Verification: bumps in the road
Scaling back verification requirements for insurance exchanges. Because about 60 percent of people buying in the exchange probably will be eligible for subsidies, exchange officials needed a way to verify if they were indeed eligible; that is their income was low enough and they had no other insurance coverage. But the administration says that they have now encountered “legislative and operational barriers.” The upshot: the government will rely on the honor system to make sure applicants for insurance are telling the truth about their income and insurance status. The government will do a check when people file their income tax returns in 2015. If income and insurance status change during the year, a family could end up with a tax liability or a tax refund, depending on the subsidy they got and whether their incomes went up or down during the year.


The Independent Payment Advisory Board.
The law called for this 15-member board appointed by the president to advise Congress on actions Medicare could take to reduce the growth of healthcare spending. Congress could take an up or down vote on the recommended measures. The board, however, cannot recommend changes in premiums, benefits, eligibility, or taxes, or other changes that would result in “rationing” of care to Medicare beneficiaries. Nevertheless, it has become something of a political football, with Republicans charging that the board could lead to death panels and rationing, because seniors wouldn’t be able to get treatments, especially the costly ones.

The board is in virtually inactive right now. Members have not been appointed, but more relevant is that Medicare’s costs have slowed somewhat, and in April Medicare’s chief actuary declared that that medical cost inflation would not be high enough to trigger the work of the IPAB. It may not see action for a few years, and then what it does will depend on the political winds and the pace of medical inflation.

The National Health Care Workforce Commission.
The Affordable Care Act set up this 15-member body to prepare for the increased demand in primary care needed by all the newly insured people buying in the shopping exchanges. It’s no secret that the US has a shortage of primary care doctors. The commission was to examine such issues as the right mix of primary care docs and specialists, and whether pharmacists could help coordinate care. The administration requested $3 million for the commission to begin its work, but Congress has not appropriated the money. Federal officials have told commission members they cannot even meet to discuss its work. The stalemate is not about money; $3 million dollars is a droplet in the federal budget. The commission is tied up in the Beltway’s larger political struggle.

Tomorrow: Obamacare Scorecard Part 2—The hits and misses and mixed reviews of the Affordable Care Act.

Follow @USProjectCJR for more posts from Trudy Lieberman and the rest of theUnited States Project team, including our work on healthcare issues and public health at The Second Opinion. And for Trudy’s resource guide to covering the ins and outs of buying insurance on the state exchanges, see Open Wide, from CJR’s new July/August issue.

Related content:
Fast-tracking the truth in IPAB coverage

Covering an Obamacare clawback: better late than never

Obamacare’s Forgotten Faces


Trudy Lieberman is a fellow at the Center for Advancing Health and a longtime contributing editor to the Columbia Journalism Review. She is the lead writer for The Second Opinion, CJR’s healthcare desk, which is part of our United States Project on the coverage of politics and policy. Follow her on Twitter @Trudy_Lieberman.