KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

O’Malley Defends Md. Exchange Despite Reports That Officials Ignored Warnings

News outlets also report on developments from Florida, Oregon, California and Minnesota.

The Washington Post: Maryland Officials Were Warned For A Year Of Problems With Online Health-Insurance Site
More than a year before Maryland launched its health insurance exchange, senior state officials failed to heed warnings that no one was ultimately accountable for the $170 million project and that the state lacked a plausible plan for how it would be ready by Oct. 1. Over the following months, as political leaders continued to proclaim that the state’s exchange would be a national model, the system went through three different project managers, the feuding between contractors hired to build the online exchange devolved into lawsuits, and key people quit, including a top information technology official because, as he would later say, the project “was a disaster waiting to happen” (Wagner and Flaherty, 1/11).

Politico: O'Malley Defends Maryland Health Care Exchange
Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley on Sunday defended his state’s Obamacare exchange, saying that despite its initial rocky rollout, the website is now running smoothly for most Marylanders. ... Appearing on CNN's "State of the Union," O’Malley said “oh no” when asked if he and other Maryland state officials were asleep at the switch during the launch of the state’s health-care exchange, which has been riddled with glitches and problems since its Oct. 1 debut. “This complex IT challenge had ups and downs every step of the way,” O’Malley said. “There were lots of cautionary red lights” but green lights as well, the Democratic governor said (Kim, 1/12).

The Baltimore Sun: O'Malley Continues Defense Of Health Exchange
Gov. Martin O'Malley took his defense of Maryland's struggling health exchange onto national television Sunday after CNN host Candy Crowley described its rollout as "disastrous by most accounts." O'Malley's defense came as Rep. John Delaney of the Western Maryland 6th District renewed his call for the state to abandon its exchange for the federal system, and O'Malley's remarks prompted criticism from some skeptical lawmakers (Walker and Cox, 1/12). 

The Associated Press: O’Malley Says Maryland Will Meet Health Care Goal
Gov. Martin O'Malley is acknowledging a troubled start for Maryland's online health insurance exchange, but he predicted Sunday that the state will still meet its enrollment goal by the end of March. In an interview with CNN's "State of the Union," O'Malley said the online health insurance exchange faced complex technology challenges every step of the way. But he said the state is more than halfway to its enrollment goal. Medicaid enrollments have exceeded expectations. But the state has said it wants to enroll 150,000 people in private plans by the end of March. As of Jan. 4, only 20,358 people had enrolled in private plans (1/12).

Health News Florida: State's Report Wrong, Navigator Says
The chief navigator for Healthcare.gov plans for Southwest Florida says a state report on costs that Florida families have to pay for health insurance greatly overstates the premiums. ... Friday morning in a phone interview, Troncoso said the premium cost listed in the report represents an average of the cost for all of the silver plans in each area. That naturally skewed the prices higher than would happen in the real world, where a family looks for the most economical plan that meets their needs (Gentry, 1/10).

The Oregonian: New Oregon Health Plan Enrollees Swamp State Phone Lines
The Oregon Health Authority is getting so many questions from new enrollees that its main phone line has been overloaded, leading some readers to think it's disconnected. It's not, according to the state. The number, 1-800-273-0557, couldn't handle the call volume, but it should improve soon, according to a state spokeswoman. Also, about 30,000 enrollment packets have been mailed and should arrive in the mail for new enrollees starting Jan. 10. The issue came up after readers alerted us that the numbers provided in recent articles haven't worked. The numbers are intended for people with questions about their application for Oregon Health Plan coverage (Budnick, 1/10).

The San Francisco Chronicle: Covered California Applicants Still Hit By Snags
Julie Snyder and Robert Weaver have been on an odyssey since they tried to sign up for a health plan through Covered California. It started in October, shortly after the state's new health insurance marketplace began selling coverage. After numerous futile attempts to complete their online application, the Berkeley couple finally succeeded, in mid-November. But 10 days later, a letter came in the mail. It informed them that Covered California could not verify their Social Security numbers, citizenship or household income, despite their being born in this country and having filed taxes for more than three decades (Colliver, 1/12).

The Star Tribune: Dayton Says MNsure Fell 'Far Short Of The Mark'
Gov. Mark Dayton said Friday that he believes Minnesotans deserve a “reckoning” for the problems with the MNsure website, but he’s not ready yet to point fingers of blame. “The people of Minnesota have been terribly inconvenienced,” Dayton said. “The best I can determine at this point in time is that it’s not for lack of intent or professional desire to make this as successful as possible from the very beginning. Obviously we’ve fallen far short of the mark” (Crosby, 1/11).

MinnPost: Dayton Says He Didn’t Learn For MNsure Problems And Contract Changes Until After Launch
Dayton said he first heard about the contract shift in late October or early November. Before that, he said, it wouldn’t have occurred to him to question such a decision by MNsure. At this point, the governor said, he didn’t know whether it was a good idea for the state to take over the project from its lead vendor, Maximus, Inc., early last year. … The governor also said he was unsure if senior MNsure staff were keeping him apprised of the serious issues with the exchange as soon as they came up (Nord, 1/10).

Health Policy Solutions (a Colo. news service): Key Players Assess ACA Implementation In Colorado So Far
State Insurance Commissioner Marguerite Salazar said that the geographic ratings that make health coverage much costlier in the resort areas of the state are “nothing new. What’s new is the transparency. Now you can see that if you live in Denver, your plan costs 50 percent less.” Establishing rates across such a diverse landscape is “a very difficult, convoluted process” done by the insurance carriers – not the Division of Insurance, she said. “I do believe there’s probably another way to do this, but we have to sit down and have a broad discussion” about how to negotiate better rates, control costs and deliver care (Carman, 1/10).

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