KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

Views On Health Law: ‘Good Start’ On Enrollment; Is Reinsurance A ‘Bail-Out’ Or Transfer Of Industry Funds?

The New York Times: A Good Start For Health Care Sign-Ups
Enrollments in health insurance plans through state and federal exchanges are rising rapidly, especially among young adults, making it likely that the Affordable Care Act will achieve a large and stabilizing mix of enrollees by the end of the open enrollment period on March 31 (1/17).

Bloomberg: Stop Obamacare’s Outrageous Bailouts
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act has already achieved "preliminary sustainability," an official recently told the National Journal. And what’s making the program sustainable? The prospect of a massive taxpayer bailout. The bailout would come from the law's "risk corridor" provisions. If insurers pay out more than 108 percent of the premiums they collect from customers in Obamacare’s exchanges, taxpayers are on the hook for about 75 percent of the extra cost. If the insurers make profits that are more than 108 percent of their collections, they have to pay back a similar proportion (Ramesh Ponnuru, 1/20).

The New Republic: Obamacare's a "Bailout" Now? Conservative Critics Are Getting Desperate
Conservatives used to say Obamacare is socialized medicine. Now they say it is a "government bailout" of insurers. The new claim is just as misleading and cynical as the old one. ... no insurer will be sure about its beneficiaries for many months, until the open enrollment period ends and the newly insured have a few months in which to file claims. That makes it impossible to know what kinds of losses, if any, insurers will take. But even if the losses are significant, the taxpayers won't be in for another Wall Street-style bailout. For one thing, the reinsurance money comes from the insurers themselves, who pay a tax on each beneficiary. It's basically a transfer of funds, from all carriers to those those companies inside the Obamacare marketplaces that end up with unusually unhealthy members. In this sense, it’s an insurance policy for the insurers—and one they more or less finance on their own (Jonathan Cohn, 1/15).

The Wall Street Journal: The Young And The Obamacare-less
ObamaCare's defenders say its troubles are over as more people sign up and, by the way, stop griping because the law is here to stay. Much evidence says otherwise, to the extent that the embroidered information the White House is willing to release counts as evidence. Lifting the veil of secrecy last week, the feds revealed that 2.2 million people nationwide had selected a plan through December. ... But even assuming an implausible 100% success rate, the exchanges are still well behind the original target of seven million, much less the 20 million or so necessary to ensure a viable insurance market. This is a failure by President Obama's own standard (1/20).

The Washington Post: Congress Needs To Keep A Lid On Medicare Spending
Even in the $1 trillion appropriations bill that passed Congress last week, a bipartisan achievement in a fractured Capitol, Republicans couldn't resist forcing through a gratuitous shot at the Affordable Care Act , defunding for now one of its most promising elements. This shouldn't become a habit. The Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) has been called a "death panel," but it isn't. The group of health-care experts, appointed by the president in consultation with both parties in Congress, will be charged with making sure that Medicare spending doesn't blast through generous growth caps (1/19).

The Oregonian: Cover Oregon Mess Requires Stronger Response
Credibility has been a critical element of Gov. John Kitzhaber's third-term narrative. Before trying to sell habitually skeptical Oregonians on tax reform and other eat-your-spinach proposals, the thinking goes, it's necessary to foster trust through the determined exercise of responsible governance. Kitzhaber made a large deposit in the credibility bank last year with his leadership on public pension reform, but he's watched much of that advantage melt away over the past few months thanks to the Cover Oregon fiasco, which raises questions not only about those with more direct involvement, but also about the governor himself (1/20).

The Washington Post: Medicaid Expansion Is Right For Virginia
Virginia is one of the richest states in the nation but one of the stingiest in providing health coverage for the poor. Owing to its restrictive eligibility standards, it ranks 48th among states in per capita spending for Medicaid, the federally subsidized health program for the poor and disabled, according to the Virginia Health Care Foundation. About a million people — almost one in eight adult Virginians — lack health insurance. ... Republicans in Richmond, who have advanced no competing plan to provide quality health care for those people, should consider whether leaving available federal funds on the table really advances the interests of Virginians (1/18).

The Washington Post: Exemptions From The 'Contraception Mandate' Threaten Religious Liberty
Exempting ordinary, nonreligious, profit-seeking businesses from a general law because of the religious beliefs of their owners would be extraordinary, especially when doing so would shift the costs of observing those beliefs to those of other faiths or no faith. The threat to religious liberty, then, comes from the prospect that the court might permit a for-profit business to impose the costs of its owners' anti-contraception beliefs on employees who do not share them — by forcing employees to pay hundreds of dollars or more out of pocket each year for what should be covered under the law (Frederick Mark Gedicks, 1/15).

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