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Travels In Hyperreality: What If Bipartisan ACA Fixes Were Possible?


April 23rd, 2014
by Billy Wynne

Since enactment of the Affordable Care Act in March 2010, a strange, relatively unnoticed phenomenon has occurred: Congress has passed bipartisan changes to it. These amendments were generally to such esoteric components of the law that they dodged the political block-aid that otherwise surrounds it.

But what would happen if things were different? If Congress could act to change the ACA in a meaningful way, what would it do? Here we briefly review the previous sub rosa changes to launch into a broader examination of macro ACA reforms that have a fighting chance of enactment in the not too distant future.

Tinkering. Most recently, in the Medicare “doc fix” in March, both parties acted to repeal the section of the ACA that capped deductibles for small group health plans. That legislation also delayed, again, implementation of the ACA’s Medicaid cuts to disproportionate share hospitals.

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Connected Health Opportunities For Medicaid’s Most Vulnerable Patients


April 22nd, 2014
by Rachel Davis

The February issue of Health Affairs features a series of articles on connected health and highlights the potential for telehealth and telemedicine to reshape how health care is delivered, consumed, tracked, and even paid for.

With funding support from Kaiser Permanente Community Benefit, the Center for Health Care Strategies (CHCS) recently conducted a series of focus groups that showed how one key Medicaid population — medically and socially complex, low-income individuals — stands to gain from these advances.

The four focus groups were designed to better understand the issues driving these individuals’ health care utilization, their current level of comfort with technology, and how technology might be able to help them better manage their challenges. Participants were actively receiving services from of one of four case management/care coordination programs in New York City, Long Island, the Hudson Valley, and Philadelphia, and all were Medicaid beneficiaries with multiple medical and/or behavioral health conditions.

According to a recent Health Affairs article by John Billings and Maria Raven, these individuals frequent emergency departments and have a high incidence of chronic disease. They typically have chaotic, unstable, and socially isolated lives, and many lack permanent housing, live on the street, or in homeless shelters.

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For High-Risk Medicare Beneficiaries: Targeting CMMI Demonstrations On Promising Delivery Models


April 22nd, 2014

Medicare beneficiaries with multiple chronic conditions, certain types of serious conditions (e.g. heart disease, pulmonary disorders, mental disorders, cancer), and functional limitations have higher health and long-term care costs and more adverse outcomes than other beneficiaries.

One of the biggest opportunities for savings for Medicare, Medicaid, and beneficiaries themselves, is through reducing hospitalizations, readmissions, and institutional care, especially for these high-risk beneficiaries. Achieving these savings and serving this population will require innovative delivery models and a clear business case to convince organizations to implement those new models.

The Affordable Care Act set aside $10 billion for experiments in innovative care delivery and payment systems.  With these funds, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI) is launching and evaluating several initiatives, primarily Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs), bundled payment for care innovation, and primary care transformation.  These initiatives change financial incentives for health care providers so that while they bear some financial risk for the costs of providing care, they also stand to benefit from any savings produced.

Historically, it has taken additional legislative action to apply successful delivery models more broadly across the Medicare program. Now, the health care law has removed this barrier, giving the Secretary of Health and Human Services the ability to expand successful innovations that improve quality or lower costs.  While early results show improvements in quality and modest savings, most CMMI pilots and demonstrations to date are not specifically targeted on high-risk beneficiaries, where the biggest gains can be expected.

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Implementing Health Reform: The Latest Affordable Care Act Coverage Numbers (Updated)


April 18th, 2014
by Timothy Jost

On February 17, 2014, the White House announced that 8 million Americans have signed up for private health insurance coverage through the health insurance marketplaces, or exchanges. This significantly exceeds the White House’s original goal of 7 million enrollees. It is far more than the Congressional Budget Office’s recent projections of 6 million.

