KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

First Edition: November 12, 2013

Today's headlines include reports and analysis about the number of people -- an amount far fewer than the administration's target -- who enrolled during October in a health plan through the health law's online insurance marketplaces.

Kaiser Health News: Insuring Your Health: Prevention Programs For People Without Insurance Still Play Key Role
Kaiser Health News consumer columnist Michelle Andrews writes: "The health law gave a huge boost to insurance coverage for preventive care, requiring nearly all health plans to provide cancer screenings, check-ups and, more controversially, contraceptives, to patients free of charge. But that doesn’t help the 30 million people who are expected to remain uninsured under the law and who will continue to rely on a patchwork of federal and state prevention programs whose funding is anything but certain" (Andrews, 11/12). Read the column.

Kaiser Health News: P.R. For Obamacare Stalls In Illinois, Missouri
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Tara Kulash, working in partnership with Kaiser Health News, reports: "Marketing campaigns to promote the new health insurance exchanges hit a speed bump the size of a boulder last month. The problem-plagued launch of on Oct. 1 made it all but impossible for most people to sign up for insurance on the exchanges. And despite assurances by the administration of President Barack Obama that all would be fixed by the end of November, criticism about the site has turned into broad complaints about the Affordable Care Act" (Kulash, 11/11). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Washington State To 8,000 Obamacare Enrollees: 'We Goofed On Cost Estimate'
Now on Kaiser Health News' blog, The Seattle Times' Amy Snow Landa, working in partnership with Kaiser Health News, reports: "About 8,000 Washington residents will soon receive letters informing them that the price they are expecting to pay for health insurance purchased on the new online exchange marketplace is incorrect. The letters are part of an effort by the Washington Health Benefit Exchange, which operates the exchange, to correct a major error that resulted in the miscalculation of tax credits that help qualified enrollees pay for insurance premiums" (Landa, 11/11). Check out what else is on the blog.

The New York Times: Insurers Press For Way Around
Some major health insurers are so worried about the Obama administration's ability to fix its troubled health care website that they are pushing the government to create a shortcut that would allow them to enroll people entitled to subsidies directly rather than through the federal system. The idea is only one of several being discussed in a frantic effort to find a way around the technological problems that teams of experts are urgently trying to resolve (Abelson, LaFraniere and Craig, 11/11).

The Wall Street Journal: Tech Troubles Slow Some State Exchanges
As officials struggle to fix technical problems with the new federally run health-insurance exchange, some states that are operating their own programs are facing similar problems. Oregon hasn't fully opened its website to the public and is directing residents to insurance brokers and counselors. Maryland officials Friday delayed until April the opening of its small-business exchange, so they could focus on improving a website that has prompted many residents to apply on paper (Ante and Dooren, 11/11).

The Wall Street Journal: Enrollment Falls Far Short Of Target
Fewer than 50,000 people had successfully navigated the troubled federal health-care website and enrolled in private insurance plans as of last week, two people familiar with the matter said, citing internal government data. The figure is a fraction of the Obama administration's target of 500,000 enrollees for October. The early tally for the site, which launched Oct. 1, worries health insurers that are counting on higher enrollment to make their plans profitable (Weaver, Martin and Radnofsky, 11/11).

The Washington Post: About 40,000 Americans Are Said To Have Signed Up For Plans On
Roughly 40,000 Americans have signed up for private insurance through the flawed federal online insurance marketplace since it opened six weeks ago, according to two people with access to the figures. That amount is a tiny fraction of the total projected enrollment for the 36 states where the federal government is running the online health-care exchange, indicating the slow start to the president’s initiative. The first concrete evidence of the popularity — and accessibility — of the new federal insurance exchange emerged as the White House has been preparing to release this week the first official tally of how many people have chosen coverage using the Web site, (Goldstein and Kliff, 11/11).

NPR: The First Estimate On Insurance Signups Is Pretty Darned Small
The Obama administration later this week will issue much anticipated enrollment numbers for the first month of the Affordable Care Act. But Monday afternoon the Wall Street Journal reported that fewer than 50,000 people have signed up for health insurance in the federal health exchange the during October. Even with the administration's efforts to lowball expectations in recent days, that's a pretty small number. And the while the White House won't confirm it, it's not specifically denying it, either (Rovner, 11/11).

