KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

More Insurers Extend Premium Payment Deadlines

The relaxed timetables reflect efforts by the insurance industry, as well as the Obama administration, to "coax" people towards "cementing" their 2014 coverage, reports Bloomberg News. In addition, a Commonwealth survey finds more people are shopping on the new health insurance marketplaces. News outlets also report developments from Minnesota, California, Oregon, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Michigan.

Bloomberg: Obamacare Customers Given More Time To Pay Insurers
Two of the largest U.S. health insurers are giving Obamacare customers more time to pay their initial premiums as the industry tries to coax millions of people to take the final step in cementing coverage for 2014. WellPoint Inc. (WLP), the second-biggest U.S. health insurer, said it’s allowing consumers until Jan. 15 to pay, five extra days than planned. Health Care Service Corp., which runs Blue Cross plans in Texas, Illinois and three other states, extended its deadline to Jan. 30, saying it wanted to avoid confusion (Nussbaum, 1/8).

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: More Shoppers, Including Young Ones, Showing Up At Health Exchanges
Seventeen percent of people potentially eligible for coverage visited the marketplaces when they opened in October, according to a survey of 622 people conducted by The Commonwealth Fund. That encompasses people going to both the finicky healthcare.gov run by the federal government for 36 states and those who went to the marketplaces run by 14 states and the District of Columbia. By the end of December — after government officials announced a fix to some of the website glitches — that number had risen to 24 percent (Rao, 1/9).

Pioneer Press: MNsure Problems Prompt State To Seek Help From UnitedHealth
MNsure has asked a division of Minnetonka-based UnitedHealth Group to conduct an end-to-end review of problems with the health insurance exchange website. Meanwhile, health exchange leaders plan to make more paper applications available as a contingency for website users who continue to encounter stubborn technology problems when trying to obtain coverage through the state-run insurance marketplace (Snowbeck, 1/8). 

MinnPost: Lead Vendor Tells Oversight Committee That MNsure Took Control Of Project Last February
The lead vendor contracted to build Minnesota’s struggling health insurance exchange says it was stripped of much of its job by MNsure officials beginning last February, according to a report for the Legislature's oversight committee (Nord, 1/8).

The Star Tribune: MNsure Asks UnitedHealth Group Subsidiary Optum For Website Help
UnitedHealth Group Inc.’s data services subsidiary Optum, which came to the rescue of the federal health insurance exchange in November, is now stepping in to help resolve continuing problems with MNsure. About 15 Optum staffers arrived Wednesday morning at MNsure, the state’s insurance exchange, for a two-day assessment of the agency’s website and call center operations. Their goal: to help officials pinpoint how and why some consumers are getting hung up in the system, which is expected to eventually help more than 1 million Minnesotans choose and pay for health coverage (Crosby, 1/9).

Minnesota Public Radio: MNsure Interim CEO: More Work Needs To Be Done
Despite ongoing efforts to fix the state's new health insurance website, only a handful of problems have been fixed, MNsure's top official said Wednesday. The comments from interim CEO Scott Leitz came after a team of IBM's tech whizzes have been working in St. Paul for nearly a month to help fix the problem-plagued MNsure website. They also follow a planned, two-day maintenance shutdown of the website last weekend (Richert, 1/8).

The Wall Street Journal’s CIO Journal: Minnesota Governor Blasts IBM For State Health Exchange Troubles
Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton blamed IBM Corp. for software problems that have stalled thousands of insurance purchases on the state’s online health exchange. The exchange, MNsure, said it is bringing in UnitedHealth Group Inc.-owned contractor Optum to review operations. But MNsure may have to accept some of the blame after taking systems integration duties from the site’s general contractor just eight months before launch (Boulton, 1/8).

California Healthline: Most Small Health Plans Aren’t Thriving In Covered California. Meet Two Exceptions
CCHP's early, obvious success is testament to Covered California's potential to drive improvements in access and coverage, especially by introducing new market competitors. But for other small health plans -- who were hoping the insurance exchange would be a vehicle to pick up new members-- it hasn't been a smooth ride. One small health plan dropped out. Another was kicked out. And a third is openly hunting for business. That's in sharp contrast to the experience of the four largest plans on the exchange -- Anthem, Blue Cross, Health Net, and Kaiser -- which are hoovering up new members, based on the most recent data available (Diamond, 1/8).

The Oregonian: Cover Oregon: Moda Dominating Health Exchange's Early Sales
Moda Health is dominating insurance plans sold through Oregon's health exchange, selling a staggering 70 percent of policies. Of 13,693 plans sold through Cover Oregon as of Jan. 4, Moda sold 9,611 of them, according to Cover Oregon. Among major insurers, the subsidiary of Cambia Health known as Bridgespan is bringing up the rear with just 9 policies sold (Budnick, 1/8).

The CT Mirror: Amid Obamacare Coverage Woes, More Insurers Extend Payment Deadline
As Connecticut residents continue to face problems getting their new health care coverage set up, two more insurance companies selling plans through the state’s exchange have extended their payment deadlines for January coverage. ConnectiCare Benefits will accept January premium payments through Wednesday, Jan. 15, five days beyond the previous deadline, for people who signed up for coverage through Access Health CT, the state's health insurance exchange. Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield announced the same deadline change Tuesday (Becker, 1/8).

Detroit Free Press: Groups Aim To Make Clear: Metro Detroiters Can Still Sign Up For Health Care
With the promise of expanded Medicaid ahead and glitches at www.healthcare.gov being ironed out, insurers and health care providers are stepping up efforts to enroll uninsured metro Detroiters in health coverage. ... [The Detroit Medical Center] is leading a partnership of about five dozen community organizations trying to boost health coverage under the Affordable Care Act. The partnership, which includes health providers, nonprofit organizations and several churches, is finalizing a schedule of community events over the next two months to raise awareness about upcoming deadlines. A public campaign kickoff is scheduled for Friday (Erb, 1/8).

The Boston Globe: Mass. Health Connector Fraught With Uncertainty
Once a national model, the Connector has frustrated consumers for months. Its new website, overhauled to comply with the federal Affordable Care Act, has locked users out of their accounts and delivered confusing error messages. But, as Kamel’s story shows, the Connector’s troubles go beyond a bad website, to inconsistent enrollment data and poor communication, leaving some users uncertain about the status of their coverage. The Connector’s new website has performed so poorly that the state has all but abandoned attempts to fix it. The agency’s staff is expected to report Thursday to its board about options for holding the vendor, CGI, accountable (Conaboy, 1/9).

And on the Medicaid expansion front -

The Associated Press: Hundreds Demand Expansion Of Medicaid
Hundreds gathered at the Maine Statehouse on Wednesday urging lawmakers to expand Medicaid under the federal health care overhaul as the Democratic-controlled Legislature began its work for the new session. The presence of the roughly 350 people calling for Medicaid expansion foreshadows what's certain to be another fiery debate in the Legislature on the bill this session, during which lawmakers will also try to fill a $75 million gap in the state budget and debate measures aimed at cracking down on welfare abuse (Durkin, 1/9).

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