Study estimates 10 million Americans gained health coverage due to Obamacare

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ACA health reform logoBy Phil Galewitz
KHN / JULY 24TH, 2014

About 10.3 million Americans gained health coverage this year, primarily as a result of the Affordable Care Act, according to a study by the federal government and Harvard University, published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The estimate of newly insured adults — the largest to date — is the first published in a major medical journal and authored by some federal health researchers.

The number of uninsured adults fell by a little over 5 percent nationally, from 21 percent in September 2013 to 16.3 percent in April 2014.

The federal government had previously reported that about 8 million people bought private health plans on the state and federal exchanges and 6.6 million additional people enrolled in Medicaid since last October. But it has not estimated how many of those had been previously uninsured.

The Obama administration took pains yesterday to say that the views of the study’s authors are not those of the administration – even as it hailed their findings. Continue reading

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Health news headlines – July 24th

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Robot

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How to pick running shoes

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Running shoes full shotThe American College of Sports Medicine has written a short a guide for picking running shoes:

Running shoes should be selected after careful consideration. With so many brands and styles of shoes on the market today, it is important to find the best fit for your feet and your needs. There is no “right shoe” that fits all runners. However, research and injury patterns have shown that there are some general characteristics of a good, safe running shoe.

To read the guide go here: Selecting Running Shoes

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Blood donors needed

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RedBloodCellsThe American Red Cross says it faces a looming blood shortage, leading to an urgent need for donors of all blood types to roll up a sleeve and give.

Nationally, donations are down approximately 8 percent over the last 11 weeks, resulting in about 80,000 fewer donations than expected, the Red Cross Reports.

Last week Puget Sound Blood Center issued an appeal for donors after collections began to dip sharply as a result of the ongoing heat wave. During the past week, over a half dozen blood drives were suspended or cancelled as temperatures soared.

Continue reading

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Business groups, patient advocates draw lines in the sand about essential benefits

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MedicineBy Shefali Luthra
KHN

The essential health benefits (EHBs) countdown is on for 2016.

That’s when this provision of the Affordable Care Act, which sets out 10 specific health services that must be covered by plans sold on the exchanges, will likely be  reviewed by the Department of Health and Human Services.

Business interests and consumer advocates are already making their positions clear – the former pushing for greater consciousness of premium costs and the latter looking to safeguard consumers’ coverage. Continue reading

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Consumer’s guide to recent court decisions

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On Tuesday two U.S. appeals courts issued conflicting rulings on a subject that’s important to millions of people:  the availability of subsidies to help purchase coverage under the health-care law.

KHN’s Mary Agnes Carey answers some frequently asked questions about those court decisions and how they impact consumers.

Q: What did the courts decide? Continue reading

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Health news headlines – July 23rd

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Courts split on legality of subsidies for Affordable Care Act

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Two U.S. Appeals Courts Tuesday reached opposite conclusions about the legality of subsidies in the Affordable Care Act, a key part of the law that brings down the cost of coverage for millions of Americans.

In Washington, a three-judge panel at the U.S. Appeals Court for the D.C. Circuit ruled that the Internal Revenue Service lacked the authority to allow subsidies to be provided in exchanges not run by the states.

That 2-1 ruling in Halbig v. Burwell could put at risk the millions of people who bought insurance in the 36 states where these online insurance marketplaces are run by the federal government.

Judge Thomas Griffith, writing the majority opinion, said they concluded “that the ACA unambiguously restricts” the subsidies to “Exchanges ‘established by the state.’ ”

But within hours, a unanimous three-judge panel for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Va., ruled exactly the other way in King v. Burwell – that Congress always intended to allow subsidies to be provided in both state and federally run exchanges. Continue reading

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King County’s wellness plan beats the odds

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By Christine Vestal, Stateline

Seattle

SEATTLE – When King County, Washington, launched its employee wellness program seven years ago, its motive was clear. “We were being eaten alive by runaway medical costs,” says the county’s top executive Dow Constantine.

By all accounts, the previous administration was desperate to bring down double-digit health care cost growth that threatened to destroy the entire budget.

That partially explains why King County, which spends nearly $200 million per year to insure 14,000 workers and their families, who mostly live and work here in the county seat, was willing to risk millions more on a wellness program that would prove to break the traditional mold.

Why has King County’s  employee wellness program far surpassed all others in employee participation, health improvement and health care savings?

It may also explain why labor unions took the unusual step of joining management in a plan that would ultimately shift more health care costs to workers.

