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Some hospital costs fall in Affordable Care Act’s first year, report finds

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(Credit: Healthcare.gov)

(CNN) — Days ahead of the one-year anniversary of the rollout of HealthCare.gov, the Affordable Care Act’s health care exchange website that was originally plagued with numerous technical glitches, the Department of Health and Human Services has released a report highlighting the impact of the law on hospital costs.

HHS, which oversees the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, said the report projects hospitals will save $5.7 billion in uncompensated care costs in 2014. Uncompensated care costs are those incurred by the hospitals that won’t be reimbursed. The report says $4.2 billion of the savings come from the 27 states — plus Washington, D.C. — that implemented a Medicaid expansion as part of the health care act, with the additional $1.5 billion in savings spread across the states that opted out of the expansion.

“Hospitals have long been on the front lines of caring for the uninsured, who often cannot pay the full cost of their care. Today’s news is good for families, businesses and taxpayers alike,” said HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell before the report’s release.

The number of hospital visits by patients who are uninsured has fallen, the report found, and the general hypothesis is that because of the increase in individuals with health care insurance, the instances of uninsured hospital trips are less frequent, and that will continue to be a trend.

However, the report noted that “the extent of this reduction is an empirical question,” because there are a number of factors that will contribute to these costs, including “the extent to which newly insured individuals are able to meet the cost-sharing obligations imposed by their plans.”

Asked if these figures might encourage governors of states that originally opted against the expansion to revisit the option, Burwell said the issue was a very individualized one. “The medicaid issue is retail,” she told reporters at a briefing on Wednesday. “It is state by state.”

But the issue is also political. Of the 21 states that are not implementing the expansion, all but two of them — Missouri and Virginia — have Republican governors.

Burwell expressed cautious optimism that the recent decision by Republican Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett to move forward with the Medicaid expansion could influence other GOP governors.

“I think it’s true that people are influenced by people who are like them” she said in response to a question about whether Corbett’s decision might inspire others. “I think the more that we are able to attract conservative Republican governors, the more that those who have very strong feelings will perhaps listen.”

According to numbers provided by HHS, a little over 10 million previously uninsured adults have gotten health care coverage since enrollment began last year.

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