KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

First Edition: January 30, 2014

Today's headlines include stories about a new poll examining how uninsured people -- one of the groups the health law was designed to help -- view the overhaul.

Kaiser Health News: The Health Law's '3 Rs' For Insurers: A Bailout Or Necessary Safeguards?
Kaiser Health News staff writer Mary Agnes Carey reports: "Three provisions in the health law that proponents say are designed to help insurers manage the financial risk of taking all comers while keeping premiums affordable are under fire on Capitol Hill, with Republicans labeling them as giveaways to the health insurance industry" (Carey, 1/30). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Health Law A Tough Sell To Uninsured; Study: Little Evidence Of Better Care At Expensive Hospitals; WellPoint Discloses Big Sign-Ups Through Health Exchanges
Now on Kaiser Health News, Jordan Rau reports on a new tracking poll that finds that the people the health law was designed to help the most are becoming more critical of it: "This month’s tracking poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 47 percent of the uninsured said they hold unfavorable views of the law while 24 percent said they liked it. These negative views have increased since December, when 43 percent of the uninsured panned the law and 36 percent liked it. (KHN is an editorially independent program of the Foundation)" (Rau, 1/30). 

Also on Capsules, Rau writes about a study examining quality of care at expensive hospitals: "The actual prices insurers pay hospitals are closely guarded secrets in health care. That has made it hard for health researchers to study one of the most important issues: whether patients get better treatments from more expensive hospitals. Hospital list prices, which Medicare published last year, provide no indication about how much hospitals actually are compensated by private insurers" (Rau, 1/29). 

In addition, Jay Hancock reports that WellPoint disclosed higher-than expected early membership growth through the health law's new exchanges: "The biggest player in the Affordable Care Act's online insurance marketplaces delivered encouraging news to Obamacare supporters Wednesday" (Hancock, 1/29). 

And Julie Appleby parses the 9 million Obamacare enrollment number: "That total is important to supporters as a sign that the law is working — and as an indication of the difficulties Republicans would face to rescind the law or roll back certain provisions. Critics have pointed out that 9 million isn't a huge number — and that some of those people, perhaps even many of them, were previously insured" (Appleby, 1/29). Check out what else is on the blog.

The Washington Post: Health-Care Law Loses Support Among Uninsured, Poll Shows
Support for the health-care law declined among the uninsured this month, just as many of the program’s key provisions went into effect, according to a new poll examining Americans’ knowledge and views of the Affordable Care Act. Large numbers of the uninsured are also unaware of some of the law’s benefits, such as subsidies to help low- and middle-income people pay monthly health insurance premiums, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation survey. Fifty-three percent of uninsured Americans are unaware of the law’s bar on insurance companies rejecting people with preexisting conditions (Somashekhar, 1/30).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: O’Malley To Sign Bill On Health Exchange Problems
A measure to help people get health insurance retroactive to Jan. 1, if problems with a state website kept them from doing so will be taking effect. Gov. Martin O’Malley is scheduled to sign emergency legislation on Thursday in Annapolis to put it into effect immediately (1/30).

The Washington Post’s WonkBlog: The Four Most Important States To Watch On Obamacare's Medicaid Expansion
With state legislatures kicking off their 2014 sessions, the Medicaid expansion is back in play. Twenty-six states had signed onto the Medicaid expansion at the start of this year -- and that leaves nearly half the country deciding whether to make a go of it in the future. In some states, there's little discussion of the Medicaid expansion. There are states that rejected it in 2013 and will probably reject it in 2014. But in a handful of states, there's a debate slowly starting about the best way to move forward in this area. Here are a few states that Wonkblog will be keeping an eye on in coming months (Kliff, 1/29).

The Washington Post: Affordable Care Act 'Success Story' At State Of The Union Needed Extra Help To Sign Up
A few weeks ago, Rep. Donna F. Edwards (D-Md.) invited a guest to President Obama’s State of the Union address: Lorita Katherine Waltz, a 49-year-old nurse from Prince George’s County who the congresswoman considers an Affordable Care Act "success story." But Waltz’s family did not become enrolled in a new insurance plan until Tuesday — the day of the president’s address — after weeks of trying and only with help from state leaders (Johnson, 1/29).

