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SHOP: Can it Boost Health Coverage for Small Business Employees?

Dec 14, 2015, 6:04 PM, Posted by Katherine Hempstead

A new report shows that small business owners care about the health insurance coverage they offer their employees, yet the Small Business Health Option Program (SHOP) remains an untapped resource with the potential to help employers find affordable plans.

In 1942, Ken Wilson’s grandfather started Bonnie Brae Conoco, a full-service gas station and neighborhood garage in Denver. Today, Ken is the third generation to manage the business. They’ve offered their employees health insurance since 1970, paying 100 percent of the costs for those who work full-time. Although it’s their largest expense, the Wilsons believe offering coverage is essential. They want to take care of their employees and attract and retain the best people.  

Small businesses, like all businesses, have struggled to keep up with the rising cost of health insurance. But unlike larger companies that can leverage their purchasing power to negotiate lower premiums and more comprehensive benefits, small businesses often have a choice of costlier plans with skimpier benefits. A recent study found small firms are far less likely than larger firms to offer health coverage. In 2012 and 2013, the percentage of small employers offering health insurance was 35 percent, while the percentage of large employers offering insurance was 95.8 percent.  

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) has several implications for small businesses. Under the ACA, small business health plans are subject to the marketplace regulations similar to those in the individual market. Depending on the state in which the business is located and the characteristics of the work force, these changes could make premiums change a lot or a little. Many small businesses are still offering pre-ACA plans, and many of them will need to transition to ACA-compliant coverage in 2017.

One new opportunity is the Small Business Health Options Program or SHOP, which is an online marketplace where small business owners with 50 or fewer full-time employees can purchase health insurance for their workers. Features of SHOP attempt to provide flexibility for both employers and employees. Business owners can set their contribution and their employees can choose the plan and benefits they want. Small business owners with 25 or fewer full-time employees can also qualify for a tax credit to put toward the cost of coverage.

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Open Enrollment: One Step Closer to Coverage for All

Nov 2, 2015, 9:00 AM, Posted by John Lumpkin

Let’s build upon the success of the Affordable Care Act with this year’s open enrollment.

A pediatrician makes a house visit to check on an infant patient.

Open enrollment is here again—the annual opportunity for Americans to find and enroll in a health plan through HealthCare.gov or their state-based health insurance marketplace. In three short years, millions of Americans have gained access to health plans that cover important services like doctor’s visits, prescriptions, hospital stays, preventive care, and more. As a doctor, I’ve seen the difference health coverage can make in the lives of families. Quality, affordable health insurance means new access to care—care that can have a huge impact on health, equity, financial security, and a better quality of life. It moves us closer to a Culture of Health, where people can access care when they’re sick and when they’re well, making prevention the priority.

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A Portrait of Women with Health Insurance

Feb 19, 2015, 2:21 PM, Posted by Susan Dentzer

2015 Health Care Coverage Billboard Image

For the second year running, more women than men have signed up for coverage in health insurance marketplaces during open enrollment under the Affordable Care Act. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, enrollment ran 56 percent female, 44 percent male, during last year’s open enrollment season; preliminary data from this year shows enrollment at 55 percent female, 45 percent male—a 10 percentage point difference.

What gives? An HHS spokeswoman says the department can’t explain most of the differential. Females make up about 51 percent of the U.S. population, but there is no real evidence that, prior to ACA implementation, they were disproportionately more likely to be uninsured than men—and in fact, some evidence indicates that they were less likely to be uninsured than males.

What is clear that many women were highly motivated to obtain coverage under the health reform law—most likely because they want it, and need it.

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Entering the Final Stretch

Feb 3, 2015, 6:15 PM, Posted by David Adler

2015 Affordable Care Act ACA Enrollment Website

As we head into the final weeks of this year’s open enrollment season, we can all be proud of the progress that’s been made. New numbers released last week show 9.5 million Americans signed up for health coverage through marketplaces across the country. Behind each number is someone who now has quality, affordable health coverage with access to health care when they need it and protection from financial ruin if they get sick.

But there are still millions more who are eligible for coverage this open enrollment period. RWJF and our partners are doing all we can to get as many people enrolled as possible before the February 15 deadline. These collective efforts focus on breaking down the biggest enrollment barriers for people to get covered. Our research shows that consumers are more motivated to enroll when they understand the benefits of coverage, believe they can afford the cost, and know they can find enrollment support to complete the process.

