Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Asheville hospital: We're cutting ... and growing

Asheville's Mission Health,  which runs six hospitals,  has joined Carolinas HealthCare System in announcing job cuts as part of the 2015 budget.

Michael Tarwater,  CEO of the Charlotte-based system,  announced earlier this month that CHS is cutting 100 management jobs as part of its quest to trim $110 million.

On Monday Ronald Paulus, CEO of Mission, said his organization had to find ways to offset $52 million in federal and state reimbursement cuts.  That included eliminating 130 full- and part-time  "caregiver positions,"  he said.  Fifty-five of those employees are leaving the system,  15 have found new jobs with Mission and 60 hope to do so, he said.

But the overall workforce will grow by 147 people, he added.  For instance,  he cited a primary care network of 275 physicians that didn't exist a year ago,  focused on  "safety outcomes and cost efficiency."  For Paulus'  eight-minute video message to employees,  click here.

Hospitals and medical practices across North Carolina are grappling with cuts to Medicare and Medicaid,  coming partly from the Affordable Care Act and partly from state efforts to reel in spiraling costs.  The state's decision not to accept federal money to expand Medicaid means North Carolinians are paying the costs for other states' expansion without getting the benefit of increased coverage for low-income adults.  Medicaid will be high on the General Assembly's agenda in January,  and some are watching to see whether our state will follow the lead of other GOP-led states that have found ways to put the federal money to use.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Some see huge hike for Medicare Advantage

Notices of 2015 rates for Medicare Advantage plans started landing in mailboxes last week,  and at least one local plan is seeing premiums more than triple.

I heard from David Darwin of Charlotte and Gary Ludwick of Huntersville,  both of whom were told that their HMO premium from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina is going from just under $19 a month to $64.40,  with their out-of-pocket limit rising from $3,400 to $4,500.  Both wanted to know what's going on.

That runs counter to the trends announced by the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. The agency says 2015 premiums are rising an average of $2.94 next year,  to $33.90 a month,  and estimates the actual hike will be more like $1.30 a month on average as  some choose lower-cost plans.

"The vast majority of (Medicare Advantage) enrollees will face little or no premium increase for the next year with 61 percent of beneficiaries not seeing any premium increase at all," the release says.

Ludwick and Darwin,  not surprisingly,  are wondering if their notice foretells bad news for more people in this area.  "Maybe you can get some answers as to what caused such outrageous price hikes across the board,"  Ludwick emailed,  "and I'm also curious if the costs for Obamacare have any bearing on this."

"I just think people need to understand what they're about to be hit with,"  said Darwin,  a textile retiree who also blames the spike on the Affordable Care Act.

Source: Kaiser Family Foundation

Some background:  Medicare Advantage is an alternative to traditional Medicare,  which provides health coverage for the elderly and disabled.  About 30 percent of the total Medicare population chooses this approach,  which involves buying a policy through a private insurance company.  This is separate from the ACA marketplace that has gotten so much attention in the past year,  but it works in a similar way:  Customers have a choice of various plans based on where they live.  In 2014, Mecklenburg residents had 22 plans to choose from.

Medicare Advantage also costs the government more than traditional Medicare.  The ACA cut Medicare Advantage payments,  but instead of the expected decline in participation,  record numbers are choosing that route,  according to a Kaiser Family Foundation report.

"When Congress debated the payment reductions in 2010,  forecasters and analysts also projected that reductions would drive insurers to raise premiums, cut extra benefits and even pull out of the Medicare Advantage market as they did after the Balanced Budget Act of 1997.   Thus far, however, the response by insurers to the ACA cuts has been more muted,"  says the report by Tricia Neuman and Gretchen Jacobson.

So what's going on with Darwin's and Ludwick's policy? 

I asked Neuman,  the foundation's Medicare expert,  what to make of the big bump in this local plan.  The 2015 national data just came out Thursday,  so she hadn't had time to analyze it in detail when we spoke.  There are always wide variations among plans,  she noted,  and the averages indicate these folks are seeing a hike that's an outlier on the high side.  Market conditions seem more likely to be the source than the ACA, she said.

"If it was really attributable to the law you'd be seeing it more across the board,"  Neuman said.  "It would be more the norm than the exception."

