KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

First Edition: March 27, 2014

Today's headlines include more coverage of the emerging details of the Obama administration's decision to allow some consumers to enroll in health coverage after the March 31 deadline.  

Kaiser Health News: 3 Million And Counting: Final Push Underway To Enroll Californians In Health Plans
Kaiser Health News staff writer Anna Gorman, working in collaboration with The Press-Enterprise, reports: “With just days to go before the formal March 31 deadline, hundreds of events are taking place around the state to enroll residents through Covered California, the state’s health insurance marketplace. Officials recognize they won’t reach everyone but are trying to create a sense of urgency, especially in areas like the Inland Empire and the San Joaquin Valley where the pace of enrollment has been slower” (Gorman, 3/27). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Consumers Get $10B In Subsidies For Health Coverage, Study Finds
Now on Kaiser Health News’ blog, Jenny Gold reports: “Americans have already qualified for about $10 billion in tax credits to help them purchase private health insurance this year through the Affordable Care Act, according to a study from the Kaiser Family Foundation” (Gold, 3/27). Check out what else is on the blog.

The Wall Street Journal: Extension Of Health Law Signup Period Worries Insurers
The Obama administration's decision to let some consumers enroll in health plans beyond Monday's deadline sparked concern among insurers and prompted fresh attacks from opponents of the health law. A surge of consumers is expected to hit HealthCare.gov before Monday's deadline to sign up for insurance and avoid a penalty under the Affordable Care Act. In the past, heavy traffic has stalled the federal site (Radnofsky and Mathews, 3/26).

The New York Times: U.S. Announces Further Exemptions For Insurance Enrollment Deadline
The Obama administration on Wednesday expanded the list of people who could sign up for health insurance after the deadline, announcing “special enrollment periods” for legal immigrants, victims of domestic violence and tens of thousands of people who experienced various problems trying to complete their applications for coverage (Pear, 3/26).

Los Angeles Times: Interest In Obamacare Surges Ahead Of Enrollment Deadline
As Monday's deadline approaches to sign up for insurance under President Obama's health law, more than 1 million people a day are visiting HealthCare.gov, Obama administration officials said Wednesday. The site — the main portal for insurance marketplaces in 36 states — drew 1.2 million visitors Tuesday and 1.1 million visitors Monday, according to the administration. … The surge in consumers comes as the administration is taking steps to ensure that Americans who start the enrollment process by Monday but fail to complete it will still be able to get health coverage (Levey and Memoli, 3/26).

NPR: That Health Insurance Deadline Now Comes With Wiggle Room
We're just five days away from the March 31 deadline to sign up for individual health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. For weeks, administration officials, including the president, have insisted that there would be no extensions to the scheduled end of the six-month open enrollment period. But now there's some wiggle room. Let's review, shall we? (Rovner, 3/26).

Politico: Obamacare Extension For Those ‘In Line’
The Obama administration is giving anyone “in line” for health coverage extra time to get it. But there isn’t really a “line” and nobody’s checking who’s on it. After insisting for months that the March 31 enrollment deadline would hold firm, the administration is giving America some wiggle room. The official deadline remains March 31, and the White House is strongly encouraging people to sign up now to avoid the crush. But it’s leaving the door wide open for people who say they had sign-up difficulty, broadly defined, to get more time (Norman and Cheney, 3/27).

The Washington Post’s Wonkblog: Everything We Know About How Obamacare’s March 31 Deadline Works
The Obama administration has been adamant that the latest enrollment announcement isn't a deadline extension. The big question, though, is how does the administration make sure people who say they tried to enroll before March 31 actually made that effort? As my colleague Amy Goldstein reported last night, CMS is going with the honor system. People submitting their applications on HealthCare.gov or through a call center after March 31 "attest" that they had trouble enrolling before the deadline (Millman, 3/26).

