Tag Archives: uninsured

Window-Shopping for 2015 Health Plans

Potential Obamacare customers can peek at 2015 prices for the program’s health plans today after the government said it would release a “window-shopping” feature overnight.

The preview feature, added to the government’s revamped healthcare.gov website, is intended to ease pressure on the system by allowing curious consumers a look at prices for health plans a week before enrollment begins. Last year, consumers who tried to use the website were met with errors and delays that prevented millions from signing up for several months.

Challenges are mounting for the second year of enrollment in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act as Republicans gained control of Congress last week and the Supreme Court announced it will consider whether a key feature, subsidies to reduce the cost of insurance, should be available to all Americans. The Obama administration, meanwhile, must simultaneously persuade more than 7 million existing customers to renew and sign up millions more uninsured people.

“We have been working in a number of areas to raise the bar,” Andy Slavitt, the deputy director of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which runs healthcare.gov, told reporters Sunday on a conference call to preview the feature. “Our principal focus is to bring people back to the website so they can update their information and shop for the best values. That’s our principal focus, is to get people to come back.”

Confused Americans

Consumer confusion is high about this year’s enrollment period, which begins Nov. 15. About 90% of uninsured people surveyed in October by the Kaiser Family Foundation said they didn’t know when they could sign up for coverage. And about 51% of people who tried out federal and state enrollment systems last year said they wouldn’t return, according to a Nov. 3 Bankrate.com survey.

To read more, click here.

Jeffrey R. Ungvary President

Jeffrey R. Ungvary

Severe Respiratory Illness Hitting Children, More Families Covered

Federal health officials are asking physicians to watch for clusters of a rare and severe respiratory illness that is landing children in the hospital and hitting children with asthma particularly hard. The enterovirus D68, or EV-D68, has led to increases in pediatric ER visits, hospitalizations and intensive care-unit stays in Kansas City and Chicago, and clusters are being investigated in at least 12 U.S. states, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday.

Enteroviruses are not rare; there are more than 100 types that lead to about 10 million to 15 million infections each year, according to federal health officials. However, little is known about the particular EV-D68 strain confirmed in large clusters in Illinois and Missouri, Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said Monday.

Unlike other enteroviruses, which are also associated with mild respiratory illness, febrile rash illness and neurologic conditions, EV-D68 primarily causes respiratory illness. The CDC said physicians and nursing staff should consider laboratory testing for enterovirus when the cause of infection in a severely ill patient is unclear. Hospitals seeing increases in the number of patients with severe respiratory conditions are encouraged to contact state health departments or the CDC to help with typing.

Coverage for the uninsured:

As the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families found that the uninsured rate for children remained at historically low levels—close to 7 percent—but did not decline further for children under age 18 between September 2013 and June 2014. However, this national snapshot does not capture all of the fluctuations in children’s coverage that may be occurring across the country in particular states; we will have to wait for data from federal sources to have a definitive assessment of how coverage is changing at the state level.

Moreover, there are reasons to believe that coverage for children will grow in future years under the ACA, particularly if current levels of Medicaid and CHIP eligibility are maintained. Because the majority of uninsured children appear to be eligible for Medicaid or CHIP coverage but are not currently enrolled, the Medicaid and CHIP programs have the potential to drive further reductions in the uninsured rate among children.

To read more about enterovirus, click here.

To read more about uninsured children and families, click here.

Jeffrey R. Ungvary President

Jeffrey R. Ungvary

Hospital Systems Scaling Back Financial Assistance

Hospital systems around the country have started scaling back financial assistance for lower- and middle-income people without health insurance, hoping to push them into signing up for coverage through the new online marketplaces created under the Affordable Care Act.

The trend is troubling to advocates for the uninsured, who say raising fees will inevitably cause some to skip care rather than buy insurance that they consider unaffordable. Though the number of hospitals tightening access to free or discounted care appears limited so far, many say they are considering doing so, and experts predict that stricter policies will become increasingly common.

Driving the new policies is the cost of charity care, which is partly covered by government but remains a burden for many hospitals. The new law also reduces federal aid to hospitals that treat large numbers of poor and uninsured people, creating an additional pressure on some to restrict charity care.

In St. Louis, Barnes-Jewish Hospital has started charging co-payments to uninsured patients, no matter how poor they are. The Southern New Hampshire Medical Center in Nashua no longer provides free care for most uninsured patients who are above the federal poverty line — $11,670 for an individual. And in Burlington, Vt., Fletcher Allen Health Care has reduced financial aid for uninsured patients who earn between twice and four times the poverty level.

By tightening requirements for charity care, hospital executives say, they hope to encourage eligible people to obtain low-cost insurance through the subsidized private plans now available under the law.

“Do we allow our charity care programs to kick in if people are unwilling to sign up?” said Nancy M. Schlichting, chief executive of the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit. “Our inclination is to say we will not, because it just seems that that defeats the purpose of what the Affordable Care Act has put in place.”

But advocates for the uninsured point out that many Americans avoided obtaining coverage in the inaugural enrollment period of the Affordable Care Act this year because they found the plans too expensive, even with subsidies. Many uninsured people also remain unaware of the new insurance options, And immigrants who are in the country illegally are not even eligible to apply.

To read more, click here.

Jeffrey R. Ungvary


Jeffrey R. Ungvary