“Two years ago, Massachusetts set what was considered an ambitious goal: The state would not let that persistent monster, rising health care costs, increase faster than the economy as a whole. Today, the results of the first full year are out and there’s reason to for many to celebrate.
The number that will go down in the history books is 2.3 percent. It’s well below a state-imposed benchmark for health care cost growth of 3.6 percent, and well below the increases seen for at least a decade.
“So all of that’s really good news,” says Aron Boros, executive director at the Center for Health Information and Analysis (CHIA), which is releasing the first calculation of state health care expenditures. “It really seems like…the growth in health care spending is slowing.”
Why? It could be the pressure to comply with of the federal health law in its first year.
“We have to believe that’s the [first] year,” Boros says, “that insurers and providers are trying their hardest to keep cost increases down.”
But then, health care spending growth slowed across the U.S., not just in Massachusetts, last year.
“There’s not strong evidence that it’s different in Massachusetts; we really seem to be in line with those national trends,” Boros adds. “People are either going to doctors and hospitals a little less frequently, or they’re going to lower-cost settings a little more frequently.”
The result: Health insurance premiums were basically flat overall in the state in 2013.
“2013 was a year in which we were able to exhale,” says Jon Hurst, president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts. But he’s worried the break on rates was short-lived. This year, Hurst’s members are reporting premium increases that average 12 percent.”

“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.”

“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.””

“A lack of transparency in describing and fixing technical problems became an issue in Thursday’s Washington Health Benefit Exchange Board meeting.
Board member Bill Hinkle grew testy at what he said was mutual staff back-patting and excuses for the problems still plaguing thousands of accounts.
“C’mon you guys, let’s quit blowing smoke here,” Hinkle said. “I’m tired of patting people on the back….We’re not doing great yet.”
Board member Teresa Mosqueda pressed staff for numbers of enrollees affected by technical problems.
“We really need to have the data in front of us to manage some of these issues,” she said. “I’m going to ask this question again ­– what is the total number of individuals affected by this, so we have a sense of how well we’re doing?”
The answer appeared to stun some board members: Glitches and technical problems have affected as many as 28,000 people trying to buy health insurance through the Washington Healthplanfinder online marketplace, said associate operations director Brad Finnegan.
In answer to a question, Finnegan conceded that that means one out of every five people has had a problem.”

“Federal officials have reached an agreement with Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett over his plan to use federal funds to pay for private health insurance coverage for up to 600,000 residents, the governor said on Thursday.
The deal highlights a growing number of Republican governors who are finding ways to accept money under President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, despite political opposition that has so far prevented nearly half of U.S. states from moving forward with the Medicaid expansion plan.
Corbett sought a waiver in February to use those expansion funds to instead subsidize private health insurance for low-income residents.”

“PHOENIX — The Arizona Supreme Court has agreed to hear Gov. Jan Brewer’s appeal of an appeals-court decision that could unravel the Medicaid expansion she fought for last year.
The high court has not yet set a date, but indicated it will hear Brewer’s argument that about three dozen Republican lawmakers don’t have the legal standing to challenge the controversial vote.
The court’s decision, reached in a scheduling conference, comes on the heels of Tuesday’s primary election in which every Republican lawmaker who voted to expand the state’s Medicaid program won re-election. That means it would be highly unlikely the next Legislature would vote to reverse the 2013 decision, which was a consistent fault line in numerous GOP legislative primaries.
The case revolves around whether the Legislature’s 2013 vote to impose an assessment on hospitals to help cover the cost of expanding the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment program was a tax. If so, it would require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature.”

“An announcement could be made soon on Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett’s plan to use billions of federal Medicaid expansion dollars under the 2010 healthcare law to subsidize private health insurance policies, a spokeswoman said Wednesday.
Kait Gillis, a state Department of Public Welfare spokeswoman, said negotiations with the federal government are in the final stages, but details remain under wraps.
HHS officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday, and the federal agency consistently has declined to publicly discuss details of Corbett’s plan. The 124-page plan was formally submitted in February, and closed-door negotiations began in April after a public comment period.”

“When Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas went up with a television ad last week alluding to some benefits of Obamacare, partisans on both the left and the right saw the spot as a sign that vulnerable Democrats might finally be embracing the polarizing health-care overhaul in their campaigns.
But in the days since, it’s become clear: there’s little evidence that the hotly debated law is on its way to becoming a central Democratic talking point heading into the fall campaign.
“It’s basically the first pro-Obamacare ad we’ve seen by a vulnerable Democrat for months,” said Elizabeth Wilner, senior vice president of Kantar Media Ad Intelligence, whose Campaign Media Analysis Group tracks political advertising. “It’s like seeing a unicorn – it just doesn’t happen very often.””