In November, the Fort Worth Star Telegram wrote about several people who were “losing” under the Affordable Care Act. A month later it ended up having to do a pretty significant mea culpa by executive editor Jim Witt.
The flaws in the story caught the attention of health care blogger and author Maggie Mahar. Some of the accounts of people who lost their old policies and were facing stupendous prices for lousy new Obamacare policies didn’t ring true. A 26-year-old woman, even one with multiple sclerosis, wasn’t going to have to pay up to $1,800 a month for coverage that was inferior to what she had before.
So Mahar did a bit of reporting of her own. Continue reading
So did the Obama administration let potentially millions of Americans buy the same kind of “junk” insurance policies that were being canceled because they didn’t meet new requirements of the health law? Not exactly.
In late December the White House said that anyone who had their plan canceled could, if they wished, get a “hardship exemption” from the individual mandate and purchase a catastrophic health plan (if such plans are available in their region).
These plans are far from generous. They aren’t designed to be. But they do have certain basic consumer protections that may meet the needs of some families. A big surge of individuals or families taking up this option could, however, hurt the overall exchanges if lots of healthy people take them. People covered under these plans could “count” toward the goal of getting 7 million Americans covered by the end of March 2014. But they don’t count as part of the exchange risk pools. They are apart. And the insurers fear that they will siphon off some of the healthier people that they need in the pool to keep costs sustainable. Continue reading
Image by The National Guard via flickr.
Catherine Saint Louis of The New York Times took a hard national look at the pediatric dental benefits being offered on the state exchanges under the Affordable Care Act.
Her reporting led her to the troubling gulf that oral health advocates have been warning about.
While kids’ dental coverage is included as one of the 10 essential health benefits under the nation’s health care reform law, “pediatric dental care is handled differently” from other coverage on the federal and state exchanges, she wrote in her Dec. 16 story, “A Gap In the Affordable Care Act.”
Dental plans “are often sold separately from medical insurance, and dental coverage for children is optional,” she noted. “People shopping on the exchanges are not required to buy it and do not receive financial support for buying it.”
Experts have cautioned that the problems could leave millions of children without access to dental care. Continue reading
(Full disclosure: Kenen is Politico’s health care editor.)
Former AHCJ president and Columbia Journalism Review contributor Trudy Lieberman – in a wonderfully titled piece called “Dropped Coverage” – analyzed media coverage of the Affordable Care Act for the new Politico magazine.
She found that plenty was … dropped. Continue reading
Oklahoma Watch, a nonprofit investigative journalism team, recently published a two-part series on hospitals based on financial data obtained for every hospital in the state. As reporter Clifton Adcock writes in an article for AHCJ, the series revealed that between half and three-fourths of small general hospitals in Oklahoma were losing money, and that hospitals had spent only small fractions of their net patient revenues on charity care.
Hospitals get “disproportionate-share” (DSH) payments from the federal government to help cover costs for treating the indigent. Because Oklahoma was not expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, hospital groups said they expected to take a big financial hit from the law’s cuts to DSH payments. Oklahoma Watch wanted to see how much they relied on such payments. Continue reading
Hundreds of thousands of adults and children in Colorado will soon get dental coverage thanks to health care reform efforts in the state.
But many of these new beneficiaries may have trouble finding a dentist to treat them, writes Michael Booth in a good story for The Denver Post, “Flood of new dental patients in Colorado meets trickle of caregivers.”
“A new dental benefit for adults with Medicaid, coupled with an Obamacare expansion of eligibility and pediatric benefits required on the state exchange, will balloon the number of paying patients,” he explains.
“About 335,000 current Medicaid adults gain access to dental care in the spring, and tens of thousands more will join Medicaid rolls under the Affordable Care Act expansion. Added to them will be potentially thousands of privately insured children with dental care included under “essential benefits” minimums of the state health exchange.”
But health advocates warn that if just a quarter of the newly enrolled Coloradans start using their dental benefits, the system will be strained. Continue reading
Here’s another HealthCare.gov problem – and a workaround – that haven’t gotten much attention.
People can apply for Medicaid (traditional or expanded) via the federal HealthCare.gov website. But the applications still have to get transferred to the states which have to process them to finalize enrollment in the actual state program. And it’s supposed to be done by Jan. 1.
Guess what? That was a problem. With all the website woes, the feds weren’t able to process that information and had pushed back deadlines. Then, quietly, on the Friday of Thanksgiving weekend, CMS offered a transitional “administrative” fix through this federal policy guidance.
The states are allowed to use the minimal information on the so-called “flat files” to finalize the Medicaid status. The flat files had been pretty bare bones but CMS says expanded files will “include data elements such as: date of birth, Social Security number, eligibility category used for assessment or determination, and verification inconsistencies. The file will identify individuals who have been assessed or determined eligible for Medicaid and CHIP on the basis of modified adjusted gross income (MAGI).”
It would be good to check in with your state’s Medicaid director. Is this enough? Too little, too late? Will people be correctly enrolled in Medicaid by Jan. 1 – or will some be left uncovered, even if they did their part of the application process correctly?
Here’s a list of state Medicaid directors from the National Association of Medicaid Directors.
Photo: Carla K. Johnson
Dan Lustig, C. Scott Litch and Dr. John Rutkausas (left to right) spoke on a panel in Chicago about the Affordable Care Act.
Plenty of good story ideas await journalists willing to explore the nooks and crannies of the nation’s health care law. The Chicago chapter of AHCJ delved into some of these story ideas at a recent meeting titled “Fresh Stories Ahead for the Affordable Care Act.”
For instance, dental coverage for children is an essential health benefit under the law. Consumers in Illinois are able to buy pediatric dental coverage as a stand-alone plan, bundled with a medical plan or “embedded” into a medical plan. Panelist Dr. John R. Rutkausas, chief executive officer of the Chicago-based American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, predicts consumers will be disappointed if they buy an embedded plan with a high deductible. It may be a rude surprise to learn they may have to pay all their children’s dental care out of pocket because they haven’t yet met their deductible. Continue reading
Three reports – all on various aspects of health care costs – caught my eye today:
The State of the Art of Price Transparency Tools and Solutions
A report released today by Catalyst for Payment Reform examines the price transparency tools and solutions. A summary can be found in the Health Affairs blog. An AHCJ webcast on Dec. 12 will feature CPR’s executive director and Katherine Hempstead of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation for a discussion about transparency in health care costs. Continue reading
You have all probably gotten some emails about this website or that app that can give costs of various health plans in the new insurance exchanges. I’ve seen some that list plans county by county. People may be tempted by these easy tools because, on the surface, they look like a way around that pesky HealthCare.gov or some of the balkier state exchanges.
But there’s a problem. (There’s also a solution that I’ll get to, but keep reading.) The information on most of these plans is very general. And it’s “sticker” prices. Some don’t take into account the subsidies or other particular family circumstances. And that sticker price may produce enough “sticker shock” that people are scared off and don’t find out what they would actually pay, particularly if they are eligible for subsidies. Some of the calculators don’t include age, either, and that does affect what people will pay.
Nor do the calculators always produce the same estimated cost. I tried two different ones using the same information about a family I had spoken to in California. I got very different results – thousands of dollars different. Neither was close to what the family found when they did get on the California exchange. (In this case, the family’s costs did go up.)
The Arizona Republic did a consumer-focused story about the calculators in which they urged consumers to get on the real sites (which are – slowly – improving) and find out what the precise costs are for their unique family circumstances. Continue reading