What’s New in Health Care Reform: Oct. 25

The Week in Review provides an overview of the past week’s top health care content, including industry news and trends, Mayo Clinic and Mayo Medical Laboratories news, and upcoming events.

White House Considering Bipartisan Drug Price Task Force

President Donald Trump is considering launching a bipartisan task force to investigate the rising cost of prescription drugs, sources with knowledge of the discussion say. Via Roll Call.

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ACA Enrollment Schedule May Lock Millions into Unwanted Health Plans

Millions of Americans with insurance through the Affordable Care Act could find themselves locked into health plans they do not want for the coming year because of the Trump administration’s schedule for the enrollment season that starts in less than two weeks. The complication arises when people who already have health plans under the law are automatically re-enrolled in the same plan. In the past, a few million consumers each year have been auto-enrolled and then were sent government notices encouraging them to check whether they could find better or more affordable coverage. Via Washington Post.

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Health Insurers’ Most Pressing Concern Right Now? Consumer Confusion.

Health insurers heading into the 2018 Affordable Care Act enrollment season say they’re staying laser focused on maximizing sign-ups, even as Republicans remain in disarray and even denial over the seven-year-old health-care law. A big funding infusion that could help lower Obamacare premiums is in flux just 12 days before enrollment starts. President Trump sent mixed signals this week about whether he’d support legislation funding subsidies for lower-income Americans to get coverage. A compromise measure crafted by Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) was embraced by two dozen Senate Democrats and Republicans. Via Washington Post.

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Administration Sends Mixed Signals on State Health Insurance Waivers

Oklahoma's situation isn't unique. Of the eight states that have applied for waivers under the Affordable Care Act to strengthen their health insurance markets, only two have been granted in full—one before Trump took office and one just days after he was sworn in and before his Health and Human Services Secretary was confirmed. Two other applications remain incomplete, but several have been plagued by delays and partial approvals. Some health care analysts say the delays and denials are part of a pattern of actions by the Trump administration to undermine the ACA insurance markets. Via NPR.

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Democratic Officials Seek Fast Rescue for Obamacare Payments

The court fight over the Trump administration’s move to halt Obamacare subsidy payments is escalating. Led by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and New York’s Eric Schneiderman, a Democratic coalition representing 18 states and the District of Columbia asked a federal judge to temporarily block the White House from ending so-called cost-sharing reduction payments to health insurers under the Affordable Care Act. Via Bloomberg.

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Children's Insurance Extension May Not Happen until December

Federal funding for the Children's Health Insurance Program ran out at the end of last month, and several states have already said they need stopgap funding. But there's a good chance Congress won't be able to get a bill to President Trump's desk before December. Bottom line: Only a handful of states will exhaust their funds this year, but 27 more are on track to run out of money in the first quarter of 2018. Via Axios.

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AMA Study Says Competition among Health Insurers Is Shrinking

A single health insurance company dominates the commercial insurance market in more than 4 in 10 of the nation's metropolitan areas, according to an analysis by the American Medical Association. The study released showed that competition among health insurers continues to shrink, despite several proposed mergers falling through earlier this year, including deals between Aetna and Humana, and Anthem, and Cigna. Previous studies have shown that consolidation among insurers leads to lower payments for doctors and higher premiums for patients. Via Modern Healthcare.

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Judge: Trump’s Health Care Costs Don’t Pose Immediate Threat

A federal judge hammered an attorney for California over the state’s push for a court order immediately reinstating “Obamacare” subsidies cut off by the Trump administration, saying California and other states had protected consumers from the loss of the funding. U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria did not issue a ruling but appeared highly skeptical of the request by California, 17 other states and the District of Columbia to force the government to make the payments as their lawsuit over the subsidies works its way through the courts, which will take months. Via AP.

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Iowa Drops Stopgap Health Insurance Proposal, with Sign-Ups Set to begin Nov. 1

Iowa leaders pulled the plug on their “stopgap” proposal to try to shore up the state’s rickety market for individual health insurance policies. With open enrollment set to start in less than two weeks, the state could no longer wait to hear if federal officials would approve the plan, which would have rewritten significant Affordable Care Act rules on how federal subsidy money is used. Via Des Moines Register.

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Few Changes in Medicare Plans for 2018; 2019 Is Another Story

As the annual shopping season begins for Medicare health plans, seniors in Minnesota are finding more health plan options for 2018 plus premiums that in many cases are either stable or declining. Open enrollment started October 15, and all five insurance companies that currently sell Medicare health plans in the state will have new offerings for next year. The annual shopping period ends December 7, and in some ways looks to be the calm before the storm. Most of the popular Medicare Cost plans currently used by more than 350,000 Minnesotans are scheduled to go away in 2019 but will remain through the end of the current open enrollment period. Via Star Tribune.

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Andy Tofilon

Andy Tofilon is a Marketing Segment Manager at Mayo Clinic Laboratories.

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