Articles on the implementation of ObamaCare.
“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.”
“The state of Oregon filed a lawsuit Friday against Oracle America Inc. and several of its executives over the technology company’s role in creating the troubled website for the state’s online health insurance exchange.
The lawsuit, filed in Marion County Circuit Court in Salem, alleges that Oracle officials lied, breached contracts and engaged in “a pattern of racketeering activity.”
Oracle was the largest technology contractor working on Oregon’s health insurance enrollment website, known as Cover Oregon. The public website was never launched, forcing the state to hire hundreds of workers to process paper applications by hand. The website’s failure became a political problem to Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber, who is running for re-election.
A related project to modernize functions for social services also was scrapped. The state paid Oracle $240 million for both projects.”
“Supporters of President Obama’s health care law have been touting proposed insurance rates for 2015 — arguing that they aren’t as high as some of the dire warnings of the law’s critics.
But it’s worth considering some additional context.
Data compiled by the Health Research Institute of PricewaterhouseCoopers from about 29 states plus the District of Columbia show that the average premium increase for insurance starting next year is currently 8.2 percent. But within that average, there’s a wide range.
In Arizona, for instance, the average premium increase submitted was 11.2 percent, but rates ranged from a decrease of 23 percent to a spike of 27 percent. In Arkansas, where the average increase was 11.2 percent, some consumers could see their premiums soar by 50 percent.
Defenders of Obamacare argue that rates typically went up annually before the law went into effect.
However, it’s important to keep in mind that it was Obama himself who repeatedly promised that premiums would go down by an average of $2,500 per family.”
“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.”