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Top 5 Health Care Trends to Watch in 2015


February 25th, 2015

With a new Congress, health care is once again an issue of tremendous scrutiny and debate. Many of the federal policy debates in 2015 will be largely symbolic, resulting in little more than tweaks to existing law.

However, health care policy is not just a matter for Congress to consider. A range of issues will play out in the states and the private sector, effectively shaping the future. Below are the top trends we’re watching this year.

The Year of Living Interoperably

From electronic health records (EHRs) to clinical measures and decision support tools, providers are inundated with new technologies that automate processes and capture new types of data. However, these systems are limited in their potential because they don’t all “talk” to one another. They’re locked away within proprietary technologies that render them the equivalent of an email account that only sends messages to people in your company, or a phone that only makes calls in your house.

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State Expectations: Setting The Record Straight In King v. Burwell


February 25th, 2015

On Wednesday, March 4th, the Supreme Court will hear the latest attack on the Affordable Care Act (ACA): the case King v. Burwell. The King petitioners allege that the Internal Revenue Service overstepped its authority by issuing regulations authorizing residents of states with federally run exchanges to access premium tax credits. The petitioners claim that Congress intentionally limited access to premium tax credits to residents of state-based exchanges as a way to encourage states to run their own exchanges.

In support, some state officials claim that they interpreted the law in this manner and that it impacted their state’s decision not to operate a state-run exchange. These assertions, like their analysis of the statutory language, fall flat under any serious scrutiny, however.

Between October 2012 and March 2013, with the support of the Commonwealth Fund, the Center on Health Insurance Reforms (CHIR) conducted a comprehensive review of publicly available information in 50 states pertaining to their decisions to operate either a state or federally run exchange.

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Implementing Health Reform: Final 2016 Letter To Federal Exchange Issuers


February 22nd, 2015

Each year the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) releases a letter to issuers (insurers) in the federally facilitated marketplace (FFM) setting out the ground rules for coverage through the FFM for the coming year.  A draft letter is published for comments, followed by the final letter.  The letter addresses insurers that issue qualified health plans (QHPs) in the FFM, including stand-alone dental plans (SADPs), and covers the small business (FF-SHOP) marketplace as well as the individual marketplace.

On December 19, 2014, CMS  published the draft 2016 letter which I covered here.  On February 20, 2015, CMS published the final letter to issuers in the federally facilitated marketplace.  Not surprisingly, since it  covers the third year of operation of the marketplace, the 2016 letter is quite similar to those of preceding years.   The letter is based on previously published rules governing QHPs and the marketplaces, as well as on the final 2016 Benefit and Payment Parameters Rule, covered here (CITE) and here (CITE), from which it incorporates many provisions.

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Implementing Health Reform: 2016 Benefit And Payment Final Rule, Insurance Provisions


February 22nd, 2015

On November 21, 2014, the Centers on Medicare and Medicaid Services of the Department of Health and Human Services released its final 2016 Benefit and Payment Parameter (BPP) Rule.  (Fact sheet here.)  My first post examined the provisions of this rule that relate to consumers and providers.  This post will analyze the parts of the rule that deal with the insurance market reforms; the reinsurance, risk adjustment, and risk corridor programs; health insurance rate review; and the individual and SHOP exchanges.

New Definitions Of ‘Plan’ And ‘State’

The regulation begins with a modified definition of the term “plan.”   The new definition defines a “plan” as the pairing of a set of health insurance benefits under a “product” with a particular cost-sharing structure, provider network, and service area.  A “product” is a set of plans sharing a network type (HMO, PPO, etc.), package of benefits, and service area.  Under this new definition, plans that differ in their cost-sharing structure (deductibles, copayments, or coinsurance) or provider networks are different plans, even if they are offered at the same metal tier.  Plan variations for different cost-sharing subsidy levels are not different plans under this definition.

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Implementing Health Reform: 2016 Benefit And Payment Final Rule, Consumer & Provider Provisions


February 22nd, 2015

On February 20, 2015, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) of the Department of Health and Human Services published its massive Notice of Benefit and Payment Parameters (BPP rule) for 2016 Final Rule, accompanied by a fact sheet.  This rule addresses a host of issues involving the continuing implementation of the Affordable Care Act for 2016.  A few provisions, however, affect the 2015 year as well and a number of provisions will not be implemented until 2017.