The number of actual enrollees will be smaller than this number. The CBO’s projections are for the average number of those actually enrolled in coverage over the course of a calendar year. To calculate the average number of enrollees, one must subtract from the 8 million the number of individuals who fail to pay their premiums and thus are never actually enrolled in coverage, as well as those who will drop coverage at some later point during the year. To that reduced number, then, must be added back the number who become newly covered through special enrollment periods during the remainder of the year. In the end, 6 to 7 million average enrollees is probably a reasonable estimate.

This does not, however, exhaust the number of Americans who are now covered under the Affordable Care Act. The fact sheet states that 3 million young adults are covered under their parents’ plans because of the ACA. This number is probably high, but it is clear that the ACA has dramatically increased coverage of Americans between the age of 19 and 25 — the age group most likely to lack health insurance prior to the ACA (and still).

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Implementing Health Reform: CBO Projects Lower ACA Costs, Greater Coverage


April 15th, 2014
by Timothy Jost

On April 14, 2014, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, together with the staff of the Joint Committee on Taxation, released an updated estimate on the Effects of the Insurance Coverage Provisions of the Affordable Care Act. The CBO report brings good news for the ACA. The CBO projects now that the ACA’s coverage provisions will cost $5 billion less for this year than it projected just two months ago. Over the 2015 to 2024 period, CBO projects that the ACA will cost $104 billion less than it projected in February. At the same time, the CBO projects that the number of uninsured Americans will in fact decrease by an additional one million over the next decade, by 26 rather than 25 million, as it estimated in February.

The CBO report estimates that the net cost of the ACA’s coverage provisions will be $36 billion in 2014, $1,383 billion over the 2015 to 2024 period. This estimate consists of $1,839 billion for premium tax credits and cost-sharing reduction payments, Medicaid, CHIP, and small employer tax credits, offset by $456 billion in receipts from penalty payments, the excise tax on high-premium insurance plans, and the effects on tax revenues of projected changes in employer coverage. The CBO report does not include an estimate of the total reduction in the federal deficit attributable to the ACA, as the CBO has concluded that it is no longer possible to estimate the net effect of ACA changes on existing federal programs, but the most recent CBO estimate from 2012 projected that the ACA would reduce the federal deficit over the 2013 to 2022 period by $109 billion. Given projected further reductions in Medicare spending projected in a CBO budget report also released on April 14, it is reasonable to believe that the ACA’s impact on the budget may be even greater than earlier estimated.

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Look At Consequences Of Rejecting Medicaid Expansion Leads First Quarter Health Affairs Blog Most-Read List


April 14th, 2014
by Tracy Gnadinger

Given their recent mention in Paul Krugman’s New York Times‘ column, it’s not surprising that Sam Dickman, David Himmelstein, Danny McCormick, and Steffie Woolhandler‘s discussion of the health and financial impacts of opting out of Medicaid expansion was the most-read Health Affairs Blog post from January 1 to March 31, 2014.

Next on the list was Robert York, Kenneth Kaufman, and Mark Grube‘s discussion of a regional study on the transformation from inpatient-centered care to an outpatient model focused on community-based care. This was followed by Susan Devore‘s commentary on changing health care trends and David Muhlestein‘s evaluation of accountable care organization growth.

Tim Jost is also listed four times for contributions to his Implementing Health Reform series on Medicaid asset rules, CMS letter to issuers, contraceptive coverage, and exchange and insurance market standards.

The full list appears below.

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Origins In Oregon: The Alternative Payment Methodology Project


April 14th, 2014

Editor’s note: This post is part of a periodic Health Affairs Blog series, which will run over the next year, looking at payment and delivery reforms in Arkansas and Oregon. The posts will be based on evaluations of these reforms performed with the support of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The authors of this post are part of the team evaluating the Oregon model.

How the country pays for health care is currently at odds with its vision of how health care should be delivered. Traditional fee-for-service health care payments are linked to the volume of visits, rather than the quality of patient-centered care.

