Articles on the implementation of ObamaCare.

“How much leeway do employers and insurers have in deciding whether they’ll cover contraceptives without charge and in determining which methods make the cut?
Not much, as it turns out, but that hasn’t stopped some from trying.
Kaiser Health News readers still write in regularly about this.
In one of those messages recently, a woman said her insurer denied free coverage for the NuvaRing. This small plastic device, which is inserted into the vagina, works for three weeks at a time by releasing hormones similar to those used by birth control pills. She said her insurer told her she would be responsible for her contraceptive expenses unless she chooses an oral generic birth control pill. The NuvaRing costs between $15 and $80 a month, according to Planned Parenthood.
Under the health law, health plans have to cover the full range of FDA-approved birth control methods without any cost sharing by women, unless the plan falls into a limited number of categories that are excluded, either because it’s grandfathered under the law or it’s for is a religious employer or house of worship. Following the recent Supreme Court decision in the Hobby Lobby case, some private employers that have religious objections to providing birth control coverage as a free preventive benefit will also be excused from the requirement.”

“When the Obama administration in November 2013 decided to allow states to decide if individuals could keep noncompliant insurance plans, speculation began about what effect that decision would have on premiums and enrollment for plans that did comply with provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Subsequently, the administration this March gave states the option of a maximum two-year extension into 2016.
Early indications of how many individuals opted to keep those plans have begun to emerge as have signs of the effect on premiums. As with so much else related to the ACA, the results depend on what state is being discussed.
Twenty-five states are allowing noncompliant plans to continue through 2015, which creates a continuing impact for insurers attempting to formulate premium levels in 2014, according to data compiled by America’s Health Insurance Plans, an insurer trade group. Twenty-one states are taking the full extension option, through 2016, according to AHIP.
North Dakota has seen 61% of individual policyholders of noncompliant plans from insurers Sanford Health Plan and Medica opt to retain their plans, while 92% of group policyholders chose to stay on their noncompliant plans, said Rebecca Ternes, the state Insurance Department’s deputy commissioner.”

“Research published last week in the British Medical Journal Open provides interesting insight into the cause of rising health care costs. Analysis of the study raises concerns that Obamacare could ultimately bend the cost curve up. The University of California at San Francisco research studied variations in the average charges of 10 commonly ordered outpatient blood tests in California hospitals in 2011, using data from the reports of nonfederal, general acute-care California hospitals to the California Office of Statewide Health and Planning Development.
The researchers uncovered significant and substantial variation in hospital charges across the Golden State. For example, the median charge for a basic metabolic panel (a routine laboratory test that includes such tests as sodium, potassium and glucose) was $214. Yet, for the 189 California hospitals that reported this test, the charges ranged between $35 and $7,303.”

“The Obama administration is moving forward with regulations meant to enable certain businesses and charities to steer clear of the Affordable Care Act’s so-called birth control mandate, while ensuring free contraception coverage for women under the law.
The action amounts to an administrative workaround in response to a slew of legal challenges from groups citing religious objections to portions of the mandate. In June, the Supreme Court ruled that closely held religious companies cannot be compelled to offer their employees certain forms of birth control.
Under the proposal, the government would step in and cover the law’s contraception requirements in instances where employers announce their religious objections in writing. The organizations would not have to play any direct role in providing for contraceptive coverage to which they object, according to a final interim rule from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid.”

“The Affordable Care Act gives the president’s cabinet officers sweeping powers to implement the law, but the administration managed to overreach these powers by allowing people in 36 states to illegally access health insurance subsidies.
That was the conclusion of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in July.
At issue is the ability of people who sign up for coverage through exchanges established by the federal government to receive credits to reduce the cost of their health insurance.
D.C. Appeals Court Judge Raymond Randolph said the statute was quite clear in repeating seven times that subsidies are available only “through an Exchange established by the State.”
When the health law was passed, its authors apparently believed they had sufficiently cajoled the states. Jonathan Gruber, a chief architect of the law, said in early 2012, “if you’re a state and you don’t set up an exchange, that means your citizens don’t get their tax credits.”
But when it became clear that most states would not be coerced, the White House called on the Internal Revenue Service to write a regulation that would allow the subsidies to flow through the default federal exchanges as well.
In Halbig v. Burwell, the D.C. court held that subsidies — as well as the coverage mandates that travel with them — apply only in states that have established their own exchanges.”

“Despite the president’s assurance that “if you like your health plan, you can keep your health plan,” Obamacare caused significant disruption to people’s coverage as the health insurance exchanges prepared for their first open enrollment. Beginning October 1, 2013, insurers knew they would struggle to price policies in the exchanges accurately.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) included three mechanisms to backstop insurers’ risks: risk adjustment, reinsurance and risk corridors. The first, risk adjustment, consists of perpetual transfers of money from unexpectedly profitable insurers to unexpectedly loss-making insurers and is — at least conceptually — necessary to mitigate risk in a market where insurers are forbidden to charge beneficiaries actuarially accurate premiums.
The other two mechanisms, reinsurance and risk corridors, were designed to protect insurers from unforeseen losses in Obamacare’s first three years, when insurers would not have enough experience to know how much risk they faced. These financial protections are critical to insurers’ ability to survive in the exchanges through the end of 2016. Both schemes persist only through the first three years of Obamacare, by the end of which its architects believed actuarial risks in the exchanges will have stabilized.”

“Investigative journalist Sharyl Attkisson is taking the federal government to court.
Attkisson, a senior independent contributor to The Daily Signal, filed the lawsuit against the Department of Health and Human Services to obtain information about the troubled Obamacare rollout last year.
The former CBS News reporter and Emmy award-winning journalist won’t be going alone; the legal group Judicial Watch will represent her in court.
The lawsuit follows four unsuccessful Freedom of Information Act requests. In October 2013 and again in June of this year, Attkisson requested information from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) concerning the efficiency and security of the HealthCare.gov website.
All four requests went unanswered.”

“An Indiana man who purchased health insurance through Obamacare’s federal exchange says he was assured he had dental coverage. When he needed care, though, he learned that his insurance provider wouldn’t cover the work. Now, he’s warning others they could also be getting misleading information. “You might be very surprised you’re not covered when you were told that you were,” he says.”

“In April 2014, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) published detailed information on the $77 billion that 880 000 health care practitioners billed for some 6000 Medicare Part B services in 2012. This commentary by a former CMS administrator discusses how these data can be helpful, what is missing that might lead to misinterpretation, and why such transparency is here to stay.”

“Health insurance giant Anthem Blue Cross faces another lawsuit over switching consumers to narrow-network health plans — with limited selections of doctors — during the rollout of Obamacare..
These types of complaints have already sparked an ongoing investigation by California regulators and other lawsuits seeking class-action status against Anthem and rival Blue Shield of California.
A group of 33 Anthem customers filed suit Tuesday in Los Angeles County Superior Court against the health insurer, which is a unit of WellPoint Inc. Anthem is California’s largest for-profit health insurer and had the biggest enrollment this year in individual policies in the Covered California exchange.
In the latest suit, Anthem members accuse the company of misrepresenting the size of its physician networks and the insurance benefits provided in new plans offered under the Affordable Care Act.”