KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

First Edition: March 26, 2014

Today's headlines include reports that the Obama administration will extend the deadline for signing up for insurance through   

Kaiser Health News: Young But Not So Invincible In California
Kaiser Health News staff writers Heidi de Marco and Daniela Hernandez, working in collaboration with the San Jose Mercury News, report: “As the March 31 deadline approaches for enrollment in Obamacare, young adults like Cabrera are considered a prime target. Sometimes called “young invincibles,” these adults between the ages of 18 and 34 supposedly see themselves as invulnerable and health insurance as unnecessary. But like Cabrera, many don’t view themselves as invincible at all – just strapped for cash and unsure of their options” (de Marco and Hernandez, 3/26). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Half Of Uninsured Not Planning On Getting Coverage, Poll Finds
Now on Kaiser Health News’ blog, Jordan Rau writes: “Five million people have signed up for insurance since the marketplaces created by the federal health law opened in October. The last day to sign up without facing a financial penalty is March 31. The Congressional Budget Office estimates by the year’s end, 6 million people will have obtained insurance on the marketplaces” (Rau, 3/26). Check out what else is on the blog.

The Washington Post: Obama Administration Will Allow More Time To Enroll In Health Care On Federal Marketplace
The Obama administration has decided to give extra time to Americans who say that they are unable to enroll in health plans through the federal insurance marketplace by the March 31 deadline. … Under the new rules, people will be able to qualify for an extension by checking a blue box on to indicate that they tried to enroll before the deadline. This method will rely on an honor system; the government will not try to determine whether the person is telling the truth (Goldstein, 3/25).

The New York Times: U.S. To Extend Sign-Up Period For Insurance
With less than a week left for people to sign up for health insurance, the Obama administration said Tuesday that it would allow more time for those who had tried to apply but were blocked by technical problems with the federal exchange. Several states running their own exchanges, including Maryland, Minnesota and Nevada, have taken similar steps in the last two weeks (Pear, 3/25).

Los Angeles Times: White House Offers Extension On Completing Obamacare Enrollment
Officials said they were making the move now in anticipation of a last-minute rush of consumers seeking health insurance ahead of the March 31 deadline. On Monday, more than 1.1 million people visited, the second-largest traffic day on the site, the White House said (Levey, 3/25).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: HHS Grants Extra Time To Enroll For Health Care
The White House is scrambling to meet a goal of 6 million signed up through new online markets that offer subsidized private health insurance to people without access to coverage on the job. The website got more that 1 million visitors Monday, and the administration also wants to prevent a repeat of website problems that soured consumers last fall (3/26).

The Wall Street Journal: Obama Administration To Give Insurance-Enrollment Extension
A handful of states that run their own exchanges have also decided to extend enrollment for those who haven't finished their applications. One concern is the fact that users could flood the national and state exchanges in the final days before the deadline, hampering their ability to function. … HHS said it would allow individuals with special circumstances and complex cases to receive help completing the enrollment process beyond the March 31 deadline for most Americans to sign up (Radnofsky, 3/25).

USA Today: Administration Extending Health Care 
Officials recommend setting aside some time for enrollment to gather family information, investigate whether a doctor is within a plan's network, and ensuring that those new to the insurance world understand basic terms like "deductible" and "premium," which are explained at As the deadline looms closer, HHS has sent out emails to everyone who has begun the process encouraging them to complete their forms. To complete enrollment, people must also send their first month's premium payment to the insurer. In January, the administration encouraged insurers to backdate enrollment to when people completed their applications (Kennedy, 3/26).

Politico: Extra Time Granted For Some On Obamacare
The deadline for individuals to start the sign-up process remains March 31, but they will get extra time and assistance to complete it if they’ve encountered problems. It was not immediately clear how many people this could affect, or how much extra time they would get. Details are expected to be announced Wednesday (Kenen, 3/26).