Starting Oct. 15,  Medicare Advantage customers will have a chance to shop around and see if they can get a better plan for less money.  It will be interesting to see what the Mecklenburg market offers.

Friday, September 19, 2014

N.C. Obamacare numbers remain elusive

Participation in the health insurance marketplace created by the Affordable Care Act has dropped by about 700,000 people,  from 8 million when enrollment closed March 31 to 7.3 million as of Aug. 15, the nation's top Medicare/Medicaid administrator said Thursday.

That partially answers questions many have posed this summer about developments on the insurance exchange,  which includes subsidies for low- and moderate-income people buying individual policies.

Medicare/Medicaid administrator Marilyn Tavenner (AP photo)

It still doesn't offer details on how many have failed to pay premiums,  how many have left the marketplace for other reasons  and how many have been added during special enrollment.  Nor have the state tallies posted in May been updated.

Update: The feds did post a zip code map of enrollments as of April 19; read a report from John Murawski of the News & Observer here.

North Carolina had the nation's fifth-highest enrollment after open enrollment,  with 357,584 enrollments as of March 31.  If the state's numbers reflect the 8.75 percent drop the nation has seen,  we'd have lost about 31,300.

As the Department of Health and Human Services notes,  enrollment changes on a daily basis.  People may sign up,  then lose coverage if they fail to pay premiums.  They move from one state to another.  They gain or lose jobs and go through family changes that affect their health insurance.

Earlier this week,  DHHS announced that 115,000 people nationwide will lose their coverage because they failed to provide immigration documents required to verify their citizenship or immigration status.  The department initially flagged 966,000 people whose applications didn't match data on file.  In July,  after repeated attempts to reach those people,  they sent warning letters to 310,000 saying they'd lose coverage if they didn't verify their status by Sept. 5.  That included 12,300 in North Carolina.

The update on people who will lose coverage because of immigration status didn't include state breakdowns;  a DHHS official said that would come later.

In a conference call with reporters,  Andy Slavitt of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services proudly noted that the overwhelming majority the immigration cases that were initially flagged had been resolved.  But he didn't have answers when a reporter asked whether "resolved" included people who kept their coverage and people who lost it,  and if so,  what the mix was.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Survey: N.C. doctors are stressed, but morale improving

A majority of doctors in North Carolina and across the country are unhappy with the state of their profession,  but morale has improved over the last two years,  according to a survey by The Physicians Foundation.

The foundation,  a nonprofit grant-making and research group,  polled more than 20,000 physicians,  including 565 from North Carolina.  Only 39 percent of N.C. doctors and 44 percent of all doctors described their morale and feelings about the profession as positive,  the survey found.  However,  most national measures of morale had climbed since the last poll in 2012,  with young doctors describing themselves as more upbeat than older ones.

The group sent me a breakout on North Carolina,  which didn't include a prior-year comparison.  The state numbers generally tracked national ones,  though Tarheel docs tended to be a bit more negative.  Numbers below are for North Carolina.

First the good news:  Just over two thirds said medicine is still rewarding,  with patient relationships and intellectual stimulation cited by a strong majority as the best part of their practice.  However, fewer than half said they'd recommend medicine as a career for young people.

Just over 42 percent said changes in medicine are prompting them to accelerate retirement plans.  In the next one to three years,  16 percent said they plan to cut back hours,  13 percent said they'll seek a non-clinical health care job and 12.5 percent said they plan to do locum tenens,  or temporary,  work.

About 34 percent said they're  "overextended and overworked,"  while only 17 percent said they have time to see more patients and take on more duties.

Two-thirds disagreed with the statement that hospital employment of doctors  "is a positive trend likely to enhance quality of care and decrease costs."

When asked about the causes of rising health costs,  "defensive medicine,"  or trying to avoid malpractice suits,  was by far the most-cited factor at 60.5 percent.  Next were an aging population  (37 percent),  the cost of pharmaceuticals  (35 percent)  and state and federal insurance mandates  (34 percent).

Most doctors say they're using electronic medical records,  a practice promoted by the Affordable Care Act,  but they're not convinced it's doing much good.  The physicians were about evenly split on whether the electronic records improve or detract from care,  but they were much more likely to say the switch detracts from patient interaction and efficiency.

