KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

First Edition: March 7, 2014

Today's headlines include stories about new studies that attempt to measure the health law's headway in signing up uninsured Americans for health coverage.

Kaiser Health News: IG Report Findings Could Strengthen Nursing Home Inspections
Reporting for Kaiser Health News in collaboration with The Washington Post, Susan Jaffe writes: "Federal efforts to strengthen inspections of the nation's nursing homes are gaining momentum after a government probe uncovered instances of substandard care. The March 3 report by the HHS Inspector General found that an estimated one-third of residents suffered harm because of substandard care and that the chances of nursing home inspectors discovering these 'adverse events' are 'slim to none,' said Ruth Ann Dorrill, a deputy regional director for the inspector general and the manager of the investigation" (Jaffe, 3/7). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: What Will Obamacare Really Cost? They Might Be First To Know
Kaiser Health News staff writer Jay Hancock reports: "Now that medical insurers must accept all applicants no matter how sick, what will these new customers cost health plans? How will they affect coverage prices for 2015 and beyond? Few questions about the Affordable Care Act are more important. How it all plays out will affect consumer pocketbooks, insurance company profits and perhaps the political fortunes of those backing the health law" (Hancock, 3/7). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: A Reader Asks: Can I Buy An Exchange Plan When My Policy Expires In May?
Kaiser Health News consumer columnist Michelle Andrews answers this readers question (3/7). Read her response.

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Obama Urges Latinos To Sign Up For Insurance Now
Now on Kaiser Health News' blog, Phil Galewitz reports: "President Barack Obama appealed directly to Latinos on Thursday, telling them time is running out to sign up for health coverage this year and that they should enroll now to avoid problems" (Galewitz, 3/6). Check out what else is on the blog.

The Washington Post: New Health Insurance Marketplaces Signing Up Few Uninsured Americans, Two Surveys Find
The new health insurance marketplaces appear to be making little headway in signing up Americans who lack insurance, the Affordable Care Act’s central goal, according to a pair of new surveys. Only one in 10 uninsured people who qualify for private plans through the new marketplaces enrolled as of last month, one of the surveys shows. The other found that about half of uninsured adults have looked for information on the online exchanges or planned to look (Goldstein, 3/6).

The Wall Street Journal: Number Of Uninsured Buying Coverage Under Health Law Is Rising
The number of previously uninsured consumers buying coverage under the health law has risen sharply in recent weeks, according to new research, a nascent signal of progress in the law's goal of reducing the ranks of the uninsured. The overall share of uninsured people gaining coverage remains low, but the trend suggests more people could get coverage as the enrollment period approaches its final weeks. Most people must pick health plans by the end of March (Weaver and Mathews, 3/6).

The New York Times: Companies Test Plans To Cut Their Health Costs
As health care costs continue their steady climb, employers are looking for ways to slow the pace. A survey of large employers released on Thursday showed that companies were shifting more costs onto their employees but were also experimenting with concepts like private exchanges that allow companies like Walgreen to offer their workers more choices in health care plans (Abelson, 3/6).

The New York Times: More Than One Way To Buy A Plan
When the federal online marketplace for the Affordable Care Act stumbled out of the gate last fall, leaving would-be applicants unable to sign up for care or even to view their plans, three young programmers thought they might be able to help frustrated users. In October, they packaged reams of publicly-available data into a website,, that allowed users to immediately view exchange plans in their area. But the site was intended for research only; users still had to purchase them through the federal and state health exchanges or, in some cases, directly through insurers (Bidgood, 3/6). 

The Wall Street Journal: Obama Says Delays Don't Mean Health Law Was A Mistake
President Barack Obama on Thursday responded to criticism of his latest change to the Affordable Care Act, saying fixes to the program should be expected and don't amount to an implicit acknowledgment of the law's flaws. "No, No, No," Mr. Obama said when asked whether the delays and changes to the law suggest it was a mistake. "On a program like this that has so many people involved, and millions of people who are trying to find health insurance or get better health insurance, there are always going to be some smoothing out of the process" (Favole, 3/6).

The Wall Street Journal’s Washington Wire: Obamacare Penalty To Exceed $95 For Many Americans
For many individuals and families, the penalty for not having health-insurance coverage will run a lot higher than the $95 figure often cited — and it could run into the five figures in some cases. That’s according to the Tax Policy Center, which has just rolled out a tax penalty calculator — the ACA Tax Penalty Calculator. The calculator helps people figure out how large their tax penalty will be if they fail to obtain required health-insurance coverage (McKinnon, 3/6).

The Wall Street Journal’s Washington Wire: Some Unions Get Break From Health Law’s ‘Belly Button Tax’
The slew of regulations released by the Obama administration Wednesday to implement the federal health law included confirmation that some labor unions and businesses would get a break from the law’s so-called belly button tax. Federal officials signaled in November they were planning to let some organizations that offer health insurance off paying a reinsurance fee on each person they cover, which goes into a fund to compensate insurance carriers that end up paying big medical bills now they can no longer charge riskier people more (Radnofsky, 3/6).

