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Implementing Health Reform: Resolving Income-Related Data Inconsistencies (Updated)


September 16th, 2014

On September 15, 2014, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced a second deadline in its efforts to resolve data inconsistencies remaining from the 2014 open enrollment period.  This second deadline is for the submission of documentation to resolve income inconsistencies for exchange enrollees.  The first deadline was announced in August, when CMS sent final letters to about 310,000 federal marketplace (exchange) enrollees whose enrollments raised citizenship or legal-immigrant status issues, informing them that they must provide verification documents by September 5 or be terminated from coverage as of September 30.

CMS received hundreds of thousands of documents in response to the August request, reducing the number of individuals with citizenship and immigration data-matching issues from 966,000 as of May 31 to 115,000 as of September 14.  These individuals will be terminated as of September 30, 2014, but under the revised bulletin 11, they will be reinstated retroactively if they subsequently produce the documents needed to verify their citizenship or legal alien status. They may also purchase insurance outside the exchange.  Insurers are legally required to offer coverage to individuals who reside in their service area, regardless of citizenship or alien status.

Under the procedure announced on September 15, CMS is sending final notices to individuals enrolled through the federally facilitated exchange who still have income-related data-matching issues, informing them that they must send required information to verify their income as of September 30, 2014 or their premium tax credits and cost-sharing reduction payments will be modified to reflect information reflected in data sources otherwise available to CMS.  For example, if an enrollee’s 2012 tax return reported income higher than that reported by the enrollee on his or her application for advance premium tax credits and cost-sharing assistance, and the enrollee failed to provide verification of the claimed income, the enrollee’s premium tax credits and cost-sharing reduction payments would be modified as of November 1 in accordance with the income reflected in the tax return.

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Birth Control Pills Should Be Available Over The Counter, But That’s No Substitute For Contraceptive Coverage


September 10th, 2014

In recent weeks, some opponents of the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) contraceptive coverage guarantee have promoted the idea that oral contraceptive pills should be available to adult women without a prescription. Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) and Mitch McConnell (R-KY), for example, recently introduced the so-called Preserving Religious Freedom and a Woman’s Access to Contraception Act, a bill that would urge the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to study whether to make contraceptives over the counter (OTC) — though for adults only.

Making birth control pills available over the counter, if done right, would meaningfully improve access for some groups of women. However, such a change is no substitute for public and private insurance coverage of contraceptives — let alone justification for rolling back coverage of all contraceptive methods and related services for the millions of women who currently have it.

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Transcending Obamacare? Analyzing Avik Roy’s ACA Replacement Plan


September 2nd, 2014

Avik Roy’s proposal, “Transcending Obamacare,” is the latest and most thoroughly developed conservative alternative for reforming the American health care system in the wake of the Affordable Care Act. It is a serious proposal, and it deserves to be taken seriously.

Roy’s proposal is a curious combination of conservative nostrums (limiting recoveries for victims of malpractice), progressive goals (eliminating health status underwriting, providing subsidies for low-income Americans), and common sense proposals (enacting a uniform annual deductible for Medicare).

Most importantly, however, Roy proposes that conservatives move on from a single-minded focus on repealing the ACA toward building upon the ACA to accomplish their policy goals. He supports repealing certain features of the ACA—including the individual and employer mandate—but would retain others, such as community rating and exchanges. As polling repeatedly shows that many Americans are not happy with the ACA, but that a strong majority would rather amend than repeal it, and as it is very possible that we will have a Congress next year less supportive of the ACA than the current one, Roy’s proposal is important.

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Whither CHIP?


August 19th, 2014

In a day all but lost to Affordable Care Act prehistory, on November 7, 2009, the House of Representatives passed the Affordable Health Care for America Act. Among the bill’s many differences with its Senate counterpart, it would have allowed the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) to expire at the end of 2013, with children covered under that program enrolled in either Medicaid or commercial Exchange plans.

On December 24, the Senate passed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA). Their bill extended CHIP through fiscal year 2015 while, curiously, enhancing the Federal match rate for the program beyond that date and instituting a maintenance of effort (MOE) requirement for states to keep CHIP kids covered through 2019.