But it doesn’t explain why this employee wellness program, which received an innovation award this year from Harvard University, has far surpassed all others in employee participation, health improvement and health care savings.  Continue reading

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Arkansas weighs plan to make Medicaid enrollees fund savings accounts

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Arkansas_population_map

Map by JimIrwin via Wikipedia/GNU Free Documentation License

By Michelle Andrews
KHN

If all goes according to plan, next year many Arkansas Medicaid beneficiaries will be required to make monthly contributions to so-called Health Independence Accounts.

Those that don’t may have to pay more of the cost of their medical services, and in some cases may be refused services.

Supporters say it will help nudge beneficiaries toward becoming more cost-conscious health care consumers.

Patient advocates are skeptical, pointing to studies showing that such financial “skin-in-the-game” requirements discourage low-income people from getting care that they need. Continue reading

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Health news headlines – July 22nd

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Error: You have no payments from Pharma

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Data GlobeDoctors checking a soon-to-be-unveiled federal website that will publicly list drug company payments are encountering error messages if they have not accepted industry money.

by Charles Ornstein
ProPublica

The federal government has a word for physicians who don’t have financial relationships with pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers: “Error.”

This week, the government began allowing doctors to log into a secure website to check the payments attributed to them by drug and device makers.

Doctors who were expecting the site to clearly confirm that they don’t have relationships with pharmaceutical companies have met with a surprise.

This information will be made public later this year under the Physician Payment Sunshine Act, a part of the 2010 Affordable Care Act.

In advance, if doctors believe the material about them is wrong, they can contest it.

But early reports suggest the new site has some glitches. Doctors say it is taking them as long as an hour, sometimes longer, to verify their identities and log in. (Because the information is not yet public, doctors have to go through several steps to prove they are who they say they are.)

Once they get that far, doctors who were expecting the site to clearly reflect that they don’t have relationships with pharmaceutical companies have met with a surprise.

“You have the following errors on the page,” the Open Payments website tells them. “There are no results that match the specified search criteria.” Continue reading

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Most of the genetic risk for autism due to versions of common genes

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From the National Institutes of Health

Most of the genetic risk for autism comes from versions of genes that are common in the population rather than from rare variants or spontaneous glitches, researchers funded by the

National Institutes of Health have found. Heritability also outweighed other risk factors in this largest study of its kind to date.

About 52 percent of the risk for autism was traced to common and rare inherited variation, with spontaneous mutations contributing a modest 2.6 percent of the total risk.

Gene autism

The bulk of risk, or liability, for autism spectrum disorders (ASD) was traced to inherited variations in the genetic code shared by many people. These and other (unaccounted) factors dwarfed contributions from rare inherited, non-additive and spontaneous (de novo) genetic factors. Source: Population-Based Autism Genetics and Environment Study.

“Although each exerts just a tiny effect individually, these common variations in the genetic code add up to substantial impact, taken together,” Buxbaum said. Continue reading

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Biggest insurer in US drops caution, embraces Obamacare

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Dye with Yes, No and Maybe of the three visible sidesBy Jay Hancock
KHN

UnitedHealthcare, the insurance giant that largely sat out the health law’s online marketplaces’ first year, said Thursday it may sell policies through the exchanges in nearly half the states next year.

“We plan to grow next year as we expand our offering to as many as two dozen state exchanges,” Stephen Hemsley, CEO of UnitedHealth Group, the insurance company’s parent, told investment analysts on a conference call. He was referring to coverage sold to individuals.

A study found that if UnitedHealthcare had sold policies through the exchanges this year in every state where it already does business, premiums would have been 5 percent lower.

The move represents a major acceleration for the company and a bet that government-subsidized insurance, sold online without regard for pre-existing illness, is here to stay. UnitedHealthcare sells individual policies through government exchanges in only four states now.

Even analysts who follow the company closely seemed surprised. Continue reading

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Docs slam recertification rules. Call them a waste of time.

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This KHN story also ran in .

Many specialists are balking at what they say are onerous new rules to get recertified, warning the demands will force some physicians out of practice at a time when the nation faces a shortage.

Doctors say the new requirements have made maintaining specialty certifications a process that never ends.

Younger doctors already retake the arduous certification exam every seven to 10 years to keep their credential, long considered the gold standard of expertise.

“I’m at an age where, if anybody does anything to force me to participate, I’d say ‘adios.’ I’d retire. It’s not worth it for me.”

But physicians of all ages must now complete a complex set of requirements every two to three years, or risk losing their certification.

Supporters contend the new process will ensure doctors incorporate the latest medical advances into their practices, but many critics dismiss it as meaningless, expensive and a waste of time. Continue reading

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