KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

DelBene Takes On Challenge Of Correcting’s Flaws

Kaiser Health News profiles the Obama administration's new website fix-it guy. And, in other news, The Associated Press reports that some workers at a federal health care call center for the health exchanges are now suing the government because they allegedly were forced to work unpaid overtime.    

Kaiser Health News: Ex-Microsoft Exec Brings Lists And Whiteboard To Overhaul Of Obamacare Website
Kurt DelBene's office is on the sixth floor of the fortress-like Department of Health and Human Services, overlooking the Capitol reflecting pool. With little but a desk, a small laptop, and monitor, it looks barren, like someone just moved out. But DelBene, a longtime Microsoft executive, moved in six weeks ago. He came from the other Washington, after President Barack Obama named him's new fix-it guy — the successor to "tech-surge czar" Jeff Zients. DelBene is here to shore up the famously flawed Obamacare website, not decorate an office. The most telling evidence of his arrival is on the wall to the right of his workstation, where a large whiteboard is covered with scribbled notes about databases, security features, website capacity, and the like (Hernandez, 1/29). 

The Associated Press: Health Care Call Center Lawsuit Alleges Unpaid OT
Customer service workers at a call center for insurance exchanges established under the federal health care overhaul have sued their employer in federal court, saying they were forced to work unpaid overtime. The nine workers at a Boise facility who brought the suit against Maximus Inc. say the case could potentially apply to thousands of employees, and they’re asking a judge to award damages exceeding $5 million (Boone, 1/28).

News outlets also offer health exchange updates for Maryland, Kentucky, Washington state, Iowa and New Hampshire.  

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Md. Health Exchange Bill Could Be Finalized Soon
A final vote is near on a measure to help people who could not enroll in a private health plan on Maryland's health exchange website due to computer problems last year. The Senate, which already approved a version of the bill, could take up final passage as soon as Wednesday on the bill that has some changes made by the House of Delegates (1/29).

The Baltimore Sun: Maryland To Allow Small Businesses To Offer Small Group Health Plans
Maryland approved a plan Monday to allow small businesses to offer employees small group health plans in April, but pushed back the launch of its small business health care exchange website to Jan. 1, 2015, in line with the federal health exchange. The program, which would give small business employees access to federal tax credits, was initially slated to open in October, but was delayed due to glitches that have plagued the state's exchange. Certified plans and access to tax credits worth up to 50 percent of the employer's contribution toward employee premium costs, will be available directly through carriers, third party administrators and brokers starting April 1 (Campbell, 1/27).

The Associated Press: Obama: Beshear 'A Man Possessed' About Health Care
Kentucky's high performance for health care sign-ups through its state-run website has earned Gov. Steve Beshear a White House invitation to attend President Barack Obama's State of the Union speech. Beshear, a strong supporter of Obama's health care law, was among the guests sitting with first lady Michelle Obama when the president delivered the annual speech to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday night (Schreiner, 1/28).

The Seattle Times: Obamacare Enrollment Continues To Climb In Washington State
More than 320,000 people have signed up for insurance or newly enrolled in Medicaid through Washington's online health insurance exchange. Of that number, more than 86,000 are now covered by private insurance purchased through the exchange, according to state data ending Jan. 23. The rest are new participants in Medicaid (Stiffler, 1/28).

Des Moines Register: Iowa Notes Health Insurance Progress
State officials say they're making progress in helping thousands of Iowans who were caught in health insurance limbo because of technical problems with the federal government's new online insurance marketplace. Officials said in late December that nearly 16,000 Iowans who applied for insurance via the website were caught in the foul-up (Leys, 1/29).

The Associated Press: Insurer's Limited Health Network Prompts NH Bill
Insurance companies selling policies under the Affordable Care Act in New Hampshire would be required to negotiate with all willing health care providers, under a bill before the state Legislature. Just one company — Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Hampshire — is currently offering health insurance in the new markets required under President Barack Obama's health care overhaul. Its provider network includes 74 percent of the state's primary care providers and 85 percent of specialists, but just 16 of the state's 26 acute-care hospitals (Ramer, 1/28).

Meanwhile, in other news from the insurance marketplace -

CQ HealthBeat: Catastrophic Health Plans Attract Few Buyers, Leaving Their Future In Doubt
Catastrophic insurance plans were seen by the authors of the health care law as a way to ensure that young adults would have a way to buy affordable coverage. But now that very few people are buying the policies, the future of the plans is in some doubt (Adams, 1/28).

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