When asked to grade the ACA  "as a vehicle for healthcare reform,"  47 percent gave the act a D or F,  compared with 25 percent awarding an A or B.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Employers: Obamacare isn't biggest problem

The Affordable Care Act may be pushing up the cost of your workplace benefits, but it's not at the top of employers' list of challenges,  according to an August report by the National Business Group on Health.

Like many of you,  I've heard my employers talk about how Obamacare is shaping our health insurance benefits.  For instance, McClatchy is among many companies trying to bring down costs now to avoid the 40 percent excise tax on "Cadillac plans" that will be levied in 2018.

But when the nonprofit group representing large employers asked representatives of 136 companies to name the top three factors driving costs up,  the ACA didn't make the top five.

High-cost claimants  (individuals with expensive medical conditions)  topped the list, with 40 percent putting it at No. 1 and 62 percent putting it in the top three.

Specific diseases or conditions were named by 63 percent,  with 24 percent citing that as the top cause.

$1,000 per pill
Specialty drugs were named by 58 percent, though only 6 percent called that the top factor.  Brian Marcotte,  CEO of NBGH,  said that refers to extremely costly drugs,  such as a new hepatitis C medication that costs $84,000 for an 84-tablet course of treatment.

Overall medical inflation was cited by 35 percent,  with 12 percent putting it in the top spot.

Hospitalization was named by 26 percent,  with 7 percent putting it first.

Complying with the ACA was cited by 19 percent, with 7 percent saying it's the biggest factor in driving up costs.

I mentioned that to Steve Graybill,  a partner with Mercer's human resources consulting business in Charlotte.  He said he'd attribute  "better than half"  of next year's rising costs to the ACA,  though he agreed those expenses are entwined with all the other factors that have been driving up costs for years.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Oregon study: Does Medicaid matter?

"Medicaid doesn't make people healthier;  just look at the Oregon study."

I heard that comment a couple of times while I was reporting on Medicaid expansion,  from people supporting North Carolina's decision not to participate.

While I think that assessment is oversimplified,  I was intrigued to learn about Oregon's Medicaid lottery.  In 2008 the state randomly selected people to receive Medicaid coverage.  In the years that followed that provided a unique chance to study the role that coverage played in low-income people's health.

Image: Kaiser Health News
As you might expect, the results were complex and sometimes confusing.

Two years after the lottery,  people with Medicaid were more likely to have been diagnosed with diabetes and placed on medication.  But there was no significant improvement in their blood sugar levels,  which would have been a sign of ultimate success. There was also an increase in cholesterol monitoring,  but no significant differences in blood pressure or cholesterol between the Medicaid and non-Medicaid groups.

On the other hand, people with Medicaid were less likely to be diagnosed with depression and reported their own health as better.

On the financial front,  people who got Medicaid were less likely to have unpaid bills sent to a collection agency, "which also benefits health care providers since the vast majority of such debts are never paid," a National Bureau of Economic Research report notes.  But getting Medicaid also increased the rate of emergency room care for non-emergency ailments,  one of the least effective ways of getting treatment.

I don't think that justifies a conclusion that Medicaid does no good,  but the folks who raise that issue make an important point:  Just getting people covered isn't really the goal.  We want better health,  especially when we're spending billions of dollars.  And it's smart to take a close look at whether any reform brings the hoped-for results.

If you want to learn more about the Oregon experience,  here's a New England Journal of Medicine article and a 2013 Kaiser Health News/Washington Post interview with one of the Medicaid lottery winners.

"My blood pressure is still not perfect, but over the last two years I have stopped taking two different blood pressure medicines and am only taking half of a third,"  Mary Carson told interviewer Jordan Rau.  "That is a health improvement but it doesn't necessary show up in the study. My blood sugar is not perfect, but it's more consistently in the right zone. But according to the study, I haven't improved."

Thursday, September 11, 2014

You won't believe latest on employer health benefits

The most shocking thing about the Kaiser Family Foundation's 2014 report on employer health benefits may be the lack of shocking data.

The foundation,  which has been tracking health benefits since 1999,  reports that 2014 continues a period of  "historic moderation" in premium increases,  in the words of CEO Drew Altman.  The average premium for family coverage rose 3 percent,  to $16,834 a year,  with employers covering about $12,000 and employees about $4,800.

