KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Problems In States’ Health Insurance Exchanges Persist As Officials Ready Deadline Push

In Maryland, Gov. Martin O'Malley has hired new contractors to make sure the state's online health insurance exchange works properly even as new problems arise. In the meantime, Minnesota lawmakers are sparring over fixes to that state's exchange, and California's marketplace faces enrollment challenges as deadlines loom.

The Washington Post: Maryland Health Exchange Users Hit Snags, But O’Malley Reasserts 'Major Fixes' Are Done
Maryland's online health-insurance exchange got mixed marks from some users Monday who said the Web site continued to have serious difficulties despite Gov. Martin O'Malley's announcement this weekend that the major problems hindering enrollment had been fixed (Wagner, 12/16).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: O'Malley: Most Problems Resolved On Health Website
The governor announced that Optum/QSSI, a Columbia-based company, has been brought in to help improve the overall performance of the website. O’Malley also said CareFirst has agreed to extend the enrollment deadline from Dec. 23 to Dec. 27 to help more people get coverage that begins Jan. 1. Hours will be extended at call centers to help people enroll, O'Malley said. The administration also said health exchange officials will reach out to consumers who have started but not finished the application process through emails, regular mail and robocalls (12/16).

The Baltimore Sun: Md. Health Care Website Still Has Glitches Despite Major Fixes
Less than two days after Gov. Martin O'Malley declared that the state's online insurance marketplace finally worked for most consumers, a server crashed Monday, the call center became overwhelmed and the governor announced he was bringing in another contractor to improve the website. Some consumers and advocacy groups reported Monday that the website where consumers can buy health plans under the federal Affordable Care Act is easier to navigate (Walker and Cox, 12/16).

Pioneer Press: GOP Gubernatorial Candidate Calls For MNsure Boss' Resignation
Controversy continued Monday over MNsure executive director April Todd-Malmlov's vacation in November to Costa Rica. Scott Honour, a Republican candidate for governor, called on Todd-Malmlov to resign, saying in a statement that he "can't imagine the head of a company being on vacation during a major product rollout" (Snowbeck, 12/16).

MinnPost: GOP Leaders, Dayton Representative Spar Over MNsure Performance Criticisms
Republican leaders leveled another round of criticisms at Minnesota's embattled health insurance exchange on Monday as the deadline for consumers to select coverage looms next week. GOP legislative leaders said Gov. Mark Dayton, who in part led the effort to bring a state-based exchange to Minnesota, needs to take ownership of MNsure's failings (Nord, 12/16).

Minnesota Public Radio: Under Pressure, MNsure Pushes Data Privacy Fixes
MNsure technology officials say they're putting in security fixes to the state's online health insurance site that should be completed by Tuesday night. But they are stopping short of acknowledging a specific vulnerability uncovered a few weeks ago. The problem is complex, but it comes down to this: MNsure's website allows consumers' private data to come through unencrypted, leaving it vulnerable to an inexpensive hacking tool. That tool can capture information coming from computers or smartphones within a range of as much as 150 yards, according to Minnetonka security analyst Mark Lanterman (Stawicki, 12/17).

Minnesota Public Radio: GOP Leaders Raise MNsure
Republican leaders in the Minnesota House and Senate are calling on DFL Gov. Mark Dayton to answer key questions about the state's new health insurance exchange. House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, and Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, want the governor to reassure all MNsure applicants that they will have coverage beginning next year, even if they haven't received an insurance card (Pugmire, 12/16). 

The Star Tribune: Applicants Stuck In MNsure's Gears
Laurie Swenson quit her editing job with the Bemidji Pioneer to care for her ailing parents, counting on getting affordable health insurance through the state's new MNsure exchange. The 56-year-old completed her application on Oct. 16. She waited for the status to change from "pending" so she could complete enrollment in a health plan. As of Monday -- just a week before the deadline to get benefits that start on Jan. 1 -- Swenson’s application was still listed as pending (Olson and Crosby, 12/17). 

Kaiser Health News: In California, It's Not A Done Deal Until You Get The Insurance Card
For all the attention paid to the troubles at the front end of the enrollment process in the nation's new insurance marketplaces, the back end can be just as fraught. The path to receiving an insurance card, the key to receiving non-emergency medical care, can be tortuous. Once someone signs up, the insurance exchange still has to give the information to the insurer, which must send a confirmation packet and, even more important, a bill (Gorman, 12/16).

California Healthline: Critical Times For State Health Exchange
The key target date for the health benefit exchange is Dec. 23, the last day Californians can sign up for Covered California health insurance and be eligible for benefits starting Jan. 1. People who sign up by Dec. 23 will have until Jan. 5 to start paying premiums in California, an extension recently approved by the exchange board. Coverage will start later for Californians who sign up after Dec. 23. Open enrollment continues until Mar. 31, 2014. For small business owners looking to join through the Small-Business Health Options Program -- known as SHOP -- there is no early deadline to enroll. The Dec. 23 deadline is for individual policies only; employers have until Dec. 31 to enroll their employees for benefits that start Jan. 1 (Gorn, 12/16).

The Sacramento Bee: California Groups Report Strategies, Challenges Of Plugging Obamacare
Freebies and refreshments were effective enticement tools. Wordy brochures and door hangers didn't work as well. Common themes emerged among the nonprofits, labor unions, social services centers and dozens of other groups paid to promote the new health care law in California in their first reports to the state's health exchange (Cadelago, 12/17).

Exchanges in Florida, Colorado and Oregon also make news --

Miami Herald: Insurance Firm Recruits Nonprofits To Sell Obamacare
The Stuart-based Fiorella Insurance Agency made headlines a couple of months ago when it began using the Obamacare Enrollment Team name to insinuate official ties to the healthcare law and sell policies to unsuspecting people, setting off an ongoing state inquiry. Now the firm is reaching out to nonprofit organizations that are registered supporters of the Affordable Care Act -- so-called "Champions for Coverage" -- and trying to get these organizations to help generate leads to sell insurance (Mitchell, 12/17).

The Denver Post: Colorado Health Care Enrollments Continue To Climb As Deadlines Loom
Enrollments in Colorado's new subsidized private insurance exchange continued to climb in early December, as end-of-year deadlines loom. State officials said they had reached 23,009 enrollments on the exchange through Dec. 14, enough to creep closer to the lowest-case scenario for the month contained in a projection they made before the Oct. 1 launch (Booth, 12/16).

The Oregonian: Oregon Health Exchange Turns Up Heat On Oracle Over Programming 
As Oracle Corp. programmers try to fix problems with its work on the state's health insurance website, Cover Oregon is bringing in outside experts to make sure the company isn't adding new bugs at the same time. The exchange's interim director, Bruce Goldberg, said Monday he's hiring people with the skills to look at programming code as it is being written to ensure "it is done correctly and we don't have to continue to go back and fix bugs in the system" (Budnick, 12/16).

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