Enroll America, an RWJF grantee, is addressing the need for in-person help head on—operating grassroots efforts in 11 states and connecting consumers to enrollment tools and help nationwide. Their connector tool, allows consumers to schedule appointments for in-person help right away. Drawing from lessons learned from the first open enrollment period we know this one-on-one support will be critical for many consumers during these final weeks.

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New Year, New Coverage for Millions

Jan 9, 2015, 2:51 PM, Posted by John R. Lumpkin

HealthCare.gov Website

The beginning of a new year is a great time to reflect on progress toward longstanding goals. At RWJF, we’ve spent the better part of four decades advancing solutions to help everyone in our nation gain access to affordable, high quality health care—a goal we reaffirmed in 2014 when we announced our vision for a Culture of Health in America.

Happily, our country has made enormous progress toward this goal in 2014. Health coverage rates improved dramatically last year because of robust enrollment through the health insurance marketplaces, Medicaid, and CHIP. As we enter 2015, we continue to see strong coverage gains, with nearly 6.6 million consumers newly enrolled or renewing through HealthCare.gov.

But let’s not forget that more than 40 million people remain uninsured. There is still more work to be done to make sure all those who are eligible can get the coverage they need and deserve.

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The Unfinished Work of the Affordable Care Act

Dec 12, 2014, 8:45 AM, Posted by Brendan Saloner

Headshot of Brendan Saloner

The United States is the last remaining rich country in the world where a large percentage of the population lacks health insurance coverage. This situation is being improved under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), with recent estimates showing that from early 2013 to mid-2014 the uninsured rate dropped from 19 percent of adults to 14 percent. The uninsured rate will no doubt continue to fall in 2015, but the problem of the uninsured will not go away with the ACA. It will not go away even if all 50 states expand Medicaid for poor adults, and will not go away if the U.S. Supreme Court rules against the plaintiffs in a pending challenge to the power of the administration to provide subsidies in the federally facilitated insurance exchanges.

In its 2012 baseline estimate, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projected that by 2022 the ACA might cut the number of uninsured by half, but would still leave behind 30 million people without insurance. This projection assumed full implementation of the ACA provisions. We don’t yet have a clear sense of how much larger that number will be with incomplete implementation of the core ACA coverage provisions, but even an optimistic assessment is that tens of millions of Americans will continue to spend periods of time without health insurance.

Who does the ACA leave behind? By design, the ACA excludes undocumented immigrants, a group that numbers around 11 million today. Some undocumented immigrants purchase private insurance, receive coverage from an employer, or participate in public programs funded with non-federal dollars, but the majority have no insurance. Undocumented immigrants are prohibited from enrolling in Medicaid, receiving subsidies, and purchasing coverage on the exchanges. Although President Obama recently signed an executive order protecting many undocumented immigrants from immediate deportation, the ACA exclusion will continue in the foreseeable future, barring an act of Congress. 

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What We Learned from the First Open Enrollment Period, and What to Expect from the Second

Nov 18, 2014, 10:32 AM, Posted by David Adler, Lori K. Grubstein

A man fills out an insurance application

It seems like just yesterday we were celebrating the victories from the first open enrollment period under the Affordable Care Act. More than 8 million consumers signed up for coverage through state and federal marketplaces, and millions more enrolled in Medicaid.

As the spring of success gave way to the summer of planning, we are once again in the autumn of enrollment. As work gets rolling for the second open enrollment period, it is an opportune time to reflect on lessons learned from the first open enrollment period, especially since the second one is shorter and there are fewer navigator resources available from the federal government.

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Better Health, Delivered by Phone: Q&A with Stan Berkow

Sep 4, 2014, 2:36 PM

Recently NewPublicHealth shared an interview from AlleyWatch, a Silicon Valley technology blog about SenseHealth, a new medical technology firm that has created a text message platform that health care providers can use to communicate with patients. In May, SenseHealth was picked to be part of the New York Digital Health Accelerator, which gives up to $100,000 in funding to companies developing digital health solutions for patients and providers. The accelerator is run by the Partnership Fund for New York City and the New York eHealth Collaborative. SenseHealth engaged in a clinical trial last year that used the technology to help providers engage with patients who are Medicaid beneficiaries.

Health conditions supported by the SenseHealth platform range from diabetes to mental health diagnoses, while the messaging options include more than 20 customizable care plans, such as medicine or blood pressure monitoring reminders. There are also more than 1,000 supportive messages, such as a congratulatory text when a patient lets the provider know they’ve filled a prescription or completed lab work. The platform couples the content with a built-in algorithm that can sense when a user has logged information or responded to a provider, and providers are able to set specific messages for specific patients. Early assessments show that the technology has helped patient manage their conditions, with data showing more SenseHealth patients adhered to treatment plans and showed up for appointments than patients who didn’t receive the text program.