Politico: A Brief History Of Obamacare Delays
Did anyone really doubt that the final Obamacare enrollment deadline would slip, too? It’s not like the Obama administration is setting a new precedent with its latest move — giving customers more time to enroll after next Monday’s deadline if they’re already in line (Nather and Levine, 3/25).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Bungling Mars Health Care Deadline In Some States
Many states and the federal government experienced technical problems with the enrollment websites, but implementation of the federal Affordable Care Act has been a relative disaster in Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon and Vermont. Rather than focusing on meeting enrollment targets, officials in those states find themselves consumed with replacing top officials, cancelling contracts with software companies, dealing with state or federal investigations, and spending tens of millions of dollars on fixes and new contractors (3/25).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Testers Say Federal Health Care Website Runs Slow
If you’re waiting until the last minute to sign up for coverage under President Barack Obama’s health care law, a little extra patience might come in handy., the online portal to taxpayer-subsidized health insurance, runs slowly when compared with major private health insurer websites. That’s according to an analysis for The Associated Press by Compuware, a Detroit company that measures website performance (3/26).

The New York Times: Justices Seem Open To Religious Claims By Companies
In a long and lively argument that touched on medical science and moral philosophy, the Supreme Court on Tuesday seemed ready to accept that at least some for-profit corporations may advance claims based on religious freedom (Liptak, 3/25).

Los Angeles Times: Conservative Justices Seem Poised To Deal Blow To Obamacare
The Supreme Court's conservative majority sounded poised Tuesday to deal a blow to President Obama's healthcare law and rule that business owners may invoke their religious beliefs to opt out of a new federal requirement that they pay for birth control for female employees. Such a decision could open the door to an array of new religious freedom claims from those who object to other laws mandating such things as equal treatment for gays and lesbians or non-discrimination in hiring. A decision is expected by late June (Savage, 3/25).

The Wall Street Journal: Supreme Court Debates Contraception Requirement
The Supreme Court displayed a sharp divide Tuesday on the question of whether companies are entitled to a religious exemption from providing emergency contraceptives in their employee health plans. It was the first time the Affordable Care Act appeared before the high court since it largely upheld the law in 2012. Under the law, employers must cover contraceptives in workers' insurance plans without copayments, or face a fine (Bravin, 3/25).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Birth Control Rule Seems To Divide Supreme Court
Seemingly divided, the Supreme Court struggled Tuesday with the question of whether companies have religious rights, a case challenging President Barack Obama’s health overhaul and its guarantee of birth control in employees’ preventive care plans. Peppering attorneys with questions in a 90-minute argument, the justices weighed the rights of for-profit companies against the rights of female employees. The discussion ranged to abortion, too, and even whether a female worker could be forced to wear an all-covering burka (3/25).

Politico: Hobby Lobby Case: Justices To Watch
In a rare 90-minute session, the Supreme Court on Tuesday dug deep into the religious-freedom challenge Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties are mounting against the Obamacare contraception mandate. As in other high-profile cases, court-watchers examined every question, comment, twitch and grimace in a quest to divine where the justices are headed. Of course, it’s a truism that justices’ remarks at arguments don’t always reflect where they will ultimately come down in a case (Gerstein, 3/26).

The New York Times: Arguments Against Health Law Subsidies Gain Traction
Two of the three federal judges hearing a challenge to the Affordable Care Act appeared open on Tuesday to the argument that people buying health insurance in the federal marketplace should not be eligible for tax subsidies, the first indication that the White House could be facing another potentially serious legal challenge to a central part of President Obama’s health care law. The judges’ comments came at a hearing in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit (Pear, 3/25).

The Wall Street Journal: Appeals Court Hears Arguments On Federal Health-Insurance Subsidies
A federal appeals court on Tuesday appeared divided on a central component of the Affordable Care Act as it heard arguments about whether the federal health insurance exchange can offer subsidies to consumers. Under the 2010 health law, lower earners who buy policies in the law's new system of insurance marketplaces are entitled to a tax credit. Challengers of the law argue that such subsidies should only be available through state exchanges because of way law was written when it referred to insurance exchanges "established by the state" (Corbett Dooren, 3/25).

