The impact of ObamaCare on doctors and patients, companies inside and outside the health sector, and American workers and taxpayers
“Conservative criticism of the Affordable Care Act has created the impression that liberal, “big government” ideas are driving the health-care system. But plenty of ideas that conservatives like are taking hold in health care as well. To wit:
*The number of Medicare beneficiaries in private Medicare Advantage plans reached nearly 16 million this year, a record, and the Congressional Budget Office projects that it will hit 22 million by 2020. This partial privatization of Medicare is happening despite concerns that reductions in payments to private plans (what some call over-payments) would curtail enrollment.
*More than half of people on Medicaid are enrolled in managed-care plans, which are typically run by private insurers that contract with states on a capitated, or risk, basis. More than 30 million low-income Medicaid beneficiaries are in private plans. The number is growing as states move sicker and disabled populations covered by both Medicaid and Medicare to managed care and as many states expand their Medicaid programs under the ACA, putting newly covered beneficiaries into managed care.
About 50 million Americans covered by Medicare and Medicaid at some point in the year are in private insurance arrangements. Now, this is not the block grant of Medicaid or voucherization of Medicare that some conservatives ultimately seek–just as the ACA is not the single-payer system that some liberals want–but it’s a substantial privatization, and one that has occurred largely incrementally and under the radar.”
“While enrollment in private health insurance through online marketplaces may be closed until Nov. 15, Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program added almost a million new patients in May, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Between April and May 928,628 people signed up for Medicaid or CHIP across the 48 states that reported data, up from 805,038 who joined in April but down from the 1.4 million who joined in March. The May figures, released Friday, bring total enrollment to nearly 66 million.
Medicaid is jointly funded by states and the federal government to serve low-income children, parents, the elderly and disabled people. The program was expanded through the Affordable Care Act to childless adults earning up to about $15,856 for a single household, though states can choose whether to expand. Twenty-six states and the District of Columbia have done so. CHIP, which is also jointly funded, serves children in families with incomes that are too high to qualify for Medicaid.”
“WASHINGTON — A two-page federal form has provoked a titanic clash between the government and many religious organizations.
The form allows some religious organizations to opt out of providing contraceptive coverage, which many insurers and group health plans are required to provide under the Affordable Care Act and related rules.
The opt-out sounds like a way to accommodate religious beliefs. But many religious employers like Wheaton College and the Little Sisters of the Poor are unwilling to sign the form. By signing it, they say, they would authorize their insurers or plan administrators to pay for contraceptives, including some that they believe may cause abortion.”
“The last round of oral argument in the most serious legal challenge to Obamacare’s insurance coverage subsidies ended over three months ago. Now the courthouse watch for a final ruling in the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit has neared a fever pitch.
Diehard defenders of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) are worried that a three-judge panel is about to overturn an Internal Revenue Service rule issued in May 2012 that authorized distribution of insurance premium assistance tax credits in health exchanges administered by the federal government. By the end of a March 25 hearing on motions for summary judgment in Halbig v. Burwell, it appeared that two of the judges (a majority) were leaning toward agreeing with a group of private individuals and employers (who were appealing a federal district court ruling against them) that only an exchange “established by a state” is eligible for federal tax credits under the ACA.”
“There’s been quite a bit of bad news about Obamacare in recent weeks:
•a SCOTUS smackdown on the contraception mandate overreach,
•the possibility of an even more momentous court decision being handed down next week,
•worrying signs of more rate shock to face Exchange plan buyers next fall, with many states seeing double-digit premium increases, and
•a bleak picture of Obamacare’s unfolding fiscal disaster.
In that context, it should be no surprise that progressives are cheering the purported good news that the number of uninsured appears to be declining since last summer:
•A Commonwealth Fund survey released in June shows 9.5 million fewer uninsured adults age 18 and older;
•A RAND survey released in April found a decline of 9.3 million uninsured non-elderly adults;
•An Urban Institute survey released in June shows a decline of 8 million uninsured non-elderly adults, and
•Gallup shows a decline in the percentage of adults (18 and older) who are uninsured of 3.7 percentage points since the fourth quarter of 2013 (equivalent to 8.8 million adults).
As Jonathan Cohen snarkily concludes: “Obamacare Haters, Your Case Just Got Weaker.” I don’t view myself as an Obamacare hater, but I freely concede I am a great Obamacare skeptic. Let’s unpack the available evidence to see what we really know (and don’t) about Obamacare’s impact on the number of uninsured.