Los Angeles Times: California Sticks With March 31 Deadline For Obamacare – For Now
California says March 31 remains the deadline to apply for Obamacare, but the state will give residents who start an application by then until April 15 to finish signing up. Wednesday, the Obama administration said it would allow consumers using the federal exchange in 36 states to complete enrollment for health insurance after next week's deadline as long as they declare that they started the process before the end of the month (Terhune, 3/26).

Los Angeles Times: Boehner Ridicules Obama Administration’s Healthcare Law Extension
House Speaker John A. Boehner mocked as a “joke” the Obama administration’s decision to offer a grace period for enrollment in health plans beyond March 31, saying it made the deadline “meaningless.” The Obama administration announced late Tuesday that consumers who say they started the process before month’s end will have additional time to complete their enrollment for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, a move spurred by a surge in activity on HealthCare.gov (Memoli, 3/26).

The Wall Street Journal’s Washington Wire: Obama Backers Warn March 31 Health Deadline Is Real
The Obama administration already confirmed that it’s extending the deadline to enroll for health insurance, but that’s not stopping President Barack Obama’s former campaign organization from reminding people that the original deadline is real. “I need your help, and it’s easy,” reads the subject line of an email Wednesday from Organizing for Action, formerly the Obama for America campaign organization that helped re-elect Mr. Obama. The email, which carries the signature of Barack Obama, tells people to forward the message to friends , family and neighbors to make sure they go to healthcare.gov and sign up for health insurance (Favole, 3/26).

USA Today: Analysts Say 6 Million Health Care Enrollees In Sight
The government will meet — and possibly exceed — its goal of 6 million people enrolled in insurance through the federal and state health exchanges by the March 31 deadline, analysts said Wednesday (Kennedy, 3/26).

The Washington Post: Md. Health Exchange Centers Inundated As Deadline Looms
With only a few days left for Marylanders to begin the process of signing up for health insurance or risk a government fine, thousands of residents are seeking help with the state’s online marketplace — and often waiting hours, or even days, to get it (Johnson, 3/26).

Los Angeles Times: California Struggling To Enroll African Americans In Obamacare
Latinos aren't the only sore spot for Covered California heading into Monday's enrollment deadline for Obamacare coverage. Very few African Americans have signed up statewide, and there's not much time to address the lackluster turnout. Wednesday, state officials reiterated that Monday remains the deadline for open enrollment. But the state will give Californians until April 15 to finish their application if they start it before midnight Monday (Karlamangla and Terhune, 3/26).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Florida Overcomes GOP Barriers To Enroll Uninsured
Florida’s Republican leaders have fought the Affordable Care Act at every turn, banning navigators from county health departments, offering no state dollars to boost outreach efforts to 3.5 million uninsured and leading the fight to repeal the law. Yet the state has emerged as a tale of what went right with President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul. More than 440,000 Florida residents had been enrolled through the federal marketplace through the end of February, putting Florida on pace to exceed the federal government’s initial projections by the time enrollment closes March 31 (3/26).

The Washington Post’s Wonkblog: Doc Fix Would Delay Obamacare Medicaid Cuts. That’s Good News For Non-Expansion States. 
New legislation providing a patch to Medicare physician payments also includes a one-year delay of scheduled Medicaid cuts to hospitals serving low-income patients. That’s especially good news for hospitals in states that haven't expanded Medicaid. Just for starters – the broad purpose of the "doc fix" legislation is to avoid a sharp drop-off in Medicare payments scheduled for March 31. Provisions of the House bill could still change, but this bill was the product of House and Senate negotiations. Speaker John Boehner said the House will vote on it tomorrow and that the Senate will take it up quickly after that (Millman, 3/26).

The Wall Street Journal: Merck, Glaxo Hold Off On Help With Affordable Care Act Copays
Merck & Co. and GlaxoSmithKline are holding off on providing help with out-of-pocket drug costs to people insured under the Affordable Care Act, while other pharmaceutical companies go ahead, amid mixed signals about whether the copay assistance is legal. The help is a staple of pharmaceutical-industry marketing to people insured by commercial health plans (Rockoff, 3/26).