At the time, drafters of the respective chamber’s versions of health reform anticipated heading to conference to negotiate and resolve their differences, with the disposition of CHIP one of the top considerations.

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The Evolution Of A Two-Tier Health Insurance Exchange System


August 13th, 2014

Health reform has been a catalyst for change. It has fostered the creation of public health insurance exchanges and accelerated existing trends in health insurance coverage for employees. Many employers are reevaluating their coverage offerings, some employers are no longer providing insurance coverage, and, among those who continue to offer it, high deductible plans with restricted networks are becoming the norm.

In addition, employers are increasingly outsourcing health insurance benefits management by moving employees to private health insurance exchanges – often in combination with a shift toward a defined contribution approach. Estimates vary, but surveys show that anywhere from 9 to 45 percent of employers plan to implement private exchanges in the future.

Accenture (figure 1) has predicted that by 2018, private exchange enrollment will outpace public exchange enrollment.

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Having A Baby: Media Confusion Over Charges, Costs, And The Benefits Of Insurance


August 6th, 2014

Recent discussion about the Affordable Care Act has intensified the media’s interest in the cost of medical care. While as health services researchers we are perhaps in the best position to provide information on complex health care topics, we may need to improve our ability to distill information into one minute sound bites.

A particularly interesting example of the disconnect between media reporting and a more nuanced analysis occurred earlier this year, on March 4, when NBC ran a story about the cost of having a baby. The story confused the very different concepts of what health care providers charge, what they are actually paid, and what consumers owe, and in so doing obscured one of the key benefits for consumers of being insured.

We were startled to hear that, according to NBC, the cost of having a baby has increased more than 300 percent in the past 10 years. According to the report, the cost of a vaginal delivery went from $7,700 to $32,000, while the cost of a cesarean birth went from $11,000 to $51,000. A small heading in the table presented by NBC cited Truven Analytics as the source of these data.

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Decoding 2015 Health Insurance Rate Increase Requests


August 4th, 2014

Note: In addition to Christopher Koller, Sabrina Corlette coauthored this post.

The rates are coming, the rates are coming.

While there seem to be fewer “latest verdicts on the ACA,” breathlessly reported in the popular press, as we move through the second half of 2014, the filing of 2015 rate requests for individual and small group products on the health insurance exchanges offer one more piece of catnip for pundits.

Who is up? Who is down? How much? Is this the dreaded death spiral for the ACA? Or its vindication?

As discussions and analysis of these increases are disseminated, it is important to remember the following points

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Taking Stock Of The ACA: The Latest Data From The Health Reform Monitoring Survey


July 29th, 2014

Editor’s note: In addition to Sharon Long, this post is coauthored by Genevieve Kenney, Stephen Zuckerman, and Katherine Hempstead. 

Since early last year, the Urban Institute’s Health Reform Monitoring Survey (HRMS) has been collecting relevant, timely data that is providing insights on the implementation of the ACA and changes in health insurance coverage and related outcomes. (An article describing the survey was published in Health Affairs last December.)

Beginning in late 2013, the HRMS set the stage by exploring adults’ understanding of key ACA provisions, their level of health insurance literacy, and expectations about coverage changes in 2014 based on information collected just before the beginning of the first open enrollment period. More recently, the HRMS has shed light on the characteristics of the newly insured, identified who’s not shopping for insurance, and explained how some states’ decisions to expand Medicaid has reduced uninsurance rates.

The HRMS and other surveys have confirmed that the number of uninsured adults has declined significantly since the first open enrollment under the ACA started. On Tuesday July 29th 2014, Health Affairs Editor-in-Chief Alan Weil moderated a panel discussion on what the HRMS shows about the ACA’s performance thus far and what it implies for next year’s open enrollment period. (A recording is available for those who couldn’t join live.) At the event, we released three new policy briefs that, respectively, provide the latest detailed coverage estimates, describe the remaining uninsured, and explore how consumers are navigating the ACA’s Marketplaces.