NPR: Obama Pitches Health Care Law To Latinos In Bid To Boost Enrollment
Getting Latinos to sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act is seen as critical to the law's success. The Latino population is disproportionately uninsured and relatively young, but enrollment hasn't been going well. This, in part, explains President Obama's appearance Thursday at a town-hall-style event hosted by the nation's two largest Spanish-language television networks, Univision and Telemundo. The tough questions he got only scratch the surface (Keith, 3/6).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Obama To Latinos: Last Call For Health Care Signup
Facing fresh skepticism from one of his traditionally most loyal constituencies, Obama pushed back on the notion of some critics that he’s become America’s “deporter in chief,” insisting that Latinos know that “I’ve got their back.” In a virtual town hall meeting with Spanish-language media outlets, Obama disputed that his credibility had been undermined by the chaotic health care rollout and his failure to secure legal status for millions of Latinos in the U.S. illegally (3/6).

The Washington Post: Gansler Decries ‘Mismanagement’ Of Maryland Health Exchange In Letter To GOP Senator
Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler (D) offered fresh criticism Thursday of the way that Gov. Martin O’Malley’s administration has handled Maryland’s online health insurance exchange, saying in a letter to a Republican senator that “the taxpayers ... have been poorly served by the Executive Branch’s mismanagement.” Gansler, a Democratic candidate for governor, wrote that he is “deeply troubled” by the tens of millions of dollars that have been “wasted while hard-working Marylanders have suffered from the botched rollout” (Wagner, 3/6).

The Washington Post: In Va., Waiting For Someone To Blink On Medicaid
With two days to go before they are supposed to leave town, House Republicans and Gov. Terry McAuliffe showed no signs Thursday of budging in their standoff over expanding Medicaid, bringing Virginia closer to a historic budget stalemate. McAuliffe (D) continued making his case on behalf of expansion, accusing Republican opponents of ignoring those Virginians who stand to benefit the most from the program. Recounting wrenching stories from a tour of a health clinic in rural Wise County, the governor said: “Folks, this is about life and death. It is not a partisan political game” (lLaris, 3/6). 

The New York Times: New Hampshire Senate Votes To Expand Health Insurance Coverage
The state’s Republican-dominated Senate voted Thursday to expand health care coverage to an estimated 50,000 adults using Medicaid funding made available through the Affordable Care Act. The bill moves to the House, which has passed similar legislation. Gov. Maggie Hassan, a Democrat, praised the bill, calling it “a New Hampshire-specific solution to making sure that we can have health care coverage for working men and women throughout the state who haven’t had it before” (Bidgood, 3/6).

The New York Times: Official At Helm Of Federal Health Marketplace Is Resigning
Gary M. Cohen, the official in charge of the federal health insurance marketplace, who repeatedly told Congress before its troubled rollout that it would work well, said on Thursday that he was resigning (Pear, 3/6).

Politico: House To Vote On ‘Doc Fix’ – With Obamacare Funds
House Republicans are planning to bring up a permanent “doc fix” bill next week — paid for by repealing the individual mandate in Obamacare. It puts House Democrats in an awkward position. They have to either vote against repealing a Medicare payment formula that has long vexed doctors — or against a key, but unpopular piece of the Affordable Care Act. And because the bill isn’t likely to come up in the Democratic-led Senate, the problem will still be unsolved (Haberkorn, 3/6).

Politico: $1 Million IN Ads To Target Democrats On Medicare
Seizing on proposed Medicare Advantage cuts, the right-leaning American Action Network will unveil a $1 million ad campaign on Friday against three vulnerable Democratic senators and six House Democrats. Over the next two weeks, TV buys will be accompanied by mailings to swing voters and online ads directing voters to (Hohmann, 3/6).

The New York Times: Pitfalls Seen In A Turn to Privately Run Long-Term Care
Even as public attention is focused on the Affordable Care Act, another health care overhaul is underway in many states: an ambitious effort to restrain the ballooning Medicaid cost of long-term care as people live longer and survive more disabling conditions (Bernstein, 3/6).

Los Angeles Times: Estimate Of How Much State Owes For Retiree Healthcare Keeps Rising
While lawmakers begin discussing ways to fix California's cash-strapped teacher pension system, another long-term financial problem continues to fester. The cost of providing healthcare to retired state workers is $64.6 billion more than state leaders have set aside to pay, an increase of $730 million from the previous year (Megerian, 3/6).

The New York Times: Abortion Law Pushes Texas Clinics To Close Doors
Shortly before a candlelight vigil on the sidewalk outside, employees of the last abortion clinic in the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas shut the doors early Thursday evening, making legal abortion unavailable in the poorest part of the state in the wake of tough new restrictions passed last year by the Texas Legislature (Fernandez, 3/6).

Los Angeles Times: Two More Abortion Clinics Close In Texas Under New Restrictions
Two more Texas abortion clinics closed on Thursday because of restrictions in a state law that is being fought in the federal courts. Amy Hagstrom Miller, who owns the Whole Woman's Health Clinic, told reporters on Thursday that Republican lawmakers have made it impossible to keep her clinics open in Beaumont and McAllen. The McAllen clinic is the last in the Rio Grande Valley in southern Texas, and the Beaumont clinic is the only one between Houston and the Louisiana border (Muskal, 3/6).

Los Angeles Times: computers with L.A. County Patients’ Personal Data Are Stolen
A Torrance office of Sutherland Healthcare Solutions, which handles billing and collections for the county's Department of Health Services and Department of Public Health, was burglarized Feb. 5 and computer equipment was stolen, according to a county statement issued Thursday (Sewell, 3/6). 

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