KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

First Edition: March 14, 2014

Today's headlines include reports about which states are doing well with health law enrollment and implementation, and which ones are not.

Kaiser Health News: Advocates Press For Insurance Subsidies For Domestic Abuse Victims
Kaiser Health News staff writer Julie Appleby reports: "Spouses who file their taxes separately, sometimes because of domestic violence or abandonment, often can’t get government subsidies to purchase health insurance -- and advocates say the Obama administration hasn’t done enough to help them. With the March 31 sign-up deadline approaching, advocates are urging the administration to give domestic violence victims more time to sign up and to make it easier for them to get tax credits even if they don’t file a joint tax return" (Appleby, 3/13). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: Health On The Hill: Lawmakers Weigh Changes To Medicare
Kaiser Health News’ staff writer Mary Agnes Carey and Politico Pro's Jennifer Haberkorn discuss recent events on Capitol Hill, including how lawmakers this week debated a series of changes to Medicare -- including payment shifts in Medicare Advantage plans and a proposed fix to how the program pays doctors (3/13). Read the transcript or watch the video.

Kaiser Health News: A Reader Asks: Would An IRA Withdrawal Count As Income For Exchange Subsidies?
Kaiser Health News consumer columnist Michelle Andrews answers this reader’s question (3/14). Read her response.

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Insurers May Get Cost Break Thanks To Rocky ACA Rollout
Now on Kaiser Health News’ blog, Jay Hancock and Julie Appleby report: "On Tuesday the Department of Health and Human Services signaled its intention to temporarily give insurers a break on the portion of premiums they must spend on medical care or return to policyholders. The switch could shrink consumer rebate checks. But considering what insurers have gone through with balky online marketplaces and shifting regulations, even consumer advocates don’t seem to object" (Hancock and Appleby, 3/13). Check out what else is on the blog.

The Wall Street Journal: Deadline Looms for 'High Risk' Enrollees
Thousands of "high risk" people with existing medical conditions remain enrolled in a federal health-insurance program slated to close March 31, making it likely the Obama administration again will have to extend the program or risk seeing sick people lose coverage. The program was set up soon after the 2010 health law was passed to offer temporary assistance to people who couldn't get coverage from commercial insurers (Radnofsky, 3/13).

The Washington Post: The Northeast And The West Are Leading On Obamacare, In Their Own Ways
The Northeast is enrolling people in Obamacare plans at higher rates than any other region, according to data released this week. But a separate report finds that states in the West are furthest along at implementing the new law (Chokshi, 3/13).

USA Today: States Lagging On Health Care Sign-Ups Vow To Do Better
States that embraced the Affordable Care Act and created health care exchanges were supposed to lead the way in enrolling their residents in health insurance, but some of them are responsible for the federal government falling behind in its projections. Only 18 days remain before the March 31 enrollment deadline, and the government is about 1.8 million behind its goal of 6 million new health insurance customers (Kennedy, 3/13).

The Wall Street Journal’s Washington Wire: On Health Insurance, GOP Wants To Know Who’s Paid
House Republicans are homing in on a new line of attack against the administration’s health law enrollment numbers — “who’s paid” – and are now asking every insurance provider selling a plan through to tell them (Radnofsky, 3/13).

Los Angeles Times: Covered California Enrolls Nearly 1 Million In Health Plans
California is nearing 1 million people enrolled in Obamacare coverage, but the state's insurance exchange is still running behind in signing up Latinos and young people. In figures released Thursday, the state said 923,832 people had picked a health plan through March 9, and about 1.5 million people have enrolled or been deemed eligible for an expansion of Medi-Cal, the state's Medicaid program for the poor (Terhune and Karlamangla, 3/13).

The Washington Post: McAuliffe Visits Pr. William Health Clinic In Campaign For Medicaid Expansion
One after another, the patients at the new Prince William County health clinic told Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) why they need health insurance. Unable to find full-time work since she was laid off in 2009, Catherine Brooks, 54, borrows money from an old high school friend so she can see a kidney specialist and get her teeth cleaned (Zauzmer, 3/13).