Here’s a sample of what we’ve learned from this latest release of HRMS data and what was covered at today’s event:

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Implementing Health Reform: Senator Rebuffed In Challenge To Congressional Participation In ACA Exchanges


July 23rd, 2014

The Halbig and King cases released on July 22, 2014 dramatically overshadowed another court decision released the previous day. That case, Johnson v. U.S. Office of Personnel Management, was important in its own right, however, and is covered here.

On July 21, 2014, Judge William C. Griesbach of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin dismissed a case brought by Wisconsin Republican Senator Ron Johnson and one of his staff members. The plaintiffs claimed that the rule promulgated by the Office of Personnel Management that allows members of Congress and their official staff to purchase health insurance through the exchanges with federal subsidies violates the Affordable Care Act and is unconstitutional. Judge Griesbach held that the plaintiffs had not been injured by the rule and thus had no standing to challenge it. This decision not only disposes of one more ACA challenge, it also calls further into question Congressman John Boehner’s proposed lawsuit challenging other ACA implementation decisions.

The ACA provides that “the only health plans that the Federal Government may make available to Members of Congress and congressional staff” are qualified health plans and plans sold through the exchange. This provision was adopted as an amendment offered by Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA), apparently to challenge the Democrats’ willingness to participate in the same program they were creating for other Americans. This challenge was embraced by the Democrats, however, resulting in the current law.

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Health Policy Brief Updates


July 22nd, 2014

In the first half of 2014 Health Affairs has released seven new Health Policy Briefs and also has provided updates of five previously released briefs, in order to reflect continuously changing and evolving health policy issues and perspectives.

The following Health Policy Briefs were updated in 2014:

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Implementing Health Reform: Hobby Lobby Response, The ACA In The Territories, And More


July 18th, 2014

July 17, 2014 was a remarkably active day in an otherwise quiet week for Affordable Care Act implementation. First, the Departments of Labor, Treasury, and Health and Human Services issued their first response to the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision —a Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) guidance requiring ERISA plans to provide notice to their participants and beneficiaries if they do not intend to cover contraceptives. Second, the Department of Health and Human Services sent letters to the territories (the Virgin Islands, Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, American Samoa, and Puerto Rico) informing them that insurers that market individual insurance policies in the territories are no longer required to comply with the ACA’s insurance market reforms.

Third, HHS released an enrollment bulletin at its REGTAP website describing how insurers in the federally facilitated exchange should handle enrollment for 2015 for individuals whose coverage was terminated in 2014 for non-payment. This post describes these issuances, as well as the May Medicaid enrollment report released on July 11, 2014 by HHS

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The Medicaid Boom And State Budgets: How Federal Waivers Are Advancing State Flexibility


July 18th, 2014

Note: The authors would like to thank Erica Socker, Senior Research Associate, and Michelle Shaljian, Associate Director of Communications, for their review and editorial assistance.

According to data released by the Department of Health and Human Services, one in five Americans now receive their health insurance through a state Medicaid program. Despite this increase in enrollment, it is estimated that 6 million Americans will likely remain uninsured because 20 states have decided not to expand Medicaid as the Affordable Care Act (ACA) envisioned. There are at least four states that are considering expanding Medicaid but have yet to do so.

Medicaid expansion continues to be one of the most politically charged directives of the health care law, mainly because the Supreme Court decision left the choice to states. This decision has generated an ongoing debate about whether and how states should expand their Medicaid programs. For example, an intense debate has been underway in Virginia, over the decision to include Medicaid expansion in the state budget; putting Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe at odds with the Republican State Legislature. Similar debates are occurring in states across the country, and are further complicated by states’ option to pursue alternative expansion approaches under a Medicaid waiver. For states that have not yet expanded the program, the success of these alternative expansion models may influence whether they can find a politically feasible path forward.

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ACAView: New Findings On The Effect Of Coverage Expansion Since January 2014


July 9th, 2014

Editor’s note: In addition to Josh Gray, Iyue Sung also coauthored this post. 

