KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

States, Feds Struggle To Enroll Consumers In Health Coverage

Officials attempting to enroll people for coverage through the health law's exchanges are facing education challenges, website headaches and a deadline of today to get people signed up for Jan. 1 coverage. News outlets provide snapshots in Colorado, California, the District of Columbia, Oregon, Minnesota, Texas, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Maryland.

Kaiser Health News: Even In Well-Funded Colorado, Tough To Help People Enroll In Obamacare
There are navigators working at 57 assistance organizations across Colorado -- everyone from county health departments to local clinics to the state trucking association. Neighboring states Nebraska and Arizona aren't embracing the health care law like Colorado is. They have just two navigator organizations each and about $2 per uninsured person to spend on assisters. Colorado has almost $24 per person. But all the effort had netted about 23,000 customers for private insurance in the state's marketplace as of Dec. 14 -- only about 17 percent of the way to the state's goal of enrolling 136,000 people by the end of March (Whitney, 12/23).

Los Angeles Times: Californians Rush To Get Health Insurance As Deadline Nears
Like shoppers racing to buy last-minute holiday gifts, thousands of Californians are going online -- or lining up in person -- to get Obamacare insurance ahead of next week's deadline to have coverage starting next month. And the surge in enrollment is putting pressure on the state's health exchange and insurance companies at a time when they were already struggling to keep pace with a flood of applications (Terhune, 12/20).

The California Health Report: Town Hall Audience Learns About ACA Options
Ben Hall’s situation sounds familiar. Ben, a self-employed musician and music teacher living in the Westwood neighborhood of Los Angeles, pays for his own health insurance -- $185 a month to Anthem. He's also one of the millions of Americans who recently received a letter in the mail from his insurance provider canceling his plan at the end of the year because it doesn't meet the minimum requirements for coverage set forth by the Affordable Care Act. That's what motivated Ben and his wife Hillary to attend a recent town hall and enrollment fair hosted last month by Rep. Karen Bass at West Los Angeles College (Fulton, 12/20). 

The San Jose Mercury News: Californians Scrambling To Make Monday Deadline To Sign Up For Health Insurance
For tens of thousands of Californians still without health insurance, Monday's deadline to enroll under the president's new health law feels like an exercise of hurry up and wait. And across the country, government health exchanges are bracing for an avalanche of applications from people who must sign up by end of day Monday if they want coverage to begin Jan. 1. People in the Bay Area are scrambling to sign up too, and others are anxiously awaiting answers about the policies they already applied for. Yet many worry they may not get what they want in time from Covered California, the state's health care exchange, or from their insurance company (Seipel, 12/22). 

The San Jose Mercury News: Few Latinos Signing Up For California Health Insurance Exchange
By now, (Adan Lopez), the 32-year-old self-employed, uninsured Gilroy resident is familiar with Covered California, the state's health insurance exchange, through Spanish-language television and radio -- it even pops up on Internet sites he visits. He just hasn't gotten around to signing up for it. And he's hardly alone. In a state where two of every five people are Latino, a worrisome trend has surfaced in the rollout of the Affordable Care Act: Few Latinos have enrolled. Of the 109,296 California residents who registered for a health insurance plan by Nov. 30, only 13 percent were Latinos (Seipel, 12/20). 

The Washington Post: District's Online Insurance Marketplace Also Hampered By Glitches, Consumers Say
On the eve of the Monday deadline for District residents to sign up for health insurance that takes effect Jan. 1, the city's new online insurance exchange has run into so many technical problems that its staff is combing through incomplete applications looking for people who were stymied from buying insurance and are now running out of time (Kunkle, 12/21).

Politico: Obamacare Outreach Hits The Clubs
Like other health exchanges and coverage advocacy groups across the country, DC Health Link is reaching out to people wherever they may be, including bars. President Barack Obama even urged bartenders — who may themselves be uninsured — to hold happy hours to talk about health insurance and what it can offer young adults. That strategy has clear challenges, however. In a packed nightclub like Town Danceboutique in Northwest D.C., music smothers conversation, dimmed lights make reading difficult, and health coverage is not what’s on people’s minds (Villacorta, 12/22).

The Associated Press: Oregon Fiasco: Online Health Exchange Yet To Launch
With independent consultants warning that Oregon's health-insurance exchange faced serious risks, the state official in charge of delivering the technology strode into a legislative committee to address questions from nervous lawmakers (Cooper, 12/21).

