First Edition: December 18, 2013
Today's headlines include reports that insurers will extend the payment deadline for Jan. 1 health coverage until Jan. 10.
Kaiser Health News: What If I Don't Like The Coverage Offered By My Employer?
Kaiser Health News consumer columnist Michelle Andrews outlines the health insurance options for people offered coverage at work (12/19). Watch the video or read the transcript.
The New York Times: Uninsured Skeptical Of Health Care Law In Poll
Americans who lack medical coverage disapprove of President Obama’s health care law at roughly the same rate as the insured, even though most say they struggle to pay for basic care, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll (Goodnough and Kopicki, 12/18).
The Washington Post: Insurers Volunteer To Extend Payment Deadline For Health-Care Coverage To Jan. 10
Just a few days remain before a Dec. 23 deadline to sign up for coverage that will begin Jan. 1, and the last-minute blitz that federal health officials have predicted appears to be materializing. It puts intense pressure on insurers to send bills to their new customers — and on consumers to pay right away. Under government rules, coverage cannot begin until people pay their first month’s premium. Extending the payment deadline creates breathing room for the industry and for people who are eager for their insurance to begin, averting a holiday week in which tens of thousands of Americans might not know whether their coverage would start on time (Goldstein, 12/18).
The New York Times: Health Insurers Extend Deadline For First Premiums
Insurance companies, worried about potential chaos next month as people begin seeking coverage under the federal health care law without completing the necessary paperwork, have agreed to give consumers an extra 10 days to pay their first-month premiums, according to a statement from the companies’ trade group on Wednesday (Abelson, 12/18).
Los Angeles Times: Health Insurers Extend Obamacare Payment Deadlines
Health insurers nationally said they would give consumers until Jan. 10 to pay for health coverage starting Jan. 1 as part of government-run exchanges under the federal healthcare law. But some state exchanges, including those of California and Connecticut, indicated they would stick with slightly different deadlines that were already extended. The extensions come amid a sharp rise in applicants and continued difficulties for many people trying to navigate the sign-up process (Terhune, 12/18).
The Associated Press/Washington Post: Insurers Allow More Time To Pay Under Health Law
Consumers anxious over tight insurance deadlines and lingering computer problems during the holidays will get extra time to pay their premiums under President Barack Obama’s health care law, insurers announced Wednesday. The board of the industry’s biggest trade group — America’s Health Insurance Plans — said consumers who select a plan by Dec. 23 will now have until Jan. 10 to pay their first month’s premium. That’s 10 extra days beyond a New Year’s Eve deadline set by the government (12/18).
The Wall Street Journal’s Washington Wire: Health Insurers Allow Some To Pay Premiums Late
Health insurers acceded to a request from the Obama administration and said they would delay a deadline for some people to pay their insurance premiums. The move is part of the last-minute rush to get ready for the full rollout of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, on Jan. 1. People buying coverage on the new health-insurance exchanges created by the law must choose a policy by Dec. 23 in order to get coverage starting in the new year (Landers, 12/18).
USA Today: States Say Health Sign-Ups On Exchanges Increasing
States with their own well-running health insurance exchanges reported on Wednesday an increase of 30% to 40% in enrollments from last week to this week. "We're seeing huge interest," said Peter Lee, director of California's exchange, during a conference call sponsored by Families USA, a health care advocacy group that supports the Affordable Care Act. Six months ago, "no American knew about" the state exchanges (Kennedy, 12/18).
Politico: Obamacare Crashes Into Romneycare
Massachusetts created a Romneycare-inspired template for President Barack Obama’s health reform effort. Now, as the Bay State is struggling to upgrade for the Obamacare era, its enrollment system is buckling under technical glitches like those that hobbled HealthCare.gov. State officials are increasingly concerned that thousands of Massachusetts residents seeking coverage are lost in a wilderness of misfiled applications and cybermalfunctions. Now, they’re moving ahead with a labor intensive backup plan aimed at making sure that no one loses coverage when Obamacare starts in January (Cheney, 12/18).
Los Angeles Times: California’s Health Exchange Botched Letters To 114,000 Households
Adding to consumer confusion ahead of a major enrollment deadline, California's health insurance exchange sent flawed eligibility notices to nearly 114,000 households due to a computer error. The Covered California exchange said the letters sent from Nov. 22 to Dec. 7 had blank spaces or missing information on people's eligibility for insurance or federal premium subsidies (Terhune, 12/18).
The Washington Post’s Wonk Blog: California Is Averaging 15,000 Obamacare Enrollments Each Day
State health exchanges are reporting a surge in enrollment -- and consumer interest -- as they near a late December deadline to purchase insurance coverage. If November had an Obamacare surge, consider this the December deluge. California averaged 15,000 daily enrollments early last week, about double the sign-ups the state had in early December. New York is now seeing about 4,500 residents choosing plans each day and, in Connecticut, the number is hovering around 1,400. With consumer interest seeming to spike, these states and others are increasing call center staffing by half (Kliff, 12/18).
