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EMR Data show: The ACA has Improved Access to Care for Low-Income Patients

As Barack Obama’s presidency draws to a close, we anticipate growing discussion of his legacy. Much of that discussion will focus on the Affordable Care Act (ACA), his signature legislative accomplishment. The legislation is complex and in some cases ineffective and cumbersome. It can be argued, for example, that the complexity of the ACA favors the same high-cost, legacy health care players that the bill was designed to address.

But one of the major goals of the ACA was to provide more accessible, more dignified, and more effective health care to the poor. And in this respect, we believe that the Affordable Care Act – at least in those states that have elected to expand Medicaid – has been a success.

Our perspective on health care reform comes from ACAView, a joint initiative between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and athenahealth to study the impact of health care reform. We have just released our latest report, The Effects of the Affordable Care Act through 2015, which focuses on the impacts of insurance coverage expansion for patients and providers, with an emphasis on primary care. This report analyzes data from 21,900 health care providers on athenahealth’s network for at least five years. These physicians, who serve communities across the nation, are broadly representative of the country as a whole (please refer to the Appendix of the latest report). This allows us to compare physician practice before and after the coverage expansion provisions went into effect in 2014.

In June 2012, the Supreme Court ruled in “National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) v. Sebelius” that states could choose whether or not to expand Medicaid eligibility. Although the federal government would cover the full cost of coverage expansion through 2016 and gradually decreasing to 90 percent of it thereafter, about half of the states declined to provide expanded Medicaid access to low income people. Since that time, six of those states have changed course and made Medicaid available to more of their residents.

In those states that agreed to loosen Medicaid eligibility requirements, there was no guarantee that the law would improve health care access for low income people. Because Medicaid payment levels are much lower than commercial rates, some observers were concerned that physicians would not open their schedules to see more Medicaid patients. And when patients did come in for care, no one knew whether they would form ongoing relationships with physicians or merely receive one-off care for acute or symptomatic issues.

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Early ACA Data Shows No Wave of Sick Patients

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Since launching ACAView, our joint initiative between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and athenahealth, in early April, open enrollment under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has closed for 2014 and The White House has issued final numbers: eight million people enrolled through the marketplace and five million outside the marketplace. Add another three million enrolled in Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and the total number of people enrolled under the ACA’s individual mandate is close to 16 million.

Since some of these enrollees had previous forms of insurance coverage, it is important to estimate overall reductions in the number of uninsured. RAND estimates that 9.3 million more Americans have insurance in Q1 of 2014, compared to Q3 of 2013, but these figures exclude the surge of enrollments in the last half of March. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates 12 million net newly insured people through either the marketplace or Medicaid (including 1 million who lost insurance), but these estimates exclude enrollments outside the marketplace.

In short, “newly insured” and “enrollment numbers” are counted in different ways and can be confusing. But let’s conservatively assume that the number of net new insured individuals is roughly nine million, or 2.8% of the population.  Are these new beneficiaries having a measurable impact on medical practices?Continue reading…

Measuring the Impact of Health Care Reform on Day-to-Day Physician Practice

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With this post, we are pleased to introduce ACAView, a joint initiative between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and athenahealth.

2014 marks the launch of the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) most important coverage expansion provisions, designed to dramatically reduce the number of uninsured Americans. Between now and the end of 2016, millions of individuals are expected to sign up for subsidized insurance coverage through newly established health care exchanges, or marketplaces.

Other tracking initiatives are closely monitoring the number of individuals that sign up for this coverage as well as those that take advantage of expanding Medicaid coverage in some states.

With ACAView, we will take a different approach. We will focus on the provider perspective; more specifically, how the ACA affects the practice patterns and economics of physicians and other care team members around the country. This is also part of a wider effort, Reform by the Numbers, RWJF’s rich source of timely and unique data about the impact of health reform.

ACAView will monitor the impact of coverage expansion on a monthly basis, mining insights from athenahealth’s cloud-based network of more than 50,000 providers and 50 million patients.

athenahealth is a technology and services provider that delivers physicians the tools and support needed to manage the business and clinical aspects of their medical practices. Our cloud-based, centrally hosted software platform provides us with near real-time visibility into practice patterns of physicians around the country.

Our goal is to inform, exchange ideas, and provide a timely, front-row view of how this landmark legislation affects a robust cross-section of providers across the nation. In subsequent reports, we will examine an evolving set of metrics that address a broad range of topics.

We will also share our analyses on the extent to which our providers represent all providers in the US. For more about our data on practices and patients, as well as our preliminary list of metrics, please read our Methodology report.

No Meaningful Change to Date in New Patient Volumes

Among the many unknown questions surrounding coverage expansion is the number of new patients physicians will accommodate. This is a critical issue because one of the goals of health care reform is to allow individuals to form stable physician relationships, rather than seek care in high-acuity settings or forgo care altogether.

If the ACA is working, we would expect physicians to see a higher percentage of new patients over the course of the year. Over the long term, this number should eventually return to historical levels as these new patients become established.

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