KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

Health Exchanges Create Cybersecurity Challenges, Hacker Opportunities

The Associated Press reports that a number of state health exchanges that were supposed to link to the federal computer system were initially rated as "high risk." Meanwhile, coverage of state-level online insurance marketplace fits and starts continues with reports from Maryland, Hawaii, Idaho, North Dakota, California, Connecticut and Minnesota.   

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: 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).

The Associated Press: Boise Health Care Act Call Center Lays Off 1,600
A Boise call center that helps people sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act is laying off 1,600 people — nearly its entire workforce — as the federal exchange open-enrollment period ends. Maximus Inc. hired about 1,800 people for the Boise facility last year (Boone, 2/26).

The Associated Press: ND Seeks To Link To Federal HealthCare Computers
North Dakota has yet to gain approval on its security preparations needed to link the state's system to federal computers that enroll people for coverage under the new health care law, documents show (MacPherson, 2/25).

The Associated Press: Covered CA Website Had ‘Vulnerability’
More than three months after it opened for business, California's online health insurance marketplace had what federal officials described as a potential security flaw in its computer system and one that had already been disclosed publicly. The concern is noted in a Jan. 10 email between officials with the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the agency that oversaw development of the online exchanges (2/25).

The California Health Report: Coaxing The Coachella Valley To Sign Up For Insurance
The Inland Empire is on track to meet the state’s goal of enrolling 76,069 people from the region into plans from the Covered California insurance exchange, according to figures just released.  Enrollment hit 39,474 during the first half of the sign-up period, which is 52% of the goal. A big part of the effort in the Coachella Valley is a push by local hospitals to enroll the uninsured before the deadline of March 31st (Potter, 2/26).

Marketplace: Connecticut's "Health Exchange-In-A-Box" For Struggling States
Connecticut is getting entrepreneurial with its healthcare exchange. AccessHealth CT has done so well that it started getting calls for help and advice from other states. "And so we’ve had discussions with those states," says AccessHealth CT’s CEO, Kevin Counihan. "And it came to us that there could be a business model here." Connecticut is now setting up a consulting business to help other states copy its success. The model is called "exchange-in-a-box," a term healthcare consultants at Leavitt Partners says they coined a few years ago in a white paper trying to market the concept to states (Gardner, 2/25).

Minnesota Public Radio: MNsure Says Its Work Is 'Paying Off' For Consumers
MNsure says it has reduced call center wait times and the number of pending applications for health insurance. The state's online health plan marketplace was beset by technical problems that hampered enrollment for months. The agency, however, says hold times averaged three minutes in mid-February, down from an hour in December. The decline follows a surge in call center staffing (Catlin, 2/25).

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