The impact of ObamaCare on doctors and patients, companies inside and outside the health sector, and American workers and taxpayers
“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.”
“Thursday’s announcement that Pennsylvania will expand its Medicaid program brings the country one state closer to the original expansion outlined under Obamacare. But because of the Supreme Court’s 2012 decision making the expansion a voluntary program, there are still 23 states that haven’t expanded public health insurance to all of their low-income residents.
The expansion in Pennsylvania will add about 500,000 low-income to adults to the Medicaid rolls. According to numbers from the Kaiser Family Foundation, about 281,000 of those people were falling into what’s known as the “coverage gap”— people who don’t qualify for Medicaid but also don’t get subsidies for purchasing insurance on their own, either. About 4.5 million people across the country fall into this coverage gap, according to Kaiser.”
“When the Affordable Care Act’s insurance exchanges reopen enrollment this fall, many companies will look to tap the growing prominence of Hispanic consumers. Healthcare companies that use technology wisely and partner with brands already familiar to Hispanics will have the advantage in reaching the nation’s fastest-growing demographic group.
Although the US Hispanic pocketbook packs a punch–$1.2 trillion in purchasing power in 2013, more than any other ethnic group1 –the health industry has yet to win the Hispanic consumer and their dollar. More than 10 million Hispanics could gain health insurance coverage under the ACA through Medicaid expansion and the marketplaces, which are entering year two. Yet, Hispanics only accounted for 7.4%–about 400,000–of more than 5 million enrollees in the federal marketplaces last year.2,3
For businesses aiming to succeed in the new health economy, Hispanics represent unparalleled growth opportunities. Some firms are already developing focused strategies that cater to this important group—who are mobile savvy, cost conscious, and prefer receiving care in alternative settings.”
“The widely accepted view among policymakers in Washington, D.C. is that even if President Obama’s health care law is currently more unpopular than ever, by the time 2016 rolls around, it will be an immovable object, impossible to wholly repeal.
In past columns for The Morning Consult, I have argued this is an incomplete picture of the politics of the issue, one which underestimates the Republican base’s dedication to repeal, and the necessity of Republican candidates to respond to that desire.
You could assume that the continued unpopularity of Obamacare would play to Republicans’ advantage within the battle over health care policy, and that’s certainly correct at the moment. The fact that a Democratic Senator touting his support for Obamacare (albeit without naming which law he voted for) is national news is an indication of that. Had the politics of the Affordable Care Act played out as most Democrats anticipated, every candidate up for re-election would be loudly trumpeting their support for it.
So in the short-term, the law plays into the hands of Republican critics, who have plenty of easy targets and little need to propose a comprehensive reform. But what about what comes after 2016, assuming a Republican presidency but lacking 60 votes in the Senate? At that point, Obamacare’s political toxicity may actually hamper efforts to achieve pro-market reforms.
Consider Avik Roy’s recent proposal, Transcending Obamacare, which is possibly the most comprehensive proposal for health reform offered by a conservative. Not content to merely focus on replacing Obamacare, Roy’s plan relies heavily on the expansion of the existing private insurance marketplace as a replacement for the Great Society, shifting individuals away from Medicare and Medicaid and the VA, and toward private insurers.”
“The Republican fight against Medicaid expansion is far from over, but there are fewer opponents than there used to be.
The expansion of the government health insurance program was originally supposed to be mandatory under the Affordable Care Act, but the Supreme Court made it optional as part of a landmark decision on the law in June of 2012.
In the wake of the decision, Republican governors flocked to announce they were declining to expand coverage.
As of 2014, 19 states — 18 of which are led by Republican governors — have declined outright to expand coverage, but some former holdouts are beginning to come to terms with expansion.
This week, Pennsylvania formally agreed to terms with federal regulators, raising the number of states that have expanded coverage for low-income residents under Obamacare to 27. Pennsylvania is the ninth state led by a Republican governor to expand Medicaid.:”
“The Assembly this week approved a bill to limit narrow networks in California’s health plans.
The legislation already passed a Senate vote and is expected to get concurrence today on the Senate floor and move to the governor’s desk for final approval.
