KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Trials, And A Few Unexpected Triumphs, For Insurance Exchanges

A procurement document posted on a federal website gives the newest Obamacare contractor until mid-March to build the back end of, predicting dire consequences if the work is not completed on time. Other media outlets report exchange developments from Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, North Carolina, Oregon, Wisconsin, Georgia and Minnesota.

The Hill: Document: ObamaCare Contractor Faces Mid-March Deadline Or Disaster 
If the ObamaCare contractor brought on last week to fix the back-end of the portal doesn't finish the build-out by mid-March the healthcare law will be jeopardized, according to a procurement document posted on a federal website. It says insurers could be bankrupt and the entire healthcare industry threatened if the build out is not completed (Easley, 1/18).

The Associated Press: In Mass., Website Woes Frustrate Health Care Push
Massachusetts has long held a special status in the debate about President Obama's health care law. It was a 2006 Massachusetts law that provided the inspiration for the 2010 national law, and Massachusetts already had near-universal coverage before the federal law took effect. Now the state that gave birth to a sweeping expansion of health coverage nationally is trying to knit the two laws together and struggling to make sure no resident falls through the insurance net (LeBlanc, 1/20).

North Carolina Health News: North Carolina Obamacare Enrollment One Of Nation's Highest
North Carolina's enrollment in the Affordable Care Act federal insurance exchange reached a level in December that was surprising given the state's prior poor performance in signing people up. According to federal statistics released last week, North Carolina had 107,778 people signed up by Dec. 28, up from a total of only 8,970 who had signed up by the end of November (Hoban, 1/20).

The Baltimore Sun: Consumers Trading Up For Better, Cheaper Health Insurance
Barbara Gruber has never been happier to pay a bill. From CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield, the bill confirmed that the 55-year-old Mount Washington woman had new, affordable health insurance. She bought it on the Maryland Health Connection, the online exchange for the uninsured that was created to comply with the federal Affordable Care Act. But Gruber, like many buying insurance on the exchange, was not without coverage before. … The state cannot say how many Marylanders were switching from existing policies when they bought insurance on the exchange (Cohn, 1/19).

The Oregonian: Cover Oregon: Health Exchange Failure Predicted, But Tech Watchdogs' Warnings Fell On Deaf Ears
Amid the idealistic fervor of Oregon's effort to build a game-changing health insurance exchange, Ying Kwong did not believe the hype. In one of a series of revealing emails, the Cornell-educated technology analyst at Oregon's Department of Administrative Services wrote last May that Cover Oregon's managers were being "intellectually dishonest" in claiming the project would be ready Oct. 1 (Budnick, 1/18).

Fox News: 'Parallel Universe': Woman Spends 6 Weeks Trying To Disenroll From Obamacare
Think it's hard to enroll in ObamaCare? Try getting out of it.  Missouri resident Lesli Hill learned the hard way that terminating an Affordable Care Act plan can be far more difficult than navigating the website to buy one. She spent six weeks being bounced from operator to operator, calling the help line, using the online chat, blasting out emails to anyone who would listen, before ultimately driving to Kansas City last week to enlist her insurance company's help. Only then was she able to break through the bureaucratic logjam, and cancel her policy (Berger, 1/20).

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Obamacare Sign-Ups Skew Older, But Don't Sound Alarm Yet, Experts Say
News of the small percentage of young people who have signed up so far for health plans through the federal and state marketplaces brought ominous predictions last week of higher rates next year. The predictions warrant some skepticism. "At this point, everything is an educated guess, and maybe just a guess," said Dave Osterndorf, chief health actuary for consulting firm Towers Watson (Boulton, 1/19).

Georgia Health News: Where Does Ga. Stand In Exchange Enrollment?
Georgia's enrollment in the insurance exchange in December reached a level that was almost surprising, given the state's anemic figure of a month before. The state had 58,611 sign up by Dec. 28, according to federal statistics released this week, up from 6,859 a month before. "We're starting to see real enrollment momentum after such a rocky start,’" Cindy Zeldin of Georgians for a Healthy Future said Monday, referring to the problem-plagued rollout of the federal exchange website in early fall (Miller, 1/17).

The Star Tribune: Republicans Lean On MNsure To Make Case Against Dayton
Minnesota Republicans searching for a way to defeat DFL Gov. Mark Dayton are seizing on an issue they believe could help upend his bid for a second term — the tumultuous rollout of the state's health insurance exchange. Republicans are escalating attacks on Dayton as troubles with the MNsure exchange threaten to drag into the campaign season. Last week, the Republican National Committee filed a massive data request seeking details on enrollment information and the hiring and abrupt resignation of MNsure's former director, April Todd-Malmlov (Helgeson, 1/19).

The Star Tribune: Health Beat: A Mother's Harrowing Tale With MNsure
Comopsia Stanley was anxious as she watched the middle-aged man in a parka stride across the parking lot toward her car. Was this actually the same man with the soft voice who, just hours earlier, had called and promised to buy insulin for her diabetic son after reading about her family in the newspaper? Was this the man who had asked to meet here, outside a Home Depot in St. Louis Park? (Serres, 1/18).

Minnesota Public Radio: A Clue To MNsure's Problems Found In A Similar Software Precursor
Before MNsure, the state's new online health insurance marketplace, there was HealthMatch, an expensive, problem-plagued software project that foreshadowed MNsure's trouble a decade ago. "It was a complete failure," said longtime state Rep. Tom Huntley, a DFLer from Duluth. "We hired a company to manage it and set it up...and nothing ever happened." The HealthMatch project dragged on for five years, and consumed more than $20 million of taxpayer money to develop software that was never usable (Stawicki, 1/20).  

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