We received strong feedback on the post, including a question from a reader about whether Medicaid beneficiaries lose contact with their providers if they disconnect their cell phones or change their numbers, a common occurrence among low-income individuals who often have to prioritize monthly bills. To learn more about SenseHealth and its texting platform, NewPublicHealth recently spoke with the company’s CEO and founder, Stan Berkow.

NewPublicHealth: How did SenseHealth get its start?

Stan Berkow: We got started about two to two-and-a-half years ago. I met one of the other founders while I was working at the Columbia University Medical Center in New York City. We were both clinical trial coordinators and were seeing—first hand—the difficulties in getting participants in our studies to actually follow through on all the exercise and nutritional changes they needed to make in order to complete the research project. That led us to step back and look at the bigger health care picture and recognize the challenges for providers to help patients manage chronic conditions, and recognizing that there’s a huge time limitation on the providers. That pushed us toward finding a way through technology to help those providers help the patients they work with more effectively to prevent and manage chronic conditions.

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High-Quality Care in Low-Income Communities: Q&A with Steven Weingarten, Vital Healthcare Capital

Aug 11, 2014, 3:45 PM

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Vital Healthcare Capital (V-Cap) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) have announced a $10 million investment in Commonwealth Care Alliance (CCA), based in Boston, Mass., to help fund the organization as it rapidly expands its model of care for patients who are dually eligible for Medicare and Medicaid.

The non-profit care delivery system provides integrated health care and related social support services for people with complex health care needs covered under Medicaid and for those eligible for both Medicaid and Medicare. CCA’s expansion comes as Massachusetts continues to pioneer integrated, patient-centered care for people who are eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid though the newly created “One Care: MassHealth plus Medicare” program, one of several financial alignment initiatives for people with dual eligibility established by the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that are launching nationwide.

The loan—the first to be made by Vital Healthcare Capital, a new social impact fund based in Boston, through support from RWJF—provides funds needed by CCA for financial reserves required by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts as the agency expands the number of beneficiaries in its programs.

According to CCA Director Robert Master, the social impact goals are to:

  • Scale a person-centered integrated care model for high-needs populations.
  • Demonstrate what are known in public health as “triple aim” outcomes in health status, care metrics and cost effectiveness.
  • Train, develop and create frontline health care workforce jobs, including health aides, drivers and translators.
  • Create innovations in health care workforce engagement in coordinated care plans to better integrate into the care plan the staff members who most directly touch the lives of its members.

Over the next five years, Vital Healthcare Capital plans to establish a $100 million revolving loan fund, leveraging $500 million of total project capital for organizations working on health care reform for patients in low-income communities.

NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Steven Weingarten, CEO of Vital Healthcare Capital, about the inaugural loan and the firm’s expansion plans going forward.

NewPublicHealth: How did Vital Healthcare Capital get started and what are its overarching goals and investment criteria?

Steven Weingarten: Vital Healthcare Capital has been formed as a new non-profit financing organization to invest in quality health care and good health care jobs in low-income communities. The organization came about after a couple of years of research and development with funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, as well as from the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations and support from SEIU, the health care union. Healthcare reform is really part of a broader restructuring of health care that has enormous implications for low-income communities, and for the health care providers and plans that have been focused on these communities. Having financial capital to be able to transform health care to a better delivery model will be a critical challenge in upcoming years. So we are coming in to serve that need.

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One Nurse’s Leadership Journey

May 10, 2014, 3:00 PM

Headshot of Cynthia Crone

Being asked to write a post about nurse leadership for National Nurses Week presents a wonderful opportunity to reflect on my nursing journey and express appreciation for the many nurses and other leaders who have played a supportive role in my development. A career in public health with an emphasis on vulnerable populations, including most recently directing efforts in Arkansas to implement the Health Insurance Marketplace, has reinforced with me the critical role nurse leaders play in the politics and policy of health care and how very important it is to foster and support community involvement and interdisciplinary collaboration by younger nurses. 

National Nurses Week Blog Logo

I started nursing school in the mid-1970s. Nurse practitioners were just coming on the scene. After graduation I obtained certification as a pediatric nurse practitioner and traveled to 10 rural counties to hold “well child clinics.” I learned a lot from the public health nurses. I loved my job. The work helped me better understand the bio-psycho-social-spiritual art and science of nursing and the social determinants of health. Further, through interaction with nurse and other community leaders, I learned that another element—political–can’t be ignored.

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