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

“More Americans are enrolled in individual health insurance plans. In part, though, that’s because under Obamacare fewer are enrolled in group plans. And one health care analyst says this may be the beginning of a trend.
WellPoint Inc., the Indianapolis-based health insurance giant, reported in its latest quarterly earnings that its small-group business fell more than expected.
WellPoint said it ended 218,000 (or 12 percent) of those plans because employers dropped their group health coverage, and cited Obamacare’s tax credits as a reason for the shift, J.K. Wall wrote in the Indianapolis Business Journal.
Edmund Haislmaier, senior research fellow in health policy studies at The Heritage Foundation, told The Daily Signal that the drop in WellPoint’s employer group coverage “is in line with what we were seeing in the first quarter” for the insurance industry — a decrease in group plans but an increase in individual plans.
Haislmaier said many smaller businesses have dropped group coverage plans in instances where they have a higher number of low-income workers who would qualify for subsidies to buy insurance on Obamacare’s federal and state-run exchanges.”

“James Lansberry didn’t blink an eye when the Supreme Court handed down its Hobby Lobby decision last month.
The vice president of Samaritan Ministries, which provides health coverage for more than 37,000 families nationwide, said even though his organization applauds the decision, “it doesn’t have any effect on us.”
Samaritan Ministries, and other health sharing groups like it, cater to a small-but-growing group of Americans who have chosen to opt out of the Affordable Care Act. Not only do these organizations ignore the contraception mandate, they also bypass nearly all the hallmark provisions of Obamacare.
Dr. Andrea Miller, medical director and vice president of Christian Care Ministries, said “the biggest thing to understand” is these groups do not provide insurance. Instead, they “facilitate the direct sharing of medical cost between people of like beliefs.”
Because of this distinction, the Alliance for Health Care Sharing Ministries successfully lobbied Congress for a religious exemption in 2009. This allows medical sharing groups to provide a form of coverage but dodge the deluge of Obamacare regulations governing the insurance industry.
Lansberry calls this exemption the last “isle of freedom” in health care and a “miracle straight from God’s own hand.””

“Mixups on a health plan bought through the state’s insurance exchange have left a Las Vegas family facing more than $1 million in medical bills.
For Kynell and Amber Smith and their five children, the Nevada Health Link has been a six-month nightmare with no end in sight.
“I have spent countless hours on the phone trying to get this resolved,” said Kynell Smith, an aircraft parts salesman. “I have contacted and pleaded with elected officials to help and was told I may have to sue to get this resolved. What kind of answer is that?”
The family’s troubles began in February, when Amber Smith delivered daughter Kinsley five weeks prematurely. Kinsley spent 10 days in Summerlin Hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit, and Amber’s 40-day hospital stay included two surgeries.
The Smiths bought insurance from Anthem Blue Cross through Nevada Health Link in October and made two premium payments in January. Yet the claims are being denied because Amber’s birth year is listed incorrectly on the family’s insurance identification cards, Smith said. It’s one year off — written as 1978, when it should be 1979.
Nor has Smith been able to get baby Kinsley added to the family’s insurance, despite “dozens of calls” to Nevada Health Link and Anthem. So despite never missing a $1,300 premium payment, the Smiths are on the hook for all of Kinsley’s follow-up care. What’s more, some of Amber’s specialists have unexpectedly abandoned provider networks, leaving the family with unexpected out-of-pocket expenses, he said.
The family’s grand total? Roughly $1.2 million.”

“A trio of academics from one of the nation’s premier business schools recently concluded that the exchanges are costing women age 55 to 64 more than any other demographic group relative to individual insurance policies purchased before the Affordable Care Act took effect.
Their total expected premiums and out-of-pocket HIX costs rose by 50% and ranged from $2,185 to $2,738 compared to before health care reform, according to Mark Pauly, Scott Harrington, and Adam Leive of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.
The researchers, whose findings were published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, also found that premiums for the second-lowest silver-level policy were 67% higher for women in this age group than they were pre-ACA.
One possible explanation for these higher costs was community rating that lumped together older women with higher-cost individuals, such as childbearing women and sicker older men. The study was analyzed by Joann Weiner, a George Washington University economics professor.
In contrast, the researchers found that bronze-level premiums for men between the ages of 45 and 54 will fall by about $1,000 annually relative to the average. Weiner also noted that women of the same age would incur total costs that are $300 below average, while older women would pay $1,500 above average.”

“A new congressional report has estimated that more than 25 million Americans without health insurance will not be made to pay a penalty in 2016 due to an exploding number of ObamaCare exemptions.
The Wall Street Journal, citing an analysis by the Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Committee on Taxation, reported that the number of people expected to pay the fine in 2016 has dwindled to four million people from the report’s previous projection of six million. Approximately 30 million Americans are believed to be without health insurance.
The latest report is likely to spark fresh concerns among insurers, who have maintained that the number of exemptions to the law’s individual mandate are resulting in fewer young, healthy people signing up for health insurance. An insurance pool skewed toward older, comparatively unhealthy people is likely to result in premiums rising.
Under the Affordable Care Act, the fine for not purchasing health insurance is either $95 per adult or 1 percent of family income, whichever is greater. That amount is set to increase to $695 per adult or 2.5 percent of family income in 2016, with a total family penalty capped at $2,085.”

