Obamacare Initiative Targets 500,000 Signups in First Month

Enrollment projections for the online marketplaces were high before countless computer glitches came into play. With the rollout of new ACA provisions, the Obama administration estimated that in October alone almost 500,000 people would sign up to participate in the new health insurance marketplace.

An internal memo issued on September 5 by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius listed monthly enrollment goals for Obamacare for each state, including Washington, D.C., up until March 31. Within the memo was an estimate provided by officials, stating that 494,620 people would enroll in the new healthcare initiative by the end of October.

These new health insurance markets, also known as exchanges in some states, were created to serve as accessible outlets to affordable coverage for the nearly 50 million uninsured people across the country. Four tiers of private, subsidized plans are available for middle-class individuals, while low-income consumers may be eligible for an expanded version of Medicaid that is available in states that have agreed to extend the program.

While the White House viewed the official launch of the new healthcare marketplace as a pressing priority, the October 1 rollout was quickly complicated with countless computer glitches. Consequently, several potential customers were unable to enroll for coverage. Although insurers have reported that signups have slowly been rolling through, the Obama administration still will not reveal enrollment numbers.

Aside from these glitches, other factors that may created enrollment issues were underlying problems that were bypassed in initial testing. As several users flocked online to sign up for the new coverage plans, software flaws and design mishaps that had been ignored earlier soon derailed the enrollment process. Regardless, the administration continues to work toward finding a solution to eliminating ongoing enrollment issues.

Final Obamacare Regulations are in Place

Of the many provisions found in the Affordable Care Act, none is as contentious as the individual mandate. This provision, which requires that affected American purchase health insurance or pay a fine, goes into effect January 1, 2014. The Obama administration released the final regulations for the healthcare reform mandate earlier this week; however, these regulations indicate that the individual mandate will not be the healthcare enforcer that both proponents and opponents claim it to be.

The individual mandate will require taxpayers to cover their dependents (as reported on annual tax returns) or assume the fine for not doing so. The employer mandate, meanwhile, does not require employers to offer insurance for dependents. This could potentially force many individuals to seek supplemental health coverage for their spouses and children in the healthcare marketplace.

In addition, any employer-sponsored coverage will largely meet the mandate’s threshold of “minimum essential coverage”. This has already led to employers offering low-cost plans that cover very few services, and will be a strong incentive to other employers to follow suit.

Both of these are troubling characteristics of a hugely unpopular mandate. Other regulations, though, exempt as much as 40 percent of the population from the individual mandate; people exempt from the individual mandate include:

• The elderly, whose higher premiums and lower income may drive the cost of their coverage over the established limit of eight percent of household income (though a much lower income will qualify individuals for tax subsidies, in which case the mandate applies);
• Those who don’t file IRS tax returns;
• “Members of recognized religious sects” – these protected populations belong to groups such as the Amish that have existed since the end of 1950 and whose tenets are opposed to taking advantage of benefits such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid in addition to health and life insurance plans;
• American Indians – members of recognized Indian tribes already receive government health care through the Indian Health Service.

The prescribed fine (the loftily-titled “Shared Responsibility Payment for Not Maintaining Minimum Essential Coverage”) for failing to purchase health care is itself minimal compared to the potential costs of purchasing outside health coverage. Each taxpayer is responsible for their individual fine as well as the fines for up to two dependents. The fine will increase parallel with cost-of-living adjustments, from the greater of $95/1% of income to the greater $695/2.5% of income per person from 2014-2016.

Even so, the fine’s increase is still smaller than annual insurance premium increases historically. It may be a better financial decision for some people to pay the fine and continue without coverage. Furthermore, the IRS is specifically prohibited from penalizing non-exempt taxpayers who fail to purchase health care or pay the fine; the only thing they are able to do is withhold the fine from your tax return (if you don’t file, see above).

The effectiveness of the individual mandate remains to be seen for consumers, facilities, and vendors, but combined with the employer mandate we will see a large number of new enrollments in healthcare plans around the country.

To ease the transition, and offset the added cost of exempt or non-compliant patients, consider healthcare factoring to keep your cash flow sound.

Employers Shift Health Care Cost Increases to Employees

Kaiser Family Foundation released their 2013 Employer Health Benefits Survey last week. One of their primary findings, according to Bloomberg Businessweek, is that small business owners are providing healthcare benefits to their employees at close to the same rate as they were last year, belying the contention by ACA opponents that benefits would decrease.

However, they are doing so in what Kaiser Family Foundation CEO Drew Altman calls it “a quiet revolution in health insurance from more comprehensive to less comprehensive with higher deductibles.” Higher out-of-pocket costs for employees are seen to offset the rising costs on the employers’ end of providing the healthcare.

Though premiums for family plans only increased by four percent since last year, they have still increased at a higher rate than employees’ take-home pay. Higher premiums, higher deductibles, and comparably lower paychecks are likely to cause concern among families facing a difficult time paying for medical care.

While it isn’t yet clear if these higher-deductible plans will meet the ACA’s requirements for affordable care, in the short run the added financial strain may very well extend beyond the policyholders to their healthcare providers. Hospitals and other medical facilities may delay or withhold payment of invoices as they wait for their patients to pay, creating a gap in cash flow that will be difficult for many small businesses to overcome.

Get ahead of the problem with medical receivables factoring. Same-day cash advances will allow you to continue providing excellent service to medical providers and stop rising healthcare costs from sinking your small business.

Obamacare Greatly Boosting Areas of Healthcare Staffing

Obamacare has been receiving plenty of criticism due to accusations that the health care law will hurt employees by eliminating positions or reducing hours to part-time. While the actual effects are still relatively unknown, staffing recruiters and HR professionals are confident that Obamacare will help drive job growth in certain areas.

