“CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — The dominion of Tennessee’s largest health insurer is reflected in its headquarters’ lofty perch above the city, atop a hill that during the Civil War was lined with Union cannons to repel Confederate troops.
BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee has used its position to establish a similarly firm foothold in the first year of the marketplaces created by the health law. The company sold 88 percent of the plans for Tennessee individuals and families. Only one other insurer, Cigna, bothered to offer policies in Chattanooga, and the premiums were substantially higher than those offered by BlueCross.
Though insurers have been regularly vilified in debates over health care prices, BlueCross’ near monopoly here has been unusually good financially for consumers. Its cut-rate exclusive deal with one of three area health systems turned Chattanooga into one of the 10 least expensive insurance markets in the country, as judged by the lowest price mid-level, or silver, plan. The premium for a 40-year-old for that plan is $181 a month, 30 percent less than for the median cheapest silver plan nationally.”
“Newly hired employees who don’t sign up for health insurance on the job could have it done for them under a health law provision that may take effect as early as next year.
But the controversial provision is raising questions: Does automatic enrollment help employees help themselves, or does it force them into coverage they don’t want and may not need? A group of employers, many of them retail and hospitality businesses, want the provisions repealed, but some experts say the practice has advantages and is consistent with the aims of the health law.
By enrolling people unless they opt out, “you’re changing the default option,” says Caroline Pearson, vice president at Avalere Health, a research and consulting firm. The health law does the same thing by requiring people to have insurance or face penalties, she says.
“You’re not eliminating people’s choice or forcing people into things they don’t want,” Pearson adds.
Under the health law, companies with more than 200 full-time workers have to enroll new, full-time employees in one of the company health plans unless the employee chooses not to join. The Department of Labor said that employers aren’t required to comply until the agency issues regulations spelling out how to do so. The department delayed its initial plan to issue regulations by 2014, and at this time there’s no additional information available about when regulations will be issued, according to a DOL spokesperson. Industry experts are split on when to expect those regulations, with some believing regulations could take effect in 2015, while others say that is unlikely.”
“Francisco Velazco couldn’t wait any longer. For several years, the 35-year-old Seattle handyman had searched for an orthopedic surgeon who would reconstruct the torn ligament in his knee for a price he could afford.
Out of work because of the pain and unable to scrape together $15,000 – the cheapest option he could find in Seattle – Velazco turned to an unconventional and controversial option: an online medical auction site called Medibid, which largely operates outside the confines of traditional health insurance. The four-year-old online service links patients seeking non-emergency care with doctors and facilities that offer it, much the way Priceline unites travelers and hotels. Vetting doctors is left to prospective patients: Medibid does not verify credentials but requires doctors to submit their medical license number for patients to check.
Velazco paid $25 to post his request for knee surgery. A few days later, he had bids for the outpatient procedure from surgeons in New York, California and Virginia, including details about their expertise. After accepting the lowest bid — $7,500, a fee that covered anesthesia and related costs — he learned that his surgeon would be William T. Grant, a Charlottesville orthopedist.”
“Six months ago, a House Republican campaign official listed the top three issues that would propel the party’s candidates to victory in the midterm election: “Obamacare, Obamacare, Obamacare.”.
It was a strategy that worked well in 2010, when GOP electoral gains were fueled primarily by a high-profile campaign to repeal the newly passed Affordable Care Act.
But now, months removed from the political storm that resulted from the botched rollout of the law and as more Americans begin receiving healthcare under the program, many Republicans have a more nuanced view of its importance.
House Republicans are broadening their once-singular focus on the healthcare law and headed into an extended summer break without delivering on their promise to advance an alternative.”
“If being uninsured were no big deal, presumably Obamacare never would have been enacted. The whole premise of the law is that being uninsured is a bad thing, so it’s well worth wielding a few carrots and sticks to get people into coverage. Unfortunately, Obamacare has had to break more than a few eggs along the way. One of the presumably unintended consequences of this misguided law is the fashion in which it encourages some young adults to become uninsured. These are the very young people that the Exchanges need to sign up for coverage if they are to avoid a death spiral.
It may seem puzzling that a law that both hands out subsidies to encourage coverage and imposes penalties on those who do not could possibly increase the incentive to become or remain uninsured.”
“Did you hear the great news? According to the latest Medicare Trustees report, “Medicare isn’t going bankrupt,” and Vox has a chart to prove it! Not only that, “slow health cost growth has improved Medicare’s financial outlook, extending the program’s trust fund to last until 2030.” That’s four years longer than last year’s forecast!
