingled data,” meaning physicians were being linked to medical license numbers or national provider identification numbers that were not theirs.
“CMS is returning about one-third of submitted records to the manufacturers and [group purchasing organizations] because of intermingled data, and will include these records in the next reporting cycle,” CMS spokesman Aaron Albright said by email. These records won’t be posted until June 2015.”

“Opposition to the 2010 health care law has been above 50 percent for over a year. And that continues to be true, as the latest Fox News national poll finds voters oppose the law by a 52-41 percent margin.
Support for Obamacare has been as high as 43 percent (May 2014) and gone as low as 36 percent (January 2014).
The number opposing the law has ranged from 49 percent (June 2012) to a record-high 59 percent (January 2014).
As in the past, the new poll shows that most Democrats favor Obamacare (74 percent), while most Republicans (84 percent) and independents (61 percent) are against it.
Voters in every age group are more likely to oppose the law than favor it, with one exception: those ages 65 and over. And that group only favors it by two percentage points.”

“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.”