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

“Devin Payne had gone years without health insurance – having little need and not much money to pay for it.
Then Payne, who had a wife and four children, realized she could no longer live as a man.
In her early 40s, she changed her name, began wearing long skirts and grew out her sandy blond hair. And she started taking female hormones, which caused her breasts to develop and the muscle mass on her 6-foot one-inch frame to shrink.
The next step was gender reassignment surgery. For that, Payne, who is now 44, said she needed health coverage. “It is not a simple, easy, magical surgery,” said Payne, a photographer who lives in Palm Springs. “Trying to do this without insurance is a big risk. Things can go wrong … not having the money to pay for it would be awful.”
Payne learned in the fall that she might qualify for subsidies through the state’s new insurance marketplace, Covered California, because her income fell under the limit of $46,000 a year. She eagerly signed up in March for a Blue Shield plan for about $230 a month, and began making preparations for the surgery that would change her life.”

“As more Americans gain insurance under the federal health law, hospitals are rethinking their charity programs, with some scaling back help for those who could have signed up for coverage but didn’t.
The move is prompted by concerns that offering free or discounted care to low-income, uninsured patients might dissuade them from getting government-subsidized coverage. It also reflects hospitals’ strong financial interest in having more patients covered by insurance as the federal government makes big cuts in funding for uncompensated care.
If a patient is eligible to purchase subsidized coverage through the law’s online marketplaces but doesn’t sign up, should hospitals “provide charity care on the same level of generosity as they were previously?” asks Peter Cunningham, a health policy expert at Virginia Commonwealth University.
Most hospitals are still wrestling with that question, but a few have changed their programs, Cunningham says.”

“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.”

“Health insurance companies in California may not refuse to cover the cost of abortions, state insurance officials have ruled in a reversal of policy stemming from the decision by two Catholic universities to drop elective abortions from their employee health plans.
Although the federal Affordable Care Act does not compel employers to provide workers with health insurance that includes abortion coverage, the director of California’s Department of Managed Health Care said in a letter to seven insurance companies on Friday that the state Constitution and a 1975 state law prohibits them from selling group plans that exclude the procedure. The law in question requires such plans to encompass all “medically necessary” care.
“Abortion is a basic health care service,” department director Michelle Rouillard wrote in the letter. “All health plans must treat maternity services and legal abortion neutrally.”
Jesuit-run Santa Clara University and Loyola Marymount University notified employees last fall that they planned to stop paying for elective abortions, but said faculty and staff members could pay for supplemental coverage that would be provided through a third party. The two schools said their insurers, Anthem Blue Cross and Kaiser Permanente, had cleared the move with the state.”

“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.”

“CARMICHAEL, Calif. — The lobby of Rosewood Post-Acute Rehab, a nursing home in this Sacramento suburb, bears all the touches of a luxury hotel, including high ceilings, leather club chairs and paintings of bucolic landscapes.
What really sets Rosewood apart, however, is its five-star rating from Medicare, which has been assigning hotel-style ratings to nearly every nursing home in the country for the last five years. Rosewood’s five-star status — the best possible — places it in rarefied company: Only one-fifth of more than 15,000 nursing homes nationwide hold such a distinction.
But an examination of the rating system by The New York Times has found that Rosewood and many other top-ranked nursing homes have been given a seal of approval that is based on incomplete information and that can seriously mislead consumers, investors and others about conditions at the homes.
The Medicare ratings, which have become the gold standard across the industry, are based in large part on self-reported data by the nursing homes that the government does not verify. Only one of the three criteria used to determine the star ratings — the results of annual health inspections — relies on assessments from independent reviewers. The other measures — staff levels and quality statistics — are reported by the nursing homes and accepted by Medicare, with limited exceptions, at face value.”

“Verizon is making a bet that telemedicine — a term for virtually administered medical care — could provide a big business opportunity.
The company recently announced it was providing private network services to the University of Virginia and Stanford University for a study on a so-called “artificial pancreas” — a series of devices that could monitor glucose levels in Type 1 diabetics and automatically release insulin into the body.
For the past few years, Verizon has been supporting universities as they perform clinical trials on telemedicine, providing them with the required network services. Verizon declined to share the financial terms of these agreements, though it said it was providing a private wireless network and data center services, among other services.
The artificial pancreas uses a tiny glucose monitor, inserted under the skin, which relays glucose levels to a smartphone. There an application can communicate with an insulin pump to release insulin into the body as needed. (Diabetics often manage this process manually by periodically measuring glucose levels and injecting themselves with glucose, according to the study.)”

“A clinic in Minneapolis that provides medical care to thousands of uninsured and underinsured people is closing its doors next week, in large part because more people are obtaining health insurance through the Affordable Care Act and seeking care elsewhere.
When the Neighborhood Involvement Program shuts down Aug. 29, the 3,000 patients that visit its Uptown clinic will be without a medical provider. But its dental and mental health clinics, as well as its senior and youth programs, will continue operating in Uptown.
But managers of the NIP Community Medical Clinic say many people still need the low-cost care and customer service they provide. Medical bills at the clinic on Hennepin Avenue are as easy to understand as a restaurant check, with a price list like a menu: $10 for a strep test, for example, and $80 for a basic doctor visit. If a patient’s monthly income is less than $1,900 dollars, those fees drop considerably.”

“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.”

“Insurance expansion under healthcare reform is starting to yield patient volume for hospitals, but the costs of staffing up for more patients are eclipsing the additional revenue.
Earnings reports for not-for-profit systems in the first half of the year show that many providers are seeing rising salary and benefit expenses cut into revenue gains, leading to smaller operating surpluses.
“As the pieces of the Affordable Care Act are coming together, it’s changing the demand for care,” said Jeff Jones, managing director at Huron Consulting Group. “It’s shifting the way that providers are thinking about their labor pools.”
A report from Standard & Poor’s similarly found that in 2013, expenses increased 7%, outpacing revenue growth of 5%. The rating agency attributed the rising costs to preparations that systems were making to prepare for healthcare reform, including staffing needs.”