KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

First Edition: October 21, 2013

Today's headlines include the latest reports about how the Obama administration plans to make the necessary fixes in the health law's online insurance marketplace.  

Kaiser Health News: Thousands Of Consumers Get Insurance Cancellation Notices Due To Health Law Changes
Kaiser Health News staff writers Anna Gorman and Julie Appleby report: "Health plans are sending hundreds of thousands of cancellation letters to people who buy their own coverage, frustrating some consumers who want to keep what they have and forcing others to buy more costly policies" (Gorman and Appleby, 10/21). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: A Tale Of Two State Exchanges
The Seattle Times’ Amy Snow Landa, working in partnership with Kaiser Health News, reports: "To get a glimpse of how the two-week-old health-insurance exchanges are faring under the Affordable Care Act, there may not be a better place to look than the Pacific Northwest and its striking contrasts. On the one hand, the Washington state-run exchange, called Washington Healthplanfinder, is widely perceived to be off to a strong start. … Compare that to Oregon, where state officials acknowledge not a single resident has been able to enroll through the website of that state's exchange, called Cover Oregon, because the site still is not fully functioning" (Landa, 10/18). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: Affordable Care Act Brings More Money, More Stress To Illinois Clinics
The Chicago Tribune’s Joel Hood, working in partnership with Kaiser Health News, reports: "As political debate continues to rage over President Barack Obama's signature health careoverhaul, the law already is reshaping health care in the most troubled communities in Chicago and its suburbs. Since 2010, Illinois health clinics have received more than $50 million in development grants under the Affordable Care Act to build new facilities, expand operations, modernize equipment and improve the overall quality of care for the state's poor and uninsured" (Hood, 10/18). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News also tracked weekend health policy headlines, including reports about GOP attacks on Health and Human Secretary Kathleen Sebelius regarding the roll out of health exchanges (10/20) and the figures being cited by HHS about how many people have applied for insurance through the online insurance marketplaces (10/19).

The New York Times: Contractors See Weeks Of Work On Health Site
Federal contractors have identified most of the main problems crippling President Obama’s online health insurance marketplace, but the administration has been slow to issue orders for fixing those flaws, and some contractors worry that the system may be weeks away from operating smoothly, people close to the project say (LaFraniere, Austen and Pear, 10/20).

The Washington Post: HealthCare.gov's Glitches Prompt Obama To Call In More Computer Experts
The Obama administration said Sunday that it has enlisted additional computer experts from across the government and from private companies to help rewrite computer code and make other improvements to the online health insurance marketplace, which has been plagued by technical defects that have stymied many consumers since it opened nearly three weeks ago. This expanded team has come up with new ways of monitoring which parts of the federal Web site, HealthCare.gov, are having problems and has been taking the site offline for rigorous overnight tests, according to a Department of Health and Human Services spokesman (Goldstein, 10/20).

The Wall Street Journal’s Washington Wire: 'Tech Surge' Planned To Fix Obamacare Exchanges
The Department of Health and Human Services said Sunday it was bringing in outside help to resolve some of the technical woes that have beset the federally run insurance exchanges, which the agency acknowledged “has not lived up to the expectations of the American people” (Radnofsky, 10/20).

Politico: Tech 'Surge' To Tackle Obamacare Websites
The Health and Human Services statement didn't explain everything that's wrong, or give technical details about the repairs underway. It outlined some steps being taken to fix the site, including updates with "new code that includes bug fixes." The department also says it's installing monitors to catch parts of the website that are proving the most troublesome for consumers. And it also said it had seen some improvements in wait times and consumer access to the website, the online portal to health insurance exchanges or marketplaces the federal government is running in 36 states (Millman, 10/20).

Politico: HHS Makes Changes To Obamacare Home Page
Health and Human Services officials announced Sunday that consumer-friendly changes have been made to the homepage of the troubled Obamacare enrollment website. The changes to the homepage aim to relieve some user frustration — but it isn't a wider fix to the buggy and crash-plagued signup system (Kenen, 10/20).

