KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

First Edition: October 30, 2013

Today's headlines include reports about how health law complications are quickly moving beyond problems with the website to include other issues.  

Kaiser Health News: Health On The Hill: Medicare Head Tavenner Apologizes For Problems
Kaiser Health News staff writer Mary Agnes Carey talks with Politico Pro's Jennifer Haberkorn about events on Capitol Hill, including the Tuesday testimony of Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Marilyn Tavenner in which she said that some website subcontractors hadn’t met expectations, but  offered few other details on the problems (10/29). Listen to the audio or read the transcript.

Kaiser Health News: Wellness Apps And Websites Go For New Clients: Insurance Companies
Kaiser Health News staff writer Ankita Rao reports: "Consumers like Kuecker aren’t the only ones noticing the benefits of programs like MyFitnessPal, which also functions as a smartphone app. Last month, the insurance company Cigna announced it will offer services from MyFitnessPal, which has reported more than 40 million users, to the insurer’s customers" (Rao, 10/30). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: Minnesota Marketplace's Latino Outreach Events Get Off To A Slow Start
Minnesota Public Radio’s Elizabeth Stawicki, working in partnership with Kaiser Health News and NPR, reports: "Minnesota's new online health insurance marketplace, MNsure has been open for four weeks. But efforts to inform hard-to-reach populations about how they can sign up for health care coverage are only now getting underway. That's what brought employees of Southside Community Health Services on Saturday to Karina's Beauty Salon in the heart of the city's Latino community. The organization has received part of a $4 million federal grant to help explain what MNsure is about and help people sign up for coverage, and the Latino community is an important target for MNsure outreach efforts" (Stawicki, 10/29). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: Letters To The Editor: Nurse Practitioners In Primary Care; The Future Of Bare-Bones Health Plans
Letters to the Editor is a periodic KHN feature in which readers can comment on our recent stories (10/29). See what our readers had to say.

NPR: Insurance Cancellations Elbow Out Website Woes At Health Hearing
When the head of the agency responsible for the troubled went before Congress for the first time since its foibles became apparent Oct. 1, she probably didn't expect that many questions would be on something else altogether. But the website turned out not to be the focus of questions for Marilyn Tavenner by Republicans at the Ways and Means Committee hearing Tuesday. They were more interested in asking about cancellation notices being received by people who purchase their own insurance (Rovner, 10/29).

Politico: Obamacare Woes Move Beyond Website
Wasn’t this hearing supposed to be about a broken website? Tuesday’s hearing about the fumbled Obamacare roll-out was all the proof we needed that the Republicans are serious about their talking point that the law’s problems go beyond the website. They’ve moved on to other things — cancelled individual insurance policies, privacy concerns, and possible nasty surprises for young adults who may not know they can’t get subsidies (Nather, 10/29).

The New York Times: Health Site Chief Expects Low Initial Enrollment Number
Ms. Tavenner, the administrator of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said that “nearly 700,000 applications have been submitted to the federal and state marketplaces” in the last four weeks. But she repeatedly refused to say how many of those people had actually enrolled in health insurance plans since the federal and state marketplaces, or exchanges, opened on Oct. 1 (Pear, 10/29).

Los Angeles Times: Top Official Apologizes For Obamacare Website Glitches
The official charged with overseeing the online health marketplaces apologized Tuesday to a congressional panel for issues that have plagued the rollout of President Obama’s signature health law, but said she was confident the website problems would be fixed by the end of November (Memoli, 10/29).

The Washington Post: Administration Official Marilyn Tavenner Apologizes For Problems
Marilyn Tavenner, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, also defended her agency’s management of the project and blamed some of the setbacks on the main contractor, Fairfax-based CGI Federal (Somashekhar, 10/29).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Obama Official Blames Insurers For Wave Of Policy Cancellations, Apologized For Website Woes
Move over, website woes. Lawmakers confronted the Obama administration Tuesday with a difficult new health care problem — a wave of cancellation notices hitting individuals and small businesses who buy their own insurance. At the same time, the federal official closest to the website apologized for its dysfunction in new sign-ups and asserted things are getting better by the day (10/29).

Politico: White House Playing Defense On Obamacare
For every positive statistic about the law, there’s a horror story that calls into question the broad promises of Obamacare and gives Republicans something else to criticize. It’s forced the White House into yet another frustrating round of Whac-A-Mole, beating back one negative development only to find several more right behind it (Budoff Brown, 10/29).

The Wall Street Journal: White House Races To Quell Health Uproar
The White House is racing to rebuild confidence in a new health-care system that has so far fallen short of President Barack Obama's promises, as the mounting uproar threatens to overwhelm his second-term agenda. Just two weeks ago, Mr. Obama seemed to prevail in a face-off with congressional Republicans over the federal shutdown and was seeking to shift the public focus to an immigration overhaul, one of his top priorities (Nelson and Nicholas, 10/29).

