KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

First Edition: February 26, 2014

Today's headlines include reports that, according to the Obama administration, insurance sign-ups under the health law have hit 4 million.

Kaiser Health News: Could Medicaid Expansion Debate Turn Into An Immigration Issue?
Kaiser Health News staff writer Julie Appleby and the Miami Herald’s Patricia Borns report: "Florida lawmakers backing expansion of the state’s Medicaid program plan to mount a new argument this legislative session: That voting against extending the program would deprive low-income U.S. citizens of access to insurance that’s available to some legal immigrants" (Appleby and Borns, 2/26). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Poll: For Right Price, Consumers Will Accept Limited Choice Of Doctors, Hospitals; Tenet Expects 15% Of Its Uninsured To Get Obamacare Coverage
Now on Kaiser Health News blog, Jordan Rau Reports on new poll findings: "People buying health insurance through the health law’s new online marketplaces are more willing than the public at large to accept a limited roster of doctors and hospitals in return for lower premiums, a poll released Wednesday finds. But that enthusiasm nosedives if they are told their regular doctor isn’t included in the plan" (Rau, 2/25). 

Also on Capsules, Phil Galewitz reports on Tenet’s call with analysts: "Tenet Healthcare Corp., the nation’s third largest for-profit hospital operator, said Tuesday it expects 15 percent of its uninsured patients to get covered this year as a result of the Affordable Care Act. But the company isn’t counting yet on any higher profits from the shift, Tenet officials said after a conference call with Wall Street analysts to discuss its fourth quarter earnings and outlook for 2014" (Galewitz, 2/25). Check out what else is on the blog.

Los Angeles Times: Obamacare Enrollment Hits 4 Million
Enrollment in health plans sold on marketplaces created by President Obama’s healthcare law has hit 4 million, the administration announced Tuesday, marking another milestone in the law’s implementation. The number suggests sign-ups have continued at a brisk pace in February, with about 700,000 people selecting an insurance plan so far this month (Levey, 2/25).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Obama: Health Insurance Enrollment At 4 Million
Pressing for a final rush of health care enrollees, President Barack Obama said Tuesday that about 4 million people have signed up for health insurance through federal or state marketplaces set up under his health care law. But with a key deadline approaching fast, he urged some of his most steadfast backers to help sign up millions more by then (2/25).

Politico: Obamacare Enrollment Hits 4 Million
In a blog post, Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Marilyn Tavenner released the new number of signups through the state and federal exchanges. But she provided few details and no demographic breakdown, such as the number of young adults who have signed up or the percentage who have paid their premiums. Tavenner said health officials continue to see “strong demand nationwide” and that more than 12 million calls have come into the federal call center since the fall (Levine, 2/25).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: AP Exclusive: Health Law Cybersecurity Challenges
As the Obama administration raced to meet its self-imposed deadline for online health insurance markets, security experts working for the government worried that state computer systems could become a back door for hackers. Documents provided to The Associated Press show that more than two-thirds of state systems that were supposed to tap into federal computers to verify sensitive personal information for coverage were initially rated as “high risk” for security problems (2/25).

The Washington Post’s The Fact Checker: Is Obamacare A ‘Job Killer’?
We have delved into this issue before and find the certainty with which both sides hold their positions to be dismaying. Each side can point to data to make their case, even though the law has only begun to be implemented (Kessler, 2/26).

USA Today/FactCheck.Org: Fact Check: Old Medicare Claims In Arkansas Race
Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor taps his party's playbook in attacking Republican challenger Tom Cotton for his support of Rep. Paul Ryan's Medicare plan. Two ads from Pryor make misleading claims about seniors' costs rising or benefits being cut — the likes of which we've seen before. The Ryan Medicare plan has been a hot topic for Democratic attacks for several years running (Robertson, 2/25).

The Washington Post: Maryland Sticks By Its Overall Goal For Health Insurance Enrollments
Maryland health officials received some convenient news last week: The enrollment goal they had set for the state’s health exchange was based on incorrect research, and a more realistic projection was one they had already met. But the state is sticking with its original too-high goal, a member of Gov. Martin O’Malley’s Cabinet told lawmakers on Monday. “If you know the governor, he’s not someone who is inclined to lower goals once he sets them,” said Joshua Sharfstein, Maryland’s secretary of health and mental hygiene. “We’re going to keep doing our best” (Johnson, 2/25).

The Washington Post: Maryland’s Four Major Options For Fixing Its Dysfunctional Health Exchange
Maryland’s new online health insurance marketplace is so structurally flawed and dysfunctional that state officials say they will have to make major changes as soon as the first open enrollment period ends on March 31. They are still trying to figure out what those changes will be (Johnson, 2/25).

