Wednesday Short Cuts

Democrats in the Wisconsin Legislature are pushing a bill designed to prevent large increases in health insurance rates, but it’s doubtful Republicans who hold a majority and control the legislative agenda will get behind it.

The bill would require insurance companies give consumers 60 days’ notice for rate increases and require the state Office of the Commissioner of Insurance to hold public hearings on rate increases of more than 10 percent.

Over a year and half into Medicaid expansion and the launch of Kynect, the state’s health insurance exchange program, Kentucky is among the nation’s leaders in reducing its uninsured population.

As a result of providing more services to more people throughout the commonwealth, however, Kentucky hospitals are reporting healthy improvement in their revenues.

...more consumers should be insurance shopping this year. If not, they should get ready to be surprised by big changes in their plan.

Last year, despite being encouraged to shop, more than two million people who had obtained health insurance through the marketplace (Healthcare.gov) were automatically re-enrolled in the same plan, or if that plan no longer existed, a similar plan from the same insurance carrier. Of those who did shop, 54% changed plans. While some may assume there’s little benefit to shopping each year, they’d be wrong.

Vermont does not have a single-payer health care system, but it has a major-payer system, and early signs are that it can help the state save money. 

Medicaid is the federal-state partnership that is meant to provide health care for low-income residents. Since the advent of Obamacare, Medicaid in Vermont has been expanded so it covers more Vermonters, helping to pick up the slack for the programs that the state phased out when it created its health care exchange, Vermont Health Connect. 

Of the ten states with the highest rate of consumers receiving financial assistance, nine had not expanded Medicaid programs under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), sometimes called Obamacare, as of June 30; Arkansas is the outlier. One of the key provisions of ACA originally was the idea that Medicaid eligibility would be expanded to most low income consumers, meaning those at or below 138% of the poverty line. APTC was intended to apply to those consumers in the middle.

The Silver State Health Insurance Exchange will not operate brick-and-mortar enrollment stores during this year's sign-up period for government-subsidized health insurance.

"It wasn't fiscally prudent to walk in that direction," Bruce Gilbert, executive director of the exchange, told board members at a meeting Thursday.

Last year, the exchange opened two enrollment stores — one in northern Nevada and another at the Boulevard Mall in Las Vegas — where consumers could enroll through Nevada Health Link with the help of insurance brokers and navigators.

President Obama will need to more than double the number of Americans enrolled in Obamacare exchange plans to reach 21 million next year, the target set in budget projections, in what is shaping up as the next major test for the health care law.

As of June, the Department of Health and Human Services counted 9.9 million customers who have bought plans through the federal HealthCare.gov portal and a handful of state-run exchanges.

When lawmakers scaled back Medicaid eligibility for thousands of low-income parents this year, they argued that the parents could instead buy deeply discounted coverage through the state's health insurance exchange. But so far, just 140 of the nearly 800 who lost coverage this month have signed up — fewer than 20 percent.

Those who lost Medicaid coverage Sept. 1 have until Oct. 1 to sign up for private health insurance. But unless they found alternative forms of coverage, they're probably uninsured now, said Jim Wadleigh, CEO of the exchange, Access Health CT. That's an outcome that critics of the cut warned could happen.

Two proposed mergers involving four of the nation’s biggest health insurers could reduce competition in an important industry. That’s why federal and state regulators need to closely study these deals and, if necessary, force the companies to sell some parts of their businesses.

Earlier this summer, Anthem agreed to acquire Cigna for $48 billion, and Aetna announced a $37 billion takeover of Humana. The antitrust division of the Justice Department and state governments are reviewing the deals. If regulators approve both transactions, the number of big national health insurers would drop from five to three.

Though it has been largely ignored by national media and pollsters, Kentucky’s November gubernatorial election could mean striking changes for the Bluegrass State. The nation’s most unlikely Obamacare success story — a state system that has provided more than 500,000 Kentuckians with affordable health insurance — might well be ransacked by a Tea Party candidate named Matt Bevin.

From the earliest days, Kentucky’s efforts to implement Obamacare have earned national acclaim. As the troubled roll out of the national health care exchange website was ruthlessly mocked by late night television, Fortune praised “one health exchange success story“: Kentucky’s new state-level marketplace.

Hawaii’s insurance premiums are on the rise, and it’s due to a combination of circumstance and new federal regulations, according to a new report by the Hawaii Health Information Corp.

While Hawaii health insurance premiums have grown more slowly than on the Mainland, Hawaii premiums for small businesses have risen an average of 7 percent a year since 2003, according to HHIC.

A state legislator asked an Arkansas panel Tuesday to hold off on looking at vendors for setting up a state-run insurance exchange as lawmakers look at broader reforms to Medicaid and health care.

Sen. David Sanders asked the Arkansas Health Insurance Marketplace’s board of directors to delay releasing to vendors a request for qualifications for information technology for the insurance exchange for individual consumers. Sanders co-chairs the marketplace’s legislative oversight committee.

Late last month, the Nevada Health Co-op became the third casualty among 23 insurance start-ups created under the federal health care law to inject competition for coverage in certain parts of the country.

Set up as nonprofits with consumer-led boards, the co-ops were designed to provide affordable insurance coverage to individuals and small businesses. They were intended under the law to offer alternatives — and hopefully cheaper prices — to the plans sold by large established insurance companies in some regions.

For Eau Claire County farmer and Wisconsin Farmers Union member Ed Gorell, raising calves is a way of life. For many years, rising health insurance costs were, too. But thanks to the Affordable Care Act, he and his wife, Kristi, are worrying a bit less about high premiums these days.

In Barron County, Mike Racette and his wife, Patty Wright, both toil in the fields on their community-supported agriculture farm. Because farming is considered a dangerous occupation by insurers, for years they struggled to find an affordable policy. Today, they’re saving thousands of dollars annually on insurance, thanks to the ACA’s health care exchanges.