The Washington Post: Battered Spouses Can Claim Subsidies For Health Insurance
The decision, announced by Treasury Department officials Wednesday, is an attempt to resolve a long-percolating controversy over access to the subsidies. The 2010 Affordable Care Act created these tax credits for people buying coverage through federal and state insurance exchanges — the first time the government has helped many Americans pay for private insurance. But the law says that married people may get such help only if they file their taxes jointly (Goldstein, 3/26).

The Washington Post’s In The Loop: Oregon’s Schrader Called For Extending Health Deadline Weeks Before White House
Before the administration did what it said it wouldn’t — extend the Obamacare deadline for some — a Democratic congressman was already working on it. Rep. Kurt Schrader (Ore.) had no “official” advance knowledge of the White House’s plans when he introduced a measure on March 12 to give states the option to extend open enrollment by a month. But Schrader is “very good at seeing the writing on the wall,” his spokesman said (Kamen and Itkowitz, 3/26).

The Wall Street Journal: Democrats To Offer Fixes For Health Law
Several centrist Senate Democrats, including some up for re-election this fall, are planning to push for changes to the Affordable Care Act—a move that has stirred debate within the party about whether making these fixes would keep the spotlight trained on the health law's flaws. Democrats in Congress have vowed to keep—and improve—President Barack Obama's health-care overhaul, but their recent efforts have been overshadowed by controversial White House tweaks and delays. The last significant change to the law was the 2011 repeal of a tax-reporting requirement affecting small-business owners (Peterson, 3/26).

Politico: Kevin McCarthy Pitches Obamacare Changes to Lobbyists
House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy huddled Wednesday with roughly 40 K Streeters to rally their support for a bill that would change Obamacare’s definition of a work week. The bill would increase the definition of a full-time week from 30 hours to 4o hours, the current bar at which employers are required to provide health coverage for their workers (Palmer and Sherman, 3/26).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: House Finalizing Bill To Stop Cut To Medicare Docs
Doctors who treat Medicare patients would get a last-minute reprieve from a scheduled 24 percent cut in their government reimbursements under a bill that’s on track to pass the House. It would be the 17th time Congress has stepped in with a temporary fix to a poorly designed Medicare fee formula that dates to a 1997 budget law. House action, expected Thursday, comes after efforts to permanently fix the formula appear to have fizzled (3/27).

Politico: House ‘Doc Fix’ Vote In Doubt
House Republican leaders are trying to quell opposition to a one-year “doc fix” after Senate Finance Chairman Ron Wyden said he could broker a long-term alternative and the major physician lobbying groups came out against the House plan. The move pits the new Finance chairman against Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who negotiated the doc fix patch with House Speaker John Boehner personally (Haberkorn, 3/26).

The New York Times: Infections At Hospitals Are Falling, C.D.C. Says
The number of infections Americans acquire during hospital stays every year has declined substantially over the last decade, federal health officials said in a report on Wednesday, as hospitals have worked to improve their practices and nursing homes’ role in medical care has grown (Tavernise, 3/26).

The New York Times: Settlement Bars Misleading Health Claims By Tanning Salons In New York State
New York’s attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman, will announce a settlement on Thursday that bars Hollywood Tans NYC, an indoor tanning salon in Chelsea, from making misleading health claims, such as “sunlight prevents skin cancer” and “the American Cancer Society doesn’t want you to know the truth about tanning beds” (Tavernise, 3/26).

The Washington Post: Md. Lawmakers Seek Deal On Pay For Workers Who Care For Developmentally Disabled
A compromise could soon be reached on how Maryland compensates workers who care for developmentally disabled people, an issue that has complicated passage of Gov. Martin O’Malley’s minimum wage bill. A key state senator and a leading advocate for the disabled community said Wednesday that they are optimistic that a resolution will be reached in coming days, allowing the Senate to advance an amended version of the minimum wage bill being championed by O’Malley (Wagner, 3/26). 

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