To unlink payment from the volume of services provided and begin aligning it with value, Oregon recently launched the Alternative Payment Methodology (APM) demonstration project, where participating community health centers (CHCs)—aka federally qualified health centers—no longer earn revenue based on the number of individual patient seen. Instead, community health centers will receive a monthly payment based on the size and composition of their patient population, shifting the paradigm from the number of doctor visits to the provision of high-quality, team-based, patient-centered care.

APM is being piloted at three Oregon Community Health Centers: Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center, Mosaic Medical, and OHSU Family Medicine at Richmond. The clinics are receiving technical assistance from the Oregon Primary Care Association (OPCA) and other community, regional and national partners.

With funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a team of researchers from Oregon Health and Science University and OCHIN, one of the nation’s largest health information networks, is investigating the impact of APM on the delivery of primary care in safety-net populations. In addition to regular posts like this one, the research team will also share lessons learned and perspectives from key stakeholders on Frontiers of Health Care.

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Takeaways From The Aspen Institute’s Care Innovation Summit


April 10th, 2014
by Matthew Richardson

Back in February, The Aspen Institute and The Advisory Board Company sponsored the Care Innovation Summit in Washington, DC. With a keynote address from Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, the daylong summit featured some of the newest data and research on the rapidly evolving U.S. health care landscape.

Featured speakers such as Jeffrey Brenner of the Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers and Claudia Grossmann of the Institute of Medicine in addition to others from State and Federal government, insurers, hospitals, and research institutions offered insights on higher-value care and improved health for individuals and populations.

Here are five most memorable takeaways:

1. Health Care Cost Inflation Has Slowed

Perhaps the most eye-catching data trend presented was the dramatic slowing of Medicare spending showcased by Patrick Conway, Director of CMMI (presentation available here). The collapse of annual per capita spending growth is important not only because it implies significant value changes are underway in the provision of ever more services by Medicare, but also because it can further mean many things to many people.

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What’s Past Is Prologue: Making The Case For PET Beta-Amyloid Imaging Coverage


April 9th, 2014
by Dora Hughes

Editor’s note: This post is published in conjunction with the April issue of Health Affairs, which features a series of articles on Alzheimer’s disease.

In September of 2013, CMS issued its final decision memo that concluded positron emission tomography- amyloid beta (PET Aβ) imaging is “not reasonable or necessary”, finding “insufficient evidence” that use of this diagnostic tool would improve health outcomes for patients with dementia or neurodegenerative disease. As such, PET Aβ imaging to help diagnose Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is not a covered service for Medicare beneficiaries except for those enrolled in CMS-approved clinical trials.

CMS’ final decision underscores the emerging new paradigm for coverage decision-making, requiring innovators not only to demonstrate to FDA’s satisfaction that their products are effective, but also to prove to CMS and other payors that their use will improve clinical outcomes. This paradigm will increase confidence in the value and health benefit of new technologies, although it will make the path to coverage more difficult and uncertain for diagnostic developers.

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Implementing Health Reform: Medicaid & CHIP February 2014 Report


April 5th, 2014
by Timothy Jost

On April 4, 2014, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services released their Medicaid & CHIP February 2014 Monthly Applications, Eligibility Determinations, and Enrollment Report. (Blog post here.) For the first time, the February monthly report provides meaningful data on enrollment.

Like previous reports, the report gives the total number of applications received by all reporting state agencies (2,207,513) and total number of individuals determined eligible for Medicaid and CHIP by state agencies (2,249,120). For comparison, the numbers of applications is down from initial January reports (2,266,778), but the number of determinations is up (2,436,879).

As with previous reports, however, these numbers are subject to so many qualifications as to be little use for determining growth of the Medicaid program. The data do not include numbers from New York and Washington, while Tennessee only reported CHIP data. They are also very preliminary — the January determinations figure was revised upwards by about a fifth in February.

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What The Affordable Care Act Means For Pregnant Inmates


April 4th, 2014
 
by Katy Kozhimannil and Rebecca Shlafer

Editor’s note: This post is published in conjunction with the March issue of Health Affairs, which features a cluster of articles on jails and health.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is anticipated to expand coverage to 44 million Americans. As John Iglehart noted in his introduction to the March issue of Health Affairs, expansion of Medicaid through the ACA will open an important door for a particularly vulnerable population – those who are cycling in and out of the criminal justice system.

