What We Know – And Don’t Know – About Obamacare

Now that the first hurdle of Obamacare has cleared (or has it?) new (or at least a continuation of) questions emerge. How many of the uninsured will eventually be able to get health insurance coverage? Do (or will) Obamacare policies cost more? Many who had, or have, bare-boned policies – those with both high deductibles and reduced coverage, are probably shelling (or will shell out) more for premiums, unless they qualify for subsidies. Right now, Obamacare policies are more all-encompassing in their offered coverage: providing for mental health, maternity, and medications. As no one under the ACA can be rejected, insurers have been pricing their plans assuming those with chronic health issues will most likely apply. Will I be able to keep my doctor? Obama made the promise to the American people they could, and so far the administration has not lived up to that promise.

Lingering questions remain as to what Obamacare means for employer-sponsored plans, and if the Affordable Care Act is costing jobs. Also: Are many people are signing up for Medicaid?

Read more at CNNMoney

Software Bug Takes Down Health Care Site

While the Obamacare website was supposedly back up and running as of 9am on Monday, March 31, 2014: a byproduct, long-lines still persisted in some areas of the country. In Silver Spring Maryland (a state with its own hefty Obamacare woes) hundreds of people lined up outside a Montgomery County “health service center” – hours before its 10am opening. By 10:30am, approximately 200 “pink tickets” – a system employed by the facility in an attempt to ensure people were assisted in an orderly fashion, were distributed.

Those kept waiting, or worse, were asked to fill out their e-mail and phone information, only to be told to come back in April. They will, however, be granted an enrollment deadline hardship extension.

Read more at The Wall Street Journal.com

Amid Website Glitches, Obamacare Allies Make Final Enrollment Push

In the eleventh hour of Obamacare open enrollment, administration officials were on the TV stump – again. This time it was HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. On official deadline day, March 31, 2014, she did a series of interviews promote the healthcare law. Customers crowded Healthcare.gov in the final hours of open enrollment on Obamacare marketplaces. Administration officials, meanwhile, touted the strong enrollment figures, and encouraged people to sign up while they still can.

Sebelius was interviewed on Okalahoma City CBS-TV Affiliate KWTV, when presented with the law’s new unpopularity – she suddenly fell silent. Stan Miller advised the Secretary that 64 percent of Oklahomans aren’t buying into the healthcare plan, that they don’t like Obamacare –the HHS Secretary sat speechless, for 14 full seconds, Mr. Jenkins thought maybe the sound went off-line.

Read more at CBSNews.com

Premium Increases, Possible Repeal, Next Crises for Obamacare

The deadline for Obamacare enrollment arrived Monday, March 31, 2014, heralding a new set of problems for Democrats supporting the troubled healthcare law, including premium increases for 2015 and the possibility of ultimate repeal if the GOP takes control of the Senate in November.

In the final weekend of enrollment, chaos ensued in the rush by late-comers to get coverage in time. HealthCare.gov was marred with major technological problems potentially affecting as many as the 2 million people who visited, while others consumers were thwarted due severe shortages of support staff, and long waits through the call centers and at enrollment offices.

Read more at Newsmax

Congress This Week Tackles Medicare Payments, Jobless Pay and Employer Mandate

Beginning Monday, March 31, 2014, the U.S. Senate is scheduled to take up Medicare payment legislation; the House concurrently is working on redefining the full-time work week, at least as it would be under the ACA. Senate Majority leader Harry Reid has also scheduled a test-vote for what’s known as the “doc fix”, a bill – one that supposedly prevents a 24 percent reduction in federally-based reimbursements to doctors treating Medicare patients. The proposed legislation is a “patch” and not a lasting remedy to the “Sustainable Growth Rate” (SGR) – this is what causes the regular cuts in provider pay that Congress must then undo via legislation.

Republican and Democratic leaders claim they’ve previously sought a way to repeal it – permanently – but the short-term legislation was needed to avoid the chance of seniors losing medical care if the current patch is allowed to expire, and reimbursement rates plunge.

The Senate is also considering a bill to extend unemployment benefits additionally by five months. The legislation, co-authored by five Republicans, cleared a crucial test, and therefore may pass.

As of March 31, 2014, the House was also scheduled to continue wrestling with the issue of perceived over-stepping by the Obama White House, with a vote on the “Save American Workers Act”. It’s being pushed by Rep. Todd Young, R. Ind. The bill repeals the 30 hour definition of full time employment under the ACA. Critics of the 30-hour starting point say it’s caused employers to cut hours and furlough employees, all to avoid the new employer mandate – requiring employers to provide health insurance to full-time employees.