The BPP rule amends and updates existing rules; thus, it must be read in tandem with rules that have been promulgated earlier, which are catalogued in the preface to the rule.

CMS released also on February 20 its Final 2016 Letter to Issuers (Insurers) in the Federally-Facilitated Marketplace (FFM).   This letter sets the ground rules for insurer participation in the FFM for 2016 and covers many of the same topics covered by the BPP rule.

These documents are very lengthy and will be covered in three posts over the next few days.  This first post will focus on issues in the BPP rule that directly affect consumers.  The second post will focus more on issues that affect health plans.  The third post will examine the letter to issuers.

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Implementing Health Reform: Multi-State Plan Program; Benefits And Payment Rule, Letter To Issuers To Follow


February 20th, 2015

Late in the day on February 20, 2015, HHS issued its 476 page final 2016 Benefit and Payment Parameters Rule.   It also issued a lengthy final 2016 Letter to Issuers  and a fact sheet on the BPP rule.  These will govern health insurance coverage and the premium stabilization programs, as well as participation in the federally facilitated marketplace, for 2016.

More specifically, the BBP governs the premium stabilization programs; the cost-sharing reduction payment program; user fees for the Federally-facilitated Exchanges; the open enrollment period; the essential health benefits; qualified health plans; network adequacy; quality improvement strategies for qualified health plans; the SHOP program; guaranteed availability and renewability; minimum coverage; rate review; the medical loss ratio program; and other issues. The letter to issuers governs participation in the federally facilitated marketplace for 2016.

I will be reviewing the BPP rule and Letter to Issuers over the next few days and providing a series of posts on them; this post covers the amended Multi-State Plan Program (MSPP) rules issued earlier in the day.

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Implementing Health Reform: New Enrollment Opportunity For Those Subject To 2014 Penalty


February 20th, 2015

In our Health Affairs Blog post of November 7, 2014, Brian Haile and I recommended that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) create a special enrollment period to allow individuals who had to pay the individual responsibility penalty for being uninsured for 2014 to enroll in coverage for 2015 so that they would not have to pay a higher penalty for being uninsured for 2015. Other advocates subsequently joined in this call. On February 20, 2015, HHS announced that it is creating such a special enrollment period.

The special enrollment period will run from March 15 to April 30, 2015 and will allow individuals who live in states served by the federally facilitated marketplace website, Healthcare.gov, to enroll in coverage for 2015 if they:

  • Are not currently enrolled in coverage through the Federally Facilitated Marketplace (FFM) for 2015;
  • Attest that when they filed their 2014 tax return they paid the fee for not having coverage in 2014; and
  • Attest that “they first became aware of, or understood the implications of, the Shared Responsibility Payment after the end of open enrollment (February 15, 2014) in connection with preparing their 2014 taxes.”

Coverage will be effective on the first day of May for those who enroll by April 15 and the first day of June for those who enroll thereafter. Individuals who apply will have to pay the penalty for months they were uninsured in 2015 unless they otherwise qualify for an exemption. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has also launched a new online tool to help consumers determine who might otherwise be subject to the penalty to see if they are covered by another exemption.

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Oregon Bridges The Gap Between Health Care And Community-Based Health


February 12th, 2015

It is now commonly accepted that to achieve health, the U.S. health system must address the social determinants of health. While the integration of health care with social services and public health is happening relatively infrequently across the country, one bright spot can be found in Oregon, where an innovative Medicaid health system model, referred to as the coordinated care model, is showing early signs of success in bridging the gap between the community and the health care system.

Under Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber’s leadership, newly created coordinated care organizations (CCOs)—partnerships between physical, behavioral, and oral health providers—have over the past two years adopted Oregon’s coordinated care model, which was created as the foundation for Oregon’s health system reform efforts to ensure care is coordinated, performance is measured, positive outcomes are rewarded, and that there is a shared responsibility for health, sustainable rate of growth, and transparency in price and quality—all with the goal of promoting positive health outcomes.

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King v. Burwell: Congressional Intent And The Statutory Language Are Aligned


February 5th, 2015

On March 4, 2015, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in King v. Burwell. That suit was filed by opponents of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to stop tax-credit premium subsidies from being provided to moderate-income people in 34 states where the federal government is running health insurance exchanges in lieu of the states. According to the Urban Institute, it could result in the withdrawal of such subsidies for 9.3 million moderate-income people by 2016, and, according to the Rand Corporation, enrollment in coverage could drop by 9.6 million.