It all sounds great until you hear what Vox unaccountably elected not to tell its readers. All those rosy Medicare predictions are based on a scenario that no one with any common sense should believe.” As PolitiFact.com pithily puts it: “There are good reasons to question whether things will pan out that way.” Indeed, you don’t exactly have to be a mind-reader to see that the Medicare actuaries also don’t believe this scenario which is precisely why they again (as they have done routinely in 2011, 2012, and 2013) released an alternative fiscal scenario that is far more likely to transpire.
Medicare Part A Actually Will Grow 2-1/2 Times As Fast As Vox Says
When Vox says the trust fund will last another four years, that’s a reference to the Part A Hospital Trust Fund. Under the so-called “projected baseline” used in the Trustees’ report, the trust fund will indeed last until 2030. But that baseline portends cuts in hospital payment rates so drastic that Obamacare-mandated reductions in payments to hospitals so drastic that:
•Hospital payments for both Medicare and Medicaid will be 38% lower than the amounts paid by private health insurers by the year 2030 (Figure 1).
•Eventually, payment reductions to hospitals will mean they are paid 59 percent less by Medicare and Medicaid than by private health insurers!””
“In an oped for Politico, I explain why ObamaCare architect Jonathan Gruber’s 2012 admissions that “if you’re a state and you don’t set up an Exchange, that means your citizens don’t get their tax credits” matter to the ongoing litigation over the Obama administration issuing those subsidies in federal Exchanges, and why Gruber’s attempts to explain his own words away are not credible. Shortly after submitting that piece, I learned Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt found Gruber’s remarks relevant enough to ask a federal court hearing one of those cases to take notice.
Gruber’s repeated remarks contradict the Obama administration’s legal argument, made in Halbig v. Burwell and three related lawsuits, that it is implausible that Congress would have conditioned those subsidies on states establishing Exchanges. His remarks likewise contradict the amicus briefs Gruber himself filed in two of those cases. (Here’s my response to those briefs.)”
“Luis Martinez of Hialeah survived two heart attacks during the more than 10 years that he went without health insurance.
So he was relieved to finally find coverage on the Affordable Care Act’s insurance exchange in March, two weeks before the enrollment deadline.
But four months after he and his wife signed up for a subsidized, bronze-level health plan with Coventry, Martinez, 51, said he feels as though he has fallen into a black hole of government bureaucracy while trying to prove his income and his wife’s citizenship in order to keep their coverage, part of a national effort to verify policyholders’ eligibility.
Martinez, who has stents implanted in his coronary arteries, said he has tried repeatedly for more than a month to comply with the government’s requests for additional documentation to resolve inconsistencies in his personal information — or risk losing his $457 monthly subsidy, and health insurance for him and his wife, Rocio Balbin, 46.
So far, officials with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services are not satisfied with his response.”
“The top federal prosecutors from South Dakota and North Dakota say they have increased their efforts to fight healthcare fraud.
U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson of South Dakota said he has restructured his office to allow lawyers in the criminal and civil divisions to devote “significant time” to investigating medical fraud. He predicted it will be among the fastest-growing area of criminal investigation and wants his office to be in position to pursue increasing “complex and egregious” cases.
“My advice to the medical community is to stay away from gray areas or outright fraud that wastes tax dollars, because we will be watching,” Johnson told the Sioux Falls Argus Leader. “The end result in many of these cases will be that the taxpayers get their money back with interest and penalties, and the medical professional loses their license.”
Johnson’s office recently settled an alleged fraud case involving two doctors at Dakotas-based Sanford Health. Court documents show that Sanford paid $625,000 to settle the lawsuit, in which the doctors and the hospital did not admit wrongdoing. Cindy Morrison, Sanford’s executive vice president for marketing and public policy, said the hospital settled to avoid distraction.
“For us, it’s the issue of time and expense,” she said.”
“New Mexico decided Friday to stick with a federal online system for another year to enroll individuals in health insurance plans.
The state’s health insurance exchange governing board voted 11-1 to continue using the federal computer system for determining eligibility and to enroll individuals starting in November when the next open enrollment begins.
A majority of board members worried that New Mexico wasn’t ready to switch to a state-run online system for individuals. Any technical failures could delay enrollment and discourage consumers from trying to obtain health coverage, they said.
Continuing with the federal system for another year is the “safest, most risk-free” way of enrolling New Mexicans, New Mexico Health Connections CEO Martin Hickey said.”