Wednesday Short Cuts

NOTE: I've decided to make "Short Cuts" the standard name for ACA-related stories which are interesting but which I just don't have time to do full write-ups on. I've also given up on trying to cram the headlines of each story into the blog entry title.

ObamaCare outreach campaigns across the country are diving deeper into the hard-to-reach uninsured populations such as rural areas with hopes of driving up enrollment in its second year, several state directors said Wednesday.

“We have a much better sense because of data from the federal government on where are the uninsured,” Ryan Barker, vice president of health policy for the Missouri Foundation for Health, said in a conference call hosted by Families USA.

The Michigan Primary Care Association said it is trying to “fill the gaps” of health insurance coverage by relocating a majority of its staff to rural, less-populated areas.

UnitedHealth Group, the nation's largest health insurance company by revenue, is predicting sizable profit growth next year and beyond as the rollout of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act becomes more entrenched.

Speaking at its annual investor conference in New York City Tuesday, UnitedHealth CEO Stephen Hemsley reaffirmed the company's net earnings per share of $5.60 to $5.65 by year-end. He also confirmed that UnitedHealth has big goals for 2015 and 2016, setting a long-term growth target of 13% to 16% in earnings per share.

The Affordable Care Act is expected to provide around $10 billion in subsidies this year to make health insurance affordable for low- and middle-income people. But a quirk in the law is denying subsidies to a significant number of low-income people, especially those with families.

Benfield has run up against this quirk. To cover only himself, Benfield would have to pay a little more than $2,200 a year. He says he can't afford that, but that's an affordable amount, according to Obamacare regulations, and that means Benfield could not get subsidies if he tried to get coverage on the Obamacare exchange.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) claimed approximately 50,000 less patients have died in hospitals due in part of provisions in the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also referred to as Obamacare.

The HHS report, which highlighted 2010 through 2013, also estimated nearly $12 billion in health care costs was saved due to reductions in hospital-acquired conditions. The HHS said the progress toward a "safe health care system" occurred as hospitals also made the effort to reduce adverse events.

According to HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell, details of the report are "welcome news for patients and their families." Burwell added, "[This] data represents significant progress in improving the quality of care that patients receive while spending our health care dollars more wisely. HHS will work with partners across the country to continue to build on this progress."

Daniel Levinson has served as inspector general of the U.S. Health and Human Services Department since 2005, working for two presidents, monitoring two of the largest Medicare expansions in U.S. history and keeping watch of an organization that accounted for about $1 trillion in federal spending this year.

...Levinson doesn’t seem that obtuse to us, but he knows how to sidestep the occasional question. You be the judge. Below is a transcript of a recent Federal Eye interview with the inspector general, covering topics that range from Obamacare and Healthcare.gov to Ebola and his most uncomfortable moment on Capitol Hill. We edited the transcript for length.

To quote Justice Antonin Scalia, the question before the justices (or at least the textualists among them) will be whether the words of the ACA statute, “in their context and with a view to their place in the overall statutory scheme,” unambiguously mean that the IRS can not and should never have subsidized health insurance in Healthcare.gov states.

That’s what the challengers in King v. Burwell claim. But if there’s any ambiguity—if the challengers’ reading of the law isn’t obviously the only reasonable way to read it—then those challengers should lose.

Californians have started to sign up for health plans through Covered California, the state’s health insurance exchange. During the first enrollment last year, the exchange registered about 1 million people, but many consumers struggled to find answers to simple questions about the plans.

It will be much easier for Californians to get the information they need this time around. Gov. Jerry Brown signed two bills that require insurance companies to be more transparent about the health plans they sell through the exchange.

After a laundry list of glitches popped up last year, Obama administration officials set to work to fix the health law’s online insurance marketplace for small businesses. Now, two weeks after re-launching the federal exchange, it appears they have ironed out most of the technical problems.

Now they have a different problem on their hands, one that no team of software engineers can solve: Disinterest from small employers.