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This Week in Health Care Reform - January 23rd, 2015

The President delivers the State of the Union address; with less than a month to go before open enrollment ends, the latest exchange tally puts overall signups on an encouraging trajectory; stakeholders continue to make the case for telehealth support; states stand pat ahead of the Supreme Court’s ruling; and, a key Administration official resigns.


Week in Review

SOTU: This week, the President delivered his sixth State of the Union address.  While the political makeup of those in attendance has gone through some dramatic changes over those years, the President used this year’s address to declare a turning point for the country, leaving some to characterize the speech as having taken a somewhat defiant tone.  Still, the bold agenda laid out by the President was certainly hard to misinterpret.  And, despite pledging to protect his signature policies from Republican attacks, many were surprised by the omission of specific references to either the current open enrollment period or the website.  In any event, with the speech fresh on the nation’s mind, thoughts now turn to where the country goes from here. 

7.1M Enrollees:
On the heels of the State of the Union, the latest enrollment numbers from the insurance exchange marketplace were also released this week.  The updated tally points to more than 7.1 million Americans now having signed up for health care coverage, bringing enrollment closer to the Administration’s overall goal of 9.1 million enrollees by the end of the year.  Perhaps the most encouraging takeaway, though, is that across the board, numbers for every state on are up from last year’s open enrollment period.

Telehealth Support: As an issue, telehealth continues to garner support from just about every stakeholder along the health care continuum.  Not only does it help address the traditional barriers of access, cost, and convenience in the delivery of care, it connects patients and providers in ways that are limited only by the technology that’s available…that, and what’s now being identified as, the need for an investment in an enhanced network infrastructure.  Concern has also been raised over the administrative burden that comes with the adoption of health IT in general, which some are urging the government to help alleviate.

SCOTUS Response:
The federal government this week filed its brief responding to opponents in the case challenging the insurance subsides extended to enrollees on the federal exchange.  With Congressional Republicans already plotting their response should the Supreme Court strike down this critical piece of the health care law, states have largely retreated to the sidelines to allow the case to play out.  And, while much attention has already been devoted to the macro-level impact of any such decision eliminating those subsidies, a clearer picture of who will really suffers has started to emerge.

CMS Resignation:
Last Friday, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Marilyn Tavenner announced her intention to resign her post at the end of February.  Her departure will come just two weeks after the close of the second open enrollment period on the exchanges.  While the announcement came as something of a surprise, Tavenner took the opportunity in her farewell memo to her staff to highlight some of the agency’s accomplishments under her watch, such as the “…quality improvements in the Medicare Advantage program.”  She will be replaced on an interim basis by Andy Slavitt, currently serving as second-in-command at CMS.

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Looking Ahead

Whether or not you support reform, it’s clear to one group of stakeholders that it’s here to stay.  Meanwhile, analysts predict the next big shift in health care.  And, entering filing season, at least one tax expert is optimistic

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