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

“Federal officials have capped the amount of money scofflaws will be forced to pay if they don’t buy insurance this year at $2,448 per person and $12,240 for a family of five.
The amount is equal to the national average annual premium for a bronze level health plan. But only those with an income above about a quarter of a million dollars would benefit from the cap. Those making less would still have to pay as much as 1 percent of their annual income.
The penalty for the first year starts at $95 per adult or $47.50 per child under 18. The penalty for not buying insurance increases to 2 percent of income or $325, whichever is higher, for 2015. The fines are due when people file their 2014 taxes.
The figures, released late Thursday, are important because the White House has only provided theoretical caps in the past. Conservative lawmakers and groups that are critical of the Affordable Care Act encouraged consumers to skip buying insurance, arguing it would be cheaper to pay a $95 penalty, but often failed to mention the 1 percent clause.”

“The Obama administration signaled Thursday it’s not backing down from the controversial health law employer mandate that has been delayed twice and is the centerpiece of the House’s lawsuit against the president.
The IRS posted drafts of the forms that employers will have to fill out to comply with the Obamacare requirement that employers provide health insurance to workers.
Some business groups said the information was still too tentative and too incomplete to let them prepare for new obligations under the health law. “Our immense frustrations with the IRS continue,” Christine Pollack, vice president of Government Affairs at the Retail Industry Leaders Association, said in a statement.
An administration official said the White House is sticking to the timeline announced earlier this year. Companies with 50 to 99 employees will have another year — until 2016 — to start the coverage. Companies with 100 or more employees do have to comply next year, although they have two years to phase up so that they are covering 95 percent of their workers. Smaller businesses are exempt.”

“A lot of attention is being paid to the dueling decisions in two U.S. appeals courts about whether the U.S. government can provide tax credits to people in federal- as well as state-run insurance exchanges. In human terms, the stakes are high: Millions of moderate-income people will not be able to afford health coverage without a subsidy, and a court ruling could gut coverage expansion in the 36 states with federally run insurance exchanges, unless states decide to set up their own exchanges. One of the cases, Halbig v. Burwell, also adds uncertainty to the enrollment process set to begin this fall, when millions more people are expecting to get tax credits–and wondering if they may be taken away.
Amid the reaction, little attention has been paid to whether Americans will perceive Halbig as a legitimate legal question or as more inside-Washington politics. The plaintiffs paint this as a case about statutory language and intent. The health-care law said that tax credits would be provided only in state-run exchanges, they argue, and it is executive overreach to provide credits in federal exchanges. Proponents of the Affordable Care Act see this as a thinly veiled game of gotcha being played over imperfect legislative language despite clear legislative intent. They believe that providing tax credits in the exchanges was always a central element of the Affordable Care Act’s strategy to expand coverage whether in state or federal exchanges–and that everybody knows it.”

“PORTLAND — Low-income Oregon residents were supposed to be big winners after the state expanded Medicaid under the federal health care overhaul and created a new system to improve the care they received.
However, an Associated Press review shows that an unexpected rush of enrollees has strained the capacity of the revamped network that was endorsed as a potential national model, locking out some patients, forcing others to wait months for medical appointments and prompting a spike in emergency room visits, which state officials had been actively seeking to avoid.
The problems come amid nationwide growing pains associated with the unprecedented restructuring of the U.S. health care system, and they show the effects of a widespread physician shortage on a state that has embraced Medicaid expansion.”

“Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Sylvia Burwell continued her management shake-up Wednesday by naming a former vice president at Wal-Mart as senior adviser.
The move to bring Leslie Dach to HHS reveals Burwell’s interest in heading off problems during ObamaCare’s second enrollment period, due to start in November.
The new HHS secretary also wants to add professionals with significant private sector experience to her inner circle.
“Leslie’s experience, which spans the business, government, and civil society sectors, will further enhance our ability to deliver impact for the American people,” Burwell said in a statement.
“We want to not only retain, but also recruit, talented individuals to our mission of ensuring every American has access to the building blocks of a healthy, productive life.”
Dach will focus on ObamaCare’s second enrollment period as well as projects across the department, according to a press memo.”