Some believe the King lawsuit is a contest between, on the one hand, congressional intent that premium subsidies should be provided in all states, versus, on the other hand, statutory language that says the opposite. Those who believe this formulation are half right: they are correct that Congress clearly intended subsidies to be provided to moderate-income families irrespective of whether their state of residence chose to run its marketplace directly instead of leaving it to the federal government; however, they are mistaken about the ACA’s language, which equally clearly indicates that subsidies should be provided in all states.

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Implementing Health Reform: ACA-Related Tax Penalties Waived; High Court Turns Back Oklahoma AG (Open Enrollment, CO-OP UpDate)


January 27th, 2015

The Internal Revenue Serviceissued a Notice on January 26, 2015 stating that it intends to grant relief from certain penalties that could otherwise be imposed on individuals who have a balance due on their 2014 taxes because the amount that they received in advance premium tax credits exceeded the amount that they were actually due.  The penalties are those that would otherwise apply for late payment of a balance due and for underpayment of estimated taxes.  The relief only applies to individuals who meet certain requirements and only for 2014.

Section 6651(a)(2) of the Internal Revenue Code imposes a penalty for a failure to pay the amount of taxes owing on a tax return by the date it is due, which is usually April 15 of the following year.  It does not apply if the failure was due to a reasonable cause.  Section 6654(a) imposes a penalty for underpayment of estimated taxes, although it does not apply unless the underpayment exceeds certain limits and can be waived under certain circumstances.

Individuals who received advance premium tax credits during 2014 must reconcile these amounts with the premium tax credits they were actually owed.  In some instances this will result in an overpayment, which must be repaid to the IRS.  Absent the relief granted by this Notice, some of enrollees who received too much in premium tax credits might owe a penalty for failing to repay the overpayment by April 15 or for failing to have paid enough in estimated taxes to cover the amount due.

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Beyond Law Enforcement: The FTC’s Role In Promoting Health Care Competition And Innovation


January 26th, 2015

By now, the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) law enforcement efforts in the health care area are well known. We have successfully challenged several hospital and physician practice mergers in the last few years. We also continue to pursue anticompetitive pharmaceutical patent settlements, following a victory at the Supreme Court in the Actavis case. Speaking of the Court, it is currently reviewing a case we brought against the North Carolina Board of Dental Examiners, alleging that its members conspired to exclude non-dentists from providing teeth whitening services in North Carolina.

Perhaps less publicized are the FTC’s various non-enforcement efforts in health care. Arguably most significant among those is the advocacy that the agency conducts in favor of competition principles before state legislatures and other policymakers. I will discuss our advocacy efforts in the health care space in this post, and then turn to the subject of telemedicine, an area in which FTC competition policy may play a significant role.

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The Importance Of Zip Code In Determining One’s Health Tops 2014 GrantWatch Blog Most-Read List


January 9th, 2015

Happy New Year! We have compiled a list of the ten most-read posts on GrantWatch Blog during 2014, in case you missed any of them.