SB 964 by Sen. Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina) directs the Department of Managed Health Care to develop standardized methodologies for health insurers to file required annual reports on timeliness compliance, and requires DMHC to review and post findings on those reports. It also eliminates an exemption on Medi-Cal managed care plan audits and requires DMHC to coordinate those plans’ surveys, as well.
“I introduced the bill in response to complaints we’ve heard about inadequate networks in the Medi-Cal program, as well as at Covered California,” Hernandez said. “By increasing oversight and network adequacy enforcement, SB 964 will help consumers select the right plan for themselves and access the care they need.”
Assembly member Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) introduced the measure Tuesday on the Assembly floor, and said the bill came in response to numerous public complaints.
“Since 2012 there have been hundreds of complaints about access and inadequate networks,” Bonta said.”
“The price tag of the Cover Oregon health insurance exchange fiasco continues to grow.
As Clyde Hamstreet, the corporate turnaround expert hired to lead Cover Oregon in April, wraps up his work he leaves behind a stabilized agency – and a hefty bill.
Initially signed to a $100,000 contract, Hamstreet ended up staying longer than expected, with two associates joining him at Cover Oregon after Gov. John Kitzhaber essentially forced out three top officials there in a public display of house-cleaning.
Through July, Hamstreet has billed $598,699 on an amended $750,00 contract. He hasn’t submitted his August invoice. He says the price tag was driven by the exchange’s increasing needs, as his firm stayed longer and did more than initially planned.
“We didn’t do this job to make a lot of money off the state,” he said Thursday. “Our philosophy was to try and help get the boat righted and try to help clean things up and basically help the state. … It turned out to be a bigger engagement than I expected.””
“A lack of transparency in describing and fixing technical problems became an issue in Thursday’s Washington Health Benefit Exchange Board meeting.
Board member Bill Hinkle grew testy at what he said was mutual staff back-patting and excuses for the problems still plaguing thousands of accounts.
“C’mon you guys, let’s quit blowing smoke here,” Hinkle said. “I’m tired of patting people on the back….We’re not doing great yet.”
Board member Teresa Mosqueda pressed staff for numbers of enrollees affected by technical problems.
“We really need to have the data in front of us to manage some of these issues,” she said. “I’m going to ask this question again – what is the total number of individuals affected by this, so we have a sense of how well we’re doing?”
The answer appeared to stun some board members: Glitches and technical problems have affected as many as 28,000 people trying to buy health insurance through the Washington Healthplanfinder online marketplace, said associate operations director Brad Finnegan.
In answer to a question, Finnegan conceded that that means one out of every five people has had a problem.”
“Health insurance companies, now required to spend the lion’s share of premium revenue on patient care, are looking for higher investment returns elsewhere. As a result, they’re increasingly putting money into technology ventures where they expect to realize higher returns.
The medical-loss ratio standard under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act requires insurers to spend at least 80% of what they earn from premiums on patient care and related quality improvements. No more than 20% can be used for administrative, marketing and business expenses. The requirement is as high as 85% for large group plans.
Tied to that, insurers are trying to maximize their investment returns while also investing in businesses that are exempt from the 80/20 rule. Technology operations check off both those boxes for them.
“That’s been a catalyst for a substantial amount of investment,” said Joshua Kaye, a Miami-based partner at law firm DLA Piper. “We’re really seeing it on a national scale. Many insurers view health IT as being on the cutting edge.””
“When you need emergency care, chances are you aren’t going to pause to figure out whether the nearest hospital is in your health insurer’s network. Nor should you. That’s why the health law prohibits insurers from charging higher copayments or coinsurance for out-of-network emergency care. The law also prohibits plans from requiring pre-approval to visit an emergency department that is out of your provider network. (Plans that are grandfathered under the law don’t have to abide by these provisions.)
That’s all well and good. But there are some potential trouble spots that could leave you on the hook for substantially higher charges than you might expect.
Although the law protects patients from higher out-of-network cost sharing in the emergency room, if they’re admitted to the hospital, patients may owe out-of-network rates for the hospital stay, says Angela Gardner, an associate professor of emergency medicine at the University of Texas Southwestern in Dallas who is the former president of the American College of Emergency Physicians.”