KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

First Edition: February 28, 2014

Today's headlines include reports about the latest developments for those states that are running their own health insurance exchanges and facing difficulties.

Kaiser Health News: Lend Us Your Ears: Note Takers Help The Elderly At The Doctor
Reporting for Kaiser Health News in collaboration with USA Today, Susan Jaffe writes: "Wolozin is a volunteer for the Northwest Neighbors Village in Washington, D.C., one of the more than 200 ‘villages’ across the United States. These neighborhood membership organizations provide volunteers and other resources to help with everything from transportation and snow shoveling to hanging curtains and solving computer glitches. But as many of the Northwest Neighbors' 210 dues-paying members ‘age in place’ – the village movement's top goal -- some need more than just a ride to the doctor, said executive director Marianna Blagburn. So the group is expanding its services this year with 16 newly trained ‘medical note takers’ who will accompany members into the doctor's office armed with questions prepared in advance and take notes" (Jaffe, 2/28). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: Conn. Tries To Sell Its Obamacare Success To Other States
WNPR’s Jeff Cohen, working in partnership with Kaiser Health News and NPR, reports: "Kevin Counihan, the CEO of Access Health CT, is walking through the 15th floor of a downtown Hartford office building that houses Connecticut's health insurance marketplace. He passes the legal department, the IT folks and the consultants, then stops in front of three large, wall-mounted computer screens" (Cohen, 2/28). Read the story.

The Wall Street Journal: Health Plans Rush To Size Up New Clients
Insurers are rushing to gather health information from the new customers they won on public marketplaces in a high-stakes outreach effort crucial to their hopes of profiting from the health-care law. Health plans need to know the health status of those signing up for coverage so they can project whether the costs are likely to outrun the premiums coming in. That information will be critical in figuring out prices for next year, among other things. But, under the law's new rules, enrollees don't have to disclose pre-existing conditions to buy insurance (Mathews, 2/27).

USA Today: Finding Consensus On 5 Ways To Improve ACA
As President Obama hosted governors from both parties at the White House Sunday night, talk turned from how to repeal the Affordable Care Act to how best to deal with it now that it is law. As it turns out, there are several bipartisan improvements both fans and foes agree on (Kennedy, 2/27).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Troubled State-Run Websites Get Health Law Fix
States that have experienced technical problems running their own health care enrollment websites are getting some help from the Obama administration. The administration quietly issued a health law fix Thursday to help those states. Several Democratic-led states, including Oregon, Maryland, Massachusetts and Hawaii, are still trying to solve website problems that have eclipsed those experienced earlier by the federal HealthCare.gov site, now largely repaired (2/28).

The Wall Street Journal’s Washington Wire: CMS’s Marilyn Tavenner: ‘Tired Of Talking’ About Healthcare.gov
Marilyn Tavenner, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said CMS should have hired a systems integrator to implement HealthCare.gov, the federal health exchange, rather than trying to do it on its own. She also said that testing HealthCare.gov prior to its Oct. 1 rollout was tough because it was such a large project. CMS only expected 10 to 12 states to work with HealthCare.gov, which ended up serving 36 states (Boulton, 2/27).

Los Angeles Times: Grim Scenario For Hawaii’s Obamacare Plan: The Numbers Don’t Add Up
As the Hawaii Legislature weighs bills that would make sweeping changes to the state’s Obamacare program, the interim director of Hawaii's healthcare exchange on Wednesday laid out a grim financial picture facing the agency (Reston, 2/27).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Utah Governor Rejects Full Medicaid Expansion
Utah’s Republican governor announced Thursday he wants to reject a full Medicaid expansion that would enroll more people in the government program, and instead seek federal dollars to cover the poor in private plans. Gov. Gary Herbert’s decision came after months of pushing back an announcement, making him one of the last governors in the country to announce his intentions about expanding Medicaid (2/27).