  1. “Zip Code Overrides DNA Code When It Comes to a Healthy Community” (January 30, 2014). This post by Anne Warhover, former president and CEO of the Colorado Health Foundation, was by far the most-read post. She mentions the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Commission to Build a Healthier America, of which she was a commissioner, and relevant activities in Colorado. We also feel sure that Warhover’s post set a record for the number of re-tweets. Read more about Warhover here.
  2. “A World of Darkness: What If Thomas Edison Had to Write Grant Proposals to Invent the Light Bulb?” (February 18, 2014). This post by Jeffrey Brenner, executive director of the Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers and a family physician, came in at no. 2. Brenner is also a MacArthur Fellow. This post was published in partnership with Grantmakers In Health.
  3. “Elevating the Role of the Medical Assistant” (March 3, 2014). This post by Karen Wolk Feinstein, president and CEO of the Jewish Healthcare Foundation, in Pittsburgh, was the third most-read post in 2014. Feinstein is also president and CEO of its affiliated organization, the Pittsburgh Regional Health Initiative.
  4. “Foundations Supporting Stewardship of Health Care Resources through Medical Education and Training” (January 22, 2014). Daniel Wolfson and Leslie Tucker of the ABIM Foundation wrote this post about a convening of medical educators, students, residents, and other stakeholders. The ABIM Foundation and the Josiah Macy Jr Foundation held this meeting.
  5. “The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation: Creating Partnerships to Build a Culture of Health” (September 11, 2014). David Colby, who just retired from the RWJF, wrote this popular post about the foundation’s new focus in its work. As Colby notes, “Health actually is a part of everything!”
  6. “Online ACA Marketplaces: the Value of Consumer Experience Assessments” (June 17, 2014). Marian Mulkey of the California HealthCare Foundation (CHCF) and Claudia Page, a consultant to the foundation, wrote this post about people signing up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. Page is a former CHCF staffer.
  7. “The Hitachi Foundation Sheds Light on the New Role Frontline Workers Play in Health Care” (April 24, 2014). Tom Strong of the Hitachi Foundation wrote this post. Like no. 3, it mentions the role of medical assistants, which seems to be a popular subject!
  8. “Toxic Stress in Children and the Importance of Listening between the Lines to What Kids Say” (April 29, 2014). I wrote this post about Nadine Burke Harris’s speech at the Grantmakers In Health 2014 annual meeting in Atlanta.
  9. “If You Partner, They Might Just Come: One Foundation’s Effort to Disseminate Data on Quality of Care” (March 13, 2014). Andy Krackov, also of the CHCF, wrote this post about CalQualityCare.org, which it manages.
  10.  “The Rippel Foundation and the RWJF Push Frontiers for Financing and Sustaining Improvements in Health” (February 13, 2014). Laura Landy, who leads the Fannie E. Rippel Foundation, wrote this post about a “project to explore the conditions needed to build a next-generation health system.”

 

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Medicaid Expansion Post Leads Health Affairs Blog 2014 Top-Fifteen List


January 8th, 2015

As we begin 2015, we present the fifteen most-read Health Affairs Blog posts from 2014. Topping the list is “Opting Out Of Medicaid Expansion: The Health And Financial Impacts,” by Sam Dickman, David Himmelstein, Danny McCormick, and Steffie Woolhander. “Low-income adults in states that have opted out of Medicaid expansion will forego gains in access to care, financial well-being, physical and mental health, and longevity that would be expected with expanded Medicaid coverage,” the authors write, and they offer a state-by-state projection of these consequences.

Next on the list is Susan DeVore‘s overview of health care trends to watch in 2014, followed by David Muhlestein‘s look at the likely growth of accountable care and an examination of declining inpatient hospital utilization by Robert York, Kenneth Kaufman, and Mark Grube. The list also includes two posts from Tim Jost’s comprehensive series on implementing the Affordable Care Act, on waiting periods for employer-sponsored health insurance and Medicaid asset rules.

Stay tuned for the 2014 most-read lists for Health Affairs journal and GrantWatch Blog.

The full top-fifteen list is below:

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Arkansas Payment Improvement Initiative: Self-Insured Participation


January 7th, 2015

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 Arkansas model.

Designed and launched by the state’s Medicaid program and some of its largest private insurers, including Arkansas Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) and QualChoice, the Arkansas Payment Improvement Initiative (APII) has been a multi-payer effort since its inception in 2011. As the APII has developed, participation from some of the state’s largest self-insured employers has increased its scope and impact.

While we’ve referenced self-insured participation in our previous blog posts, we provide more detail in the following blog post on its ongoing development and explore what it takes for self-insured plans to adapt to the Arkansas Payment Improvement Initiative’s payment model. What has been the response from Arkansas employers and plans? What is the effect on existing contractual relationships? What are the hurdles?

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Health Affairs’ January Issue: Aging And Health


January 5th, 2015

The January issue of Health Affairs includes a number of studies examining issues pertaining to aging and health or health care. Other subjects covered include: the effect of Medicare’s Hospital Compare quality reports on hospital prices; how the Affordable Care Act’s provisions impact Americans shouldering high medical cost burdens; and whether California’s Hospital Fair Pricing Act has benefited uninsured patients.

Content on aging and health was supported by the John A. Hartford Foundation.

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Implementing Health Reform: Open Enrollment Progress For 2015 (Updated)


December 31st, 2014

On December 30, 2014, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services released several reports on enrollment numbers covering the second marketplace enrollment period to date.  It released its first monthly ASPE (Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation) report covering October 15 to November 15, 2014.   (press release here  )  The ASPE report for the first time includes some — very incomplete — information on enrollment in the state-operated exchanges.

