News about the Affordable Care Act continues floods the headlines, as health care providers, insurers, and government officials attempt to get things in place for the laws major provisions going into effect in 2014. The top stories don't always directly involve public companies, but they're usually sneaking around somewhere in the background.
Here are a few of this week's top health care reform stories.
Florida hits Medicaid expansion snag
Gov. Rick Scott's surprising turn toward Medicaid expansion ran into opposition this week. The state's legislature voted against expansion as defined by the ACA, but several politicians indicated a willingness to find a different way to cover the same low income individuals. It's still possible that the historically conservative state will opt-out of the expansion. But they might try to strike a deal similar to Arkansas, where the governor received federal approval to send beneficiaries to private insurance exchanges with Medicaid money.
Feds seek power to overrule premium rate hikes
Congressional Democrats reintroduced a bill Wednesday that would grant the Department of Health and Human Services permission to block premium rate hikes from insurers. Some states have the power to overturn rates, but the federal government doesn't.
The bill arrived as Californian politicians spoke out against forthcoming double-digit rate increases from Aetna (NYSE:AET) and a WellPoint (NYSE:ANTM) Blue Cross unit. State lawmakers currently lack the power to veto unfair increases, but the issue should be on the ballot next year. California will have a health insurance exchange, and participating insurers were supposed to submit their rates this month.
Both the legislature and the competitive exchange market may make it harder for the companies to make such rate raises in the future.
Cigna bows out of CT exchange
Speaking of state-run exchanges, Cigna (NYSE:CI) announced that it won't participate in Connecticut's Access Health CT. The exchange may include 200,000 individuals looking for private insurance after the first of the year. Insurers who agree to join the state's exchange have to stay for two years, which Cigna may have wanted to avoid. Aetna and United Healthcare are among the insurers already signed up.
Health care spending slows
Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius wrote Thursday that health care spending is on the decline. Sebelius cited a USA Today study that said last year's spending "rose at one of the lowest rates in a half-century". The cause? If you've read the rest of this article, you can probably guess. (Hint: It has an acronym of ACA). Sebelius also noted reports from her own office, which have shown slow paces for both Medicare and Medicaid spending per beneficiary.