The Washington Post: Obama Accused Of Breaking Promise To Consumers As Health Plans Cancel Policies
A new controversy over the president’s health-care law is threatening to overshadow the messy launch of its Web site: Notices are going out to hundreds of thousands of Americans informing them that their health insurance policies are being canceled as of Dec. 31. The notices appear to contradict President Obama’s promise that despite the changes resulting from the law, Americans can keep their health insurance if they like it. Republicans have seized on the cancellations as evidence that the law is flawed and the president has been less than forthright in describing its impact (Sun and Somashekhar,  10/29).

The New York Times: Cancellation of Health Care Plans Replaces Website Problems As Prime Target
The rising concern about canceled health coverage has provided Republicans a more tangible line of attack on the law and its most appealing promise for the vast majority of Americans who have insurance: that it would lower their costs, or at least hold them harmless. Baffled consumers are producing real letters from insurance companies that directly contradict Mr. Obama’s oft-repeated reassurances that if people like the insurance they have, they will be able to keep it (Weisman and Pear, 10/29).

The Wall Street Journal: Canceled Policies Heat Up Health Fight
Highlighting a growing number of such notices, Republicans trained their fire on President Barack Obama, who said in 2009, "If you like your health-care plan, you will be able to keep your health-care plan. Period." The president repeated that message numerous times before the law passed in 2010, and some Democrats said he had left them ill-prepared to respond to the latest charge, which follows the botched launch of the website intended to help Americans sign up for new policies (Radnofsky and Martin, 10/29).

Los Angeles Times: Obama's Healthcare Promises Return To Haunt Him
As the pitchman for his landmark healthcare law, President Obama promised to make buying insurance as easy as buying a plane ticket online or a "TV on Amazon." It would be simple, he said. … With the federal website hobbled by bad design and thousands of policyholders receiving cancellation notices, Obama's promises are not being met — prompting charges of deception from some Republicans and concessions from some allies that elements of the law were oversold (Hennessey and Parsons, 10/29).

The New York Times: People Who Buy Own Health Policies Face Big Changes
As Washington and much of the rest of the nation debate whether President Obama misled Americans when he said that people who like their health plans may keep them, tens of millions of people are finding that their insurance is largely unchanged by the new health care law. … Insurers are informing many of those people that their old plans have been discontinued and that they must choose new plans at new prices (Abelson, 10/29).

The Wall Street Journal: Some Consumers Face Jump In Prices As Old Policies End
Many consumers, particularly those who are healthy and don't qualify for government subsidies, will have to pay more—sometimes double their current rates. Peter Fritzinger, a retired 55-year-old business executive who lives in Denver with his wife and three children, got notice in late August that his Humana Inc. plan would be canceled at the end of the year (Martin and Weaver, 10/29).

The Washington Post's The Fact Checker: Obama's Pledge That 'No One Will Take Away' Your Health Plan
Many readers have asked us to step back into time and review these statements by the president now that it appears that as many as 2 million people may need to get a new insurance plan as the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, goes into effect in 2014. As we were considering those requests, one of the president's most senior advisers then tweeted a statement on the same issue that cried out for fact checking (Kessler, 10/30).

The Washington Post: CGI Warned Of Problems A Month Before Launch, Documents Show
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee released documents Tuesday night showing one of the primary contractors for, CGI Federal, warned administration officials the Web site faced problems just weeks before its Oct. 1 launch. In a monthly report sent to Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services on Sept. 6, CGI officials wrote there were "open risks" and "open issues" that needed to be resolved (Eilperin, 10/29).

Politico: CMS Mantra: It'll Work By December
November’s shaping up to be a major test of Obamacare functionality. That’s when new features of the health law’s enrollment system — some of which have been put off repeatedly because of insufficient testing — are slated to go online. Among them: online enrollment in the marketplace for small businesses, a Spanish-language enrollment website and the transfer of Medicaid applications from the feds to the states (Cheney, 10/30).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Sebelius Heads To Hill To Defend Health Law And Her Job As Problems Plague Website's Rollout
Eager to cast blame, lawmakers are preparing to grill President Barack Obama’s top health official over problems with the rollout of the government’s health care website. A growing number of Republicans in Congress are calling for Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to step down or be fired because of problems consumers are having signing up for insurance coverage on the government’s new website (10/30).

The Wall Street Journal: Sebelius To Testify Before House Panel
The testimony by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who has borne the brunt of criticism over the website, comes a day after Marilyn Tavenner, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, testified before the House Ways and Means Committee. Ms. Tavenner apologized on Tuesday, saying the site "can and will be fixed" (Schatz and Radnofsky, 10/30).

