KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

First Edition: January 15, 2014

Today's headlines include reports about the announcement by the Department of Health and Human Services that people who get their health insurance through high-risk insurance pools will have an extra two months before this program ends.  

Kaiser Health News: HHS Extends Coverage For Patients In Federal High-Risk Pools
Kaiser Health News staff writer Mary Agnes Carey reports: "The tens of thousands of people with a history of serious illnesses who are enrolled in high-risk insurance pools created under the health care law will have an additional two months -- until March 31 -- before they lose that coverage, the Department of Health and Human Services announced Tuesday" (Carey, 1/14). Read the story

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Oregon Seeks Tax Credits For Those Who Bypassed Exchange; WellPoint Optimistic On Exchanges Despite Slow Start
Now on Kaiser Health News' blog, Marissa Evans and Mary Agnes Carey report on developments related to Oregon and the state's health exchange: "Two officials from the Oregon governor’s office were on a mission in D.C. Tuesday — trying to get a federal go-ahead to compensate individuals who purchased insurance on their own because of the breakdown of the state's health care exchange" (Evans and Carey, 1/15). 

Also on the blog, Jay Hancock reports on Wellpoint's optimism: "WellPoint Inc. and its Anthem Blue Cross plans made one of the biggest bets on selling insurance to individuals and families through the health law’s online exchanges. No regrets, CEO Joseph Swedish said Tuesday, despite the balky beginning. … Speaking at a San Francisco conference organized by investment house J.P. Morgan, Swedish gave no sign-up figures for the marketplaces. WellPoint had 35.6 million total members at the end of the year, he said" (Hancock, 1/14). Check out what else is on the blog.

Kaiser Health News: Letters To The Editor: Medigap Coverage And Medicare Costs; The Complicated Nature Of Deductibles; Do People Know How Much 'Good' Insurance Costs?
Here’s what Kaiser Health News’ readers are telling us about some of our recent stories (1/14). Check out the comments

The New York Times: Program to Cover Major Illnesses Is Extended
A special health insurance program for people with cancer, heart disease and other serious illnesses will be extended for two additional months, through March, so patients can continue treatment while they search for other coverage, the Obama administration said Tuesday. About 30,000 people are now in the program, known as the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan (Pear, 1/15).

The Wall Street Journal: White House Extends High-Risk Insurance Program
The Obama administration said Tuesday it was extending for an additional two months a federal insurance program to cover up to 30,000 people with existing medical conditions who had yet to gain insurance through private health plans. The Department of Health and Human Services said it was postponing the closure of the program until March 31 (Radnofsky, 1/14).

The Washington Post: Md. Health Secretary: State Exchange Site Glitches Could Force Overhaul Or Abandonment
Maryland’s health exchange Web site is still riddled with glitches and might need to be completely overhauled — or even abandoned — once the first round of enrollment ends March 31, a member of Gov. Martin O’Malley’s Cabinet told lawmakers Tuesday. Until then, state officials say they have come up with a system of temporary fixes aimed at getting as many Marylanders as possible signed up for health coverage before the deadline. That has included hiring dozens of people to staff call centers and, in some cases, resorting to paper applications (Johnson, 1/14).

The Wall Street Journal’s Washington Wire: Maryland Won’t Switch Over To
Maryland says it won’t switch to the federal health insurance website while kinks are worked out of the state’s website. In a written statement Tuesday, Gov. Martin O’Malley’s office said it “evaluated the feasibility” of using some functions of the federal exchange but said the “risks associated with the transition to the federal site would outweigh the benefits” (Corbett Dooren, 1/14).

Politico: State Fights Creating 2 Obamacares
Determining who has health insurance under Obamacare is almost as simple as figuring out which political party runs a state. Republican-led states like Texas that have refused Obamacare every step of the way have left hundreds of thousands of people without health care, while Democrat-led states like Kentucky that have embraced key portions of the law have seen a dramatic expansion in people signed up for private health plans and expanded Medicaid coverage (Norman, 1/14).

NPR: Why The Youth Gap On Obamacare Exchanges Could Be A Yawner
The dust is settling a bit after the administration released details Monday about who signed up for health insurance on the exchanges during the chaotic three months after they launched Oct. 1. Just about everybody was watching to see how many young people piled in. Younger people are generally healthier, and their premiums tend to balance out insurers' outlays for older, sicker people. For Obamacare to work over the long haul, young people need to be a big part of the health insurance mix (Hensley, 1/14).

