Audits and investigations into the effects of ObamaCare from congressional committees, government auditors, advocacy groups, and others.

“Over the past few weeks, the American Medical Association has complained publicly and privately to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services over its so-called Open Payments database, which will display what drug and device makers pay physicians. The system was created in response to concerns that medical practice and research may be unduly influenced by industry. But the database has been plagued by delays and technical glitches. The AMA is concerned that physicians lack the needed time to ensure correct data is displayed and that the public will understood what they see. The database is expected to go live on Sept. 30, but the AMA wants a six-month postponement to compensate for the problems. So far, CMS says no. We spoke with AMA president Robert Wah about the frustrations. This is an edited version.”

“Enrolling in Missouri’s Medicaid program has not been easy.
Many applicants have experienced a barrage of problems when trying to sign up for the program, including long delays until coverage kicks in, lost paperwork and a lack of one-on-one interaction with caseworkers. State officials have blamed a new computer system used to process Medicaid applications.
But there is another reason why some Missourians struggle to get help.
When Deborah Weaver, 28, had issues enrolling in the state’s Medicaid coverage for pregnant women, a switch from her Medicaid disability coverage, she was directed to use a toll-free number, 1-855-373-4636. When she called, Weaver endured long waits and received no guidance.
“I called them three or four times and each time it would take a minimum of 15 to 20 minutes to get through to a human being, only to be given the runaround,” Weaver said.
One time the wait dragged on for so long, Weaver ended the call, worried she was racking up too many minutes on her family’s cellphone plan.”

“NORTHPORT, Maine – By the time Laura Tasheiko discovered the lump in her left breast, it was larger than a grape. Tasheiko, 61, an artist who makes a living selling oil paintings of Maine’s snowy woods, lighthouses and rocky coastline, was terrified: She had no health insurance and little cash to spare.
Laura Tasheiko, 61, sits in her home in Northport, Maine (Photo by Joel Page for USA TODAY).
But that was nearly six years ago, and the state Medicaid program was generous then. Tasheiko was eligible because of her modest income, and MaineCare, as it is called, paid for all of her treatment, including the surgery, an $18,000 drug to treat nerve damage that made it impossible to hold a paintbrush, physical therapy and continuing checkups.
But while much of America saw an expansion of coverage this year, low-income Maine residents like Tasheiko lost benefits. On Jan. 1, just as the Affordable Care Act was being rolled out nationwide, MaineCare terminated her coverage, leaving her and thousands of others without insurance.
Maine Gov. Paul LePage’s decision to shrink Medicaid instead of expanding it was a radical departure from a decade-long effort to cover more people in this small rural state of farmers, lobstermen, craftsmen and other seasonal workers, which at least until recently, boasted one of the lowest rates of uninsured in the nation.”

“It’s not a news flash that health insurance can be complex and confusing. But the health insurance maze can be a problem, especially if you have never had health insurance before or have not had it for a long time. That’s the case for about half of the uninsured and for many people enrolling in the new insurance marketplaces set up under the Affordable Care Act.
Consider:
37% of enrollees don’t know the amount of their deductible. The deductibles in the plans sold on the exchanges are large; on average $2,300 for single coverage in the most popular plan, a Silver plan. For many people their deductible will be as important to their family budgets and their ability to get health care as the premium they pay, especially if they get a premium subsidy as most do in the exchanges. If people don’t understand their deductibles and copays they may pick a plan based solely on the premium and be in for a nasty surprise when they begin to use care and their deductible hits. It can also be important to know if services such as some physician visits and tests or generic drugs are exempt from the deductible.
Speaking of the subsidies, 46% of enrollees in the new insurance marketplaces say they’re getting a subsidy, when official numbers indicate about 85% actually get them. And even among those who know they’re receiving a subsidy, 47% don’t know the amount of the subsidy. A political implication is that many people getting help from the ACA don’t know it.
Many enrollees also don’t grasp basic insurance terms. A study of people eligible to enroll in the marketplaces showed that many were not confident in their understanding of a premium (36%), deductible (31%), copayment (28%), coinsurance (48%), maximum annual out-of-pocket spending (38%), provider network (36%), covered services (35%), annual limits on services (39%) or excluded services (40%).”

