Articles on the implementation of ObamaCare.

“A new congressional report has estimated that more than 25 million Americans without health insurance will not be made to pay a penalty in 2016 due to an exploding number of ObamaCare exemptions.
The Wall Street Journal, citing an analysis by the Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Committee on Taxation, reported that the number of people expected to pay the fine in 2016 has dwindled to four million people from the report’s previous projection of six million. Approximately 30 million Americans are believed to be without health insurance.
The latest report is likely to spark fresh concerns among insurers, who have maintained that the number of exemptions to the law’s individual mandate are resulting in fewer young, healthy people signing up for health insurance. An insurance pool skewed toward older, comparatively unhealthy people is likely to result in premiums rising.
Under the Affordable Care Act, the fine for not purchasing health insurance is either $95 per adult or 1 percent of family income, whichever is greater. That amount is set to increase to $695 per adult or 2.5 percent of family income in 2016, with a total family penalty capped at $2,085.”

“As the backlash over narrow physician networks continues to make headlines and lawmakers start the August recess, a new nationwide survey found 76 percent of likely voters support a bipartisan proposal to give Medicare patients better medication access and more choice of pharmacy.
Bait-and-switch. That’s the common refrain expressed by patients in recent articles about the narrow network trend, from Morning Consult to The New York Times to USA TODAY. Patients report either not knowing or being misinformed about restrictions on their access to the doctor of their choice. As a result some are racking up significant, unanticipated out-of-pocket costs. Now both regulators and insurance plans alike are reassessing the situation and contemplating adjustments for 2015.
It’s not just doctors, however. Patient access to medication and consultations on its proper use with the pharmacist they know and trust are also suffering. Particularly in Medicare drug plans, insurance middlemen are telling some patients to pay more – sometimes significantly more – or switch pharmacies, even if it means traveling 20 miles or more.
But perhaps unlike the physician narrow network conundrum, there is an easy, obvious solution to the narrow pharmacy network issue in Medicare drug plans: H.R. 4577, the Ensuring Seniors Access to Local Pharmacies Act.
The bipartisan proposal would give seniors in medically underserved areas more convenient access to medication at discounted or “preferred” copays at additional pharmacies that are willing to accept the plan’s terms and conditions. Currently, independent community pharmacies are usually locked out of these smaller or “preferred” networks. Moreover, when community pharmacists offer to accept the same terms and conditions they are still kept out. Independent pharmacies make up approximately half of all rural pharmacies, so their patients must pay this “rural tax” or travel great distances to reach a “preferred” pharmacy.
Three out of four likely voters (76 percent) support this proposal, according to a recent nationwide opinion survey conducted by Penn Schoen Berland, or PSB Research. Support runs across party lines as well as demographic ones, such as gender and age.”

“Kansas was one of just three states that saw their rates of people without health insurance go up since last year, according to a new survey.
And, if the poll results are accurate, Kansas was the one whose rates went up the most.
The data, collected as part of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, show that the uninsured population in Kansas rose from 12.5 percent in 2013 to 17.6 percent by midyear 2014 — a whopping increase of 5.1 percentage points.
Even Kansas Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger confesses she’s surprised, although she says there may be several possible explanations for the data.
One, she said, is that the state’s own estimate of a 12 percent uninsured rate was off the mark because, before Obamacare kicked in, uninsured people inaccurately reported being insured.
“We’ve had a woodwork effect in Kansas of more people, even under our stingy Medicaid rules, applying for Medicaid under the old rules who didn’t apply before, just because there’s greater discussion around insurance now,” she said.
“So it may be that people are more aware of what it means to have insurance and are less likely to self-report that they have insurance when they are in fact uninsured. And it may be the way the pollsters asked them the question that made them more likely, I don’t know.””

“One of Medicare’s attempts to improve medical quality –by rewarding or penalizing hospitals — did not lead to improvements in the first nine months of the program, a study has found.
The quality program, known as Hospital Value-Based Purchasing, is a pillar of the federal health law’s campaign to use the government’s financial muscle to improve patient care. Since late 2012, Medicare has been giving small increases or decreases in payments to nearly 3,000 hospitals based on how patients rated their experiences and how faithfully hospitals followed a dozen basic standards of care, such as taking blood cultures of pneumonia patients before administering antibiotics. As much as 1 percent of their Medicare payments were at stake in the first year and 1.25 percent this year, though most hospitals gained or lost a fraction of that. Hospitals were judged both on how they compare to others and how much they are improving.
The program is one of several payment initiatives instituted by the health law. Others include penalties for hospitals that have high rates of Medicare patients readmitted within 30 days and penalties that will go into effect this fall for hospitals with high rates of patient injuries or infections.”