Together, athenahealth and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) have undertaken a new joint venture called ACAView, as part of the foundation’s Reform by the Numbers project, a source for timely and unique data on the impact of health reform.

The goal of ACAView is to provide current, non-partisan measurement and analysis on how coverage expansion under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is affecting the day-to-day practice of medicine. athenahealth provides a single-instance, cloud-based software platform to a national provider base.

Any information that our clients enter using our software is immediately aggregated into centrally hosted databases, providing us with timely visibility into patient characteristics, clinical activities, and practice economics at medical groups around the country.

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After Hobby Lobby: How Might Policymakers Mitigate The Decision’s Impact On Women And Families?


July 3rd, 2014

Editor’s note: In addition to Sara Rosenbaum, Adam Sonfield and Rachel Benson Gold also coauthored this post. 

On June 30, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a ruling that has the potential to undermine an important provision of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that establishes for women a federal guarantee of coverage for their full range of contraceptive methods, services, and counseling without any out-of-pocket costs. This guarantee is administered through private health plans, whether purchased in the individual market or made available through the insurers and plan administrators that provide group coverage.

The 5-4 ruling in Burrell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, written by Justice Samuel Alito on behalf of the Court’s conservative bloc, held that closely held for-profit corporations that assert a religious objection to some or all forms of contraception cannot be required to include such coverage in the health plans they sponsor for employees and their families. As emphasized by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in her dissent (joined in whole by Justice Sotomayor and in part by Justices Kagan and Breyer), the Court’s decision could have serious and widespread consequences.

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The Supreme Court And The Contraception Mandate: A Temporary Setback For Contraception Coverage


June 30th, 2014

Editor’s note: See Health Affairs Blog for more coverage of the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision.

Today, the United States Supreme Court ruled that for-profit companies may avoid providing contraception coverage to employees if the companies sincerely object on religious grounds. At its narrowest interpretation, this decision is a significant but remediable setback for women’s reproductive health. At its broadest (but least likely interpretation), the decision has the potential to wreak havoc on public health regulation.

The legal challenges to the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA’s) contraception mandate have been well described in three previous Health Affairs Blog posts. To briefly recap, though, the ACA requires preventive services to be covered without copayments or other cost sharing in most employer-supported health plans. To implement this requirement, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued regulations that include all FDA-approved contraceptives, and a company that does not provide no-cost coverage of contraception is subject to substantial penalties.

Three groups of employers are exempt from the mandate: small businesses with less than 50 employees, purely religious employers, and “grandfathered” plans that have not changed meaningfully since the ACA was passed. Additionally, religiously affiliated non-profits (such as universities and hospitals) received a special accommodation from HHS by which women can receive contraception from third-party insurers at no extra cost to employees or the organization if the organization objects to covering contraception and identifies an alternate insurer.

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Implementing Health Reform: The Supreme Court Rules on Contraception Coverage (Updated)


June 30th, 2014

On June 40, 2014, the Supreme Court issued its opinion in Hobby Lobby v. Burwell and Conestoga Wood Products v. Burwell. The Court’s decision has very important ramifications for religious liberty in the United States, for women’s access to health care, for employers’ and employees’ rights, even for corporate law. Its importance justifies its being released on the final day of the term, an honor usually reserved for only the most notable cases. But unlike the Court’s decision in National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius on the last day of its term two years ago, Hobby Lobby does not pose a serious threat — indeed any threat at all — to the Affordable Care Act.

From the perspective of the ACA, the case involves only the application of one particular provision of a regulation to one particular group of employers. The Court’s decision does not invalidate any provision of the ACA. It does not even fully invalidate any regulatory requirement. It simply says that the Department of Health and Human Services must extend to one group of employers an accommodation HHS has already extended to another group.

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Do Insurance Marketplace Consumers Need More Doctor Choices In-Network, Or Just Better Information?


June 26th, 2014

Media outlets have focused extensively on consumer complaints about “limited networks” and not being able to find a doctor under qualified health plans (QHPs) offered through the Health Insurance Marketplaces (HIMs). In response, the Obama administration released new standards which will require all QHPs to contract with a larger proportion of essential community providers within its service area. This means that health plans will be forced to accept more health care providers within their network, which may potentially increase costs for consumers.