USA Today: HHS 'Committed To Doing Better' On Insurance Exchanges
Signaling a shift in tone in acknowledging problems with the launch of the Affordable Care Act website, the government posted a blog Sunday taking responsibility for issues millions of Americans have had trying to sign up for health insurance (Kennedy, 10/20).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Obama To Address Health Care Problems; President Said To Find Glitches Unacceptable
President Barack Obama is expected to acknowledge that widespread problems with his health care law’s rollout are unacceptable, as the administration scrambles to fix the glitches. Obama was scheduled to speak Monday from the Rose Garden, his first health care-focused event since the cascade of computer problems became apparent. The troublesome rollout of the health care exchanges has been a glaring embarrassment for Obama's signature legislative achievement (10/21).

Politico: Obama To Speak About Obamacare Woes
He will be joined by people whom the White House described as already benefiting from the law, or helping with the outreach for people to understand and sign up for the new health coverage options. The White House has not announce how many people have enrolled in coverage, but some of the people attending the Monday have done so (10/20).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: For President Obama, A Frustrating Rollout For His Signature Health Care Legislation
Last week, President Barack Obama gathered some of his top advisers in the Oval Office to discuss the problem-plagued rollout of his health care legislation. He told his team the administration had to own up to the fact that there were no excuses for not having the health care website ready to operate on Day One. The admonition from a frustrated president came amid the embarrassing start to sign-ups for the health care insurance exchanges. The president is expected to address the cascade of computer problems Monday during an event at the White House (10/20).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Rollout Problems Hand GOP A New Line Of Attack On Obama's Health Care Law
"Obamacare" escaped unharmed from the government shutdown Republicans hoped would stop it, but just as quickly they have opened a new line of attack — one handed to them by the administration itself. While Congress was arguing, President Barack Obama's plan to expand coverage for the uninsured suffered a self-inflicted wound. A computer system seemingly designed by gremlins gummed up the first open enrollment season. After nearly three weeks, it's still not fixed (10/21).

Politico: Dems Caught In Obamacare Uproar
It's not the GOP that President Barack Obama has to worry about in defending his botched health care rollout, it’s fellow Democrats. They voted for the law, sang its praises for three-plus years and still believe in the promise of health care reform. But now they face a conundrum: stay in lock step with Obama and risk their credibility as advocates for the law's benefits or publicly criticize the administration for its recent problems — especially a failure to more quickly acknowledge, and rectify, the major malfunction of its Internet marketplace (Allen and Haberkorn, 10/21).

Politico: Obamacare Wins? See You In 2014
President Barack Obama's signature health care law is now turning into a 2014 election issue, rather than the disastrous defunding fight that led the government to close for three weeks. With the shutdown out of the way, the health care law's problems will take center stage in a way that they didn’t while Republicans were stepping on their own message (Nather, 10/18).

The Wall Street Journal: Health Law's Rocky Debut Puts Sebelius In Cross Hairs
Kathleen Sebelius keeps running into trouble, whether on the road, where she is out promoting the new health-care law, or back home, where she is struggling to resolve the technical woes that have hobbled its debut. Mrs. Sebelius, the nation's top health official, was in Tampa the other day to promote the "online shopping experience" of the federal website where uninsured Americans can now select coverage. Christopher Dawson, who sat to her left at the staged event, had tried for a week to enroll. Like others, he was foiled by "error" messages (Langley, 10/18).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: About 476,000 Applications Filed Through Obamacare Health Exchanges, Officials Say
Administration officials say about 476,000 health insurance applications have been filed through federal and state exchanges, the most detailed measure yet of the problem-plagued rollout of President Obama’s signature legislation. However, the officials continue to refuse to say how many people have actually enrolled in the insurance markets. Without enrollment figures, it’s unclear whether the program is on track to reach the 7 million people projecting by the Congressional Budget Office to gain coverage during the six-month sign-up period (Pace, 10/19).