Altman and Kaiser VP Gary Claxton,  the study's lead author,  said Wednesday they know that talking about moderation clashes with the experience of many employees,  who are seeing out-of-pocket costs rise while wages stagnate.  And it contradicts some people's expectation that the Affordable Care Act would send rates through the roof.

"If you say that to an average person,  they may look at you like you're out of your mind,"  Altman told reporters.

Deductibles  --  the amount people are required to pay out of pocket before coverage kicks in  --  have been climbing steadily for the last few years.  Sometimes high-deductible plans are accompanied by a pre-tax savings account with employer contributions,  but the biggest recent growth has been in  "plain old vanilla high-deductible plans,"  Altman said.

Thirty-four percent of employees in small firms  (fewer than 200 employees)  and 11 percent of employees in larger companies have deductibles of at least $2,000 for an individual,  the report found.  That's up from 20 percent and 4 percent,  respectively,  in 2010.  Sixty-one percent of employees in small firms and 32 percent of those in large ones must cover at least $1,000 for an individual.  (Some preventive services are covered before the deductible is met,  as required by the ACA.)

"You've got both the ACA and market forces reinforcing each other on the issue of deductibles,"  Altman said.

The report,  done in partnership with the American Hospital Association's Health Research & Educational Trust, is based on a survey of more than 2,000 employers,  done between January and May.  Almost 150 million people are covered by employer-sponsored insurance.

While the Affordable Care Act is forcing changes in costs and coverage,  it also follows years of soaring costs for insurance and health care.  From 1999 to 2004,  for instance,  premiums increased 72 percent while average earnings rose 17 percent.  In the most recent five-year stretch,  premiums rose 26 percent while wages rose 11 percent.  Thus changes that feel extreme for workers  --  especially those whose plans are changing  --  can look modest in the historic context.

Of course,  the ACA is just starting to kick in.  And the health care market is very much in flux,  as my colleague Karen Garloch reported from this week's Carolinas HealthCare System board meeting.  As employers gear up for 2015 insurance enrollment this fall,  I'm working on a look at's happening locally and what lies ahead.  If you're willing to talk about your experience with a high-deductible plan in your workplace,  please get in touch  (my phone number and email are at right, below the photo).

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Southern parents most likely to lack insurance

Almost half the parents who lack health insurance live in Southern states, according to a new report from the Urban Institute's Health Monitoring Center.

The institute and Georgetown University's Health Policy Institute released two reports this week on how the Affordable Care Act has affected children and parents.

For children,  the answer is  "not much."  The act was designed to expand health-care access for adults;  most low-income children are already covered by Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program,  known as CHIP.  The study on children found no significant change in insurance rates,  though researchers had hoped there might be a  "welcome mat effect,"  with publicity about the act helping impoverished parents who hadn't enrolled their children realize they're eligible for aid.

Parents saw the biggest increases in insurance coverage in the 28 states that have expanded Medicaid coverage for low-income adults.  There, the uninsured have gone from 15 percent of the population in the second quarter of 2013 to 10 percent in the second quarter of this year,  the report says.  In the states that didn't participate in Medicaid expansion,  the rate went from 21.5 percent to 19 percent.

Such large Southern states as North Carolina,  Florida and Georgia are among those that didn't expand,  which probably explains the disproportionate regional showing.  The South accounted for 49.9 percent of the nation's uninsured parents,  with the West at 30 percent,  Midwest at 12.6 percent and Northeast at 7.5 percent.  State data won't be available until next year,  the researchers said Tuesday.

Researchers grouped the two studies in the belief that expanding coverage for parents ultimately benefits children,  especially if it means parents get treatment for depression and other issues that detract from family well being.

Most uninsured parents described their health as good or excellent,  though almost one in three said they had at least two days of  "poor mental health" in the past 30 days.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

ACA survey: Rising costs trump better coverage

Most people have yet to see any personal impact from the Affordable Care Act, but those who have are more likely to say they've been hurt by rising costs than helped by greater access,  the latest Kaiser Health Tracking poll shows.

Like most opinions on  "Obamacare,"  views of the personal impact vary with political affiliation.  Democrats are more likely to say they and their family have been helped by the law,  which provides subsidies for insurance premiums and extends coverage to people who may have been blocked by prohibitive costs or preexisting medical conditions.  Republicans and independents are more likely to report negative results,  with most citing higher costs for insurance and/or health care.

