“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.””

“Low-income consumers struggling to pay their premiums may soon be able to get help from their local hospital or United Way.
Some hospitals in New York, Florida and Wisconsin are exploring ways to help individuals and families pay their share of the costs of government-subsidized policies purchased though the health law’s marketplaces – at least partly to guarantee the hospitals get paid when the consumers seek care.
But the hospitals’ efforts have set up a conflict with insurers, who worry that premium assistance programs will skew their enrollee pools by expanding the number of sicker people who need more services.
“Entities acting in their [own] financial interest” could drive up costs for everyone and discourage healthier people from buying coverage, insurers wrote recently to the Obama administration.
Insurers are asking the federal government, which regulates the health insurance marketplaces, to restrict the practice.”

“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.”

“The latest somersaults and contortions over Obamacare last month spread from courtrooms to the blogosphere, with another round of regulatory “adjustments” not far away. The common principle followed by the health law’s most energetic advocates appears to be the whatever-it-takes motto of the late Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis, “Just win, baby!”
A pair of federal appellate court decisions on July 21 (Halbig v. Burwell and King v Burwell) sent Obamacare backers cycling through at least the first three stages of grief (anger, denial, and bargaining) over the potential loss of tax credit subsidies for states with federal-run health exchanges, along with the likelihood of further unraveling of the health law’s interrelated scheme of coverage mandates and tighter insurance regulation. A 2-1 majority ruling in Halbig delivered the latest blow to the Affordable Care Act, by deciding to vacate a 2012 Internal Revenue Service rule that attempted to authorize such subsidies.
The loudest voices among the flock of pro-ACA court watchers had previously declared such a judicial decision all but “inconceivable.” For example, Henry Aaron of the Brookings Institution termed these legal challenges to Obamacare as absurd, crazy, and wacky in an April 1, 2014 New England Journal of Medicine article. Jonathan Gruber of MIT and a key architect of both Massachusetts-based Romneycare and its cloned twin Obamacare called the tax credit theory behind the cases “screwy,” “nutty,” “stupid,” “unprecedented,” and “desperate” (but that depends on which version of Gruber one chooses to sample).
Tim Jost of the Washington and Lee University School of Law and a frequent blogger on this issue at Health Affairs, continues to be often wrong, but never in doubt—at least until later events require some modest repositioning. In July 2012, he flatly asserted that “these claims are simply false” regarding contentions that final IRS rules to enable premium tax credits through federal exchanges are unauthorized by law. Jost further opined that the only viable challengers with legal standing to contest the IRS rule would be employers failing to offer their employees insurance (or at least affordable or adequate coverage), but that any such challenges would be barred by the Tax Anti-Injunction Act until probably sometime in 2015.”

“Premiums on ObamaCare’s health insurance exchanges will rise by an average of 7.5 percent next year, according to a new analysis.
Data compiled by the Health Research Institute (HRI) at PricewaterhouseCoopers found modest changes in premiums for 27 states and the District of Columbia, with the increases mostly falling short of dire predictions for ObamaCare’s second year.
The average national increase of 7.5 percent is “well below the double-digit increases many feared,” HRI Managing Director Ceci Connolly wrote in an email.
The highest proposed rate increase so far came in Nevada, where consumers with Time Insurance Co. might see their insurance premiums rise by 36 percent. Some consumers in Arizona, on the other hand, could see rates drop by 23 percent.
Overall, the highest average price increases under ObamaCare so far have come in Indiana, where some consumers will see prices rise by 15.4 percent. The biggest average savings were found in Oregon, where premiums will drop an average of 2.5 percent in 2015.”

“TOPEKA — Remember that headline-grabbing report last week that said Kansas was the only state in the nation to see a significant increase in its uninsured rate?
Well, it’s looking more and more suspect.
Some officials were immediately skeptical when the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index survey results were released, showing that the adult uninsured rate in Kansas had increased by 5.1 percentage points, jumping from 12.5 percent in 2013 to 17.6 percent by mid-year 2014.
Kansas Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger was among the doubters. She said the number appeared to be “an anomaly” because a spike of that magnitude from one year to the next “would be unprecedented.”
But others seized on the numbers to score political points. Some said Kansas’ decision to join 23 other states in not expanding Medicaid contributed to the increase. Others said the number was evidence that the Affordable Care Act was failing to achieve its primary goal of reducing the number of uninsured – if only in Kansas.
But upon closer inspection, neither contention appears to be the case.”

“Medicaid expansion continues to be a hot-button issue in the 38th District Virginia Senate race, as candidates try to define their positions on a subject that has divided the district — and the state — since the seat was vacated unexpectedly earlier this year.
The June resignation of former Sen. Phillip Puckett, D-Russell County, threw the balanced Senate into Republican control and affected the Senate vote on whether to expand Medicaid. When he resigned, Puckett said it was because of family reasons — his daughter sought to be a judge and the Senate makes the appointments — but others said it was to accept a job with the Virginia Tobacco Commission, which did not happen.
The resignation came just days before the General Assembly voted to pass the budget without Medicaid expansion. Expansion would extend Medicaid coverage to more people who make too much for Medicaid currently, but not enough to pay for coverage — some 400,000 Virginians.
Now, as three candidates vie for Puckett’s seat in the Aug. 19 special election, the Medicaid expansion issue is still on the table.
The stakes are high and the race is being closely watched across the state and beyond.
The candidates are Ben Chafin, R-Hansonville, currently a junior member of the House of Delegates; Mike Hymes, a Democrat from Tazewell who is on the county’s board of supervisors; and Rick Mullins, an independent candidate who is waging his first campaign.”

“BOSTON — Massachusetts officials overseeing the state’s hobbled health care exchange decided Friday to stick with new software designed to upgrade the website rather than switching over to the federal government’s health insurance market.
For the past several months the state has adopted a “dual-track” approach that called for buying software that has powered insurance marketplaces in other states while also laying the groundwork for a switchover to the federal marketplace if necessary.
On Friday, Massachusetts Health Connector officials announced that Massachusetts will remain a state-based marketplace.
In a letter to head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Gov. Deval Patrick said officials will be rigorously testing the new system.
“We are poised to offer consumers a streamlined, single-point-of-entry shopping experience for health care plans in time for fall 2014 Open Enrollment,” Patrick said in the letter to CMS administrator Marilyn Tavenner.
Earlier site problems dramatically slowed the state’s transition to the federal Affordable Care Act from its own first-in-the-nation universal health insurance law that provided a model for President Barack Obama’s plan.”

“SALEM, Ore. — Oracle Corp. has sued the state of Oregon in a fight over the state’s health insurance exchange, saying government officials are using the technology company’s software despite $23 million in disputed bills.
Oracle’s breach-of-contract lawsuit against Cover Oregon was filed Friday in federal court in Portland. It alleges that state officials repeatedly promised to pay the company but have not done so.
The lawsuit seeks payment of the disputed $23 million plus interest, along with other unspecified damages.
Oregon’s health-insurance enrollment website was never launched to the general public. State officials have blamed Oracle, but the company says the state’s bad management is responsible.
Gov. John Kitzhaber has called for the state to sue Oracle and recover some of the $134 million it has already paid to the Redwood City, California, company.
In June, Oregon issued legal demands for documents that could become evidence in a possible lawsuit against Oracle under the state’s False Claims Act.”