“Businesses with fewer than 50 workers are exempt from the most stringent requirements for larger employers under the federal health-care law. But that doesn’t mean they’re off the hook entirely.
Smaller employers aren’t required under the Affordable Care Act to offer coverage for their full-time workers—as larger firms must by 2016 or face penalties, for instance. But many owners of small ventures and startup entrepreneurs are nonetheless facing big changes to how they obtain their own health coverage, as well as to the benefits they’re able to offer employees.
“It’s a myth that smaller firms aren’t being hit” by the health law, albeit in less obvious ways, says James Schutzer, president of the New York State Association of Health Underwriters, referring to employers with fewer than 50 workers.
Several thousand of the nation’s smallest business owners—sole proprietors and the self-employed—were kicked off their small-business plans by carriers earlier this year. That is because new guidelines define “employers” as having at least two full-time employees, not including a spouse, in order to be eligible for group plans.”

“One of the ongoing questions about the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is its impact on rural areas, many of which had lacked a competitive individual market for health insurance. Would the ACA foster competition among plans in these areas? Or would they be dominated by one or two insurers and face higher premiums and fewer plan choices than their urban counterparts?
This data brief examines 2014 premiums, issuers, and plans offered to residents of urban and rural counties. In 2014, while it appears that residents of rural counties, as a whole, did not face higher premiums than residents of urban counties, substantial differences emerge within a number of states and between states of varying degrees of rurality. In particular, states with largely rural populations face fewer choices and higher premiums. These are the states to watch in the coming months as new issuers enter the marketplaces and 2015 premiums are filed.”

“If you like your Obamacare plan, you can keep it—but you might end up paying a whole lot more.
People who decide to stick with the coverage they’ve already gotten through Obamacare, rather than switching plans, are at risk for some of the biggest premium spikes anywhere in the system. And some people won’t even know their costs went up until they get a bill from the IRS.
Insurance plans generally raise their premiums every year, but those costs are just the tip of the iceberg for millions of Obamacare enrollees. A series of other, largely invisible factors will also push up many consumers’ premiums.
In some cases, even if an insurance company doesn’t raise its rates at all, its customers could still end up owing thousands of dollars more for their premiums. It’s all a byproduct of complicated technical changes triggered, ironically enough, by the law’s success at bolstering competition among insurers.
Many consumers will need to switch plans in order to keep their costs steady, but health care experts question how many people will do that. Switching plans can entail changing your doctor and adjusting to new out-of-pocket costs, never mind the fresh trek through HealthCare.gov. The White House has already set up an auto-renewal process, making it easier to stick with the status quo.”

“A year ago, investors worried that WellPoint Inc. would lose more of its small business customers than it could offset by signing up individuals in the Obamacare exchanges.
The first half of those concerns were justified—and then some. Indianapolis-based WellPoint is seeing its small business customers dump their group health plans and move their workers to the Obamacare exchanges at a faster clip this year than it expected.
Already in 2014, WellPoint has watched 218,000 members of its health plans disappear because their employers have ended their group health plans. That’s a 12-percent drop in WellPoint’s overall small group membership.
As I have reported before, the Obamacare tax credits for individuals have proven quite attractive for many employers with fewer than 30 workers. That’s not to say all are taking this route. Most other health insurers have reported that small employers are ending their health plans more slowly than expected.
But WellPoint expects the trend of its small business customers ending their group health plans to play out in just two years, with roughly $400 million in annual profit disappearing.
“We think [that] will be in a more accelerated timeframe over a shorter window of time, meaning this year and next, than over a longer period of time,” said WellPoint Chief Financial Officer Wayne DeVeydt during a July 30 conference call with investors.”

“The federal government this month quietly stopped publicly reporting when hospitals leave foreign objects in patients’ bodies or make a host of other life-threatening mistakes.
The change, which the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) denied last year that it was making, means people are out of luck if they want to search which hospitals cause high rates of problems such as air embolisms — air bubbles that can kill patients when they enter veins and hearts — or giving people the wrong blood type.
CMS removed data on eight of these avoidable “hospital acquired conditions” (HACs) on its hospital comparison site last summer but kept it on a public spreadsheet that could be accessed by quality researchers, patient-safety advocates and consumers savvy enough to translate it. As of this month, it’s gone. Now researchers have to calculate their own rates using claims data.
Before the change, the Hospital Compare website listed how often many HACs occurred at thousands of acute care hospitals in the U.S. Acute care hospitals are those where patients stay up to 25 days for severe injuries or illnesses and/or while recovering from surgery. Now, CMS is reporting the rate of occurrence for 13 conditions, including infections such as MRSA and sepsis after surgery, but dropping others.”

“Some states that expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act and set up all or part of their own insurance exchanges have seen a marked drop in the number of uninsured adults.
The uninsured rates in states that opted to expand Medicaid, a health program primarily for low-income residents, and set up their own exchanges declined more in the first half of 2014 than in the states that didn’t take that approach, according to a study released Tuesday by Gallup. The survey was based on a random sample of adults through June 30.
Arkansas saw the percentage of uninsured drop from 22.5% in 2013 to 12.4% through midyear 2014, according to the survey. Kentucky followed, with its percentage of uninsured dropping from 20.4% to 11.9% during the same time span.
The other states with the largest drop in the percentage of uninsured were Delaware, Washington, Colorado, West Virginia, Oregon, California, New Mexico and Connecticut.”