Read more at The Washington Examiner

The Obamacare Question That Both Dems and GOPers Would Rather Ignore

What’s the bill for the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”)? It’s the $64,000 question in the room no one seems prepared (or inclined) to answer. In three years’ time it might be ascertained if the insurance market will be financially viable, affordable, and able to provide its product – even to the uninsured. How the 2014 marketplace plays out, how it affects the 2015 market, may determine costs of tax subsidies paying for coverage – really. As of now, that question roams in political limbo. Both Republicans and Democrats seem quite content ignoring it, so it looks like several years before definitive answers emerge. Potentially soaring premiums in 2015 could place the government in the precarious position of spending a lot more money than expected. Concurrently, the same will apply if ACA enrollment numbers disappoint. Two other scenarios could lead to increased healthcare spending by the feds: A less than ideal demographic mix could be followed by huge premium increases, and lower levels of competition occurring, if insurers decide the law doesn’t work and altogether pull out.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) anticipates Obamacare’s tax subsidy to increase sooner than expected over the next few years – up to $79 billion by 2017. Enrollments should be approximately 24 million.

Read more at TalkingPointsMemo.com

Insurers Squeezed By Federal Cuts to Medicare Advantage

The Hartford Courant says the health care industry is vexed over a drawn-out shift in Medicare policy, translating into insurance companies being paid less per person to manage federally backed Medicare Advantage coverage. The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services proposed its most recent reductions in February, 2014, affecting plans insurers will offer to prospective customers in the fall of 2015. Less government money for insurance companies actually squeezes their profits. As a result, Cigna is cutting 950 employees globally, 70 of whom are located in Connecticut.

Insurers can attempt to preserve their bottom lines in several ways: narrowing physician networks, changing plan benefits, or increasing out of pocket costs for policyholders.

Read more at The Hartford Courant

In New Health Care Era, Blessings and Hurdles

In a non-descript healthcare clinic in Louisville Kentucky, provider adjustments caused by Obamacare are being felt – so much so overworked staff strive just to keep up with increased patient demand. As of late, patients’ ailments seem to fit the usual categorical profiles: diabetes, high blood-pressure, chronic pain, and quite significantly – no health insurance.

Even those who work in the healthcare industry requiring care, feel the effects. One dental hygienist in Louisville is overdue for at least two specialized medical procedures. While she has a new plan, it comes with a much higher premium. Only a handful of doctors and hospitals accept it. She’s also discovered her local Walgreens doesn’t accept her new Humana coverage. While she quit smoking and went on a candy binge, receiving a dark chocolate bar from Humana, with a “Heart Healthy” label on the outside was little comfort. The candy bar was offered as a consolation – for her policy’s cancellation. Others have obtained subsidized insurance, though have not paid the first month’s premium. As a result they may return to being uninsured.

The Affordable Care Act still faces stark challenges in states like Kentucky. The obstacles range from vigorous political foes – who plan on keeping up their attacks until Election Day, to watchful consumers – who feel both the costs of new ACA plans are too high, and the choice of hospitals and doctors too narrow.

Yet, for all its shortcomings, the new healthcare law is beginning to change the face of medicine in places like Kentucky. More than 350,000 people, have signed up for Obamacare in the state.

Read more at The New York Times

HUFFPOLLSTER: Uninsured Americans’ Plans Divide Along Party Lines

A new AP-GfK survey finds the Affordable Healthcare Act (“Obamacare”) is not as popular as once thought. According to the poll’s findings, public support for the Obama healthcare law is listless, and at its lowest point since passage of the key legislation in 2010. Specifically, the Associated Press-GfK survey found while 26 percent of Americans support the Affordable Healthcare Act, there still is a very real drop in that support – not so much an increase in opposition. Shortly after the Affordable Heathcare Act passed, 50 percent of Americans said they were against it. Thirty-nine percent were in favor. Ten percent were on the fence. In 2014, the 26 percent in favor, actually reflects a drop of 13 percent. Forty three percent say they’re opposed, a drop of 7 percentage points since that poll four years ago. Yet, the number who are neither favorable towards, nor against the law has tripled, to 30 percent.

Meanwhile, Gallup findings in previous months have found that actual healthcare plan purchase intentions splits along party lines: with three-quarters of uninsured Democrats planning to get insurance, rather than pay a fine. This is double the percentage of uninsured Republicans.

Read more at The Huffington Post

Boehner Slams Obamacare Extension: Is This a Joke?

Speaker John Boehner slammed the latest Obamacare extension on Wednesday — angrily asking, “What the hell is this? A joke?”

“Last night brought us yet another delay of Obamacare, another deadline made meaningless,” the Ohio Republican said at his weekly news conference on Capitol Hill. “If he hasn’t put enough loopholes into the law already, the administration is now resorting to an honor system to enforce it.

Read more at Newsmax