“Federal officials are floating the idea of expanding Medicare’s Pioneer model for accountable care organizations, but they might struggle to recruit any new participants.
Some prominent ACO leaders shared their skepticism in letters to the CMS that the agency released this month. The program, designed and administered by the CMS Innovation Center, is the government’s earliest and most aggressive test under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of new financial incentives for hospitals and doctors to hold down medical costs and meet quality targets.
The Pioneer initiative’s rules put doctors and hospitals at too much risk of losing money with too little control, officials with Universal American, CHE Trinity Health, St. Vincent’s Health Partners, the Franciscan Alliance and others said in the comment letters to federal officials.
Pioneers must agree to accept potential losses with the promise of bonuses after the first year. ACOs participating in the Medicare shared-savings program, in contrast, can go three years without the risk of owing Medicare money if they fall short.
“Organizations are not gravitating toward the Pioneer ACO model because the downside risk is not outweighed by the opportunity for economic gain—the business case is not compelling,” wrote officials with CHE Trinity Health, a Michigan-based system. The system’s CEO is Dr. Richard Gilfillan, who oversaw the launch of Pioneer ACOs as the Innovation Center’s director before his departure last June.”

“Unhappy with the choices her insurance broker was offering, Denver publishing company owner Rebecca Askew went to Colorado’s small business health insurance exchange last fall. She found exactly what she’d been hoping for: affordable insurance options tailored to the diverse needs of her 12 employees.
But Askew is in a tiny minority. Only 2 percent of all eligible businesses have checked out so-called SHOP (Small Business Health Options Program) exchanges in the 15 states where they have been available since last October under the Affordable Care Act. Even fewer purchased policies.
In November, three more state-run SHOP exchanges are slated to open, and the federal government will unveil exchanges for the 32 states that chose not to run their own.
SHOP exchanges were supposed to open nationwide on Oct. 1, the same day as exchanges offering health insurance for individuals. But the Obama administration postponed the SHOP launch, citing the need to fix serious technical problems with the exchanges for individuals, which it said were a higher priority.”

“If you get health insurance through your workplace, you’ll probably have a chance this fall to make important decisions about your coverage and costs.
Because many corporate health plans hold their annual open-enrollment periods in October and November, many employees can expect to get a packet of benefits, or instructions for making elections online, as well as updates on changes to their plans required by the Affordable Care Act. Some 55% of Americans have employer-based coverage, according to Mercer, a human-resources consultant.
“From the employee perspective, if there is any year to pay attention to the information, this is the year,” says Brian Marcotte, president and chief executive of the National Business Group on Health, a nonprofit representing large employers.
Starting next year, one change could be an ACA provision requiring some large employers—generally those with 50 or more full-time or equivalent workers—to offer affordable, adequate coverage to employees working more than 30 hours a week.”

“Thursday’s announcement that Pennsylvania will expand its Medicaid program brings the country one state closer to the original expansion outlined under Obamacare. But because of the Supreme Court’s 2012 decision making the expansion a voluntary program, there are still 23 states that haven’t expanded public health insurance to all of their low-income residents.
The expansion in Pennsylvania will add about 500,000 low-income to adults to the Medicaid rolls. According to numbers from the Kaiser Family Foundation, about 281,000 of those people were falling into what’s known as the “coverage gap”— people who don’t qualify for Medicaid but also don’t get subsidies for purchasing insurance on their own, either. About 4.5 million people across the country fall into this coverage gap, according to Kaiser.”

“The Assembly this week approved a bill to limit narrow networks in California’s health plans.
The legislation already passed a Senate vote and is expected to get concurrence today on the Senate floor and move to the governor’s desk for final approval.
SB 964 by Sen. Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina) directs the Department of Managed Health Care to develop standardized methodologies for health insurers to file required annual reports on timeliness compliance, and requires DMHC to review and post findings on those reports. It also eliminates an exemption on Medi-Cal managed care plan audits and requires DMHC to coordinate those plans’ surveys, as well.
“I introduced the bill in response to complaints we’ve heard about inadequate networks in the Medi-Cal program, as well as at Covered California,” Hernandez said. “By increasing oversight and network adequacy enforcement, SB 964 will help consumers select the right plan for themselves and access the care they need.”
Assembly member Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) introduced the measure Tuesday on the Assembly floor, and said the bill came in response to numerous public complaints.
“Since 2012 there have been hundreds of complaints about access and inadequate networks,” Bonta said.”

“The price tag of the Cover Oregon health insurance exchange fiasco continues to grow.
As Clyde Hamstreet, the corporate turnaround expert hired to lead Cover Oregon in April, wraps up his work he leaves behind a stabilized agency – and a hefty bill.
Initially signed to a $100,000 contract, Hamstreet ended up staying longer than expected, with two associates joining him at Cover Oregon after Gov. John Kitzhaber essentially forced out three top officials there in a public display of house-cleaning.
Through July, Hamstreet has billed $598,699 on an amended $750,00 contract. He hasn’t submitted his August invoice. He says the price tag was driven by the exchange’s increasing needs, as his firm stayed longer and did more than initially planned.
“We didn’t do this job to make a lot of money off the state,” he said Thursday. “Our philosophy was to try and help get the boat righted and try to help clean things up and basically help the state. … It turned out to be a bigger engagement than I expected.””