Although Medicaid does not cover standard health care for inmates during incarceration, expansion of Medicaid to single and childless adults has meant that prisons and jails can start enrolling inmates (a substantial portion whom meet these criteria) so they are covered upon release.

The ACA also allows Medicaid to pay for inmates’ care for hospital stays longer than 24 hours. Such changes have important implications for a group of inmates that is not often the focus of health policy dialogue – incarcerated pregnant women.

A Particularly Vulnerable and Costly Group: Pregnant Prisoners

Nationwide, 75 percent of incarcerated women are of reproductive age, and about 6-10 percent of female prisoners are pregnant during their incarceration. Incarcerated women fare worse than incarcerated men, and their reproductive health care needs, including access to contraception and abortion services, often go unmet. Inmates who are pregnant face additional risks. Compared with similar women that are not incarcerated, pregnant inmates have more risk factors and worse birth outcomes, for both mothers and babies.

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Implementing Health Reform: First Marketplace Open Enrollment Ends With More Than Seven Million Enrollees


April 2nd, 2014
by Timothy Jost

The White House announced on Tuesday April 1, 2014 that as of the end of open enrollment, 11:59 p.m. on March 31, 2014, 7.1 million Americans had signed up for health plans under the Affordable Care Act. Tens of thousands more will be added from individuals who attempted to apply during the open enrollment period but were unable to complete their applications. And many more will be enrolled through special enrollment periods as they undergo life changes over the coming year.

Of course, arguments will continue as to how many of those who selected a plan will pay their premiums (which they must do before they are covered); how many were previously uninsured; and whether those who enrolled are young, healthy, and male enough to offer insurers a risk pool like that they anticipated when they set their rates. There is ample evidence that many have not yet paid, but it is reasonable to expect that the payment rate will pick up as enrollees figure out how to pay their insurers and insurers figure out who their enrollees are. There is also evidence that many of those who signed up were previously covered. Of course, one of the purposes of the ACA was to make insurance affordable, so if someone who was struggling to afford coverage (and might have had to drop it in the near future) can now afford it, that is also a success. Moreover, millions of the uninsured have also signed up for Medicaid and some have also obtained coverage in the individual market outside the exchange or from their employer. Finally, the size of the risk pool suggests that it is reasonably balanced demographically.

In any event, 7 million enrollees was the number that has constantly been held up as the unobtainable goal for the exchanges, and it has been reached–indeed surpassed. Pictures all over the web today of long lines and full waiting rooms of people eager to enroll in coverage demonstrate that in fact people want health care coverage and the ACA is allowing them to get covered.

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Embarking On A New Journey With Health Affairs


March 31st, 2014
by Alan Weil

I am delighted to be taking on the role of editor-in-chief of Health Affairs. This is a dynamic time in all aspects of health and health care: insurance coverage expansions, delivery system changes, and growing attention to population health.  Building upon thirty-three years of peer-reviewed scholarship, Health Affairs will continue to serve as the nation’s primary resource for the health policy community.

My goals for Health Affairs coalesce around a single theme: broadening the reach of the journal.

Health Affairs is strong in the core health policy community, but our scholarship is relevant to myriad actors in the one-sixth of the United States economy represented by health care.  My goal is to broaden our engagement with the worlds of law, finance, design, and many others.

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Health Policy Leader Alan Weil To Become New Health Affairs Editor-in-Chief


March 31st, 2014
by Chris Fleming

Health Affairs and its publisher Project HOPE are pleased to announce that Alan Weil will become the journal’s new editor-in-chief on June 2, 2014.

