“There has not exactly been an overabundance of good news on Obamacare. So it did come as some surprise two weeks ago when the Department of Health and Human Services issued a press release with the headline: “Consumers have saved a total of $9 billion on premiums,” and the subheading; “Health care law will return to families an average refund of $80 each this year.”
There is nothing unusual or even untoward about the Obama administration doing what it can to put a positive spin on the law. But what makes this item interesting is it reveals how little the administration actually has to tout about Obamacare and how far it must reach to manufacture a success story.
The purpose of the press release was to announce data on the effects of Obamacare’s “medical loss ratio” regulation, which “requires insurers to spend at least 80 percent of premium dollars on patient care and quality improvement activities.

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“A mix-up of information about two physicians with the same name in different states has opened a window on wide-ranging technical problems the CMS is facing with its Open Payments website reporting industry payments to doctors and teaching hospitals. Registration for the system, which was scheduled…”

NOTE: This article is behind a paywall.

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“Nearly one company in six in a new survey from a major employer group plans to offer health coverage that doesn’t meet the Affordable Care Act’s requirements for value and affordability.
Many thought such low-benefit “skinny plans” would be history once the health law was fully implemented this year. Instead, 16 percent of large employers in a survey released Wednesday by the National Business Group on Health said they will offer in 2015 lower-benefit coverage along with at least one health plan that does qualify under ACA standards.
The results weren’t unexpected by benefits pros, who realized last year that ACA regulations would allow skinny plans and even make them attractive for some employers. But the new survey gives one of the first looks at how many companies will follow through and offer them.”

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“When benefits enrollment season arrives this fall, employees around the country can expect to see the impact of corporate cost-cutting on their finances.
Benefits costs will rise only 5 percent for employers that take certain cost-reduction measures, instead of 6.5 percent for companies that do not, according to a June survey of employers representing 7.5 million workers by the National Business Group on Health.
Although costs are not rising as quickly, employees are still being squeezed.
The main way companies are keeping healthcare costs in line is by shifting workers into high-deductible health plans, defined by the Internal Revenue Service as having deductibles above $1,250 for an individual. (here)
For 2015, 81 percent of employers will offer a high-deductible plan as an option, up from 72 percent last year; while 32 percent will offer such plans as the only option, up from 22 percent last year.

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“State officials offered assurances Wednesday that software fixes to the flawed MNsure health insurance exchange are happening as planned, and that the system should be in good working order by the Nov. 15 start of open enrollment.
Still grappling with consumer fallout and political pressure over last year’s troubled rollout, MNsure officials said changes are being made to the system that will allow more time for testing and that sufficient backup plans are in development if things go wrong.
MNsure is preparing for the “worst case, if that comes about,” interim Chief Operating Officer Wes Kooistra told the agency’s board of directors, but he added that all hands are on deck to ensure an “improved user experience for 2015.”
IBM installed its final software upgrades over the weekend, officials said, a move that should resolve one of several major logjams that have prevented consumers from seamlessly logging onto the MNsure website and enrolling in health insurance coverage.”

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“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.

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“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.”

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“Backers of the health-care law say they are rushing to make sure tens of thousands of people provide more documents to prove they are in the U.S. legally and therefore entitled to the coverage they obtained through HealthCare.gov.
Immigrant advocates say they felt the Obama administration moved hastily in announcing Tuesday it would cut off health insurance for up to 310,000 people who signed up for plans through online exchanges run by the federal government if they don’t send additional information in the next few weeks showing they are U.S. citizens or legal residents.

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“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.”

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“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.”

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