A project of the Galen Institute

Issue: "Premiums/Costs"

Reform Update: Facing ACA mandates, insurers diversify into technology

Beth Kutscher
Modern Healthcare
Fri, 2014-08-29
"Health insurance companies, now required to spend the lion's share of premium revenue on patient care, are looking for higher investment returns elsewhere. As a result, they're increasingly putting money into technology ventures where they expect to realize higher returns. The medical-loss ratio standard under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act requires insurers to spend at least 80% of what they earn from premiums on patient care and related quality improvements. No more than 20% can be used for administrative, marketing and business expenses. The requirement is as high as 85% for large group plans. Tied to that, insurers are trying to maximize their investment returns while also investing in businesses that are exempt from the 80/20 rule. Technology operations check off both those boxes for them. "That's been a catalyst for a substantial amount of investment,” said Joshua Kaye, a Miami-based partner at law firm DLA Piper. “We're really seeing it on a national scale.

Beware Of Higher Charges If You Go To An Out-Of-Network Emergency Room

Michelle Andrews
Kaiser Health News
Fri, 2014-08-29
"When you need emergency care, chances are you aren’t going to pause to figure out whether the nearest hospital is in your health insurer’s network. Nor should you. That’s why the health law prohibits insurers from charging higher copayments or coinsurance for out-of-network emergency care. The law also prohibits plans from requiring pre-approval to visit an emergency department that is out of your provider network. (Plans that are grandfathered under the law don’t have to abide by these provisions.) That’s all well and good. But there are some potential trouble spots that could leave you on the hook for substantially higher charges than you might expect.

How you end up spending $800 million on HealthCare.gov

Nancy Scola
Washington Post
Thu, 2014-08-28
"Signed into law by President Obama on March 23, 2010, the Affordable Care Act has proven to be its own kind of jobs act, especially when it comes to the Washington-area IT community. When, in several places, the bill called for the creation of an "Internet website" to allow Americans to find and sign up for new health insurance coverage, it opened the tap on hundreds of millions of dollars that would eventually go to creating HealthCare.gov's front end and back end, as well as a small universe of accompanying digital sites. On Wednesday, the office of Daniel Levinson, the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services, put out a report detailing the dozens of contracts that went into building out the Federal Marketplace project.

3 ways insurers can discourage sick from enrolling

The Associated Press
Thu, 2014-08-28
"Insurers can no longer reject customers with expensive medical conditions thanks to the health care overhaul. But consumer advocates warn that companies are still using wiggle room to discourage the sickest — and costliest — patients from enrolling. Some insurers are excluding well-known cancer centers from the list of providers they cover under a plan; requiring patients to make large, initial payments for HIV medications; or delaying participation in public insurance exchanges created by the overhaul. Advocates and industry insiders say these practices may dissuade the neediest from signing up and make it likelier that the customers these insurers do serve will be healthier -- and less expensive. “It’s the same insurance companies that are up to the same strategies: Take in as much premium as possible and pay out as little as possible,” said Jerry Flanagan, an attorney with the advocacy group Consumer Watchdog."

Medicare Limbo: A Question Seniors Need To Ask If They're In The Hospital

Northwestern Mutual team
Forbes magazine
Wed, 2014-08-27
"Bill Jacobs spent four nights in a hospital in Florida battling pneumonia. His kids visited each day, fluffed his pillows, brought his favorite Sudoku puzzles and got regular updates from his nurses and doctors. Imagine their surprise when they found out that their 86-year-old father was never actually admitted; instead, he was treated as an outpatient under what Medicare refers to as “observation status.” What difference does that make? Actually, more than you might think. If your parents are on Medicare, the difference between being considered an inpatient or an observation patient could be thousands of dollars out of their pocket, if not more. First, Medicare Part A will cover all hospital services, less the deductible, but only if you’re admitted to the hospital as an inpatient. The one-time deductible covers all hospital services for the first 60 days in the hospital. Doctors’ charges are covered under Medicare Part B.