My conclusion is that anyone who says they are certain we have hit the CBO target of a 12 million reduction in the average daily number of uninsured in 2014 has cherry-picked the evidence.”
“After being without health insurance for two years, Miranda Childe of Hallandale Beach found a plan she could afford with financial aid from the government using the Affordable Care Act’s exchange.
Childe, 60, bought an HMO plan from Humana, one of the nation’s largest health insurance companies, and received a membership card in time for her coverage to kick in on May 1st.
But instead of being able to pick a primary care physician to coordinate her healthcare, Childe says she repeatedly ran into closed doors from South Florida doctors who are listed in her plan’s provider network but refused to see patients who bought their coverage on the ACA exchange.
“I just felt that I wasn’t being treated like a first-class citizen,’’ said Childe, who eventually found a doctor with the help of a Humana counselor. “Nobody, I don’t care what kind of degrees they have, should ever be treated that way.’’
Nearly one million Floridians enrolled in a private health plan through the ACA exchange but some, like Childe, are finding that some physicians refuse to honor their coverage — even when the doctors are included in the plan’s provider network.”
“The evidence is piling up now: Obamacare really does seem to be helping the uninsured.
Survey after survey is showing that the number of uninsured people has been going down since the start of enrollment last fall. The numbers don’t all match, and health care experts say they’re not precise enough to give more than a general idea of the trend.
But by now, the trend is unmistakable: Millions of people who didn’t have health insurance before the Affordable Care Act have gained it since last fall. The law is not just covering people who already had health coverage, but adding new people to the ranks of the insured — which was the point of the law all along.
There’s still a lot of variation in the numbers, too much for health care experts to pin down an exact number with any confidence. But even health care analysts who think the law is a bad idea acknowledge that the evidence suggests the uninsured are being helped. Given the predictions of doom that accompanied the law’s passage and launch, that’s a sweet bit of vindication for the president and ACA supporters.”
“WASHINGTON — Speaker John A. Boehner’s lawsuit against President Obama will focus on changes to the health care law that Mr. Boehner says should have been left to Congress, according to a statement issued Thursday by the speaker’s office.
By narrowly focusing the legal action on the Affordable Care Act, Mr. Boehner will sidestep the more politically problematic issue involving Mr. Obama’s executive action offering work permits for some illegal immigrants who were brought to the United States as children.
Last month, Mr. Boehner announced his intention to seek legislation allowing the House to sue the president over his use of executive actions, a reflection of charges by congressional Republicans that the president has overreached his authority. On Thursday, Mr. Boehner said the lawsuit would specifically challenge the president’s decision to delay imposing penalties on employers who do not offer health insurance to employees in compliance with the Affordable Care Act.”
“Before dawn on a Wednesday in January, Cesar Flores, a 40-year-old employed by a large retail chain, woke up at his home in Chula Vista, California. He got in his car and crossed the border into Tijuana. From there, he headed for a local hospital, where he got lab tests—part of routine follow-up to a kidney stone procedure. He had his blood drawn and left the hospital at 7:30. He arrived home before 10.
Uninsured Americans have long known that seeking medical care abroad is often more cost-effective than seeking it at home. Even after you factor in travel expense and time off work, you still often come out ahead. A hip replacement that would cost $75,000 for an uninsured patient in the U.S. is $9,000 in India. A heart bypass in the U.S. runs about $210,000; in Thailand it’s $12,000. According to Patients Beyond Borders, a company that facilitates medical tourism, those savings drove about 900,000 Americans to leave the country for medical procedures last year—a number they estimate is growing by 15 percent per year.
But Flores’s situation isn’t medical tourism as we know it. Flores has insurance through his wife’s employer. But his insurer, a small, three-year-old startup H.M.O. called MediExcel, requires Flores to obtain certain medical treatment at a hospital across the border. In part due to cost-pressures generated by the Affordable Care Act, other sorts of plans that require travel have the potential to expand.”
“When the District launched its federally mandated health insurance exchange last fall, officials went to great lengths to woo professional insurance brokers — launching a special broker web portal, establishing a “concierge” hotline just for brokers and holding broker-only training classes.
Despite those efforts, many brokers have yet to be paid for the policies they’ve sold through the exchange, known as D.C. Health Link — generating frustration among professionals who say their patience in navigating the changes wrought by the Affordable Care Act has not been rewarded.
“I’ve been very supportive, I put a lot of work into it, and I’ve gotten nothing,” said Steve Nearman, a Virginia-based broker who says he has helped nearly 100 city residents find and buy insurance through the exchange and is owed thousands of dollars in commissions.”