“As the backlash over narrow physician networks continues to make headlines and lawmakers start the August recess, a new nationwide survey found 76 percent of likely voters support a bipartisan proposal to give Medicare patients better medication access and more choice of pharmacy.
Bait-and-switch. That’s the common refrain expressed by patients in recent articles about the narrow network trend, from Morning Consult to The New York Times to USA TODAY. Patients report either not knowing or being misinformed about restrictions on their access to the doctor of their choice. As a result some are racking up significant, unanticipated out-of-pocket costs. Now both regulators and insurance plans alike are reassessing the situation and contemplating adjustments for 2015.
It’s not just doctors, however. Patient access to medication and consultations on its proper use with the pharmacist they know and trust are also suffering. Particularly in Medicare drug plans, insurance middlemen are telling some patients to pay more – sometimes significantly more – or switch pharmacies, even if it means traveling 20 miles or more.
But perhaps unlike the physician narrow network conundrum, there is an easy, obvious solution to the narrow pharmacy network issue in Medicare drug plans: H.R. 4577, the Ensuring Seniors Access to Local Pharmacies Act.
The bipartisan proposal would give seniors in medically underserved areas more convenient access to medication at discounted or “preferred” copays at additional pharmacies that are willing to accept the plan’s terms and conditions. Currently, independent community pharmacies are usually locked out of these smaller or “preferred” networks. Moreover, when community pharmacists offer to accept the same terms and conditions they are still kept out. Independent pharmacies make up approximately half of all rural pharmacies, so their patients must pay this “rural tax” or travel great distances to reach a “preferred” pharmacy.
Three out of four likely voters (76 percent) support this proposal, according to a recent nationwide opinion survey conducted by Penn Schoen Berland, or PSB Research. Support runs across party lines as well as demographic ones, such as gender and age.”

“Kansas was one of just three states that saw their rates of people without health insurance go up since last year, according to a new survey.
And, if the poll results are accurate, Kansas was the one whose rates went up the most.
The data, collected as part of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, show that the uninsured population in Kansas rose from 12.5 percent in 2013 to 17.6 percent by midyear 2014 — a whopping increase of 5.1 percentage points.
Even Kansas Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger confesses she’s surprised, although she says there may be several possible explanations for the data.
One, she said, is that the state’s own estimate of a 12 percent uninsured rate was off the mark because, before Obamacare kicked in, uninsured people inaccurately reported being insured.
“We’ve had a woodwork effect in Kansas of more people, even under our stingy Medicaid rules, applying for Medicaid under the old rules who didn’t apply before, just because there’s greater discussion around insurance now,” she said.
“So it may be that people are more aware of what it means to have insurance and are less likely to self-report that they have insurance when they are in fact uninsured. And it may be the way the pollsters asked them the question that made them more likely, I don’t know.””

“Businesses with fewer than 50 workers are exempt from the most stringent requirements for larger employers under the federal health-care law. But that doesn’t mean they’re off the hook entirely.
Smaller employers aren’t required under the Affordable Care Act to offer coverage for their full-time workers—as larger firms must by 2016 or face penalties, for instance. But many owners of small ventures and startup entrepreneurs are nonetheless facing big changes to how they obtain their own health coverage, as well as to the benefits they’re able to offer employees.
“It’s a myth that smaller firms aren’t being hit” by the health law, albeit in less obvious ways, says James Schutzer, president of the New York State Association of Health Underwriters, referring to employers with fewer than 50 workers.
Several thousand of the nation’s smallest business owners—sole proprietors and the self-employed—were kicked off their small-business plans by carriers earlier this year. That is because new guidelines define “employers” as having at least two full-time employees, not including a spouse, in order to be eligible for group plans.”

“One of the ongoing questions about the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is its impact on rural areas, many of which had lacked a competitive individual market for health insurance. Would the ACA foster competition among plans in these areas? Or would they be dominated by one or two insurers and face higher premiums and fewer plan choices than their urban counterparts?
This data brief examines 2014 premiums, issuers, and plans offered to residents of urban and rural counties. In 2014, while it appears that residents of rural counties, as a whole, did not face higher premiums than residents of urban counties, substantial differences emerge within a number of states and between states of varying degrees of rurality. In particular, states with largely rural populations face fewer choices and higher premiums. These are the states to watch in the coming months as new issuers enter the marketplaces and 2015 premiums are filed.”

“If you like your Obamacare plan, you can keep it—but you might end up paying a whole lot more.
People who decide to stick with the coverage they’ve already gotten through Obamacare, rather than switching plans, are at risk for some of the biggest premium spikes anywhere in the system. And some people won’t even know their costs went up until they get a bill from the IRS.
Insurance plans generally raise their premiums every year, but those costs are just the tip of the iceberg for millions of Obamacare enrollees. A series of other, largely invisible factors will also push up many consumers’ premiums.
In some cases, even if an insurance company doesn’t raise its rates at all, its customers could still end up owing thousands of dollars more for their premiums. It’s all a byproduct of complicated technical changes triggered, ironically enough, by the law’s success at bolstering competition among insurers.
Many consumers will need to switch plans in order to keep their costs steady, but health care experts question how many people will do that. Switching plans can entail changing your doctor and adjusting to new out-of-pocket costs, never mind the fresh trek through HealthCare.gov. The White House has already set up an auto-renewal process, making it easier to stick with the status quo.”