Tuesday Short Cuts: Part II

Cleaning out more of Ye Olde In Box...

MNsure survived the legislative sessionwithout major changes. Some Republicans wanted to scrap the state's health insurance exchange altogether and some Democrats wanted to make it a state agency.

By some accounts, MNsure's performance has greatly improved since it's rocky 2013 roll out.

MNsure CEO Scott Leitz is leaving his position to work for a health care think tank. He took over the program after its first executive director resigned under fire.

The state Senate overwhelmingly adopted major health care changes Thursday in a bipartisan vote that reins in some facility fees, looks to development of a health information exchange to guarantee the sharing of patient data and aims to keep private physician practices in business.

State Senate President Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, and state Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, worked for a year on the bill, holding hearings starting last fall and revising it considerably from its original form as developed at the beginning of the session.

Vermont officials are considering turning to Connecticut's health insurance exchange as an alternative to that state's struggling Obamacare marketplace.

They have given that state's exchange, Vermont Health Connect, deadlines to make improvements; the first one comes at the end of this month. But if those deadlines aren't met, state officials are expected to explore alternatives, including using the federal government's HealthCare.gov exchange.

...But that model has run into financial distress. After slashing its spending, Covered California achieved a balanced budget for next year by utilizing $100 million in federally provided start-up funds. The Department of Health and Human Services’ inspector general and at least two U.S. senators have questioned whether exchanges are using start-up funds to plug holes in their budgets—a practice prohibited by law and one the senators called a “short term fix” in a letter to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Using federal funds may help Covered California next year—but it will leave a multi-million-dollar hole in its budget the following year, leading to another round of belt-tightening.

SEATAC — At the May 21st meeting of the Washington Health Benefit Exchange’s Board of Directors, Deputy Insurance Commissioner Molly Nollette told members that there are 188 proposed plans awaiting approval for inclusion in the Exchange marketplace. While not all of these plans will be approved, the total number more than doubles the 90 approved plans for 2015. This increase comes with three new carriers on the exchange, United Healthcare, Regence BlueShield and Health Alliance Northwest.

A Kansas Senate committee has reviewed a proposal to impose a new fee on insurance policies sold through an online  marketplace set up under the federal health care overhaul.

But The Topeka Capital  Journal reports (http://bit.ly/1F50UNI ) that representatives of insurance companies and the Kansas Chamber of Commerce provided testimony against the bill to the Ways and Means Committee.

Private health insurance exchanges are enabling employers to dampen rising costs for benefits they provide to employees and changing benefits professionals' view of their roles.

Pamela Sande, Boston-based vice president of total rewards and human resources services at The Mentor Network, said the organization that focuses on services for the disabled, families and the elderly briefly considered dropping employee health coverage because of rising costs before its recent switch to a private exchange run by New York-based Towers Watson & Co.

The University of Oregon is proposing to create its own health insurance plans — UOCare — and to sweep all new and returning students into one of the plans come fall.

The plan would include the existing on-campus health care plus a yet-to-be-identified net­work of off-campus doctors, counselors, urgent care and hospital services.

UOCare would satisfy the requirement in the federal Affordable Care Act that students carry health insurance.

Health care costs are going down. The number of insured Washingtonians is going up; dramatically. It’s good news for health care in our state.

The bad news for Washington consumers is that Senate Republicans in Olympia are choosing to divert tax revenue meant to fund the Health Benefit Exchange.

What does that mean? The very first tax Washington ever created statewide, way back in 1891, was the insurance premiums tax. All types of insurance, from car to health to fire, are subject to this tax. The revenue raised helps pay for important state budget items.