“UnitedHealthcare, the insurance giant that largely sat out the health law’s online marketplaces’ first year, said Thursday it may sell policies through the exchanges in nearly half the states next year.
“We plan to grow next year as we expand our offering to as many as two dozen state exchanges,” Stephen Hemsley, CEO of UnitedHealth Group, the insurance company’s parent, told investment analysts on a conference call. He was referring to coverage sold to individuals.
The move represents a major acceleration for the company and a bet that government-subsidized insurance, sold online without regard for pre-existing illness, is here to stay. UnitedHealthcare sells individual policies through government exchanges in only four states now.
Even analysts who follow the company closely seemed surprised.
“You’re making a really big move,” Kevin Fischbeck, an analyst for Bank of America, told the company’s executives. “You’re going to do a couple dozen states. You’ve really moved in.

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“Medicare spending growth will be slow again in 2014 relative to historical standards, and some of the usual suspects are now crediting the Affordable Care Act — Obamacare — for the good news. For instance, a recent post at Vox suggests that the slowdown in Medicare spending can be attributed, in part, to the ACA’s provision penalizing hospitals for excessive readmissions of previously treated patients.
This is nonsense.
At the time of the ACA’s enactment in March 2010, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the readmission provision would reduce Medicare spending by $0.3 billion in 2014, and only $7.1 billion over a decade. That’s about one tenth of 1 percent of total Medicare spending over that time period. There has been no information from any source since 2010 suggesting that the savings from the readmission provision has escalated into a major cost-cutting reform.

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“The White House has begun its search for the next stewards of HealthCare.gov.
A contract solicitation posted online Wednesday enumerates the qualifications and requirements of the next Obamacare website contractor, charged with keeping the online federal health insurance exchange portal up and running.
The 60-page job posting says the next caretaker of the Obamacare site will need to be able to work “under aggressive time constraints” to work with the Federally Facilitated Marketplace in testing and upgrading a variety of hardware, software, and security features. It also states that the contractor will need to be able to perform tests that can demonstrate that the site can function when a large number of users are online.
Accenture currently holds a one-year contract to run HealthCare.gov, which was awarded after a no-bid process back in January.

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“Nine months after Americans began signing up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, a challenging new phase is emerging as confused enrollees clamor for help in understanding their coverage.
Nonprofit organizations across the country are being swamped by consumers with questions. Many are low-income, have never had insurance and have little knowledge of the health-care system. The rampant confusion poses a potential hurdle for the success of the health law: If many Americans don’t understand how health insurance works, that could hurt their ability to use their benefits — or to keep their coverage altogether.
Community organizations are scrambling to keep up with the larger-than-anticipated demand, but they are stretched thin.

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“WASHINGTON — Efforts by congressional Republicans to rein in what they say are the legislative and political excesses of the Obama administration played out in simultaneous hearings on Wednesday, further highlighting how election-year politics are overtaking business on Capitol Hill.
The first hearing, by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, was quickly adjourned after the administration refused to allow testimony from David Simas, the White House political director, who had been called under a Republican subpoena to answer questions about Democratic campaign activities.
The second, a debate in the House Rules Committee on the merits of a lawsuit that Speaker John A.

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“The fear was this: The Affordable Care Act would give massive numbers of people new access to health care, creating a surge in demand for medical services and long waits to see the doctor.
But in the seven months since new insurance plans began kicking in, Puget Sound-area, Washington, primary-care providers so far seem to be keeping up with growing numbers of patients. The question now is, can they keep ahead of the demand as the formerly uninsured continue seeking care, and as baby boomers age and a sizable fraction of Washington’s physicians retire.”

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“Primary care doctors have reported problems making referrals for patients who have purchased some of the cheaper plans from the federal insurance marketplace. Complaints about narrow networks with too few doctors have attracted the attention of federal regulators and have even prompted lawsuits.
But they’re also causing headaches in the day-to-day work of doctors and clinics. “The biggest problem we’ve run into is figuring out what specialists take a lot of these plans,” said Dr. Charu Sawhney of Houston.
Sawhney is an internist at the Hope Clinic, a federally qualified health center in southwest Houston, in the bustling heart of the Asian immigrant community. Her patients speak 14 different languages, and many of them are immigrants or refugees from places as far flung as Burma and Bhutan. Most of her patients are uninsured, which means she is familiar with problems of access.
But the limited options of some of the HMOs sold on the marketplace surprised even her.

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“Looking for a place where Obamacare doesn’t exist? Try moving to the U.S. Territories, where the Obama administration just provided a pretty big waiver from the law’s major coverage provisions.
The Affordable Care Act’s design dealt a pretty big problem to the territories. It required insurers there to comply with the law’s major market reforms — guaranteed coverage, mandated benefits, limits on profits, etc. — without requiring residents to get coverage or providing subsidies to help them afford coverage. The territories — Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands — have been warning for years that would destroy their insurance markets.

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“During the open enrollment period for the state and federal health care exchanges, each staff member and volunteer worked with an average of 1.8 people per day, according to a survey of assister programs released by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Kaiser calculated the number of people receiving aid between October 1, 2013 and the end of April, 2014:
More than 4,400 Assister Programs, employing more than 28,000 full-time-equivalent staff and volunteers, helped an estimated 10.6 million people during the first Open Enrollment period.
If you do the math, 28,000 individuals assisting 10.6 million people over 210 days breaks down to 1.8 people per day per service representative. While the individualized guidance was time consuming, the study revealed that the assister programs should have been able to help more people in the span of a full workday.

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“”Responding to inquiries from federal officials, the California health department has released a plan it says will dramatically slash its backlog of Medi-Cal applications within six weeks.
For months, the state has labored under the largest such pile-up in the country, with 900,000 pending cases reported in May—the combined result of unexpectedly high application numbers and bug-ridden computer systems.
In a letter to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services on Monday, the California Department of Health Care Services said that it had reduced its application backlog to 600,000 by the start of this month. State officials also outlined a plan for technology fixes and administrative workarounds that they project will nearly halve that figure by the end of August—with most of those applications being processed within the allowed 45-day window. The letter was made public Tuesday.”

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