While views of the act remain negative,  more respondents said they want their members of Congress to work to improve the law  (63 percent)  than repeal it  (33 percent).

Health care ranks well below the economy and jobs as a voting issue,  the foundation reports,  and among people who describe themselves as enthusiastic voters  --  a group that skews Republican  --  the Affordable Care Act ranks low on the list of motivators.

The Kaiser Family Foundation has been tracking public opinion on the act since it was passed in 2010.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Challenge: Find the hidden rates

When I saw the Americans for Prosperity news release blaming Sen. Kay Hagan for health insurance rate hikes,  my first reaction was:  Bad use of good information.

I'm not quibbling with their right to hold Hagan accountable for results of the Affordable Care Act.  Nor do I doubt rates are going up in 2015.  But the original release  (it has now been updated)  used data that contradicted its own source link and exaggerated the data it had.

What intrigued me was that someone had apparently found public information on proposed 2015 insurance rates that I'd been told were hidden from the public.  All states review rate requests.  Some make the proposals public and even invite public comment.  Not North Carolina.

But here was a map from PricewaterhouseCoopers Health Research Institute, reporting data on North Carolina's 2015 rate proposals.  It said it came from state insurance department filings and public reports.

I was stoked.  Ceci Connolly,  a senior official with the institute, recently spoke in Charlotte. She's sharp.  A former Washington Post reporter,  she helped write a book on the Affordable Care Act that I've been using as a primer.  The institute is generally regarded as a good source of data,  so I could believe Connolly's crew had found a back door to hidden data.

I asked for guidance,  and an institute spokeswoman steered me to SERFF,  a state electronic filing system.  Yikes! It's daunting and I was stumped.  I thought I was good to go when the insurance department gave me tracking numbers on all the filings and instructions on calling them up  --  but spokeswoman Kerry Hall assured me the numbers wouldn't be in there.  I tried again and came up dry.

Meanwhile,  the PWC spokeswoman kept telling me everyone,  including Connolly,  was too busy to talk to me or walk me through it,  but assuring me the rate information is there and accessible to the public.

I asked Gavin Off,  our database expert,  to take a crack.  He got nothing.

I found a similar tracking effort by McKinsey on Healthcare.  It lists North Carolina as not releasing information.

I lobbed the challenge to Cynthia Cox with the Kaiser Family Foundation and Adam Linker with the N.C. Justice Center.  Cox had been researching this very topic and found nothing on North Carolina.  Linker specializes in North Carolina health policy and had wondered about the rate-hike number when Thom Tillis used in Wednesday's Senate debate.

"Can you hack this insurance site?"  I emailed them,  only partly tongue in cheek.  I gave them everything I had and waited.

Cox was initially hopeful.  North Carolina had added filings since she last checked.  "I can walk you through how to get the rates if you give me a call,"  she replied.  But by the time I finished dialing,  she had realized that specific rate information was redacted,  just as state officials had said it was.

Five minutes later,  Linker made the same assessment:  It's not there.

I see three possibilities.  One is that PWC's researchers got it wrong.  One is that they got their data from a nonpublic source.

And the third is that it's actually buried deep in the bowels of SERFF.  So here's today's challenge for data geeks and insurance experts:  Go to the site and see what you can find.  The second button,  for a search by tracking number,  seems to be the best bet.

Tracking numbers are:
Blue Cross and Blue Shield: BCNC-129550932,  BCNC-129565484,  BCNC-129550256,  BCNC-129570603,  BCNC-129568402 and BCNC-129602842.
Aetna/Coventry:  AETN-129556418 and AETN-129603020.
UnitedHealthcare: UHLC-129609305 and UHLC-129574676  (this last document is almost as long as the Affordable Care Act).

Happy hunting!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Debate brought no answers on health care

I suspect most Republicans,  Democrats and independents agree that America's health care system is far from perfect.  But last night's debate brought no insights from Democratic Sen.  Kay Hagan or Republican challenger Thom Tillis about how they'd improve it.

Instead,  each talked about how the other has made things worse.  Tillis,  speaker of the N.C. House,  talked about costs associated with the Affordable Care Act and repeatedly called Hagan a promise-breaker for saying people could keep their insurance policies under Obamacare.