USA Today: Medical Debt Will Persist Despite Health Law
Millions of Americans will get health insurance through the Affordable Care Act that will protect them from potentially ruinous medical expenses, but a new USA TODAY analysis shows the health plans they can choose still leave them vulnerable to thousands in deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs each year (O’Donnell and Overberg, 1/14).

The Washington Post: Fairfax County Decides To Push Congress To Make Changes To Health-Care Law
Fairfax County officials are moving to persuade Congress to change how so-called “Cadillac” health plans are defined under the Affordable Care Act, part of a spreading concern about projected tax penalties under the law that would not take effect until 2018. On Tuesday, the Fairfax County board of supervisors voted to explore ways to push for changes in a section of the law that they argued unfairly punishes employers in more expensive areas of the country where health insurance premiums are higher (Olivo, 1/14).

The Washington Post: QSSI To Stay On As’s General Contractor
The Obama administration has decided to retain Quality Software Services Inc. as its general contractor for, even as it has hired a new contractor to do most of the work on the Web site. In a joint statement Tuesday, Optum/QSSI and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said they would keep working together to ensure the online federal health insurance marketplace works well for consumers. On Saturday, CMS signed a contract with the global consulting firm Accenture to serve as the site's primary contractor in the coming year (Eilperin, 1/14).

The New York Times: Ads Attacking On Health Law Stagger Outspent Democrats
Democrats are increasingly anxious about an onslaught of television ads hitting vulnerable Senate and House candidates for their support of the new health law, since many lack the resources to fight back in the early stages of the midterm campaign. Since September, Americans for Prosperity, a group financed in part by the billionaire Koch brothers, has spent an estimated $20 million on television advertising that calls out House and Senate Democrats by name for their support of the Affordable Care Act (Hulse, 1/15).

The New York Times’ The Caucus: Conservative Group To Air Ads Attacking Health Law In Michigan and Iowa
One of the country’s most well-funded conservative groups is betting that public anger against President Obama’s signature health initiative is broad and deep enough to expand the field of competitive Senate races this November. The group, Americans for Prosperity, will begin a $1.8 million television advertising campaign on Tuesday attacking Democratic Senate candidates in Iowa and Michigan, states that went for Mr. Obama in 2012. The campaign, further bolstered by radio and Internet expenditures, will also include an advertisement thanking Representative Steve Daines, a Republican Senate candidate in Montana, for his efforts opposing the health care act (Confessore, 1/14).

The Wall Street Journal’s Washington Wire: Ads Attack Democratic Candidates In Iowa, Michigan
Americans for Prosperity, the well-funded conservative group that has shelled out millions attacking Democrats in states President Barack Obama lost, is turning its attention to a pair of states the president won. The group kicked off a $2 million advertising blitz Tuesday that centers on ads criticizing Democratic Senate candidates in Iowa and Michigan for supporting Mr. Obama’s new health law. The campaign also includes ads thanking Rep. Steve Daines, the Republican Senate candidate in Montana, for opposing the law (O’Connor, 1/14).

Politico: Hispanic Group Offers Anti-ACA Ad
A conservative Hispanic advocacy group will launch a new round of ads Wednesday targeting a vulnerable House Democrat over Obamacare — an effort that highlights the problems that it says Latinos have faced with the health care law. The ad from the LIBRE Initiative goes after Rep. Joe Garcia (D-Fla.) and stars a Latina doctor in southern Florida who cites a handful of concerns she has about the Affordable Care Act — such as higher premiums and canceled insurance policies (Kim, 1/14).

The Washington Post: New Think Tank Focused On Health Policy
The politics of health care may, for the moment, be mired in gridlock. But Republican policy analyst Douglas Holtz-Eakin thinks the time will come when his party will stop trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act and Democrats will start trying to fix it. When that day arrives, both sides will need help charting a path through the health policy wilderness. So Holtz-Eakin, a former director of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, this week opened the virtual doors of a new think tank known as the Center for Health and Economy (Montgomery, 1/15).