“For decades, the United States has had a fragmented health policy. States called the shots on major elements of how health care and health insurance were financed and regulated. The result: a hodgepodge of coverage and a wide variance in health.
The Affordable Care Act was intended to help standardize important parts of that system, by imposing some common rules across the entire country and by providing federal financing to help residents in all states afford insurance coverage. But a series of court rulings on the law could make the differences among the states bigger than ever.
The law was devised to pump federal dollars into poorer states, where lots of residents were uninsured. Many tended to be Republican-leaning. But the court rulings, if upheld, could leave only the richer, Democratic states with the federal dollars and broad insurance coverage. States that opted out of optional portions of the law could see little improvement in coverage and even economic damage.
“It will be essentially health reform for blue states,” said John Holahan, a health policy fellow at the Urban Institute, a research group.”

“WASHINGTON — Republicans in Congress resumed their campaign against the Affordable Care Act on Wednesday with new zeal, fired up by a ruling of a federal appeals court panel that said premium subsidies paid to millions of Americans in 36 states were illegal.
Republicans pointed to the ruling as evidence of problems in the law that could not easily be solved.
“Time and time again,” said Representative Charles Boustany Jr., Republican of Louisiana, “the administration has chosen to ignore the law, and when it does implement the law, it does so incompetently.”
Mr. Boustany presided over a hearing of a House Ways and Means subcommittee on Wednesday. An official from the Government Accountability Office, an investigative arm of Congress, testified at the hearing that undercover agents had obtained insurance coverage and subsidies using fake documents and fictitious identities.”

“Today’s 2-1 decision by the DC Court of Appeals striking down federal premium subsidies, in at least the 27 states that opted for the feds to run their Obamacare insurance exchanges, has the potential to strike a devastating blow to the new health law.
The law says that individuals can get subsidies to buy health insurance in the states that set up insurance exchanges. That appears to exclude the states that do not set up exchanges––at least the 27 states that completely opted out of Obamacare. Another nine states set up partnership exchanges with the feds and the impact on those states is not clear.
The response by supporters of the law, and the IRS regulation that has enabled subsidies to be paid in the states not setting up exchanges, hinges on the argument that the language is at worst ambiguous and the Congress never intended to withhold the subsidies in the federal exchange states.
But in the DC Court ruling one of the majority judges said, “The fact is that the legislative record provides little indication one way or the other of the Congressional intent, but the statutory text does. Section 36B plainly makes subsidies only available only on Exchanges established by states.”
My own observation, having closely watched the original Obamacare Congressional debate, is that this issue never came up because about everybody believed about all of the states would establish their own exchange. I think it is fair to say about everyone also believed a few states would not establish their own exchanges. Smaller states, for example, might opt out because they just didn’t have the scale needed to make the program work. I don’t recall a single member of Congress, Republican or Democrat, who believed that if this happened those states would lose their subsidies.”

“July 22, 2014 was arguably the most important day in the history of the implementation of the Affordable Care Act since the Supreme Court issued its ruling in the National Federation of Independent Business case in June of 2012. As no doubt most readers of this blog know by now, shortly after 10 a.m. the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit handed down its decision in Halbig v. Burwell. Two judges ruled over a strong dissent that an Internal Revenue Service rule allowing federally facilitated exchanges to issue premium tax credits to low and moderate income Americans is invalid.
Approximately two hours later the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, unanimously upheld the IRS rule in King v. Burwell. Combined, the cases contain five judicial opinions, three in the Halbig case and two in King. Four of the six judges voted to uphold the rule, two to strike it down.”

“Most working people in the U.S. sign up for health insurance in a very straightforward way: a few forms, a few questions for human resources, a few choices of plans.
Signing up for Affordable Care Act insurance was nothing like that. It involved questions about income, taxes, family size and immigration status. And in most places in the country, there were myriad choices of plans with subtle differences between them.
Guess what? People looked for help on the decision.
During the Affordable Care Act’s first open enrollment period, about 10.6 million people received personal help from navigators and other enrollment assisters, according to an online survey of the programs released Tuesday by the Kaiser Family Foundation. (KHN is an editorially independent program of the foundation.)
And the assistance was time consuming: 64 percent of the programs reported that they spent an hour to two hours with each consumer on average. The assisters and navigators included 28,000 full-time-equivalent workers across the country, funded by federal and state governments as well as outside sources, the survey found.”