Insurance

News on the state's largest health insurers; the effects of health care reform on coverage; rising premium costs.

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Mass. Seeks $80M More From Feds For Health Website

Massachusetts will ask the federal government for another $80 million to build a new health insurance shopping website tied to the Affordable Care Act.

Massachusetts received $174 million for multi-state planning and a website that never worked.
The state has about $65 million left, but says it will need the additional money to build a new site.

So the total cost of the site — which is expected to be ready for the next open enrollment period that begins Nov. 15 — will be roughly $254 million. If the federal government agrees to the additional expense, it would end up spending about $224 million for the insurance exchange. The balance, about $30 million, would come out of the state’s capital budget.*

Project directors from hCentive, the company building out the new site, walked the Health Connector board through a demo Thursday morning. There were a few glitches, but a sample user was able to compare plans and enroll. The site has not been tested yet with the hundreds of users who are expected to log in when the next open enrollment period begins on Nov. 15. Continue reading

Mass. Pledges New State-Run Insurance Website Will Work

The decision is in: Massachusetts will go with a new state-run health insurance website.

The Patrick administration revealed Friday that it is no longer building out the option of sending residents shopping for coverage to the federal health insurance site, HealthCare.gov.

“We are poised to offer consumers a streamlined, single point-of-entry shopping experience for health care plans in time for fall 2014 Open Enrollment,” Gov. Deval Patrick wrote in a letter to federal officials, dated Thursday.

About 450,000 residents are expected to use the state’s new site, built with the Virginia-based company hCentive, when it is set to go live Nov. 15. The residents include:

– at least 251,000 residents who’ve tried to enroll for free or subsidized coverage since last October and are in a temporary plan through MassHealth (this coverage expires Dec. 31);

– another 98,000 people who were in Commonwealth Care when the website failed and have remained in those plans (this coverage also expires Dec. 31);

– and residents who purchase private insurance through the Health Connector.

Many of these people are wary of state promises. They waited months after applying for coverage online, not sure if they had health insurance. Continue reading

Mass. Substance Abuse Bill Responds To Tide Of Sadness And Fear

Massachusetts State House (Wikimedia Commons)

Massachusetts State House (Wikimedia Commons)

In response to stories that seem to be on the rise in communities across the state — stories of parents trying to revive children after a heroin overdose, of young people seeking treatment their insurance plan won’t cover, and of babies born addicted to opiates — state lawmakers on the last day of their formal session approved a bill they say will help save the lives of those addicted to heroin, prescription painkillers and alcohol.

The measure, among several major bills passed just after midnight Friday, requires insurers to pay for any care a doctor decides is medically necessary. Insurers say this and other requirements included in the bill are a mistake.

In outlining the House and Senate compromise on the substance abuse bill Thursday afternoon, Sen. John Keenan of Quincy talked about his father.

“He was a good, decent, hard-working man, he was a great husband, a great father, but he was an alcoholic.” Keenan remembered an afternoon when his family told his father he had to get help. His dad resisted, but finally agreed. Someone got on the phone and found him a bed in a treatment program that was paid for by the Keenan’s insurance plan.

“That very day changed lives. My father had 26 years of sobriety before he passed away last year,” Keenan said. “He had 26 years with my mother, 26 years as a great father, 26 years with his seven children and their spouses, and 26 years as a great papa to his 20 grandchildren. So this can work.”

“This” being a requirement that insurers pay for up to 14 days of overnight detox and rehabilitation treatment as well as counseling, medication and any other services a clinician says are “medically necessary.”

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New Concerns About Coakley-Partners Deal

There are new concerns about an agreement Attorney General Martha Coakley negotiated to try and control the prices and market power of Partners HealthCare. The implication, from a commission created to help reduce health spending, is that the deal does not go far enough.

“Without lasting change to the market structures,” the Health Policy Commission (HPC) writes in comments to be filed in court, “price caps may not be effective in keeping costs down.”

Price caps?

The commission dug in on a portion of the deal Coakley reached with Partners — the part that says network prices could not rise faster than inflation for six and a half years.

