KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

First Edition: January 24, 2014

Today's headlines include reports that a federal district court judge in Missouri has blocked state officials from restricting groups efforts to help people sign up for coverage as part of the federal health law.  

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: An Obamacare Report Card
Kaiser Health News staff writer Jenny Gold was on Boston’s WBUR’s On Point Thursday to talk about the latest developments with the health law — how many people have signed up and what they’re encountering in the process (1/24). Listen to audio of the conversation below or download it here or check out what else is on the blog.

Kaiser Health News: Philadelphia-Area Blues Struggle To Match Customer Service To Demand
The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Robert Calandra and Stacey Burling, working in partnership with Kaiser Health News, report: "Paige Wolf has been buying health insurance from Independence Blue Cross for years. So when the self-employed public relations professional learned that she could buy a top-of-the-line platinum plan for less than her old policy, she was ecstatic. But her good fortune turned to frustration when the Center City woman didn't receive an invoice for her new plan. She went on Independence's Facebook page to vent. Then she received an e-mail scan of an overdue notice for her January bill, with her doctor's address on it, not hers" (Calandra and Burling, 1/24). Read the story.

The Washington Post: Little-Known Aspect Of Medicaid Now Causing People To Avoid Coverage
Add this to the scary but improbable things people are hearing could happen because of the new federal health-care law: After you die, the state could come after your house. The concern arises from a long-standing but little-known aspect of Medicaid, the state-federal program that provides health coverage to millions of low-income Americans. In certain cases, a state can recoup its medical costs by putting a claim on a deceased person’s assets. This is not an issue for people buying private coverage on online marketplaces. And experts say it is unlikely that the millions of people in more than two dozen states becoming eligible for Medicaid under the program’s expansion will be affected by this rule. But the fear that the government could one day seize their homes is deterring some people from signing up (Somashekhar, 1/23).

The Washington Post: Moody's Downgrades Outlook For Health Insurers
Major credit-rating firm Moody’s on Thursday downgraded the outlook for health insurers from stable to negative, citing the new health-care law’s botched rollout as a significant factor. Moody’s highlighted the relatively low sign-up rate among young adults and a slew of last-minute regulatory changes by the Obama administration as posing risks to health insurers selling policies on the new exchanges (Kliff and Somashekhar, 1/23).

The New York Times: Missouri Obstructing Health Law, Judge Rules
A federal district judge declared Thursday that the State of Missouri was illegally obstructing the activities of insurance counselors appointed by the federal government to inform consumers of their options under the Affordable Care Act (Pear, 1/23).

The Wall Street Journal: Court Says Missouri Can't Block Health-Law Helpers
A federal court has temporarily blocked Missouri officials from restricting organizations in the state from helping people sign up for health insurance as part of the federal health-overhaul law. The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri granted an injunction Thursday blocking the Missouri insurance department from enforcing a state law passed last year that limited the activities of people seeking to enroll the uninsured through new insurance exchanges (Radnofsky, 1/23).

Los Angeles Times: Obamacare Notches Legal Victory In Missouri
Supporters of President Obama’s health law scored a legal victory in Missouri on Thursday as a federal judge blocked the state from enforcing new rules limiting the ability of community organizations to help consumers sign up for coverage under the law. Missouri is among many Republican-leaning states that have put restrictions on these groups, including a requirement that they get licenses before they can help with the enrollment process. Proponents of the restrictions maintain that they protect consumers (Levey, 1/23).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Judge Stops Mo. Law On Health Navigator Licensing
A federal judge granted a preliminary injunction Thursday against Missouri’s law requiring a state license to serve as a navigator to help consumers sign up for coverage through the new health insurance marketplace. U.S. District Judge Ortrie D. Smith’s ruling also denied the state’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit. It wasn’t clear if the state would appeal. Missouri attorney general’s office spokeswoman Nanci Gonder said in a written statement that the office was reviewing the ruling (1/23).

Los Angeles Times: Covered California Gets Federal Money To Improve Service, Enrollment
California's health exchange said it would use an additional $155 million in federal grant money to address customer service woes and to boost low enrollment among the key market of uninsured Latinos. The Covered California exchange announced the injection of money from the Obama administration Thursday as it faced growing criticism for dismal service and a disappointing sign-up rate among Latinos (Terhune, 1/23).

