KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

First Edition: March 6, 2014

Today's headlines include reports about health law rule changes announced yesterday by the Obama administration.

Kaiser Health News: Changes To Health Law Rules Include Extra Month To Enroll In 2015
Kaiser Health News staff writer Mary Agnes Carey reports: "The Obama administration on Wednesday released a broad set of regulatory changes to the health law that would give some consumers additional time to stay in plans that do not comply with all its coverage requirements and all consumers more time to enroll in coverage come 2015" (Carey, 3/6). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: Marketing Mistakes Hurt Latino Enrollment In California
KQED’s April Dembosky, working in partnership with Kaiser Health News and NPR, reports: "It's been decades since the advertising industry recognized the need to woo Hispanic consumers. Big companies saw the market potential and sank millions of dollars into ads. The most basic do's and don'ts of marketing to Latinos in the U.S. have been understood for years. So when California officials started thinking about how to persuade the state's Latino population to enroll in health care plans, they should have had a blueprint of what to do. Instead, they made a series of mistakes" (Dembosky, 3/6). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: Groups Make Final Push To Sign People Up For Obamacare
Kaiser Health News staff writer Phil Galewitz, working in partnership with USA Today, reports: "It's crunch time for Obamacare: With less than four weeks left to sign up for coverage this year through the health law’s insurance marketplaces, consumer groups, insurers, hospitals and state and federal officials are ratcheting up their enrollment campaigns to deliver more people — particularly young adults" (Galewitz, 3/5). Read the story.

The New York Times: Some Policies Get More Time In Health Shift
The Obama administration, grappling with continued political fallout over its health care law, said Wednesday that it would allow consumers to renew health insurance policies that did not comply with the new law for two more years, pushing the issue well beyond this fall’s midterm elections (Pear,3/5).

Los Angeles Times: Consumers Allowed To Keep Substandard Health Plans Into 2017
The Obama administration announced Wednesday that some Americans with health insurance policies that don't meet consumer standards set by the president's new healthcare law would be allowed to keep their plans into 2017, three years later than originally envisioned. The delay, which could put off the final cancellation of some health plans until after President Obama leaves office, may have limited practical impact (Levey, 3/5).

The Washington Post: Obama Administration Rewrites Some Health-Care Policies
The Obama administration announced Wednesday that it has rewritten an array of far-reaching rules under the Affordable Care Act, the most significant of which will let people keep bare-bones health insurance policies for three more years. The rule changes will touch essentially every sector affected by the 2010 health-care law. It will buffer more health plans in insurance exchanges from high patient costs, give states more time to decide whether to run their own marketplaces, and spare certain unions from a fee they have resented (Goldstein and Somashekhar, 3/5).

The Wall Street Journal: Obama Gives Health Plans Added Two-Year Reprieve
But a series of delays by the administration—and decisions by states on implementing the law—have taken a toll. The latest delay came Wednesday, when federal officials said insurance companies could continue selling plans that don't meet the law's more rigorous standards until 2016 in some instances. It was the second time the administration delayed that requirement after the law's tougher standards prompted insurers to cancel millions of people's health plans last year. The latest delay averts another raft of cancellations before this year's midterm elections (Radnofsky, 3/5).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: 2-Year Extension Offered For Canceled Health Plans
Warding off the specter of election-year health insurance cancellations, the Obama administration Wednesday announced a two-year extension for individual policies that don’t meet requirements of the new health care law. The decision helps defuse a political problem for Democrats in tough re-election battles this fall, especially for senators who in 2010 stood with President Barack Obama and voted to pass his health overhaul (3/5).

USA Today: People May Keep Old Health Insurance Another Year
The change represented another midcourse correction for the law, which is still recovering from the flawed opening of the federal and state health care exchanges last Oct. 1 and the delay of several key provisions. Last July, the administration delayed the requirement that businesses provide health insurance for their employees, and President Obama said in November that those with pre-ACA insurance plans could keep them if they wanted (Kennedy, 3/5).

The Wall Street Journal: Latest Health-Law Changes Affect Consumers, Insurers, Employers
The Obama administration unveiled a slate of health-law changes Wednesday, including stretching the enrollment period for next year's plans an extra month and fine-tuning a financial backstop meant to limit insurers' losses if they end up with sicker customers than expected. Some of the shifts compensate for a series of earlier policy changes as the Obama administration responded to criticism over the glitchy launch of the Affordable Care Act and a wave of health-plan cancellations. Others, such a new threshold for out-of-pocket medical expenses, give insurers the tools to begin setting prices for 2015 plans (Weaver and Francis, 3/5).

The Washington Post: Obama Administration Permits Further Delay To Health Exchanges For Small Businesses
The Obama administration on Wednesday gave states more time to implement a key feature of the new employer health care marketplaces and gave small businesses more time to comply with some of the new coverage requirements in the law. Under the Affordable Care Act, states are required to offer a health care exchange where small businesses can enroll in and pay for insurance plans, all online. Companies in states that declined to build their own portals would be able to access a similar network run by the federal government (Harrison, 3/5).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: House Backs Bill To Delay Health Care Penalty
The House on Wednesday backed a one-year delay in the penalty that individuals would have to pay for failing to sign up for health insurance, the 50th time Republicans have forced a vote to repeal, gut or change the law championed by President Barack Obama. The vote was 250-160, with 27 Democrats joining Republicans on legislation to postpone the individual mandate under the law. The measure stands no chance in the Democratic-led Senate and the White House has threatened a veto (3/5).