“Prices themselves, they are important,” said commission chairman Stuart Altman, “but they’re not the end of the game.”

To explain why, picture a colleague, neighbor, maybe your grandmother — someone who’s had hip replacement surgery. Now picture two hospitals.

“In one place,” said Altman, “a hip costs $10,000 to replace. In another, it’s $15,000.”

Under Coakley’s deal, prices at each of these Partners hospitals would rise slowly. But there’s nothing to keep Partners from sending more patients to the $15,000 facility. If more patients have hips replaced at the higher-cost hospital, then total health care costs would go up, even if prices don’t.

“Total medical expenditures, when we finally figure it out, is going to up by a lot, but yet the price increases were fine,” Altman said.

Coakley would have someone monitoring Partners, who could, in theory, intervene if a significant number of patients shift from lower- to higher-cost hospitals. But that monitor would only have access to spending for patients covered by a global budget, which Partners says is about 25 percent of its business.
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Judge Delays Review Of Partners HealthCare Deal

Update 6:35 p.m.: A judge has granted Attorney General Martha Coakley’s request for an extension. The comment period will now close Sept. 15, and Coakley will have until Sept. 25 to file comments from her office after seeing the full Health Policy Commission report. A new hearing has been set for Sept. 29.

Our original post continues:

BOSTON — Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley is asking a judge to postpone reviewing a settlement between her office and Partners HealthCare that would allow the hospital network to acquire three new hospitals.

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley (Steven Senne/AP/File)

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley (Steven Senne/AP/File)

Coakley’s motion asks a judge to wait until September to hold a hearing on the deal, which aims to limit the market clout of the state’s largest hospital network in exchange for allowing it to acquire South Shore Hospital and Hallmark Health.

A spokesman for the attorney general says Coakley has seen findings from a preliminary review of the deal from the state’s Health Policy Commission, and she believes the court should consider the full report.

The statement reads in full:

Our office always retained the option to seek to renegotiate portions of this agreement as it relates to Hallmark following a Final Report by the Health Policy Commission.  After reviewing the preliminary findings by the HPC, we believe it is in the interest of the public and the parties involved to wait for the final report before any final consent judgment is considered by the court.

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Cautious Optimism That New State Insurance Site Will Work

connector

An image from a previous interface for the Connector.

The first test of a new Massachusetts health insurance website was a success, a top state official says, leaving him cautiously optimistic that it will be up and running for a critical Nov. 15 deadline. That’s Opening Day for anyone who plans to buy insurance through the Health Connector, or is seeking free or subsidized coverage.

But Maydad Cohen, a top aide to Gov. Deval Patrick, says he’s not sure yet if the site, developed by hCentive, will be ready. So the state will continue to build out both a state and federal option for one more month. If the hCentive site clears a second test in early August, Massachusetts will drop plans to merge with the federal HealthCare.gov for 2015. Work would continue on the state site so that it would be ready for 2016.

Cohen is scheduled to update the Connector board Thursday morning, two months after the state gave up on the idea of trying to fix a site built by Canada-based CGI that never worked.

Some 230,000 residents who could not sign up for insurance online were placed in a temporary coverage plan because the state could not figure out what, if any, insurance assistance program they might qualify for. Each of those men and women will have to a reapply through a new site this November. And 101,000 residents who qualified for subsidized coverage last year, and whose plans have been extended this year, will also have to apply again.

Cohen says the cost of building out two options will be less than the original $121 million estimate, but he can’t say how much. An update on how much the state is spending to keep 230,000 people in temporary coverage is expected at Thursday’s board meeting.

AG Deal With Partners Filed In Court: Restricts Growth, Costs

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley on Tuesday reached an agreement with Partners HealthCare that she says will alter the hospital network’s negotiating power for years to come.

The deal would resolve an antitrust investigation by the attorney general’s office and ultimately allow Partners to acquire South Shore Hospital.

“Our office was the first to shine a light on the ability of Partners to charge higher prices based on its negotiating power,” Coakley said in a statement. “Today’s resolution is the first action of its kind to directly address that market dysfunction.”