Los Angeles Times: Hawaii Health Marketplace Off To An Especially Rough Start
Hawaii already had one of the highest insured rates in the nation as the result of a 40-year-old state law requiring employers to provide coverage. The state received more than $205 million in federal money to build a health insurance exchange to serve those still uninsured. Yet four months after enrollments began, the Hawaii Health Connector has allocated $120 million while signing up only about 4,300 people for health plans — fewer than any other state. Despite officials' initial hopes of enrolling tens of thousands of Hawaiians, only 400 employers have applied for plans for their employees (Reston, 2/25).

Los Angeles Times: Report: 125,000 Immigrants Given Deferred Action Eligible For Medi-Cal
A new report shows that as many as 125,000 young California immigrants may qualify for an expansion of Medi-Cal, the state's Medicaid program. The Affordable Care Act bars insurance subsidies and enrollment in the Medicaid expansion for undocumented immigrants, but a wrinkle in California rules does offer coverage for those with "deferred action status" (Karlamangla, 2/25).

The New York Times: Ex-President Ventures Where Some Might Not
The peril posed by what conservatives call Obamacare underscores the limitations of just what Mr. Clinton, popular as he may now be, can do for Democratic candidates running in conservative-leaning states this year. Kentucky, for example, is a national model for the law; 244,000 residents of the state now have health care because of the Affordable Care Act. Just in the last month, Mr. Beshear was a guest in the first lady’s box at Mr. Obama’s State of the Union address and at a White House state dinner, both invitations widely seen as a way of thanking the governor. Yet despite what Democrats see as the success of the law here, it is Republicans who are focused on the topic (Martin, 2/26).

The Wall Street Journal: Obama Trims To-Do List For Core Supporters
President Barack Obama offered an abbreviated to-do list Tuesday as he asked Organizing for Action volunteers to help him raise the minimum wage and ensure that more people sign up for health coverage through the Affordable Care Act (Nelson, 2/25).

Politico: Obama: OFA Volunteers Doing ‘God’s Work’
The president urged OFA members to recruit Republican friends and relatives to enroll in Obamacare — telling them to tell people not to believe what they might hear on “the wrong newscast.” He cited “a combination of an implacable opposition that has spent hundreds of millions of dollars, if not billions of dollars, to spread misinformation” and the faulty as the reason “a lot of people who really could use this coverage are unsure. We’ve got to make sure that they know that this will pay off for them” (Epstein, 2/25).

The New York Times: White House Meeting Turns Into A Lightning Round For Obama And Boehner
At the same time, Mr. Boehner has done little to suggest his House would advance any of the president’s agenda in the months leading up to the midterm elections, telling his members this month that he would not pursue the immigration legislation that Mr. Obama supports, but that angered conservative Republicans. Republicans have vowed to continue their push to roll back or change the Affordable Care Act, and in a message posted on Twitter, even as the speaker was arriving at the White House, Mr. Boehner took a political jab at the president’s top domestic policy (Shear, 2/25).

The New York Times: Study Finds Limited Benefit To Some ‘Medical Homes’
You may have heard the term “medical home” to describe a way of organizing doctors’ practices to provide more comprehensive, less costly, patient-friendly treatment. Insurance companies often offer more money to practices that become recognized as medical homes, which use a team approach to coordinate care. States are even looking to medical homes to help save money in their Medicaid programs (Carrns, 2/25). 

The Wall Street Journal: Study Questions Benefits Of 'Medical Home' Programs For Chronically Ill
Health-policy experts often talk up the notion of a "patient-center medical home"—in which a medical practice actively manages patients' chronic conditions to improve their health and avoid hospitalizations—as the ideal model for transforming the U.S. health-care system (Beck, 2/25). 

The New York Times: Obesity Rate For Young Children Plummets 43% In A Decade
Federal health authorities on Tuesday reported a 43 percent drop in the obesity rate among 2- to 5-year-old children over the past decade, the first broad decline in an epidemic that often leads to lifelong struggles with weight and higher risks for cancer, heart disease and stroke (Tavernise, 2/26). 

The Washington Post: New CDC Data Shows 43 Percent Drop In Obesity Rates Among Children 2 To 5
The finding comes from a government study considered a gold standard to measure public-health trends. Researchers found that just over 8 percent of children 2 to 5 were obese in 2011-2012, down from nearly 14 percent in 2003-2004. Although the drop was significant, federal health officials noted that obesity rates for the broader population remain unchanged, and for women older than 60, obesity rates rose about 21 percent during that period (Sun, 2/26).


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