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

“When Covered California unveiled its initial slate of 13 carriers last year, their low rates got some attention — but so did their mix.
While Covered California couldn’t boast Aetna or UnitedHealthcare, which instead elected to leave the state’s individual market, four major insurers were on board: Anthem Blue Cross, Blue Shield of California, Health Net and Kaiser Permanente.
And the exchange also had drawn in several smaller health plans, like Ventura County Health Plan, which were going to compete for share on the individual market for the first time.
“For me, the story is [these] new participants,” Micah Weinberg of the Bay Area Council told California Healthline last summer. “Who exactly they are, and how they are being offered in these marketplaces, is worth watching.”
But Ventura County quietly pulled out. A second small carrier, Alameda Alliance, was kicked out. And earlier this summer, a third carrier — Contra Costa Health Plan — was forced to drop out, citing state rules around offering on- and off-exchange plans.
That’s left Covered California with 10 plans — which would be a bounty for nearly any other state. Not so across California’s vast, 164,000-square-mile expanse, where many regions are essentially dependent on a lone insurer.
As “Road to Reform” tracked throughout last year’s enrollment period, the seven small insurers ended up splitting just a fraction of Covered California’s customers, while the “big four” insurers were responsible for almost 95% of all sign-ups across the state.
“It’s not just an issue of market concentration,” California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones (D) told California Healthline. “It’s the absence of choice that exists for some consumers in some parts of California.””

“Small and stand-alone nonprofit hospitals are facing mounting pressure from weak operating margins and lower patient volumes, with more signals of stress on the way, according a report released Wednesday from Standard & Poor’s Rating Services.
The rating agency warned the healthcare sector was at “a tipping point where negative forces have started to outweigh many providers’ ability to implement sufficient countermeasures.” Beginning in 2013 and continuing into this year, credit downgrades outpaced upgrades at an accelerating rate.
In particular, stand-alone providers are under greater pressure from physician departures, rising bad debt, and higher employee benefit costs.”

“AUSTIN — A legislative committee is examining market-based alternatives to providing low-income Texans with health care since the state has rejected the expansion of Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act.
Members of the state Senate Health and Human Services committee plan Thursday to discuss alternatives to the law critics call “Obamacare.”
Some ideas include expanding Medicaid block grants and waivers. Lawmakers are seeking to hold health costs in-check while improving access to care.”

“California is coming face to face with the reality of one of its biggest Obamacare successes: the explosion in Medi-Cal enrollment.
The numbers — 2.2 million enrollees since January — surprised health care experts and created unforeseen challenges for state officials. Altogether, there are now about 11 million Medi-Cal beneficiaries, constituting nearly 30 percent of the state’s population.
That has pushed the public insurance program into the spotlight, after nearly 50 years as a quiet mainstay of the state’s health care system, and it has raised concerns about California’s ability to meet the increased demand for health care.
Even as sign-ups continue, state health officials are struggling to figure out how to serve a staggering number of Medi-Cal beneficiaries while also improving their health and keeping costs down. Many are chronically ill and have gone without insurance or regular care for years, and some new enrollees have higher expectations than in the past.”

“What happens in November will play a major role in shaping President Obama’s final two years in office.
No, it’s not just the 2014 midterm elections that have the White House on edge, but also the return of open enrollment in Obamacare.
After the disastrous rollout of the president’s signature domestic initiative in 2013, the administration needs to avoid the problems that diminished public confidence in the most significant overhaul to the health care system since the creation of Medicare.
The White House believes the technical problems that crashed healthcare.gov will become a distant memory. However, team Obama must worry about much more than just a website.
Here are the top five potential Obamacare headaches looming in November:”

“The Affordable Care Act—also known as Obamacare—is “not an affordable product” for many people and it does not fix the underlying problems causing high health-care costs, Aetna Chairman and CEO Mark Bertolini told CNBC on Wednesday.
“If we’re going to fix health care, we’ve got to get at the delivery of care and the cost of care,” Bertolini said in a “Squawk Box” interview. “The ACA does none of that. The only person who’s really going to drive that is the consumer and the decisions they make.”
“Getting everybody insured should probably be our goal, but you have to have a more affordable system,” he added. “We have a 1950[-style] health care system in the Unites States.”
Aetna said Tuesday that its medical spending rose more than estimates in the second quarter, due in part to the higher costs of covering patients who bought insurance under Obamacare for the first time. But the third-largest U.S. health insurer also reported better-than-expected earnings and revenue in the second quarter and raised full-year guidance.”

“With the Nov. 15 kick-off for this year’s health law enrollment season fast approaching, the need for more training for the people who help consumers navigate the health insurance marketplace is growing increasingly clear.
For example, 92 percent of health insurance marketplace assister programs say they want more preparation than they received last year, according to survey findings released last month by the Kaiser Family Foundation.
This figure, highlighted during an Aug. 5 briefing, came out of a larger survey conducted after the first open enrollment period concluded last spring. The survey polled people who supervised assistance efforts by navigators, in-person assisters, certified application counselors, federally qualified health centers and federal enrollment assistance programs which were promoting federal and state-based health care exchanges.”

“A trio of academics from one of the nation’s premier business schools recently concluded that the exchanges are costing women age 55 to 64 more than any other demographic group relative to individual insurance policies purchased before the Affordable Care Act took effect.
Their total expected premiums and out-of-pocket HIX costs rose by 50% and ranged from $2,185 to $2,738 compared to before health care reform, according to Mark Pauly, Scott Harrington, and Adam Leive of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.
The researchers, whose findings were published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, also found that premiums for the second-lowest silver-level policy were 67% higher for women in this age group than they were pre-ACA.
One possible explanation for these higher costs was community rating that lumped together older women with higher-cost individuals, such as childbearing women and sicker older men. The study was analyzed by Joann Weiner, a George Washington University economics professor.
In contrast, the researchers found that bronze-level premiums for men between the ages of 45 and 54 will fall by about $1,000 annually relative to the average. Weiner also noted that women of the same age would incur total costs that are $300 below average, while older women would pay $1,500 above average.”

“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.”

“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.”