At the heart of the recent changes lies a fundamental question worth exploring: Is consumer satisfaction with, and perceptions of health plan “network adequacy” grounded in the number of choices for doctors within network, or is it something different?

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New Offices Of Minority Health At FDA And CMS: Will They Help Eliminate Disparities In Health?


June 19th, 2014

Given the rocky roll-out of healthcare.gov, the end of the open enrollment period brought surprising good news: over eight million Americans signed up for coverage through the new Health Insurance Marketplaces. Three million previously uninsured young adults are now covered through their parents’ policies and six million more are enrolled in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

Minorities are disproportionately more likely to be uninsured, and continued expansions in coverage will help significantly to close gaps in care. However, the impact of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will not be limited to coverage. A number of provisions to address disparities were included in the ACA, relating to community health, workforce, and data collection. In addition, the ACA authorized new offices of minority health to lead and coordinate federal and national efforts to improve health and reduce disparities.

Several operating divisions at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, had existing offices dedicated to improving the health of vulnerable populations. However, this was not the case for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).

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Implementing Health Reform: Premiums And Choice In The 2014 Health Insurance Marketplace (Updated)


June 18th, 2014

In the fall of 2013 the headlines were full of stories of individuals facing steep premium increases as the Affordable Care Act’s market reforms went into effect. The question was raised repeatedly whether Affordable Care Act premiums were really affordable. Commentators observed that major national commercial insurers were avoiding the exchanges and that in some states the ACA marketplace offered few choices and little competition.

On June 17, 2014, the Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE) released a report surveying Premium Affordability, Competition, and Choice in the Health Insurance Marketplace, 2014. ASPE examined over 19,000 2014 marketplace plans within the four bronze, silver, gold, and platinum metal levels in each of the 501 geographic rating areas in the 50 states and the District of Columbia; the office analyzed premium levels, available choices, and market variables that might affect cost. It is always possible to find negative anecdotes (particularly if one is not too careful in checking their veracity), but when we look beyond anecdotes at the actual data, it is clear that the ACA was largely successful in achieving many of its goals for 2014.

One of the primary goals of the ACA is to make health insurance affordable to lower-income Americans. During the 2014 open enrollment period, 5.4 million individuals selected a plan in the 36 states served by the federal exchange (which are the states primarily covered by the report since state exchange data is still being assembled and analyzed). According to the report, 87 percent of these individuals qualified for a premium tax credit. They paid a premium that was, on average, 76 percent less than the full premium that they would have owed before the premium tax credit was applied.

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Cancelled Non-Group Plans: What We Know Now That We Did Not Know In October


June 17th, 2014

In October of 2013 President Obama faced a political firestorm over the cancellation of millions of individual insurance plans — plans not compliant with the requirements of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The Associated Press (AP) estimated that 4.8 million persons with non-group coverage had their policies cancelled, and this estimate was widely quoted in the media and the Congress. In headline stories, the media also reported that policyholders of the canceled plans were now offered alternative plans, often at premiums more than double of their current plans.

When the controversy over cancelled policies broke, no surveys were available to estimate the number and the cost of cancelled policies. In October, HealthCare.gov and many state-based marketplace websites were virtually non-functional, so assessing comparative cost and benefits of cancelled and Marketplace plans largely was precluded. In this post I highlight information from subsequent surveys and analyses conducted in late 2013 and 2014 that measure the number of cancelled plans and the comparative cost of coverage in the pre-ACA and post ACA-Markets. The next two paragraphs summarize findings.

Recent survey data indicates the number of persons affected by cancelled policies was about 1.9 million persons, less than the often cited 4.8 million estimate. When persons with group health insurance are included in the denominator, these cancellations affected less than one percent of persons holding comprehensive private insurance. The number of people with non-group policies who became uninsured following last October’s cancellation of policies is similar to what occurs in the normal churn of the non-group market.

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