KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Obamacare Tweaks Continue Amid Complaints

The government will allow consumers who are unhappy with the plan they chose to make some limited changes and announces options for reporting life changes, such as a marriage or the birth of a child, to update their plan choices, the administration said. It is also looking at requiring insurers to accept third-party payments, such as those made under the Ryan White CARE Act, to help people with HIV/AIDS pay for expensive drugs. Meanwhile, The Washington Post examines the history of Accenture, the contractor hired to fix, and finds troubled projects and allegations of ethical lapses.

The Washington Post: Administration Will Allow People To Switch Health-Care Plans To A Limited Degree
In a memo distributed Thursday night to insurers, federal health officials said that people may pick a different health plan before the end of March if they are dissatisfied with the one they chose, but only if they stay with the same insurer and generally the same level of coverage. The 14-page memo, obtained by The Washington Post, also says people will be given more freedom and a longer opportunity to get a new health plan if they can prove that, the Web site for the new marketplace, displayed inaccurate information about the benefits that a health plan offers (Goldstein, 2/8).

CBS News: Obamacare Rules Tweaked Amid Complaints About Plan Flexibility
To address concerns among some Obamacare enrollees who lost access to their old doctors or found themselves unable to add a new dependent or spouse, President Obama’s administration has tweaked the law’s regulations to provide added flexibility for consumers, CBS News confirms. “We are committed to ensuring that consumers have continuity of coverage if they experience a life circumstance such as a birth of a new child or a marriage,” explained Health and Human Services spokeswoman Joanne Peters. “As of this week, consumers are able to report these life events and change or update their coverage directly through the Marketplace. We continue to work closely with issuers to ensure that consumers are able to use this new functionality to make changes to their coverage” (Miller, 2/8).

Reuters: CMS May Require Obamacare Insurers To Accept Ryan White Payments
The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), in an effort to keep insurers from denying coverage to people with HIV/AIDS, may strengthen its position on health plans accepting third-party payments, such as those under the 1990 Ryan White Act. Hundreds of people with HIV/AIDS in Louisiana trying to obtain coverage under President Barack Obama's healthcare reform are in danger of being thrown out of the insurance plan they selected in a dispute over federal subsidies and interpretation of rules about preventing Obamacare fraud, Reuters reported on Saturday. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana, the state's largest health insurer, is rejecting checks from a federal program designed to help these patients pay for AIDS drugs and insurance premiums (Begley and Steenhuysen, 2/8).

The Washington Post: Accenture, Hired To Fix, Has Troubled Past
Accenture, the contractor urgently tapped to help fix the federal health-insurance Web site, is a favorite of corporate America but has a record that includes troubled projects and allegations of ethical lapses, a review of the consulting giant’s history shows. ... In North Carolina, glitches in an Accenture-configured computer system contributed to massive backlogs for food-stamp recipients, leading the Obama administration last month to threaten to withdraw the state’s food-stamp funding. Federal officials have also on occasion criticized the company’s integrity. The U.S. Postal Service Inspector General’s Office wrote in June that Accenture had “demonstrated an absence of business ethics,” and said that the agency should consider terminating the firm’s more than $200 million in contracts. ... The company denied wrongdoing in the case (Markon and Crites, 2/9).

Politico: ACA Enrollment: Mayors Hold The Key
The road to Obamacare enrollment runs through City Hall. The Obama administration is relying on friendly mayors to coordinate enrollment efforts, circumvent tricky state politics and put a local stamp on the vast federal law. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has stood alongside mayors in at least seven cities in the past three weeks as she has taken the sign-up message across the country and rubbed elbows with dozens of other mayors at a recent conference in Washington (Cheney, 2/9). 

Los Angeles Times: Corporate Backing Is Helping Obamacare Go Mainstream
Although many companies are wary of associating with the health law while it remains a political lightning rod, the Affordable Care Act is increasingly entering the mainstream as major corporations, sports teams and others integrate it into their businesses. The development — little-noticed amid the political skirmishing in Washington — may not erase widespread skepticism about the law, which has deepened in recent months, polls show. But as the law becomes embedded in American life, the Republican drive to dismantle Obamacare will almost certainly become more complicated (Levey, 2/8).

Kaiser Health News: Some Middle-Class Families Find Price Of Subsidized Health Coverage ‘Awfully High’
The lure used to get uninsured Americans to sign up for health law coverage was the promise of generous premium subsidies. But the promise comes with a catch for almost 3 million people earning between three and four times the federal poverty rate: They may have to pay up to 9.5 percent of their income toward that premium before the subsidy kicks in (Appleby, 2/10). 

Kaiser Health News: Family Planning Clinics In Calif. Squeezed By Health Law
An unexpected quirk in the Affordable Care Act has left birth control clinics struggling to balance their budgets in the most unlikely of places: California. Clinics that have long enjoyed state support to run as nonprofits have to rethink how to stay in business (Dembosky, 2/10).

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