Weil, a highly respected expert in health policy and current member of Health Affairs’ editorial board, will lead the journal after serving as the executive director of the National Academy for State Health Policy (NASHP) since 2004. His work with state policymakers of both political parties put Weil at the forefront of health reform policy, implementation, innovation, and practice. Prior to his leadership of NASHP, he served in both the public and private sectors. He directed the Urban Institute’s “Assessing New Federalism” project; served as the executive director of the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing and a health policy advisor to Colorado’s then-governor, Roy Romer; and was the assistant general counsel in the Massachusetts Department of Medical Security.

“We’re delighted to welcome Alan to the Project HOPE family,” said John P. Howe III, M.D., President and CEO of Project HOPE. “He comes to Health Affairs with more than 24 years of experience in health policy development and a stellar record of leadership and innovation in this field. I’m confident he will lead the journal’s talented staff on a new and successful path forward. I am extremely grateful to John Iglehart, the Founding Editor of Health Affairs for his stewardship of the journal for more than 25 years, ensuring its coveted rank as the leading health policy journal of our time.”

“Alan Weil’s extensive background in health and health care policy will serve him well in his new role as Health Affairs’ editor-in-chief,” noted John Iglehart, who currently leads the journal. “With his position on the front lines of health system change, he is an experienced leader who has deep familiarity with and longstanding connections to the health policy, research, and health care leadership communities. In particular, in his role as NASHP’s executive director, Alan worked on complex issues of critical importance to leaders in state and federal government and the private sector. This background will serve Health Affairs well as it continues to grow in influence both in the US and globally.”

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Exhibit Of The Month: More HIV Testing With Medicaid Expansion


March 28th, 2014
by Tracy Gnadinger

Editor’s note: This is the second post in the new “Exhibit of the Month” series. Readers who’d like to highlight other noteworthy exhibits from the same issue are encouraged to make their pitch in the comments section below.

This month’s exhibit examines the potential impact of the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion on HIV testing from 2013-2017, comparing a nationwide eligibility expansion with one limited to the eighteen states that had committed to expansion as of July 2013.

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HA Web First: New Medicaid Recipients Healthier Than Pre-ACA Enrollees


March 26th, 2014
by Tracy Gnadinger

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) gives states the option of expanding Medicaid coverage to individuals and families with incomes of up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. A new study, being released today as a Web First by Health Affairs, used simulation methods to compare nondisabled adults enrolled in Medicaid before the ACA with newly eligible adults and those previously eligible but not enrolled in the program.

According to the study’s analysis, both the newly eligible and those not previously enrolled were healthier than the pre-ACA Medicaid enrollees. Authors Steven Hill, Salam Abdus, Julie Hudson, and Thomas Selden found that the pattern of results was similar for physical and mental health. They also determined that in states not expanding Medicaid under the ACA, adults in the income range for the law’s Medicaid expansion were healthier than pre-ACA enrollees.

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March Madness: Medicare Part D’s Persistent Challenge And Opportunity


March 24th, 2014
by N. Lee Rucker

March Madness came early for CMS, with more than 7,600 public comments received on their Medicare Part D proposed rules and technical changes for 2015.  Less than 72 hours after that docket closed, CMS unfurled their white flag via a March 10 letter to Congress, retracting certain highly-contentious provisions, as previewed in recent posts on Health Affairs Blog by Jack Hoadley and Ian Spatz.  However, CMS’ hasty retreat should not signal a relaxed advocacy in the coming weeks.  Like NCAA basketball’s March Madness, much remains in play, especially given Part D’s programmatic (and patient-level) complexity.

For example, in their March 14 report to Congress, the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC) expressed concern “about the quality of pharmaceutical care received by beneficiaries with multiple medications.”  MedPAC notes that Part D enrollees’ medical problems may be “caused or exacerbated by their heavy use of medications (polypharmacy), and they are at increased risk of adverse drug events, drug-drug interactions, and use of inappropriate medications.”

To help alleviate such potential risk, prescient policymakers required Part D plan sponsors to implement medication therapy management (MTM) programs, something that I examined closely during my tenure at AARP.  Within Part D, MTM’s experience to date represents a cautionary tale of missed opportunities to bring clinicians, patients, and drug plans together to achieve the Triple Aim.  This commentary reviews several challenges, and identifies new positive cues to better integrate systematic, patient-centered medication management across all of Medicare.