The Washington Post: Insurers Increase Ads To Get People To Sign Up For Health Plans Under Affordable Care Act
As the March 31 enrollment deadline approaches, insurers are increasingly urging consumers to sign up for health plans under the Affordable Care Act, even as some take swipes at the law, according to a new analysis of health-care advertising. Forty-six percent of insurer ad spending during the week of Feb. 24 went to commercials featuring the law, compared with 32 percent the week before, according to the ad tracking group Kantar Media CMAG (Eilperin, 3/5).

Politico: Final Obamacare Push Focusing On Latino Community
For the uninsured Latinos who live in places like El Paso, the political drama surrounding Obamacare seems very far away.They are more concerned with understanding how the Affordable Care Act benefits them. And with open enrollment ending March 31, time is running out for people like Margarita Sanchez — or President Barack Obama — to explain that to them (Haberkorn and Kenen, 3/5).

Los Angeles Times: Covered California Begins Ad Blitz In Final Enrollment Weeks
With less than a month left for enrollment in Obamacare, California's insurance exchange is applying a major dose of peer pressure. In a new TV ad blitz, recent enrollees extol the benefits of having coverage for checkups or a serious illness. A man plays soccer with his sons, a musician carries his guitar down the street. "I'm in," young, fit-looking people say. "Are you in?" the announcer asks (Karlamangla, 3/5).

USA Today: Blacks In South Urged To Enroll In Health Care Plans
The fliers, featuring a smiling African-American family, invite people to Allen Chapel A.M.E. Church each Saturday this month to learn more about the Affordable Care Act — and hopefully to enroll in a health insurance plan. It's all part of a determined effort by community groups, churches and civil rights organizations — particularly in the South — to sign up more African Americans for health care under the federal law ahead of the March 31 enrollment deadline (Barfield Berry, 3/5).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: US Agency To Probe Health Exchanges
The investigative arm of Congress on Wednesday agreed to look into problems with state health exchange websites around the country. The U.S. Government Accountability Office accepted an initial request from a group of House Republicans seeking an audit on how $304 million in federal grants were spent on the Cover Oregon website, which has yet to enroll a single person online without special assistance (3/5).

Los Angeles Times: State Lawmaker Sues California Health Exchange Over Cancellations
A Republican state lawmaker sued California’s health insurance exchange, saying it overstepped its authority by refusing to allow more than 900,000 people to keep their existing health policies (Terhune, 3/5).

NPR: Florida Has A High Rate Of Latinos Without Health Insurance
Florida doesn't have its own insurance exchange, and it has not expanded Medicaid. In the absence of state outreach efforts, it's up to the insurers and other groups to get the word out to Latinos (Mack, 3/6).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Arkansas Officials Eye Changes to Medicaid Plan
With Arkansas’ model plan to use Medicaid funds to purchase private insurance for the poor spared for another year, backers of the nationally watched program are now focusing on changes that will be needed to keep it alive in the future. State officials and architects of the “private option” said Wednesday they’ll spend the coming weeks focusing on proposals Arkansas must submit to the federal government to alter a program that was approved last year as an alternative to expanding Medicaid under the federal health care law. The program survived a defunding attempt on Tuesday, with the House voting to reauthorize the program for another year (3/5).

Politico: Hillary Clinton: Obamacare Too Important To Turn Back
Hillary Clinton showed more signs of flexibility Wednesday on how Obamacare is implemented, but she insisted the law is too important to “turn the clock back.” In a question-and-answer session following a lecture at UCLA, Clinton suggested she’s open to different ways of achieving the health law’s goals. She praised Arkansas — the state where she and her husband rose to political fame — for carrying out a new approach to expanding Medicaid coverage, by using the federal money to buy private health insurance for more than 100,000 low-income residents (Nather, 3/5).

NPR: A Third Of Nursing Home Patients Harmed By Their Treatment
The case is similar to the many reviewed in a national report on nursing homes. The report was released this week by the Office of the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In a large sampling of Medicare patients discharged from hospitals to skilled nursing facilities in one year, roughly a third of the patients were harmed by their treatment in the nursing homes, the study found. And most of that harm could have been prevented (Jaffe, 3/5).

Los Angeles Times: Suite Filed to Block New Arizona Abortion Regulations
Abortion providers have filed suit against Arizona to block a new rule that limits the use of medications to induce abortions. The rule is part of state-mandated abortion regulations that are scheduled to take effect April 1 (Carcamo, 3/5).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Arizona Sued Over Rules Limiting Abortion Drug
Abortion providers said Wednesday that they have sued the state of Arizona to try to block new state rules limiting the use of the most common abortion drugs. The lawsuit filed in federal court in Tucson alleges that the new rules required under a 2012 law will effectively block the ability of many women to have abortions (3/5).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: 2 More Texas Clinics Closing Amid New Abortion Law
Two more Texas abortions clinics are closing because of new restrictions placed on the facilities by the Republican-controlled Legislature. Ten clinics have already closed because of a new law, which strictly limits where, when, how and from whom women can obtain abortions (3/6).

The Washington Post: Budget Battle Over Mental Health Reform
Lawmakers in Richmond are deep in budget negotiations and will soon decide which parts of the mental health-care system will receive a funding boost. The House and Senate proposals have a number of differences, and what emerges will likely be a mash-up of the two (Shin, 3/5).

The Wall Street Journal: California Nursing Home Operator Files For Bankruptcy
California nursing home operator Country Villa Health Services, the target of a number of pending class-action lawsuits, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The company, which operates 19 nursing homes and assisted living centers in Southern California, sought Chapter 11 protection on Tuesday along with more than a dozen of its health care affiliates in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Orange County, Calif. (Fitzgerald, 3/5). 

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