Answers to 3 questions can shape healthcare reform success

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The healthcare reform law aims to provide access to healthcare to more people. Whether it can achieve that goal still remains to be seen, but the answers to some key questions raised in The Atlantic could determine whether reform will succeed or fail.

Here are three questions raised in the article:

1. Will consumers have access to the doctors they want when they want them?

As millions of newly insured consumers enter the healthcare market, some experts fear people will have trouble actually seeing their providers, especially primary care doctors, The Atlantic noted. The Association of American Medical Colleges has predicted there will be about 92,000 fewer doctors than needed by 2020. And the increase in Medicaid patients coming from the program's expansion will exacerbate the looming doctor shortage as many providers won't take on any more Medicaid patients. And since a majority of plans sold on the health insurance exchanges include narrow or ultra narrow networks, many popular regional hospitals and doctors won't be available to many consumers. For example, Massachusetts insurer Harvard Pilgrim's narrow network plan excludes some of the state's most expensive systems like Massachusetts General Hospital, Brigham and Women's Hospital and Partners Healthcare-owned hospitals. Meanwhile, Blue Shield of California offers plans with networks about half the size of its standard plans' networks.

2. How will the birth control mandate play out?

Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to review a lawsuit by Hobby Lobby that objects to the reform law requiring companies to provide contraceptive coverage within their insurance plans, some experts wonder how broadly the decision could be implemented. If Hobby Lobby prevails, for example, some fear companies could start using religious exemptions to avoid other laws, according to The Atlantic. Meanwhile, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor recently issued a temporary injunction against enforcement of the contraception mandate for hundreds of faith-based groups, including an organization of Catholic nuns from Colorado. In response to Sotomayor's temporary injunction, the U.S. Department of Justice said the Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged's objections have no legal basis.

3. Will HealthCare.gov work smoothly?

The federal health insurance exchange website, HealthCare.gov, has been slowly improving its operation as it leaves behind the glitch-plagued initial rollout. However, federal health officials still have several errors to address, including a software problem that led to more than 100,000 consumers who couldn't enroll in Medicaid plans even though they were determined eligible. Additionally, the federal marketplace still doesn't provide a method for consumers who already are enrolled in a plan to update their coverage for the birth of a baby or other major life events. And since some Republicans fear HealthCare.gov is vulnerable to attack because it collects personal information such as names, birth dates and email addresses, Congress is set to consider legislation to make the website more secure.

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