Hagan blamed the cancellation of policies on insurance companies and said she pushed for an extension for existing policies.  She repeatedly said Tillis wants to  "take us back to a broken system,"  and blamed him for denying poor people coverage because of the General Assembly's decision not to expand Medicaid.  Asked to respond to that,  Tillis instead returned to his talking points about Hagan's broken promises.

There's been a lot of buzz lately about the role Obamacare will play in the upcoming Senate race.  Many have speculated that it's losing juice as a Republican attack point,  though Karl Rove seems to disagree.

At this point,  it's hard to tell how much emphasis the theme will get in Tillis'  advertising.  During the debate he mostly folded it into his  "rubber stamp for Barack Obama and Harry Reid"  theme,  while Hagan countered by portraying Tillis as  "giving tax cuts to the wealthy and paying for it by gutting education."

It might be a refreshing break to hear them both talk about practical ways to preserve what's good about the American medical system while putting better care within reach of more citizens.  But that doesn't make for good zingers.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Dental clinic turns no-shows into 'good patients'

Money is certainly an obstacle keeping the poor from good dental care,  but if dentists are being candid,  they'll acknowledge it's not the only one.

Getting an appointment may be hard for patients,  but getting the patients to show up can be a challenge for dentists.  Dr. William Donigan says when Gaston Family Health Services opened its dental clinic in 1996,  the no-show rate was around 45 percent.  That meant the calendar was  overbooked every day to keep things flowing.

The clinics  (there are now two in Gastonia and one in Statesville) have worked hard to get that rate down to about 13 percent,  Donigan said  --  still much higher than the 1-2 percent that's the norm in private practice.  The nonprofit dental clinics see more than 20,000 patients a year,  Donigan said,  with about 60 percent on Medicaid and 15 to 20 percent uninsured.

Clinic staff make reminder calls 48 hours before an appointment.  If a patient misses two appointments,  he or she has to write a letter explaining why and acknowledging that the action took an opportunity away from someone else.  A third no-show results in a one-year ban except for emergency care.

Donigan says the goal is  "developing good patients"  who will do well when their finances improve and they move on to a private practice.  That means  "take care of your teeth, show up for appointments and pay your bill,"  he said.

Donigan said his clinics,  the largest such dental provider in the state,  has worked to improve the patients' experience as well.

"The old clinic model was you shows up and you waited all day.  We try to run on schedule,"  he said.  "Treat the patient with value and they will treat you with value."

Monday, September 1, 2014

Insurance exchange: Where are new numbers?

Two Republican senators have posed a good question:  What has happened to enrollment in the Affordable Care Act's insurance exchanges since March?

Sens. John Barrasso of Wyoming and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee sent an open letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services seeking an update on enrollment numbers,  which were last reported as of the end of open enrollment March 31.  They want to know who has joined since then and who has fallen off the roster for reasons such as failure to pay premiums or provide documentation of their immigration status.

"With the next open enrollment period set to begin on November 15,  2014,  it is imperative that (the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) provide Congress and the public with accurate information about the number of people who are enrolled in exchange coverage as well as the number of people who have cancelled coverage,"  their letter says.

That seems like a reasonable request.  I went looking for updates this summer when I wrote about special enrollment and hit the same wall.

During the 2014 open enrollment period,  HHS provided monthly updates on the number of people who had bought insurance through the federal and state exchanges set up to provide subsidized health insurance.  The most recent tally, posted May 1, showed just over 8 million enrolled through the exchanges and 4.8 million through Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program.

After reading about Alexander's and Barrasso's request,  I went back to the department spokesperson Friday to see when we could expect an update.  The statement I got in reply:  "HHS issued monthly enrollment reports during the first marketplace open enrollment period in order to provide the best understanding of enrollment activities as it was taking place. Now that this time period has ended,  we will look at future opportunities to share information about the marketplace that is reliable and accurate over time as further analysis can be done but we do not anticipate monthly reports."

That,  of course,  is a non-answer.

I'm new to coverage of the Affordable Care Act,  but I've been reporting on public agencies for most of the last 33 years.  I can't think of an instance where withholding or delaying information is wise.  If the numbers show a problem,  it only delays the reckoning.  The perception of hiding something gives critics room to speculate and assume the worst.

So here's hoping the federal government provides a real answer soon.