The Oregonian: Cover Oregon: If You Don’t Hear From Us By Monday, Seek Coverage 
Oregon's troubled health insurance exchange began robocalling applicants Friday, warning them that if they don't receive enrollment confirmation by Monday, they should seek coverage elsewhere for Jan. 1. "If you haven't heard from us by Dec. 23, it is unlikely your application will be processed for Jan. 1 insurance coverage," a woman's voice on the pre-recorded call from Cover Oregon says. "If you want to be sure you have insurance coverage starting Jan. 1, you have other options" (Hunsberger, 12/20).

The Associated Press: Even In Willing States, Health Law's Rollout Rocky
A bug-ridden website. Endless wait times on a toll-free helpline. Error-laden data sent to insurance companies. These are not problems burdening Republican-led states that had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the federal health insurance overhaul. These are recent complications in the rollout of MNsure, the state-based exchange in Minnesota, a place with a long tradition of activist government and generous social programs (Condon, 12/21).

Minnesota Public Radio: Faulty MNsure Software Never Tested Due To Federal Delays
As technical problems with the state's online health insurance exchange pile up, MNsure announced today that it is giving people until the end of the year to enroll in a health plan. But the eight-day extension may not be enough time to solve a series of bugs that have plagued the website for months. MNsure officials said the problems can be traced back to software sold to the state by a single vendor, IBM Curam, which was never tested by the state before officials bought it for millions of dollars (Richert and Stawicki, 12/20).

Dallas Morning News: Obamacare Sign-Ups Picking Up Steam In Texas
After a slow start in Texas, insurance sign-up under the Affordable Care Act seems to be growing this month as an important deadline looms for those needing immediate coverage. "I sense that our numbers are picking up dramatically," Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said after a round of meetings with federal officials to review the troubled rollout of the new law. ... "Monday is the last day to sign up for coverage that starts on Jan. 1," said Louis Adams, a spokesman for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas. "But open enrollment continues through March 31." A deluge of calls in early December forced the insurance carrier to add 500 customer-assistance representatives to a phone bank covering five states, including Texas, according to its Facebook page (Jacobson, 12/22).

The CT Mirror: Access Health Releases Instructions For Getting A Catastrophic Plan
Access Health CT, the state's health insurance exchange, released instructions Friday evening for people whose health plans are being discontinued and who want to buy a catastrophic policy for 2014. Catastrophic plans have lower premiums and higher deductibles than other policies sold on the exchange. They were intended only for people under 30, but the federal government on Thursday night announced an exception for people whose old health plans are being canceled (Becker, 12/20). 

The CT Mirror: Connecticut's Obamacare Exchange Chief: Expect A 'Clunky' Jan. 1
"January 1 is going to be clunky," Access Health CT CEO Kevin Counihan said Friday during a conference call with reporters. Jan. 1 is the first date that plans sold through state-based exchanges like Access Health take effect. Among the potential problems Counihan cited: One insurer hasn't programed its system to produce bills that reflect what customers receiving discounted rates really owe, rather than the full, unsubsidized cost. Wait times to Access Health's call center are averaging 20 minutes -- an amount that Counihan said [is] too long. The federal government unveiled a new policy Thursday evening that could affect plan purchases by people whose old policies are being discontinued (Becker, 12/20).

The Philadelphia Inquirer: Marketplace Clock Ticking For Jan. 1 Coverage
Nayah Houston, 21, of University City, finally got through.  It took the part-time preschool classroom assistant five tries and help from a certified navigator and a call-center rep to wend her way through the healthcare.gov website. But she hung in and snagged a silver-tier HMO plan with -- are you ready for this? -- a 12-cents-a-month premium (Calandra, 12/22).

Politico: Obamacare Fight Erupts In Deep-Blue Maryland 
Maryland gubernatorial candidate Doug Gansler is incensed over the botched rollout of Affordable Care Act. He’s aghast at chronic problems with Maryland’s online enrollment platform and stunned that a state with "literally the smartest people in the country" would have hired a company from North Dakota, of all places, to help put its exchange in place. The whole spectacle, Gansler fumes, "is almost like a Saturday Night Live skit." The punch line: Gansler, Maryland's current attorney general, is a Democrat (Burns, 12/22). 

This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.