Politico: Early Reports Show Obamacare Enrollment Low
About 40,000 to 50,000 people have enrolled in private health care plans using — a range far short of White House hopes, according to new numbers reported by the Wall Street Journal Monday. That figure does not include people who signed up using state exchanges. Avalere Healthcare, a consulting firm, estimated Monday that about 49,000 people had successful enrolled in insurance in 12 of the 15 states running their own insurance exchange. The largest state exchange, California, has not released numbers (Cheney, 11/12).

Politico: Viable Fix For Individual Market May Be Non-Starter
It’s not so easy to repair the White House’s broken promise that millions of consumers would be able to keep their insurance coverage under Obamacare, according to several health and insurance industry experts. President Barack Obama apologized Thursday to the Americans who are losing their coverage despite his pledge and has ordered aides to look into options to try to fix the problem. But there are no obvious solutions that would restore their plans without significantly disrupting the insurance market (Haberkorn and Norman, 11/12).

The New York Times: Official At Health Site Says He Didn’t Know Of Potential Risk
The chief digital architect for the federal health insurance marketplace has told congressional investigators that he was not aware of tests that indicated potential security flaws in the system, which opened to the public on Oct. 1. The official, Henry Chao, made the statement Nov. 1 to investigators for the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, led by Representative Darrell Issa of California (Pear, 11/11).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Often Criticized, Safety-Net Health Program For Low-Income People Leads In Signups
The underdog of government health care programs is emerging as the rare early success story of President Barack Obama’s technologically challenged health overhaul. Often dismissed, Medicaid has signed up 444,000 people in 10 states in the six weeks since open enrollment began, according to Avalere Health, a market analysis firm that compiled data from those states. Twenty-five states are expanding their Medicaid programs, but data for all of them was not available (11/12).

The New York Times: Problems With Federal Health Portal Also Stymie Medicaid Enrollment
Problems with the federal health insurance website have prevented tens of thousands of low-income people from signing up for Medicaid even though they are eligible, federal and state officials say, undermining one of the chief goals of the 2010 health care law (Pear, 11/11).

Los Angeles Times: Anthem Blue Cross Extends Some Canceled Health Insurance Policies
Amid an uproar over widespread cancellations of health insurance policies, Anthem Blue Cross of California said it is granting a two-month extension through February to 104,000 customers. California's largest for-profit insurer is offering more time to a small portion of its canceled policyholders because the insurance giant didn't send termination notices in time under state rules (Terhune, 11/11).

The Arizona Republic/USA Today: Rush Is On To Get Health Care  Under Old Insurance Plans
Citing the nation's new health-care law, the company switched to a high-deductible plan that won't pay for medical care until the family spends $4,000 out of pocket. So, like many others, Edson is cramming in all of the health care she can to take advantage of her more generous plan that ends Dec. 31 (Alltucker, 11/11).

Politico: For Hollywood, The Joke’s On Obamacare
Obamacare has gone from Hollywood leading lady to comic relief. When the Obamacare exchanges launched last month, celebrities were out front, with everything from nearly topless #GetCovered tweets from young actresses touting affordable care to Funny or Die videos going viral. But since then, amid mounting bad press on everything from the faulty website to the “you can keep it” controversy, Obamacare has become the punch line instead of the star (Kopan, 11/12).

Politico: Obamacare: What Defines Success?
After a month of devastating stories and late-night jokes about the launch of the health care law, the administration needs to convince the public that Obamacare is more than a series of canceled policies and computer hiccups. It’s just not clear how the Obama team can convincingly do that, especially now that the early enrollment in the federal website could be as low as 40,000 to 50,000 people, according to the Wall Street Journal — way below the administration’s goal. And it’s not just President Barack Obama’s reputation that’s on the line — it’s every Democrat who’s up for re-election in a year, especially the red-state Senate Democrats who are facing the closest races (Nather, 11/12).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Vulnerable House Democrats Looking To Blunt Fallout Of Botched Health Care Rollout
Rep. Patrick Murphy had been a cautious defender of President Barack Obama’s health care law for much of the last year, telling constituents in his swing-voting district that the far-from-perfect measure is critical to helping cover uninsured Americans. Then the new health care law made its disastrous debut. The federal health care website repeatedly crashed, blocking millions from browsing insurance plans. Questions about its security mounted. And cancellation notices hit people who buy their own plans, undercutting the president’s vow that those who liked their coverage could keep it (11/11).