Since PRN Funding works with numerous healthcare staffing companies, let’s take a look at the positions that are prepping for fast growth in the healthcare realm.

1. Nurse practitioners and physician assistants
Due to an increased demand for routine checkups and preventative medicine, physician services are set to increase at least 2 to 3 percent by next year. Nurse practitioners and physician assistants can perform similar services for the fraction of the cost of a doctor. Not to mention, general physicians are still in short supply and take much longer to enter the workforce. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts the demand for PA’s will swell by 30 percent and staffing for registered nurses will increase 26 percent by 2020.

2. Medical billing coders
Healthcare IT staffing will be huge. Combine the requirements for healthcare facilities to transition to electronic health records and comply with a new medical coding system (ICD-10) with millions of newly insured patients and you have a recipe for lots of jobs to fill.

The International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10) will include a staggering 69,000 diagnostic codes and physicians will be required to submit claims with the new codes starting Oct. 1, 2014 if they want to get paid. Lots of healthcare IT staffing will be necessary to build these codes into the electronic health records software. According to Staffing Industry Analysts, medical coding is one of the hottest jobs right now.

3. Occupational therapists
Occupational therapists make appropriate modifications to the homes and workplaces of the disabled to accommodate their mobility needs. Since Obamacare prohibits insurance companies from denying coverage, more disabled people will be able to take advantage of health insurance coverage. The BLS forecasts a 43 percent spike in occupational therapy employment by 2020.

4. Wellness and fitness coaching
The need for health education specialists is expected to rise by 37 percent in 2020, according to the BLS. Many employers will want to encourage healthy lifestyles, so the demand for workplace wellness programs will skyrocket.

Aside from healthcare staffing, Obamacare is also expected to help spur career growth for payroll service providers, computer programmers, lawyers, insurance consultants, customer service reps and human resources professionals.

The Affordable Care Act: 5 Changes Healthcare Organizations Must Know

Recently, the U.S Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has issued final rules applying some crucial consumer protections from the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The intention of lawmakers and government bureaucrats when drafting the Affordable Care Act legislation was to enrich health care benefits. Under the final rule, all individuals and employers will have the ability to buy health insurance coverage no matter what their health status may be.

Insurers will also be stopped from charging discriminatory rates to people and small employers based on reasons like health status or gender. The HHS is now demanding that most health plans include the following requirements by 2014:

1. Reasonable Health Insurance Premiums
Coverage offered to individuals by health insurance companies will only be allowed to vary their premiums based on age, tobacco use, family size, and geography; to base the premium on factors other than those will be illegal.

2. Availability
Almost all health insurers that offer coverage to individuals and employers will have to sell health insurance policies to all consumers; no one can be deprived of health insurance because of a current or past sickness.

3. Renewability
Under the new rules, health insurers will not be able to refuse to renew coverage due to a person becoming sick. Consumers hold the power to choose to renew coverage.

4. Single Risk Pool
Health insurance companies won’t be able to charge higher premiums to higher cost consumers by placing them into separate risk pools. The insurers will need to have a single statewide risk pool for the individual market and one for the small group market.

5. Catastrophic Plans
Consumers will have the right to a catastrophic plan in the individual market. The plan will typically have lower premiums, protection against high out-of-pocket costs, and include recommended preventive services without cost sharing.

When these ACA requirements go into effect in 2014, expect a substantial increase in patient volume. Whether you view healthcare reform as positive or negative, it could prove beneficial to nurse staffing and other forms of healthcare staffing.

Healthcare Options for Small Businesses are Limited until 2015

The Obama administration recently verified that part of the 2010 health-care law geared toward helping small businesses offer insurance to their employees will be pushed off by a year.

The department overseeing Medicaid and Medicare announced that the launch of the federal SHOP Exchange, an online marketplace where businesses with less than 50 workers would be able to buy insurance for their employees and get a tax credit, would be on track for Oct. 1. However, the initial expectation that employees would be able to choose from a variety of plans has been quelled as they will only have one option for a plan. The full selection of healthcare plan options won’t be available until 2015.

The postponement recommended earlier in the year upset some business supporters and provoked questions about whether the administration was lagging on the implementation of the healthcare law.

While large companies will be obligated to provide insurance starting next year under the law, it will be optional for those with less than 50 employees. John Arensmeyer, head of the Small Business Majority, an advocacy group that supports the health law, said the news would probably deter some companies from offering insurance to their employees.

States that already established their own health insurance exchanges won’t be impacted by the delay.

Home Health Care Reform

Changes in healthcare are taking place all throughout the country, including the home. According to Healthcare Finance News, The Alliance for Quality Home Care (AQHC) recently outlined its new policy on post-acute healthcare reform. Post-acute healthcare refers to home care that people receive when they are not sick enough to be in the hospital, but need medical attention and help with daily activities. The AQHC outlined three main objectives of their plan:

Patient Needs First: The needs of patients must be the driver of reform. The reform is intended to integrate systems and put all people involved in home care on the same page with aligned incentives, rather than mixed incentives, in order to match each patient individually with their needs.

Payment Tied to Quality: Performance metrics must be developed that better apply across all care sectors, and also keep the “big picture” of total care in mind to see how each caregiver is performing in context. High performers get compensated for their work, which will encourage only the best care.

Adequate Payment: While not easy to accomplish in times of budget cuts, with the proper structure in place adequate compensation can be given. This requires looking at situations that providers face and making cuts accordingly, not across the board.

For the full article, see Nursing Home Alliance Offers Post-Acute System Reform