Politico: As Turmoil Swirls, Kathleen Sebelius Takes Hot Seat
Not so long ago, Kathleen Sebelius was a popular two-term governor with bipartisan appeal, a possible Democratic vice presidential prospect, a woman whom President Barack Obama could entrust with overhauling the nation’s health insurance system. Even Bob Dole volunteered to introduce her at her confirmation (Dovere and Haberkorn, 10/30).

The Washington Post: Kathleen Sebelius, Welcome To An Unwelcome Washington Tradition: The Deathwatch.
It’s Kathleen Sebelius’s turn now. On the Hill, they’re calling for her resignation and tossing around words like “subpoena.” Pundits are merrily debating her future. (She’s toast! Or is Obama too loyal to fire her so soon?) Her interviews, more closely parsed than usual, seem wobbly. Though never a colorful presence on the political scene, she’s suddenly a late-night TV punch line. And on Wednesday morning, the embattled secretary of health and human services will submit to a quintessential station of the Washington deathwatch — testifying before a congressional committee — to discuss her agency’s failings in the botched rollout of the federal health-insurance Web site (Argetsinger, 10/29).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Obama To Cite Massachusetts Health Care Law's Slow Start To Keep Expectations Low For His Own
President Barack Obama is citing the Massachusetts health care system’s slow start to keep expectations low for early sign-ups for his own overhaul. And he’s pointing to the bipartisan effort to get the program launched in Massachusetts to encourage his opponents to stop rooting for his law’s failure (10/30).

Politico: Romneycare Returns
President Barack Obama wants Americans to believe this about his health care law: It’s just like Mitt’s. After all, the White House used the 2006 Massachusetts health program signed into law by Republican Mitt Romney as its blueprint for the national model. And in case anyone missed the message last year during the presidential campaign, Obama will repeat it again Wednesday (Cheney and Allen, 10/30).

USA Today/Des Moines Register: IRS Hamstrung On Collecting Health Law Penalties
The Internal Revenue Service probably will bark at you if you fail to obtain health insurance next year, but the agency won't have much bite. On this issue, Congress pulled the watchdog's teeth (Leys, 10/29).

Los Angeles Times: Q&A: Don’t Confuse California Obamacare Exchange With U.S. One, Exec Says
Despite fixing many of its own technical glitches, California's health insurance exchange is worried that consumers may still be confused by high-profile enrollment problems through a federal website. Peter Lee, executive director of Covered California, said the state exchange is adjusting its marketing to address this concern and to ensure that people know it's open for business (Terhune, 10/29).

The New York Times: Errors Rife In New York State’s List Of Health Insurance Assistance Sites
Computer issues are not the only problem plaguing the rollout of the Affordable Care Act. A 228-page list of navigators — businesses and organizations that help people sign up for coverage — on New York State’s health exchange website has turned out to be littered with places whose owners and employees have no clue how to offer health insurance advice (Hartocollis, 10/29).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: GOP Outside Groups Airing Health Care Ads Challenging Senate Incumbents
A Republican outside political group says it will spend more than $2 million in advertising in the coming weeks to tie Senate Democrats Kay Hagan of North Carolina and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana to the health care overhaul. Americans for Prosperity says it will spend $1.7 million in North Carolina and $500,000 in Louisiana during the next three weeks on television ads critical of the two Democrats facing re-election next year, with an additional amount on radio and web ads. Republicans have several candidates competing in the primary in both states (10/29).

The Wall Street Journal: Aetna Profit Rises As Membership, Revenue Improve
Aetna Inc. said its third-quarter earnings increased 4% as the health insurer's revenue and membership rolls were boosted by its acquisition of Coventry Health Care Inc., though the company also posted lower underwriting margins. Health insurers have been broadly rewarded this year by signs Americans are continuing to use health services lightly, which means fewer bills to cover (Tadena, 10/29).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: GOP, Democratic Lawmakers Meeting In Hopes Of Limited Budget Deal, But Divisive Issues Remain
The idea of a “grand bargain” blending tax increases with politically difficult savings from popular benefit programs like Social Security and Medicare seems to be off the table. Lawmakers generally are trying to put together a smaller-scale deal that would ease across-the-board cuts known as sequestration that are hitting federal agencies (10/30).

Los Angeles Times: Oklahoma Abortion Law Clarified, Headed Back To Supreme Court
Oklahoma's high court on Tuesday set the stage for the U.S. Supreme Court to decide whether states can restrict doctors from prescribing two drugs used to induce abortion in the early stages of pregnancy. The case could be the first test of whether the court's conservative majority will uphold a string of new state laws across the country that seek to strictly regulate legal abortions (Savage, 10/29). 

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