But many in the health care industry say they’re frustrated and angry about the process.

The Rev. Burns Stanfield, president of the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization, says the group is disappointed the agreement bypassed the state’s Health Policy Commission

“A proper review would need to have the agreement available before it is submitted to the judge, and for the Health Policy Commission to be invited to weigh in,” he said.

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A New Way To Shop For A Primary Care Doctor In Mass.

A screenshot of MHQP's new Healthcare Compass website.

A screenshot of MHQP’s new Healthcare Compass website.

Massachusetts Health Quality Partners is launching what it hopes will be a more user friendly way for the public to use information it has gathered on primary care doctors’ offices for years.

MHQP has been publishing reports for almost a decade that compare physician groups based on the experience of their patients as well as how well they treat depression, asthma, diabetes, heart disease and screen for cancer. But the reports, which gather information from 65,000 patients and commercial insurance records, did not get a lot of attention from patients.

On Healthcare Compass, MHQP’s new website, patients can search for a primary care doctor by ZIP code or a physician’s name. But keep in mind, the site rates practices, not individual physicians.

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Health Care Leaders Call For Closer Scrutiny Of Partners Deal

In an unusual, perhaps unprecedented move, leaders from across the health care industry are calling for closer scrutiny of a deal that would cap prices for Partners HealthCare in the short term but would let the state’s largest hospital network add four more hospitals.

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley (Steven Senne/AP/File)

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley (Steven Senne/AP/File)

The deal that is fueling letters, analysis, statements and meetings is between Partners HealthCare and Attorney General Martha Coakley. She says it will limit Partners’ clout and the health care “Goliath’s” (her word) ability to drive up costs. That might be true. But no one has seen any details. The only thing made public is a press release. The public deserves to have more information about such a significant health care industry transaction, says Health Care for All director Amy Whitcomb Slemmer.

“There are a number of unknowns that have a direct impact on the care that will be delivered in Massachusetts and on costs, particularly, the impact to people’s pocketbooks,” Whitcomb Slemmer said.

Coakley has said that the details would be available when the agreement is filed in court. That was supposed to be next week. But Health Care for All, the Massachusetts Association of Health Plans, the National Federation of Independent Businesses/Massachusetts, the Retailers Association of Massachusetts and the state’s largest employer group, Associated Industries of Massachusetts, are all calling for a delay that would allow time for a public review.

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Latest Look Finds Mass. Near Zero Percent Without Health Insurance

When Massachusetts passed its landmark health coverage law under Gov. Mitt Romney in 2006, no one claimed the state would get to zero, as in 0 percent of residents who are uninsured. But numbers out today suggest Massachusetts is very close.

Between December 2013 and March of this year, when the federal government was urging people to enroll, the number of Massachusetts residents signed up for health coverage increased by more than 215,000. If that number holds, the percentage of Massachusetts residents who do not have coverage has dropped to less than 1 percent.

Click to see the full enrollment trends document from the Massachusetts Center for Health Information and Analysis.

Click to see the full enrollment trends document from the Massachusetts Center for Health Information and Analysis.

“We’re thrilled that we are getting this close to universal health care access,” said  the Rev. Burns Stanfield, president of the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization.

Stanfield says a report out last month that found mortality rates dropped in the first four years of expanded coverage, coupled with the insurance numbers, show that “our statewide move to universal access is working, and it’s a powerful witness to the nation.”

You won’t hear that kind of enthusiasm from the state, at least not on the record yet.

“These numbers are a sign that we are moving in the right direction, but there is still a lot of uncertainty about what they will ultimately mean to the total level of health insurance coverage in Massachusetts,” said Aron Boros, director of the Center for Health Information and Analysis, the state agency that tallied the latest insurance figures.

Uncertainty might be an understatement. One insurance insider says there is chaos behind the scenes. Most of the new enrollees are in a temporary coverage plan because the state, with its failed website, has not been able to figure out if these people qualify for free or subsidized care.

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