Julie Appleby, Kaiser Health News
"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."
Jackie Crosby, Minneapolis Star-Tribune
"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."
Jay Hancock, Kaiser Health News
"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."
Jim McLean, Kansas Health Institute News Service
"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.
Elise Viebeck, The Hill
"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.
Elise Viebeck, The Hill
"Republicans plan to hold a series of votes on repealing ObamaCare if they win control of the Senate in November, according to a report.
The votes would set the tone for a new, GOP-led Congress and create a showdown with President Obama, who would almost certainly veto any legislation rolling back parts of the healthcare law.
“If we won, I think you would see a vote for repeal, and I would vote to repeal the whole thing," Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), an expected GOP presidential candidate, told The New York Times.
"I have a feeling he won't sign that," Paul said of Obama.
Kelsey Harkness, The Daily Signal
"Media coverage of the two Supreme Court cases challenging Obamacare’s HHS mandate for employers to provide workers with “free” coverage of abortion-inducing drugs largely focused on Hobby Lobby, the arts and crafts chain founded by the Greens, an evangelical Christian family.
The case of another family-owned business also was heard by the high court, though — that of Conestoga Wood Specialties and the Hahns, Mennonite Christians from East Earl, Pa. The Hahns established their business — the manufacture of custom wood kitchen cabinets and parts — on Christian values and say they’re committed to applying those values in the workplace.
Why did they go to court, represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom?
Brett Norman, Politico
"The Obama administration’s effort to end one political crisis during the 2014 Obamacare rollout may have sown the seeds of another controversy: potential double-digit rate hikes in 2015.
If insurers have their way, some residents in politically key states like Florida, North Carolina and Iowa would face hikes of 11 percent to nearly 18 percent — far beyond the average 7.5 percent increase in proposed rates for much of the country.
Major carriers there in part blame such increases on the administration’s response to the furor that erupted when millions of Americans received notice last fall that their health policies would be canceled because they fell short of Obamacare requirements.
Facing a barrage of criticism from Republicans and some Democrats, who accused him of breaking his promise that people could keep plans they liked, President Barack Obama relented. He told insurers they could continue offering those plans if states agreed.
Paige Winfield Cunningham and Mackenzie Wienger, Politico
"If consumers thought logging on to HealthCare.gov was a headache, sorting through complex forms ahead of tax deadline day 2015 is their next big Obamacare challenge.
The health care law’s benefits are rolling out, but its major math problems start next year as the IRS tries to ensure that millions of Americans are correctly calculating their benefits and that those who don’t have coverage are penalized unless they qualify for an exemption.
That means much new paper-shuffling between now and April 15, which could be especially confusing for low- and middle-income Americans unaccustomed to lots of reporting to the IRS. The insurance exchanges and employers must send consumers details about their health plan and benefits or exemptions in time for them to file a tax return.
Matthew J. Belvedere, CNBC
"The Affordable Care Act—also known as Obamacare—is "not an affordable product" for many people and it does not fix the underlying problems causing high health-care costs, Aetna Chairman and CEO Mark Bertolini told CNBC on Wednesday.
"If we're going to fix health care, we've got to get at the delivery of care and the cost of care," Bertolini said in a "Squawk Box" interview. "The ACA does none of that. The only person who's really going to drive that is the consumer and the decisions they make."
"Getting everybody insured should probably be our goal, but you have to have a more affordable system," he added. "We have a 1950[-style] health care system in the Unites States."
Aetna said Tuesday that its medical spending rose more than estimates in the second quarter, due in part to the higher costs of covering patients who bought insurance under Obamacare for the first time. But the third-largest U.S.