Will Obamacare bring down health costs? Expert weighs in

Open enrollment for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act is only about a week old, and so far, most of the news coverage has focused on glitches and delays in the online insurance exchanges. But signing up is only the first part of the story. There's also a big question of how the law will affect overall health care costs.

The Obama administration hopes 7 million people will sign up for insurance during the 2014-2015 year -- enrollment remains open until March 31, but people who want their benefits to kick in Jan. 1 must sign up by Dec. 15.

Under the much-discussed insurance mandate portion of the law, people will be required to pay a penalty if they fail to sign up for insurance. Insurance companies will no longer be allowed to deny people with pre-existing medical conditions or raise rates if a person gets sick.

In addition to expanding access to insurance coverage, another goal of the law was to lower the nation's overall health care costs.

Each year Americans spend more than $2 trillion on health care, with about a third of that going to unnecessary hospitalizations and tests that are not backed up by the latest scientific evidence.

For the latest edition of Morning Rounds, CBS News chief medical correspondent Dr. Jon LaPook sat down with Sherry Glied, dean of the NYU Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, to find out just how much costs are expected to be curbed under the law.

Glied served as Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) from 2010 to 2012, helping to draft the law's implementation.

She points out provisions in the law that aim to cut costs. For example, it requires insurance companies to keep administrative costs below a certain threshold, or pay customers the difference. Many customers have already received rebate checks.

Further down the road, the law hopes to tackle health care costs on a societal level.

One of the ways it would do that is by changing the way some doctors' fees are calculated. Currently, doctors treating patients through government-subsidized Medicare get paid on a fee-for-service basis, meaning the more tests and procedures they ordered, the more money they got. Under the Affordable Care Act, a new provision lets health care practitioners create what are called accountable care organizations.

These organizations will track patients' health from year to year and adjust payments to doctors depending on their outcomes, rather than the number of procedures. If a patient's health improves, they stay out of the hospital and their medical costs go down, then their doctor will get credit and actually earn extra.

Dr. LaPook, however, notes this might create some friction for doctors who have a gut intuition they should order a test, even if studies say it's not necessary.

Watch the video to the left in case you missed Sherry Glied and Dr. LaPook breaking down the basics on who needs coverage and how to sign up for health care under the new law.

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