The Washington Post: Maryland Begins To Put A Price Tag On Health-Care Exchange Debacle
The cost to taxpayers of flaws in Maryland’s online health insurance exchange is coming into focus, with officials estimating at least $30.5 million in unnecessary Medicaid spending and conceding that they have no idea how much it will take to get a system that works. The state has paid $65.4 million to the contractor hired to build the system and fired this week because of the protracted problems. Costs are likely to keep rising as Maryland figures out how to fix or replace the system (Johnson and Flaherty, 2/27).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Report: Md. Health Exchange Glitch May Cost $30.5M
A problem with Maryland’s defective health care exchange could cost the state $30.5 million, because the state is unable to determine whether people remain eligible for Medicaid, according to a report by state budget analysts released Thursday (2/27).

The Washington Post’s The Fact Checker: The Missing Context In Yet Another AFP Ad Featuring Yet Another Obamacare Victim
The Fact Checker is a little late in fact checking this ad—our colleagues at PolitiFact looked closely at it earlier in February—but given the controversy over Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s claim that the “vast majority” of the AFP ads are “lies,” we decided it was necessary to delve into the facts behind it. It certainly packs a punch, with Lamb’s personal anger at the president apparent, hinging on the president’s Four-Pinocchio claim that people who liked their plan could keep it. That’s turned out to be false, and the president’s ill-fated pledge is featured prominently in many of the AFP advertisements (Kessler, 2/28).

The Wall Street Journal’s Washington Wire: GOP Targets Hillary Clinton With Obamacare Attacks
Republicans see the Affordable Care Act as prime ammunition in the midterm elections. But party strategists are bent on getting mileage out of President Barack Obama’s biggest domestic initiative long after the battle for control of congress ends in November. The Republican National Committee is signaling that one line of attack against Hillary Clinton, should she run for president in 2016, will be her stance on health care (Nicholas, 2/27).

Politico: Vote On GOP Obamacare Alternative In Doubt
Suddenly, a House vote on a Republican alternative to Obamacare seems less likely. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) declined to commit to an alternative measure coming up for a vote this year but said GOP leadership is going to “continue to having conversations with our members” about items like tax reform and replacing President Barack Obama’s signature domestic legislation (Sherman, 2/27).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Senate Blocks Dems’ bill Boosting Vets’ Benefits
A divided Senate on Thursday derailed Democratic legislation that would have provided $21 billion for medical, education and job-training benefits for the nation’s veterans. The bill fell victim to election-year disputes over spending and fresh penalties against Iran (2/27).

Politico: Republicans Derail Senate Vets Bill
Members of both parties are typically reticent to oppose legislation designed to help veterans and their families, but the downfall of Sanders’s bill underscored the frosty relations in the Senate and Congress at large, where it’s been tough to get much done (Summers, 2/27).

USA Today: Federally Funded Health Centers Brace For Financial Loss
Federally funded health care centers, already straining to makes ends meet, now are fighting to block a 70% cut in their funding next year. The more than 9,000 health clinic centers, which serve 22 million mostly poor patients, were supposed to be big beneficiaries when an estimated 7 million more people were enrolled in health insurance under the Affordable Care Act . So while losing $3.6 billion a year in federal funding in October 2015 would be a steep reduction in support, it hadn't seemed as problematic when the law passed four years ago as it does now (O’Donnell and McElhaney, 2/27).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Hospitals Coping Better As Drug Shortages Persist
U.S. hospitals are coping better with ongoing shortages of hundreds of medications, but a new survey indicates that obtaining drugs from alternate sources is costing them a lot of money they can’t spare. Premier Inc., the hospital group that did the survey, conservatively estimates that cost at $230 million a year for the country’s 5,000 hospitals, on average, from 2011 through 2013 (2/27).

The New York Times: D.C. Insurance Must Cover Treatment for Transgender Residents, Mayor Says
Health insurance providers in the District of Columbia must cover treatment for those given a diagnosis of gender dysphoria, including gender-reassignment surgeries, Mayor Vincent C. Gray said Thursday (Huetteman, 2/27).

The Associated Press/Wall Street Journal: Cuomo Proposing Out-Of-Network Health Coverage
The Cuomo administration has proposed extending out-of-network coverage requirements for emergencies and specialists to all health insurers in New York in what it says is an effort to protect consumers from big surprise medical bills (2/27). 

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