Los Angeles Times: WellPoint Enrolls 500,000 In Obamacare Policies, Upbeat About Trends
Health insurance giant WellPoint Inc. has signed up 500,000 people for Obamacare policies across the country, and it struck an upbeat tone about early enrollment trends under the healthcare law. WellPoint, which runs Anthem Blue Cross plans in California and 13 other states, said new enrollees tend to be older than current customers but that enrollment is in line with its projections and pricing for the new policies (Terhune, 1/29).

The Wall Street Journal: WellPoint Says Health-Law Customers Match Projections
The insurer's experience is being closely watched because of its big position in the new government marketplaces. The Indianapolis-based company has been the biggest provider of individual plans and is selling them through the government marketplaces in 14 states, including New York and California (Mathews, 1/29).

The Wall Street Journal: Obama Travels To Promote State-Of-The-Union Message
Republican lawmakers warned of presidential overreach and cast Mr. Obama as having given up on trying to compromise with Congress. Sen. John Thune (R., S.D.) said Mr. Obama "ought to work with us on bipartisan measures," such as making changes to the 2010 health-care law and approving the long-stalled Keystone XL pipeline. "Instead, he's talking about taking unilateral action on a whole range of things" (Lee and Nicholas, 1/29).

The New York Times: Unpopularity Of The House Could Turn Senate Races
Republicans start this election year with the strongest hand they have had since 2010: a Democratic president with weak approval ratings, an economy still struggling to spread the benefits of a slow recovery, the disastrous rollout of President Obama’s health care law, contested races for six Democratically held Senate seats in states carried by Mitt Romney, and the historical pattern that the party controlling the White House loses seats in a second midterm. But to take control of the Senate, Republicans need to net six seats, and they will probably need to do it with candidates currently serving in House seats in Montana, Louisiana, Arkansas, West Virginia and Georgia (Weisman, 1/29).

The Associated Press/Wall Street Journal: NY Insurer Agrees To Reinstate Offspring Coverage
A New York insurer has agreed to reinstate health coverage for up to 8,300 young adults who were dropped from their parents' policies before they turned 30. Under an agreement with the state attorney general, EmblemHealth Inc. also said it will pay approximately 175 claims for about $90,000 for unreimbursed medical treatment. While federal law authorizes keeping children on their parents' health insurance until they turn 26, New York requires insurers to offer that continuing coverage until age 30. The agreement signed this week also requires EmblemHealth to pay the attorney general $100,000 as a civil penalty (1/29).

The New York Times: New York State Recommends Expanding License Of Health Agency With Checkered Past
It was a medical scheme that shocked the public conscience when it came to light in 2001: Two dozen mentally ill residents of a Queens adult home were forced to have unnecessary prostate surgery that generated tens of thousands of dollars in government fees (Bernstein, 1/29).

The Washington Post: San Francisco Thinks Obamacare Can Cut Costs, Crime Rates
Across the country, an estimated 90 percent of those in county jails don’t have health insurance. About the same number would qualify for subsidized health-care coverage under the Affordable Care Act. And those prisoners are more susceptible to chronic illnesses that, without treatment once they are freed, cost millions in emergency room visits. Now, the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department thinks it can help cut costs — and reduce recidivism rates — by signing up many of the 31,000 people it books in jail every year for coverage under Obamacare (Wilson, 1/29).

The Washington Post: Virginia House Panel Backs Proposal On Finding Psychiatric Beds
In Virginia, a proposal to give mental health workers more time to find beds for people who need immediate psychiatric care cleared a House subcommittee Wednesday, as lawmakers move swiftly to respond to an attack on Sen. R. Creigh Deeds by his son. A House Courts of Justice subcommittee cleared several proposals, including one to extend the current time limit of six hours to find psychiatric beds for individuals in crisis by two hours, and if a bed cannot be found by that deadline, to require state facilities to provide a bed of last resort (Shin, 1/29). 

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