Hospitals squeezed as revenue growth slows to all-time low

Beth Kutscher, Modern Healthcare
Wed, 2014-08-27
"Revenue at not-for-profit hospitals grew at an all-time low of 3.9% last year with sluggish gains in both inpatient and outpatient activity, according to a report on 2013 medians from Moody's Investors Service. In comparison, hospital revenue increased 5.1% in 2012 and historically has grown about 7% per year. Moody's pegged the increased popularity of high-deductible health plans for leading people to postpone care or seek out lower cost retail clinics. “Patients have more skin in the game,” said Jennifer Ewing, an analyst at Moody's. The volume decline also is coming amid a number of Medicare reimbursement cuts, including the ones known as sequestration triggered by the 2012 Budget Control Act and reductions in disproportionate-share hospital payments under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Idaho Preps for Obamacare Re-Enrollment

Brian Smith, McClatchey News
Tue, 2014-08-26
"As federal officials wrestle over whether HealthCare.gov will withstand the weight of millions of new customers and re-enrollees this fall, state brass with Your Health Idaho are looking to detach from the federal health insurance portal. But they’re going to need help from Idahoans. The state-run insurance marketplace has begun setting up state-based accounts through its own technology for the 76,000 residents who signed up for health care last year, said spokeswoman Jody Olson. Idaho used HealthCare.gov’s Web system in its inaugural year, as officials believed accounts could easily be transferred. The federal government, however, continues to “drag its feet, and we still don’t have the data we were told we’d get,” Olson wrote in a release."

The Affordable Care Act may fail to reduce health care costs, but was that its goal?

Owen Covington
Triad Business Journal
Mon, 2014-08-25
"Listing to a panel discussion sponsored by the Greensboro Chamber of Commerce Tuesday morning, I heard reference to a metaphor for the Affordable Care Act that I've heard a number of time before — the three-legged stool. Describing the different core components of the health care reform law, three primary tenets offer their support to the law, with, each complementing and reliant upon the others, and the stool falling over if one of the legs falters. They are: guaranteed issue and community rating (meaning an insurer can't deny coverage or charge astronomical rates coverage because of pre-existing conditions), the individual mandate (everyone must have coverage or face a fine) and subsidies (financial assistance from the federal government to help low-income consumers can pay for coverage). I've sat in on numerous, similar discussions, and had heard the metaphor before.

Top Health Stories of the Summer

Jonathan Easley
Morning Consult
Mon, 2014-08-25
"From Halbig to Sovaldi, this summer was a busy one for health policy and politics. We’ve made it easy to catch up, collecting all of the top stories you clicked on over the past few months. Together, they tell a story about the state of healthcare in the U.S., and offer clues as to where things may be headed when Congress returns in the fall. Among them: The political battle over Obmacare has become more complicated for Republicans since the government cleaned up the Healthcare.gov mess, and with midterm elections around the corner, the focus will be on how much either party continues to attack or ignore the law. There are policy, legal and business matters to be settled as well – the employer mandate is under attack from the left and the right, the courts have been a wildcard for the health law to this point and could continue to be so, and employers and employees are finding themselves wading through the on-the-ground impacts of the law.

Medicare Star Ratings Allow Nursing Homes to Game the System

Katie Thomas, NY Times
Mon, 2014-08-25
"CARMICHAEL, Calif. — The lobby of Rosewood Post-Acute Rehab, a nursing home in this Sacramento suburb, bears all the touches of a luxury hotel, including high ceilings, leather club chairs and paintings of bucolic landscapes. What really sets Rosewood apart, however, is its five-star rating from Medicare, which has been assigning hotel-style ratings to nearly every nursing home in the country for the last five years. Rosewood’s five-star status — the best possible — places it in rarefied company: Only one-fifth of more than 15,000 nursing homes nationwide hold such a distinction.

ObamaCare Watch Weekly

* indicates required

View previous campaigns.

Check out Jim Capretta's new book.

ObamaCare Primer