KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

New Details Emerge On Health Law Spending, Effects On Business

News outlets examine how some businesses are dropping their cheapest health plans and steering employees to the new health insurance online exchanges. Others explore how insurers are responding to new rules and the cost of the Obamacare exchanges.

The Wall Street Journal: Firms Drop, Rather Than Upgrade, Cheapest Health Plans
The nation's largest provider of security guards plans to discontinue its lowest-cost health plans and steer roughly 55,000 workers to new government-sponsored insurance exchanges for coverage next year, in the latest sign of the fraying ties between employment and health care (Thurm, 9/25).

The Denver Post/Associated Press: Small Business Nearing Deadline On Employee Health Insurance
A critical date is approaching for small business owners: Starting Oct. 1, they must make decisions about employee health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. All companies have obligations under the ACA, no matter how many workers they have or whether they plan to provide insurance. They must provide information about insurance to employees. They need to think about what kind of insurance to provide, and whether to get it through a broker or to use the state or federal exchanges known as SHOP, or the Small Business Health Insurance Options Program (Rosenberg, 9/26).

CNN: Fact Check: Obamacare Forcing Small Businesses Overseas
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, during September 24 speech on Senate floor: "I would ask you to take each of those small business owners and multiply it by the millions of small business owners across this country. The millions of small business owners who aren't growing, the millions of small business owners who are forcing their employees, forcibly reducing their hours to 29 hours a week, the millions of small business owners who are considering moving operations overseas or have already because of Obamacare."  Verdict: False. There is no doubt that Obamacare has had some impact on small business hiring. But Cruz wildly overstates the case (9/25).

CNN: Fact Check: UPS Dropping Coverage For Spouses
Several employers – including UPS, Delta, Univ of Virginia, Trader Joes, Home Depot – have recently announced changes to their employee benefits and cited Obamacare as the reason for the pullback. While it is true that Obamacare is raising costs on employers, there are other factors increasing costs, such as the improving economy. Verdict: Misleading. Obamacare is contributing to the benefit cuts, but is not the sole reason (9/25).

Healthy Cal: Agriculture Businesses Struggle To Comply With Affordable Care Act
Agricultural businesses and the insurance companies that serve them are scrambling to prepare for the changes that health care reform will bring over the next few years. Many smaller farmers struggle with the details of the Affordable Care Act, such as how to count seasonal farmworkers to determine who they must insure. Employers of more than 50 will face fines if they don’t insure eligible workers. Meanwhile, three of California’s agricultural-focused health insurance providers required waivers from ACA rules to continue operation. Those waivers expire next year (Griffy, 9/26).

In the meantime, an audit of IRS spending on the health law calls on the Obama administration to keep closer watch of the money it spends on the rollout --

Fox News: IRS Failed To Account for $67M In Obamacare Costs, Report Says 
The Internal Revenue Service is unable to account for $67 million in spending related to the implementation of ObamaCare, according to an IRS watchdog report released Wednesday. The report by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration said the money was part of a $488 million fund established to cover implementation costs between 2010 through 2012 (9/26).

Reuters: IRS Struggles To Track Its 'Obamacare' Spending: Watchdog
With Congress debating whether to take funding away from the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration said in an audit that the IRS failed to account for some of the agency's spending to implement the law. Federal agencies must report their spending so there is an accurate measure of the full cost of government programs. The IRS did not report $67 million in costs the agency incurred for employees who were working on the healthcare law for fiscal 2010 through 2012, the report said (Temple-West, 9/25).

How insurers respond to new requirements also gets scrutiny --

Baltimore Sun: Maryland Insurance Administration Issues Warning About Renewing Policies Early
According to the Maryland Insurance Administration, consumers who buy health insurance directly from an insurer or an HMO may get a letter telling them to renew earlier than their regular renewal date. The reason, the regulator said, is that policies renewed before January don’t have to have new consumer protections required under the health care law, such as coverage for pre-existing conditions. … Another reason not to renew early: You might have to start all over again to meet the deductible before insurance starts paying for your care, the insurance administration said. And insurance companies wonder why they get such a bad rap (Ambrose, 9/26).

Kaiser Health News: Consumer Groups Criticize Anthem's Narrow Network In Missouri’s Obamacare Marketplace
Patient advocates say the exclusion of one of Missouri's top hospital systems from policies offered by the region's biggest insurer under the Affordable Care Act could hinder treatment for some patients and force others to switch doctors (Hancock, 9/26).

The law's costs and problems are also examined --

Fox News: Report: Obamacare Exchanges Costing $558M 
A new report on the economic and regulatory burden of ObamaCare shows the health care law’s so-called insurance “exchanges” has resulted in the federal government spending an additional $558 million and 16.6 million more hours on paperwork. “These results should not be surprising,” American Action Forum, a conservative advocacy group, said in its report released on Wednesday. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is a “massive piece of legislation … . It is clear that this ‘fundamental reform’ has produced more red tape, additional complexity and higher costs” (9/25).

The Fiscal Times: 5 Obamacare Problems That Should Have Been Fixed 
While some unanticipated malfunctions and technical errors are par for the course when creating such a vast system, fault lines that health care advocates have been warning about for months or years still show no sign of being corrected before open enrollment launches next week, although federal and state employees are said to be troubleshooting. Here are the top five Obamacare mistakes that should have been fixed by now (Braverman, 9/25).

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