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About those Obamacare numbers and the ICD-10 delay

While I’ve been busy writing a couple of stories on different topics, you’ve probably heard two pieces of news that will affect healthcare providers nationwide: the close of the first open enrollment period for Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act insurance exchanges and the Congressional “fix” (read “Band-Aid”) to the Medicare sustainable growth rate that statutorily delays the ICD-10 compliance deadline for another year, until October 2015.

The White House yesterday reported that 7.1 million people had signed up for health insurance through healthcare.gov or state-run exchanges, barely exceeding the Congressional Budget Office’s projection of 7 million. Independent tracking site ACAsignups.net says it’s more like 7.08 million, but still just above the goal. That site also tallies the following sign-ups as a result of the ACA:

  • 6.37 million – 12.45 million in private “qualified health plans” (plans that meet ACA standards) via private exchanges, insurance agents or direct purchases from insurers, including deductions for the estimated 3.7 million whose “noncompliant” policies were canceled;
  • 4.71 million – 6.49 million through Medicaid/Children’s Health Insurance Program expansions;
  • 2.5 million – 3.1 million “sub-26ers,” young adults whom the ACA allows to stay on their parents’ health insurance until age 26; and
  • 1.8 million “woodworkers,” those who came out of the woodwork because they did not know before the Obamacare enrollment push that they were eligible for Medicaid or CHIP.

ACAsignups.net places the total range at 14.6 million – 22.1 million as of March 31, not counting the healthcare.gov numbers, though my math puts it at 15.38 million – 22.06 million. Add in the healthcare.gov sign-ups and you get about 22.5 million to nearly 29 million newly insured people. However — and this is a big however — we do not know how many of the beneficiaries are newly insured and how many were replacing previous coverage.

Personally, I bought a high-deductible, ACA-qualified health plan through an independent agent to replace a rather restrictive high-deductible plan that was grandfathered in, and should save about $70-$80 a month on premiums starting in May. The new insurer rejected me several years ago due to a pre-existing condition; the ACA assures that I can’t be denied for that reason anymore. I imagine there are millions in the same boat as I am.

The U.S. Census Bureau placed the number of uninsured for 2012 at about 48 million, or 15.7 percent of the population. (The same year, 198.8 million had private insurance.) Until we see new figures for uninsured Americans, we will still just have “gross” statistics, not a net figure to show if the insurance part of the ACA is working.

By the way, the ACA is about much more than insurance coverage, despite what the national media have focused on. I encourage you to read up on this before you say Obamacare is saving or ruining our country.

Now, as for the temporary SGR fix, the ICD-10 delay kind of came out of nowhere last week when it got slipped into the House version of the legislation, but the Senate adopted the same language — reportedly without debating ICD-10 at all — and President Obama today signed it into law. I’ve said before that ICD-10 and other transactional elements of healthcare stopped mattering to me as I watched my dad being mistreated in a hospital due to broken clinical processes in his last month of life. I still think this way. However, this sneaky move shows that the AMA, AHA and other groups more intent of protecting the status quo than fixing healthcare still have enormous sway in Washington.

It makes me wonder whether lobbyists haven’t already started pushing hard for Congress to delay the Medicare penalties for not achieving Meaningful Use that are due to kick in next year. Actually, I don’t wonder. I’m sure it’s happening.

All delaying real reform of a broken industry does is prolong the agony, and ensure that millions more people will be affected by errors and neglect in institutions that are supposed to “do no harm.” The status quo is not acceptable.

 

April 2, 2014 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.

Happy birthday, HITECH, and pre-HIMSS humor

Today is the fifth anniversary of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act being signed into law, which also means today is the fifth anniversary of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, which was rolled into the $831 billion stimulus bill. HITECH introduced “meaningful use” into the lexicon, and for that, it has had a lasting effect.

Through the end of 2013, the program had paid out more than $19 billion in Medicare and Medicaid incentives for EHR usage, and healthcare is still a mess. However, all of that money is for Stage 1, and the goal for the first stage was mostly to get technology in place. Stage 2, which is just getting started, is about interoperability and data capture, while Stage 3, which will not start before 2017, will be focused on actually improving outcomes. It is not until the third stage where we are supposed to see real gains in healthcare quality, though we should start seeing some efficiency improvements in Stage 2.

Penalties for not achieving Meaningful Use kick in next year, though that could change. According to Medscape, the new bill to repeal the much-reviled Medicare sustainable growth rate calls for bringing Meaningful Use, the Physician Quality Reporting System (PQRS) and Medicare’s value-based payment modifier under a proposed new program called the Merit-Based Incentive Payment System (MIPS). This program would eliminate Meaningful Use penalties after 2017, but would base incentives and penalties on more factors than just EHR usage.

On a lighter note, MMRGlobal, the controversial PHR vendor that has been aggressive in defending its many patents but that also has, like every other vendor of untethered PHRs, had trouble landing many customers, has signed on actress and cancer survivor Fran Drescher as a spokesperson. There’s a video on the company’s Facebook page, with a teaser to “Watch For MMRGlobal on TV!” Draw your own conclusions.

On an even lighter note, digital media producer Gregg Masters has started the #HIMSSPickupLines hashtag on Twitter. A few samples:

 


 

Have fun.

February 17, 2014 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.