CMS simultaneously released a snapshot report covering enrollment in the Federally Facilitated Marketplace (FFM) for the sixth week of open enrollment.

The bottom line is that the reports confirm what we all knew already: The first month of open enrollment is going much better than the early months of open enrollment last year.  As of December 26, 6,490,492 individuals had selected a plan through the FFM.  Only 96,446 selected a plan in Week 6, compared to 3.9 million in week 5, emphasizing again the importance of the December 15 deadline for January 1 coverage in driving enrollment.

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Health Insurance Rate Setting: Time To Raise The Bar And Lift The Veil Of Secrecy


December 24th, 2014

Over 15 million Americans stand to benefit from a strong health insurance rate review system, with the number growing each year. But in many states the rate review laws—and how they are carried out—fall short. Health insurance is one of the most expensive purchases consumers make, it is vital to the financial and physical health of their families, and it is required under the Affordable Care Act.

It is, therefore, important for insurance regulators to ensure consumers pay a fair price for their coverage. At the recent National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) meeting, we, along with two other organizations, presented a set of recommendations designed to strengthen the rate review process at both the state and federal level so that all consumers will be assured fairly priced health insurance.

The Affordable Care Act introduced new, important protections for consumers, while at the same time retaining a large role for state policy and regulation. This framework resulted in inconsistent policies across states. States that expanded Medicaid sit adjacent to states that did not. Some states operate their own insurance Marketplace, while consumers in other states use the federal Marketplace.

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New Health Policy Brief: Reenrollment


December 22nd, 2014

This year open enrollment under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) began on November 15, allowing new customers to sign up for health insurance. Open enrollment also provided current policyholders the chance to change plans and request a redetermination on the amount of subsidy they received. During this second year of open enrollment for the ACA’s insurance Marketplaces, insurers and policy makers are working to keep last year’s enrollees in the system — and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) estimates that 95 percent of them are eligible for automatic renewal.

A new policy brief from Health Affairs and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) examines the pros and cons of reenrollment options for consumers, whether they are using the federal Marketplace or live in states that operate their own exchanges. Automatic reenrollment means that almost seven million people already enrolled will not necessarily need to flood HealthCare.gov and exchanges during open enrollment. On the other hand, it also may discourage consumers from exploring alternative coverage that might better fit their needs and get a more accurate determination of eligibility for subsidies.

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Implementing Health Reform: Wraparound Coverage Excepted Benefits And Draft 2016 Letter To Issuers (Updated)


December 20th, 2014

In December 19, 2014, in what one hopes were their last major regulatory actions before the holidays, the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Treasury released a proposed rule on a new excepted benefit for wraparound coverage, while the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services released a Draft 2016 Letter to Issuers in the Federally Facilitated Marketplace.

This post will describe the wraparound coverage proposed rule.   It will be updated in the next day or two to analyze the letter to issuers (issuers being the Affordable Care Act word for insurers.)  I will note briefly, however, that the letter to issuers is very similar to the 2015 letter to issuers, with two major exceptions.  First, because open enrollment for 2016 begins on October 1, rather than November 15, as in 2015, the time frame for completing regulatory review begins earlier and is quite compressed.  Second, the 2016 letter picks up on a few new regulatory initiatives for 2016, such as attempts to provide more accurate provider directories and formulary information.  These changes will be explored more thoroughly in the update to this post.

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The Dane Difference: Why Are Dane County’s Exchange Premiums Lower?


December 18th, 2014

During the next few years, states and the federal government will likely seek solutions to control costs and improve quality in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) health insurance marketplaces. State and federal policymakers should look carefully at the decades-long success of the Wisconsin State Employee Health Plan (WSEHP) in controlling the rapid rise of health insurance costs in Dane County—where Madison, Wisconsin’s state capital, and the University of Wisconsin, are located—as they seek to improve the effectiveness of the ACA’s marketplaces and health insurance costs in general.

The WSEHP consistently obtains substantially lower health insurance premiums in Dane County than in Wisconsin’s 71 other counties. In 2013, an individual plan in the WSEHP was about $1,400 cheaper annually in Dane County, or 16 percent less than the average in the rest of the state; and a family plan was about $3,500 cheaper, also a 16 percent difference. This Dane difference has existed for at least a decade, with the gap slowly widening over that time.

Why does WSEHP get much lower premiums in Dane County than in the state’s 71 other counties, and what lessons can policymakers learn from this difference?

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