KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

After Bumpy Launch, Consumers Start Using Health Law Coverage

Nearly four years after passage of the health law, its major provisions finally took effect Jan. 1, and millions of Americans are about to see how it really works. Media outlets offer tip sheets to consumers and report on the challenges that lie ahead.

Kaiser Health News: The Health Law Takes Effect: A Consumer's Guide
Starting Jan. 1, central provisions of the Affordable Care Act kick in, allowing many uninsured Americans to afford health insurance. But the landmark law still faces heavy opposition from Republicans and from a public that remains skeptical the law can improve health care coverage while lowering its cost. The law has already altered the health care industry and established a number of consumer benefits. It will have sweeping ramifications for consumers, state officials, employers and health care providers, including hospitals and doctors (Carey, 1/1). 

The New York Times: Consumers Start Using Coverage Under Health Law
Consumers around the country began using coverage provided by the new health care law on Wednesday, the same day that Medicaid expanded to hundreds of thousands of people in about half the states. Many provisions of the 2010 health care law offering new benefits and protections to consumers, including those with pre-existing conditions, also took effect. Hospitals said they were getting ready for an influx of newly insured patients, but many health care providers said the pace was slower than usual because of the New Year’s holiday. In a typical report, Clay Holtzman, a spokesman for Swedish Medical Center in Seattle, said the system’s hospitals were not seeing an immediate surge (Pear and Goodnough, 1/2).

Politico: For Obamacare, It's Finally Showtime
Obamacare just got real. Sure, there were some new rules and benefits over the last few years, but that was just a warmup. Starting today, all of the big pieces of the Affordable Care Act — the biggest domestic achievement of Barack Obama’s presidency and one of the most far-reaching changes in American social policy in decades — go into effect. And Americans will start to see, for better or worse, how the law really works. ... Obamacare supporters and the president and his team can bask for just a moment in the glow of their long-sought goal finally becoming law — but only for a moment. The ACA’s Perils of Pauline debut is going to continue. Here are the obstacles ahead this year (Nather, 1/1). 

The Wall Street Journal: Health Law's Uneasy Launch
Nearly four years after President Barack Obama signed his health initiative into law, the Affordable Care Act is officially reshaping America's $2.75 trillion health-care system. A survivor of bare-knuckle political fights, a U.S. Supreme Court challenge and a technologically disastrous rollout, the law now faces a fundamental test: Can its mix of government subsidies and market-based competition extend health insurance to millions of people whose medical conditions, income level or personal choice left them without it? (Weaver, 1/1). 

Politico: White House Expects Day 1 Obamacare Snags
The health coverage under Obamacare finally begins New Year’s Day and the Obama administration knows that it may not all go smoothly. More than 2.1 million people have signed up through the state and federal exchanges, and Obama administration officials acknowledged that some of them may not actually have their new health plan finalized Jan. 1, because of all the tech problems that plagued HealthCare.gov during the last three months (Norman, 1/2). 

Los Angeles Times: White House Issues New Tip Sheet For Obamacare Consumers
The Obama administration is releasing a new tip sheet for Americans who have signed up for coverage under the president’s healthcare law and is urging consumers to be careful before they start using their new insurance Wednesday. … Since Oct. 1, approximately 2.1 million people have enrolled in a private health plan through new marketplaces created by the Affordable Care Act, the administration announced Tuesday. About an additional 4 million low-income Americans have qualified for Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program (Levey, 12/29/31). 

Politico: Key Obamacare Changes Come With The New Year 
Coverage begins on Jan. 1 for people who selected plans through new federal and state exchanges before the Dec. 24 deadline. Others have until March 31 to sign up. Many Americans can receive federal subsidies to help pay for insurance. Several million low-income people also qualified for Medicaid, which 26 states are expanding under the health law that President Barack Obama signed nearly four years ago. But there’s a ton of fine print taking effect, too, nitty-gritty details that are critical to making the health law work as intended. Here’s a look at some of the other Obamacare elements taking effect Jan. 1 (Cheney, 12/31/13).

USA Today: Health Care Changes To Watch For 2014
Beyond the law's new requirements, analysts and industry officials say they anticipate a series of related changes to affect health care in 2014, including: Private exchanges. ... Employer mandate. ... Pricing transparency. ... New rules and higher enrollments. ... Electronic records. ... Shrinking networks. ... States will drive change. Medicaid, which is run by the states, will have the most impact on local price structures (Kennedy, 1/1).

The Associated Press: New Year May Mean New Challenges, Too, For Health Care Law
This could be the year that things finally turn around for President Barack Obama's health care law. Yet it could start with another round of glitches that vex consumers and leave Republicans crowing, "We told you so." The law's major benefits take effect with the new year, along with an unpopular insurance mandate and the risk of more nerve-racking coverage disruptions (1/1).

The New York Times: Millions Gaining Health Coverage Under Law 
The decisively new moment in the effort to overhaul the country’s health care system will test the law’s central premise: that extending coverage to far more Americans will improve the nation’s health and help many avoid crippling medical bills. Starting Wednesday, health insurance companies can no longer deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions and cannot charge higher premiums to women than to men for the same coverage. In most cases, insurers must provide a standard set of benefits prescribed by federal law and regulations (Pear and Goodnough, 12/31/13).

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