The Wall Street Journal’s Washington Wire: Obamacare Exemptions Fuel House Republicans’ Drive
The raft of tweaks to the health law released by the Obama administration last week included a further extension of an exemption to the requirement that individuals carry coverage or pay a penalty, a move that is now fueling House Republicans’ push for repealing the requirement entirely (Radnofsky and Hughes, 3/13).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: GOP Hits Hard On Obamacare After House Election
Congressional Republicans attacked Obamacare with new ferocity but sometimes questionable veracity Thursday, energized by a campaign triumph in Florida that gave health care issues their first airing of the election year. “We’re reminded this week that the American people are still concerned about the president’s health care law,” House Speaker John Boehner said at a news conference where he also challenged Obama to roll back pending cuts for private Medicare coverage plans (3/13).

Politico: Democrats Seek The Right Obamacare Message
House Democrats are looking for a way to blunt their Obamacare woes. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, House Democrats’ campaign arm, is about to embark on a large-scale public opinion survey that will – in part – seek to uncover how voters in key districts across America feel about the 2010 Affordable Care Act (Bresnahan and Sherman, 3/13).

The New York Times: Scott Brown May Seek Office Again, But In New Hampshire
If Mr. Brown enters the race, polls have indicated that he would be the strongest Republican to challenge Ms. Shaheen, but the most recent poll, by Suffolk University, found him trailing by 13 percentage points. Even if he did not win, he would force the Democrats to spend a lot more time and attention in New Hampshire than they had been prepared for. With his national name recognition and the importance of the race, Mr. Brown — who represented Massachusetts for three years — would be expected to raise a serious amount of money. Ms. Shaheen is perceived as vulnerable because of her strong support for President Obama’s health care law, which polls show is deeply unpopular in New Hampshire (Seelye, 3/13).

The Wall Street Journal’s Washington Wire: Americans For Prosperity Targets Pryor’s Support for Health Law
Conservative group Americans for Prosperity launched a $700,000 ad campaign targeting Sen. Mark Pryor (D., Ark.) for his support of the Affordable Care Act. The ad, which will be broadcast statewide beginning Thursday and running for the next three weeks, brings the group’s total spending on the Senate race to more than $1.3 million. In the ad, a woman identified as Wanda of Marion, Ark., says Blue Cross Blue Shield notified her and her husband that their health coverage would be canceled as of December 2014. “Well now, when somebody tells you if you like it, you can keep it, you believe them,” she says, referring to remarks President Barack Obama made when he was touting the health care law. “But that’s not so in this case” (Ballhaus, 3/13).

Politico: Ben Sasse Aided Firm Implementing Obamacare
Nebraska Republican Ben Sasse has built his Senate campaign on his opposition to Obamacare — but he once consulted for a firm that was working to implement it. Sasse provided early “strategic advice” to former Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt’s health care consulting firm while the firm pitched itself to clients in early 2010 to help implement the Affordable Care Act. Sasse is listed, along with his photograph and biography, as a “senior advisor” under the heading “Leavitt Partners team” in PowerPoint presentations from April and May 2010 in which Leavitt’s firm sold its Obamacare expertise (Epstein, 3/14).

The Wall Street Journal: Doctors, Device Makers: Close Ties
A lawsuit involving health-products company Johnson & Johnson offers a glimpse into the close ties between the medical-device industry and doctors who provide or can influence the information consumers hear about medical products (Wang, 3/13). 

The Wall Street Journal’s CIO Report: Hospital Okays Google Glass In The Emergency Department
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center has modified Google Glass wearable computers so they can be used to treat patients in its emergency department without running afoul of privacy regulations. Using software from a startup, the hospital ensures no data travels over Google’s servers, says Dr. John Halamka, the hospital’s CIO (Boulton, 3/13).

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