The Washington Post: Delaney Says Maryland Still Should Weigh Switching To Federal Health Exchange
Rep. John Delaney continued to press the idea Wednesday that Maryland should consider abandoning its online health insurance exchange in favor of the federal marketplace, despite representations by Gov. Martin O’Malley that the most pressing problems hindering enrollment have been fixed. Delaney (D-Md.) said in an interview that he still believes Marylanders seeking insurance might be better served by the federal exchange. He acknowledged that the switch would present some challenges but said he doesn’t think those are necessarily greater than those posed by the state site, which has been riddled with glitches since its Oct.1 launch (Wagner, 12/18).
The Wall Street Journal: More Turmoil In State Health Exchanges
Some states have signed up tens of thousands of new customers, and several states said Wednesday they are seeing healthy demand ahead of Dec. 23—the deadline in most states for getting coverage starting Jan. 1. But at least four of the 14—Hawaii, Maryland, Minnesota and Oregon—have had serious technical problems, and all four have now replaced directors less than three months after opening their exchanges. As of Dec. 1, fewer than 4,500 people had managed to sign up for private insurance in Minnesota, according to an Obama administration report. Minnesota's governor expressed impatience with progress on fixing the exchanges' problems last week (Schatz, 12/18).
The Associated Press/Washington Post: Minn. Could Delay Deadline For Exchange Enrollment
Leaders of Minnesota’s health insurance marketplace said Wednesday they might postpone next week’s deadline to enroll for January coverage, after a chaotic rollout of the state program that led to the resignation of its former executive director. April Todd-Malmlov, who had led Minnesota’s marketplace since its inception under the federal health care law, abruptly resigned Tuesday without a severance package. She faced criticism for taking a vacation to Costa Rica last month amid problems with a buggy website, long helpline waits and erroneous data sent to insurance companies (12/18).
The New York Times: Minnesota Becomes Fourth State To Lose Chief Of Exchange
The director of Minnesota’s health insurance exchange, April Todd-Malmlov, abruptly resigned this week, making the exchange the fourth state program to see a leadership change in the midst of mounting criticism over the rollout of President Obama’s new health care law. At a news conference on Wednesday, Ms. Todd-Malmlov’s successor was quick to promise fixes to problems still plaguing consumers, many of whom are worried about getting coverage by Jan. 1, when new policies under the law are set to take effect (Yaccino, 12/18).
The Wall Street Journal: A Medicaid Bet In Wisconsin
If Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker ever runs for president, expect him to talk about his "third way" for Medicaid—a plan that rejects part of President Barack Obama's health law while extending coverage to more poor in the state. It is a fine line to walk for Mr. Walker, who could face a tough re-election fight next year. But his stance shows how one battle-tested Republican is trying to appeal to voters and respect conservatives' distaste for the Affordable Care Act (Peters and Radnofsky, 12/18).
The Washington Post: McAuliffe To Reappoint McDonnell’s Health Secretary, Bill Hazel
Gov.-elect Terry McAuliffe will keep Gov. Robert F. McDonnell’s health secretary as his own, a choice that could help the new governor sell Medicaid expansion to wary Republicans but that also infuriates some abortion rights activists (Vozzella, 12/18).
Politico: Michelle Obama Steps Into Health Care Spotlight
President Barack Obama has struggled to sell his health care law this fall — and until now, he’s largely been without his top seller: first lady Michelle Obama. The first lady has done little to promote the Affordable Care Act in recent months, marking a shift from her usual role as the president’s middle class messenger — a move that allowed her to sidestep the political battles over the law, and questions about the administration’s trustworthiness (Epstein, 12/18).
The Washington Post: Senate Passes Bipartisan Budget Agreement
Congressional leaders appointed Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to negotiate a cease-fire. The resulting agreement would roll back sharp spending cuts known as the sequester over the next two years, sparing the Pentagon from more reductions and restoring billions of dollars for domestic programs. The $62 billion cost would be more than covered by $85 billion in alternative policies, such as higher security fees for airline passengers, deeper cuts for Medicare providers and less generous retirement benefits for federal workers, including military retirees younger than 62. The deal makes no effort to solve the nation’s biggest budget problem: a social safety net strained by an aging population. But it also would not raise taxes or reduce Medicare benefits, leaving each party’s core ideological commitments intact (Montgomery, 12/18).
NPR: Congress Poised To Permanently Fix Its Medicare Payment Glitch
The two-year budget deal approved by the Senate Wednesday aims to prevent another government shutdown. It also includes a familiar annual rider — language to avert a steep pay cut to doctors who treat Medicare patients. But this time might be different, with a fix that lasts. After more than a decade of temporary solutions, it appears Congress may be on the verge of permanently solving its persistent problem in the way it makes Medicare payments to doctors. The problem was actually created by Congress itself, back in 1997, through a flawed formula called the Sustainable Growth Rate, or SGR. And every year since 2002, when the formula first began calling for cuts, the SGR has created political and fiscal fits for lawmakers (Rovner, 12/19).
The New York Times: Growth In U.S. Health Care Spending Slows
Nationally, spending on health care is growing at the slowest pace ever recorded. Annual spending on health care often grew more than 10 percent a year during the 1970s and ’80s. Growth dipped in the 1990s, only to rise again, but starting in the early 2000s, the rate began falling. It is now just about 4 percent a year. Yet in the latest New York Times/CBS News poll, just 5 percent of all Americans — and 3 percent of uninsured respondents — said that health care spending has moderated. Half of respondents said that costs have been going up at a faster rate lately (Lowrey, 12/18).
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