The New York Times: Bishops Are Urged To Expand Priorities
It was a notable shift in priorities. For the last two years the bishops have poured their time and resources into a campaign to fight what they saw as serious threats to religious liberty in the United States. Their prime concern has been a provision in President Obama’s health care overhaul that would force even some Catholic employers to provide contraception in their insurance plans, when Catholic teaching prohibits the use of artificial contraception. But Cardinal Dolan, the archbishop of New York, said that the struggles over religious liberty in the United States “pale in comparison” to the persecution of Christians abroad (Goodstein, 11/11).

The Washington Post: Pharmacy Bill Set For Test Vote In Senate
A year after a meningitis outbreak from contaminated pain injections killed at least 64 people and sickened hundreds, Congress is ready to increase federal oversight over compounding pharmacies that custom-mix medications. Before the bill reaches President Obama’s desk, it must clear a hurdle put in its path by Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) in his effort to discredit the president’s health-care overhaul. A test vote is set for Tuesday evening (Perrone, 11/11).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: More Federal Oversight For Compound Pharmacies Hits ‘Obamacare’ Snag In Senate
A year after a meningitis outbreak from contaminated pain injections killed at least 64 people and sickened hundreds, Congress is ready to increase federal oversight over compounding pharmacies that custom-mix medications. Before the bill gets to President Barack Obama for his signature, it first has to clear a hurdle put in its path by Louisiana Sen. David Vitter in his ongoing campaign to discredit the president’s health care overhaul. A test vote is scheduled for Tuesday evening (11/11).

The Wall Street Journal: Lawmakers And Aides Start Shopping For Coverage
Members of Congress and some of their staff are about to get personal experience with the Affordable Care Act. The law says they will cease to be eligible for federal government employees' health-insurance plan on Jan. 1. So starting Monday, lawmakers and their aides will be able to sign up for health insurance through a special section of an online marketplace being run by the District of Columbia (Radnofsky, 11/11).

Politico: Kay Hagan Seeks ‘Complete’ Obamacare Probe
Senators will ask the Obama administration for a full investigation into the bungled launch of, according to a letter being circulated by Sen. Kay Hagan. The North Carolina Democrat is collecting signatures this week for a letter to Government Accountability Office Comptroller General Gene Dodaro and Health and Human Services Inspector General Daniel Levinson asking for “a complete, thorough investigation to determine the causes of the design and implementation failures of” (Everett, 11/11).

The Wall Street Journal: Tech Startups See Opportunity In New Healthcare Law
In the coming months, the Affordable Care Act will produce millions of newly insured Americans, many of whom will be making decisions about health care for the first time. A host of software startups plans to court the newly insured with slick online tools geared toward simple management of personal health (MacMillan, 11/11).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: U.Va. Medical Center CEO Says Hospital Could Lose Millions Of Dollars Under ACA
The University of Virginia Medical Center’s CEO says provisions of the federal health care law could cost the hospital hundreds of millions of dollars over the next decade. Chief executive officer R. Edward Howell tells The Daily Progress that a reduction in Medicare reimbursements could cost the hospital $140 million by 2020. He says much of the money is used to pay for recent medical school graduates’ residencies (11/11).

The Washington Post: MedStar Washington Hospital Center to Cut Jobs, Citing Financial Pressures
MedStar Washington Hospital Center, the region’s largest private hospital, is cutting jobs because of mounting financial pressures, a hospital spokeswoman said Monday. A first round of management positions was eliminated Thursday, and non-management employees whose jobs are being cut will be informed Tuesday, said Donna Arbogast, vice president of public affairs. None of the positions to be cut involve bedside nurses, she said (Sun, 11/11).  

Check out all of Kaiser Health News' e-mail options including First Edition and Breaking News alerts on our Subscriptions page.

This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.