NPR: Enrollments For The Health Care Exchanges Trickle In, Slowly
The Obama administration's hopes ran high that millions would flock to enroll for health insurance on state and federal exchanges established under the Affordable Care Act. Those exchanges went online Oct 1. The administration projected that half a million individuals or families would enroll within 30 days, according to the Associated Press. But three weeks in, the data suggest the actual number of enrollments is lagging far behind that number (Noguchi, 10/21).

Los Angeles Times: Insurer Health Net Overhauls Its Operations Preparing For Obamacare
Health Net Inc. sees a big opportunity in Obamacare. Although some insurers have taken a cautious approach to the Affordable Care Act, the Woodland Hills managed care company is actively seeking to cover thousands of previously uninsured people under the new healthcare system (Pfeifer, 10/20).

Politico: Medicaid Gap Leaves Obamacare Haves And Have-Nots
April Gomez-Rodriguez hopes Obamacare changes her life. Daniel Hughes says it’s like the health law never happened. The difference between them: one state border (Haberkorn, 10/20).

The Wall Street Journal: Health Law Faces New Legal Challenges
The health law championed by President Barack Obama survived one major legal challenge in last year's Supreme Court ruling, but it will face fresh legal tests starting this week. Federal judges in Washington, D.C., and Virginia will consider whether the text of the statute prevents the administration from offering subsidized health insurance to millions of low- and middle-income Americans (Palazzolo, 10/20).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Social Media Team In Illinois Tends To Consumer Frustrations With Federal Health Care Website
Inside a command center at a Chicago marketing agency, a small team of social media experts hunkers down to monitor online chatter about President Barack Obama’s health care law, answer questions on Facebook from discouraged consumers and post information and advice on Twitter. They are holding down the fort for a $33 million ad campaign planned for Get Covered Illinois, the new health insurance marketplace that’s a cornerstone of the law, also known as "Obamacare," in what is arguably the biggest social media campaign rolled out by the state of Illinois (10/18).

Los Angeles Times: In New Budget Talks, Each Side Has A Motive To Reach A Deal
Interest in a big fix for the nation's budget has faded among Democrats because many no longer believe it is necessary or worth the political perils. … For Republicans, the idea of cutting expensive programs for retirees draws support from many party leaders, but divides the rank and file. The GOP has grown much more dependent on the votes of Americans older than 65 and on lower-income whites, groups that want to preserve Social Security and Medicare. Although the politics have shifted as the battered GOP struggles to regroup amid deep internal divisions, the nation's budget problems remain difficult and economically daunting: The country is on a budget trajectory that, while substantially improved from the recent recession, remains unsustainable (Mascaro, 10/19).

The Wall Street Journal: Budget Discord Simmers Among Democrats
But with eyes now turning toward a newly formed budget committee, some liberal lawmakers and groups are worried that Democrats will negotiate cuts to Social Security benefits and other entitlement programs. The president's budget blueprint, which was released in April, proposed slowing the growth of Social Security spending by using a new measure of inflation—an idea that drew a rebuke from some lawmakers and liberal groups (Nicholas and Nelson, 10/20). 

The Washington Post: Cuccinelli Aims Blast At Affordable Care Act In GOP's Weekly Address
Just days after a federal government shutdown triggered by a fight over President Obama’s signature health-care law, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II delivered the weekly Republican address with a full-throated blast at the Affordable Care Act. Cuccinelli attacked the new law as the exemplar of big government and called its implementation “a national embarrassment” (Kunkle, 10/19).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: In Weekly Republican Address, Virginia AG Cuccinelli Speaks Out Against Health Care Overhaul
Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli is speaking out against the federal health care overhaul in the weekly Republican address. The Republican Virginia gubernatorial candidate delivered the address on Saturday that coincides with President Barack Obama’s weekly radio and Internet address (10/20).

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