NPR: Texas Issues Tough Rules For Insurance Navigators
Texas has imposed strict new regulations on the insurance helpers, or navigators, who work in the community to enroll people in health plans under the Affordable Care Act. The navigators must register with the state, undergo a background check and fingerprinting, and complete 20 hours of additional training — beyond the 20 to 30 hours of federal training they've already received (Feibel, 1/23).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: O’Malley Calls For Minimum Wage Hike In Speech
Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley used his final State of the State speech on Thursday to urge lawmakers to raise the state’s minimum wage and to assure residents his administration would keep working on the troubled health care exchange. … However, the governor noted ongoing problems with the health care exchange. The troubled rollout has been frustrating for state officials who aspired to make Maryland a model for health care reform implementation. O’Malley described the glitch-ridden exchange website as “a source of great frustration, especially for those Marylanders who were looking forward to obtaining health care for the very first time in their lives” (1/23).

The Wall Street Journal: Aetna CEO Predicts Surge In Marketing Spending Among Health Insurers
Aetna Inc. Chief Executive Mark Bertolini on Friday said that the evolution of the U.S. health-insurance market will soon push insurers to spend billions more on marketing to consumers. As more consumers begin to shop for their own health insurance via private and government-run exchanges, Mr. Bertolini said insurers will have little choice but to raise their budgets significantly to reach them. He said that he hoped to increase Aetna's marketing spend by five times in the years ahead (Berman, 1/24).

The New York Times: Hospital Chain Said To Scheme To Inflate Bills
Every day the scorecards went up, where they could be seen by all of the hospital’s emergency room doctors. Physicians hitting the target to admit at least half of the patients over 65 years old who entered the emergency department were color-coded green. The names of doctors who were close were yellow. Failing physicians were red (Creswell and Abelson, 1/23).

Probublica/NPR: How Will Medicare Pull Back The Curtain On Pay For Doctors?
The federal government said last week that it would begin releasing data on physician payments in the Medicare program. Somehow, the move seems to have ticked off both supporters and opponents of broader transparency in medicine. Doctor groups, for their part, are worried that the information to be released by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will lack context the public needs to understand it (Ornstein, 1/23).

The Washington Post: Chris Jennings, White House Adviser On Health Care, Steps Down
Chris Jennings, the White House’s coordinator of health reform, has resigned six months after he was recruited to try to iron out the implementation of major aspects of the Affordable Care Act. Jennings said in an interview Thursday that he decided to leave after he landed in the hospital last month with a health scare after working the long, intense hours typical of senior White House aides (Goldstein and Eilperin, 1/23).

The Wall Street Journal’s Washington Wire: Chris Jennings Leaves White House Health Post
Mr. Jennings, a Clinton administration veteran who had been running his own health-policy consulting business, was tapped by the Obama administration in the summer to help with the rollout of the federal health law. He joined a team that had been headed by Jeanne Lambrew, a former public affairs and health policy professor (Radnofsky, 1/23).

The New York Times: Tea Party Donors Exploit Followers, Schumer Says
Senator Charles E. Schumer on Thursday called on Democrats to try to reduce the Tea Party’s political influence by driving a wedge between the movement’s elite leaders and its middle-income followers who depend on popular government programs like Medicare. In a speech to the liberal Center for American Progress Action Fund, Mr. Schumer, a New York Democrat who is highly regarded as a party political strategist, said Democrats have been slow to counter what he acknowledged was an effective antigovernment message by the Tea Party (Hulse, 1/23).

The New York Times: Huckabee Criticizes Required Coverage of Birth Control
Former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas minced no words on Thursday in criticizing requirements that health insurance pay for birth control. The reasoning behind the idea, he said, was that women “cannot control their libidos or their reproductive systems without the help of the government.” He blamed Democrats, who, he said, “want to insult the women of America into making them believe that they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing them with a prescription each month for birth control” (1/24).

Politico: Mike Huckabee Hits Dems On Women, Pill, ‘Libido’
Huckabee’s comments sparked a firestorm on Twitter and on cable news, and Democrats were quick to seize on the remarks. Planned Parenthood and several Democratic party committees blasted out statements, while White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the comments sounded “offensive to me and to women” (Glueck, 1/23).

NPR: Life-Support Battle Over Pregnant Texas Woman In Court Friday
The case of the Texas woman, 22-weeks pregnant and being kept on life-support machines at a Forth Worth hospital against her husband's wishes, goes before a judge in North Texas on Friday. Marlise Munoz has been on respirators and ventilators since she was found unconscious in her home in November, when she was 14 weeks pregnant (Silverman, 1/24).

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