The Wall Street Journal: New Hampshire Is Set To Expand Medicaid Under Health Law
New Hampshire's legislature on Tuesday voted to expand the state's Medicaid program under the federal health law, making it the 26th state to do so. The decision to opt into a core provision of the Affordable Care Act is a big win for the Obama administration. It has been trying to persuade states to agree to expand their programs after the Supreme Court decided in June 2012 that their participation was effectively optional (Radnofsky, 3/25).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: House Republicans Assail Republicans Over Budget
The move was the latest in an ongoing and long-running public relations tussle between Republican and Democratic lawmakers over whether Virginia should undergo a large-scale expansion of its Medicaid program. The General Assembly adjourned earlier this month without passing a budget because of the impasse on Medicaid, and there has been little sign the two sides are anywhere closer to an agreement than they were several months ago (3/25).

NPR: Most People Don't Know The Health Insurance Deadline Looms
Next week is the last chance for most people without insurance to sign up for individual health coverage for the remainder of 2014. Yet according to the latest monthly tracking poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation, more than 60 percent of those without coverage still don't know that (Rovner, 3/26).

The Wall Street Journal’s Washington Wire: Poll: Majority of Uninsured Don’t Know About March 31 Deadline
One big number to think about today: Six in ten of the uninsured say they don’t know that March 31 is the deadline for most people to buy coverage for the year under the new health law if they want it, and also the date after which many of them will have to pay a penalty if they don’t have a plan, according to a new tracking poll (Radnofsky, 3/26).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Q&A: Staring At A Big Price Hike For Health Plan
The new health care law helps some people, hurts others and confuses almost everyone. Hoping to simplify things a bit, The Associated Press asked its Twitter, Facebook and Google Plus followers for their real-life questions about the program and the problems they’re running into as the March 31 deadline approaches to sign up for coverage in new insurance markets (3/26).

The New York Times: Democrats, As Part Of Midterm Strategy, To Schedule Votes On Pocketbook Issues
Democrats remain on the defensive about the missteps with the rollout of the Affordable Care Act, problems that have only been amplified by a barrage of attack ads in battleground states like Alaska, Louisiana and North Carolina. Republicans accused Mr. Obama and his fellow Democrats of trying to change the subject (Peters and Shear, 3/25).

The Washington Post’s The Fact Checker: Big Claims, Few Details In Anti-Obamacare Ad Alleging Soaring Costs
The Fact Checker can barely keep up with the torrent of ads attacking the Affordable Care Act from the pro-GOP group Americans for Prosperity. Just as we fact check one, and another, and another, and another, yet one more pops up. This new ad is part of a reported $5-million buy in the competitive race for the open Senate seat in Michigan. As the Fact Checker has raised questions–and awarded Pinocchios–about some of the claims made in these ads, we find that the more recent ads have increasingly fewer details that are easy to check (Kessler, 3/26).

The Washington Post: Further Cost Controls South In Federal Employee Health-Care Plan
The Office of Personnel Management has urged companies participating in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program to boost their efforts to hold down the cost of prescription drugs, which it has often cited as a major driver of premium increases, as well as to encourage enrollees to participate in wellness programs (Yoder, 3/25).

Los Angeles Times: California, 44 Other States Fail At Posting Medical Prices, Report Says
Californians don't have easy access to actual prices for medical care, according to a national report card that gave the state an F for its dismal showing. California had plenty of company. Overall, 45 states received an F in the report issued Tuesday by two nonprofit healthcare groups that analyzed government efforts to make pricing information widely available to consumers (Terhune, 3/25).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Ruling: Kansas Can Strip Planned Parenthood Funds
A federal appeals court on Tuesday ruled that Kansas can strip two Planned Parenthood clinics of federal family planning money while the organization moves forward with its legal challenge of a state law it says is retaliation for its advocacy of abortion rights (3/25).

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