The New York Times: $1.1 Trillion Bill To Avoid Federal Shutdown Covers Many Local Interests
A billion-dollar public health fund created by the Affordable Care Act survived in name only. Republicans made sure that every cent of the money was parceled out to programs that are not connected to the health law (Lipton and Weisman, 1/14).

The Washington Post: Unemployment Benefits Won’t Be Extended Until At Least Late January As Senate Deadlocks
With a total price tag of about $12 billion, the Republican proposal offered savings by eliminating the ability of the unemployed to receive both federal disability payments and jobless aid. Also included was a provision to extend portions of automatic spending cuts but walling off the military and Medicare providers to increased cuts. The proposal was similar in some respects to Reed’s latest, but he suggested it was also “robbing Peter to pay Peter” because some of the proposed spending cuts would hit programs that would assist the poor (Kane, 1/14).

The New York Times: Unemployment Extension Is Stalled, With 2 Proposals Defeated In The Senate
The first vote failed, 52 to 48, on a measure proposed by the Democratic leadership that would have extended benefits for 11 months. The extension would have been largely financed by continuing a 2 percent cut to Medicare health providers for an additional year, through 2024. The second vote, on the original bill, which would have extended benefits for three months at a cost of $6.4 billion, failed 55 to 45 (Parker, 1/14).

Los Angeles Times: Spending Bill Is On Track But Jobless Benefits Stall In Congress
A $1-trillion spending bill was headed for swift approval in the House by Wednesday, but legislation to extend unemployment insurance stalled in the Senate amid partisan bickering, dashing hopes for a quick deal to resume jobless benefits (Mascaro, 1/14).

Politico: Insurance Industry Ad Blitz To Preempt Medicare Cuts
This time around, the insurance industry isn’t even waiting for the Obama administration to threaten cuts to private Medicare plans: It’s launching a peremptory strike. America’s Health Insurance Plans announced an all-out advertising campaign Tuesday. Maintaining the same“Seniors are Watching” theme of more general ads last fall, the new seven-figure campaign is the group’s biggest mobilization to date for Medicare Advantage, a spokesman said. It comes in advance of an annual notice that sets the plans’ payment rates for the upcoming year and is focused on that issue (Norman, 1/14).

The Wall Street Journal: Splintered System Often Fails Mentally Ill With Low IQs
In most states, including California, mental-health treatment is overseen by counties, while state officials coordinate developmental-disability services. The splintered system makes it extremely hard to coordinate treatment, and few professionals are trained to even identify coexisting conditions (Ansberry, 1/14).

The New York Times: After Flurry of Changes, Some States Ease Up
The lowered ambition amounts, in some cases, to a declaration of victory, as is the case with abortion restrictions in Ohio and providing driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants in California. But it also reflects political concerns among some legislators and governors up for election that they at times claimed an unfounded mandate with this aggressive period of legislating, according to analysts and elected officials. For the past three years, under the hand of a Republican governor and a Republican legislature, Ohio has forged an ambitious, if occasionally unorthodox, conservative agenda, enacting laws to limit the availability of abortion, cut taxes and restrict the power of unions, while also bolstering some programs for the needy. But for now at least, lawmakers are looking at consensus legislation, such as requiring parental notification for children getting opiate prescriptions rather than restricting bargaining rights of public workers (Nagourney, 1/15).

The New York Times: Suing To End Life Support For Woman and Fetus
Lawyers for the husband of a pregnant woman being kept on life support at a Fort Worth hospital against her family’s wishes sued hospital officials on Tuesday, asking a judge to order the doctors to remove her from the machines and declare the Texas law at the center of her case unconstitutional (Fernandez, 1/15).

Los Angeles Times: Case Of Brain-Dead Pregnant Woman Goes To Texas Court
The husband of a brain-dead, pregnant woman filed papers in court Tuesday, accusing a Texas hospital of "cruel and obscene mutilation of a deceased body," and demanded that his wife be removed from a ventilator immediately. Erick Munoz, who found his wife, Marlise, collapsed on their kitchen floor on Nov. 26, has accused John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth of misinterpreting a state law that prohibits hospitals from suspending "life sustaining treatment" on patients who are pregnant, according to the filing (Morin, 1/14). 

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