Latest Kaiser Family Foundation tracking poll comes in with some surprising results. The headline news – that 22% of respondents think PPACA has been repealed, and another 26% aren’t sure – isn’t the finding of most interest for us at Extend Health. We know that the law has never been liked by retirees on our advisory panel, but we’re surprised to learn just how unpopular it is with older Americans in the latest Kaiser poll. Unfavorable views among people 65 and older are at their highest level since the bill passed: 59%, a 19% increase since the low of 40% last December. Favorable/unfavorable ratings over all age groups are much more evenly divided, with 43% favorable, 47% unfavorable. We’re curious about readers’ opinions on this recent rapid uptick in unfavorability among Medicare-eligible individuals. The level of anti-reform rhetoric has always been high, so that doesn’t seem to be a likely cause of a sudden increase.  Is this latest poll result related to the repeal vote in the House of Representatives? If so, what’s the relationship? Are seniors reflecting a fear that reform will diminish or eliminate benefits they’ve come to depend on? That their medical costs will rise as a result? Comments welcome – we’re interested in your take on these latest results.

HHS announced today the award of “early innovator” grants to seven states (actually, six states and a consortium of five New England states) to help them design and implement the IT infrastructure for state insurance exchanges. According to HHS, “Kansas, Maryland, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Wisconsin, and a multi-state consortium led by the University of Massachusetts Medical School will receive a total of approximately $241 million.” (The New England consortium includes  Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont.) Grant amounts range from $6 million for the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, to a high of  nearly $55 million for the Oklahoma Health Care Authority. Learn more about grant amounts and the states’ proposals here.

IRMAA explained

February 11, 2011

Thanks to Kaiser Health News for this clear explanation of the increased monthly premiums charged to higher-income individuals and couples for Part D prescription drug coverage. The premium increase was part of PPACA, one of the provisions intended to help finance the law, and is expected to raise about $36 billion through 2019.

The Part D premium increase is tied to Part B premium amounts, which in turn are tied to taxpayer Modified Adjusted Gross Income. Tables showing the Part B and Part D amounts for different income levels can be found on the Social Security web site – scroll down the page ot the section titled Monthly Medicare premiums for 2011.

Extend Health is the only partner included in today’s announcement of Microsoft’s new turnkey solution for state health insurance exchanges. Our exchange platform is an integral piece of the solution; you can read the full press release here. Read the rest of this entry »

Another Bryce Williams thought piece has just been published on  In the wake of Florida judge Roger Vinson’s decision this week that the individual mandate is both unconstitutional and not separable from the reform legislation, it’s especially timely. The article takes a look at how critical the mandate is to the success of reform – and explains why it isn’t essential (and so should be separable). According to Bryce, “As CEO of a company that runs the nation’s largest private Medicare exchange, I have six years of experience proving that mandates don’t really matter and that people who are empowered to purchase an individual plan that meets their needs at prices they can afford will buy.”  Read the whole article for his explanation of how guaranteed issue, standardized plan design, and empowered consumers are the real keys to making health care reform work.

Extend Health CEO Bryce Williams has written a new piece just published on the Society for Human Resource Management Web site. Bryce is known around here not only for his deep knowledge of health care insurance, but for constantly thinking about ways we can empower employers to provide affordable health care benefits to their employees. This new article offers some sage advice for employers who want to continue to offer early retiree benefits but need to control their costs. The key? Start moving them to defined contribution plans now:

“Until 2014, can early retirees be helped? The answer is yes: by beginning to move them from legacy group plans to ‘defined contribution health plans’ and providing education and tools, HR managers can empower their early retirees to become cost-conscious and careful consumers, changing their mindset from ‘I don’t know how much my health benefits cost and I don’t care’ to ‘I know how much my health benefits costs and I do care.'”

The article outlines a roadmap for supporting early retirees through the transition from group plans to individual plans purchased on the coming state insurance exchanges, with advice for the kind of programs and education that will help this vulnerable population become “empowered individual health insurance consumers” — while at the same time giving employers the ability to plan, predict, and control costs.