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New Health Policy Brief: Transitioning To ICD-10


March 20th, 2014
by Tracy Gnadinger

A new Health Policy Brief from Health Affairs and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation looks at an important change expected in the American health system later this year: the transition to the ICD-10 coding system by all health providers for diagnoses and inpatient procedures. ICD stands for the International Classification of Diseases, which is maintained by the World Health Organization. The ICD system, which began in the nineteenth century, is periodically revised to incorporate changes in the practice of medicine.

While the most current version, ICD-10, has been used in most countries since its initial adoption in 1990, the United States has until now limited its use to the coding and classification of mortality data from death certificates. This brief examines the debates that have accompanied the broad conversion in this country to ICD-10, set to take place on October 1, 2014.

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Health Information Exchange In NYC Jails: Early Policy Challenges


March 20th, 2014
by Michelle Martelle

Editor’s note: This post is published in conjunction with the March issue of Health Affairs, which features a cluster of articles on jails and health. For more on jails and health information technology in particular, see here, here, and here.

New York City has the second largest jail system in the United States, with an average daily census of approximately 12,000 and 80,000 annual admissions. It is well documented that the population that cycles in and out of US jails each year is statistically sicker than the general population and therefore would benefit from greater care coordination between correctional and community settings. The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s Bureau of Correctional Health Services (CHS) is responsible for the care delivered in all 12 NYC jail facilities. The mission of CHS is to provide a community standard of care based on three core frameworks; patient safety, population health and human rights.

As part of this mission, CHS implemented a full electronic health record (EHR) system starting in 2008, completing the implementation of the final facility in 2011. One of the most promising features of EHRs is the ability to share information electronically to facilitate care coordination, referred to as Health Information Exchange (HIE).  Preliminary research of the use of HIE in community based settings is encouraging, with the use of HIE in the Emergency Department resulting in 30 percent fewer admissions and use in ambulatory settings resulting in 56 percent fewer readmissions within 30 days of hospital discharge. (Results pending review; presented 11/14/13 at NYeC Digital Health Conference by Center for Healthcare Informatics and Policy (CHiP).) In the hopes of realizing the full benefits of its EHR system, CHS recently launched an HIE pilot in its women’s facility.

The goals of integrating HIE into jail-based health care are to inform the care patients receive while incarcerated and to coordinate care upon release.  Currently, CHS has access to two external sources of information: BHIX, a Regional Health Information Organization (RHIO) that recently merged with Healthix and now includes patient data from some major hospital systems and community providers in parts of Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island; and PSYCKES, a Medicaid claims-based data warehouse that includes claims information (both medical and mental health) on patients who have had a substance abuse or mental health diagnosis and/or substance abuse or mental health treatment within the last five years.

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Why Are Hispanics Slow To Enroll In ACA Coverage? Insights From The Health Reform Monitoring Survey


March 18th, 2014

As the end of the ACA’s first open enrollment period approaches, there is a big push to get as many uninsured people signed up for coverage as possible. As of March 1, 2014, more than 4.2 million people had enrolled in a plan through a federal or state health insurance Marketplace, with 2.1 million having enrolled since January 1 alone. An additional 2.4 to 3.5 million people have enrolled in Medicaid through January 2014 as a result of the ACA.

However, recent media reports indicate that one group with historically high rates of uninsurance—Hispanics—have been slow to sign up for coverage so far, particularly in California. Low levels of Marketplace participation among this group and a delayed and poorly translated Spanish-language version of HealthCare.gov could explain, in part, why President Obama appeared at a town-hall-style event last week hosted by Univision and Telemundo, the nation’s two largest Spanish-language television networks.

Estimates from the Urban Institute’s Health Reform Monitoring Survey (HRMS) shed some light on why Hispanics might have low levels of Marketplace participation so far, and what policies may be needed to increase their enrollment in health plans or Medicaid.

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