KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

First Edition: September 9, 2013

Today's headlines include reports on how some state health online insurance marketplaces are working as well as the latest from Capitol Hill on the budget standoff. 

Kaiser Health News: FAQ: Dental And Vision Care Part Of 'Essential Benefits' For Kids
Kaiser Health News staff writer Marissa Evans reports: "One part of the Affordable Care Act is intended to improve dental coverage for children, an extension of effort by public health advocates that followed the 2007 death of a Maryland boy named Deamonte Driver, who was killed by a bacterial infection that spread from an abscessed tooth to his brain" (Evans, 10/9). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: Problems Continue For Some Users On Minnesota's Health Insurance Exchange
Minnesota Public Radio's Elizabeth Stawicki, working in partnership with Kaiser Health News and NPR, reports: "Days after Minnesota's online insurance marketplace had a less-than-trouble-free launch, MNsure officials are betting that consumers will have a smoother experience this week. But the site is not in the clear yet. Intermittent problems with account creation continue for users of the online health insurance marketplace, and weekend fixes to a key federal component of the system appeared to trigger a new set of problems" (Stawicki, 10/8). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: N.Y. Exchange Says 40,000 Have Applied For Coverage; 28K Sign Up For Health Coverage Through California's Exchange; Navigating The Marketplaces: Reader Questions Answered
Now on Kaiser Health News'  blog, Phil Galewitz reports on the latest numbers from New York’s health exchange: "New York's online insurance exchange on Tuesday said more than 40,000 people have completed applications for coverage so far, though not all have chosen a health plan. Officials from the exchange, called NY State of Health, said these applicants were found eligible to buy a health plan" (Galewitz, 10/9).

In addition, Anna Gorman checks in on applications for health coverage on the California exchange: "More than 16,000 applications on behalf of 28,700 people have been completed through the state’s insurance marketplace, Covered California, officials announced Tuesday. Executive Director Peter Lee said 16,311 applications, some representing several family members, were completed between Oct. 1 and Oct. 5 and another 27,305 are in process.  Lee did not specify how many of the applicants would receive coverage through the state-based exchange or how many qualified for Medi-Cal, the state's Medicaid program" (Gorman, 10/8).

Also on Capsules, Julie Appleby joined yesterday with  the Washington Post's Sarah Kliff and Consumers' Checkbook's Robert Krughoff in an online chat to answer readers' questions about enrollment in the health law's new insurance marketplaces. Read the transcript and check out what else is on the blog.

The Washington Post: Many Remain Locked Out Of Federal Health-Care Web Site
Major insurers, state health-care officials and Democratic allies repeatedly warned the Obama administration in recent months that the new federal health-insurance exchange had significant problems, according to people familiar with the conversations. Despite those warnings and intense criticism from Republicans, the White House proceeded with an Oct. 1 launch (Eilperin, Goldstein and Somashekhar, 10/8).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Inability To Browse Health Plans Without First Creating Accounts Seen As Adding To Online Woes
A decision by the Obama administration to require that consumers create online accounts before they can browse health overhaul insurance plans appears to have led to many of the glitches that have frustrated customers, independent experts say. Most e-commerce websites — as well as medicare.gov — are not designed to require those merely browsing to set up accounts. But it’s one of the first steps on healthcare.gov (10/8).

Politico: Once You Get Into ACA Website, It's Hard To Get Out
Once you finally make it into HealthCare.gov, it’s not clear how you get out. For those who’ve busted through glitches on the federal Obamacare insurance website to create an account, there’s no clear, obvious way for consumers to delete the accounts if they choose — at least not in the current incarnation (Millman and Cheney, 10/9).

Politico: With Obamacare Still Suffering Tech Issues, White House Hopes For Turnaround
A senior Obama administration official said Tuesday that several days of "hardware and software fixes" have put a turnaround in sight for Obamacare’s new enrollment system. But he gave no timeline for when users should expect a glitch-free experience on the HealthCare.gov website, which has been limping into its second week of technical failures (Norman, 10/9).

The New York Times: Uninsured Find More Success Via Health Exchanges Run By States
The experience described by Ms. Skrebes is in stark contrast to reports of widespread technical problems that have hampered enrollment in the online health insurance marketplace run by the federal government since it opened on Oct. 1. While many people have been frustrated in their efforts to obtain coverage through the federal exchange, which is used by more than 30 states, consumers have had more success signing up for health insurance through many of the state-run exchanges, federal and state officials and outside experts say (Pear and Goodnough, 10/8).

Los Angeles Times: California Health Insurance Enrollment Site Touts Robust Activity
Seeking to rebut mounting criticism over the rollout of Obamacare nationwide, California's insurance exchange boasted that nearly 29,000 people applied for coverage last week under the federal healthcare law. Covered California, the state's new marketplace, said it released the data earlier than planned to counter "misinformation" and reports about widespread glitches preventing people from signing up. Peter Lee, the exchange's executive director, defended the law and cited the personal stories of Californians who had successfully sought coverage (Terhune, 10/8).

The Associated Press/Wall Street Journal: NY Reports 40,000 Enroll For Health Insurance
State officials say 40,000 New Yorkers have signed up for health insurance in the first week of operation for the new state-run marketplace that includes low-cost plans. The NY State of Health says its website has quadrupled capacity since opening enrollment Oct. 1, resolving the issues that initially kept many consumers from advancing past the home page, and says it is running smoothly (10/9).

The Washington Post: Google Wants To Make You Immortal (And Obamacare Will Pay For It)
Google unveiled its new anti-aging initiative, Calico, to much fanfare last month. The exclusive story of "Can Google Solve Death?" was splashed across the cover of TIME magazine while tech bloggers scrambled to figure out the true meaning of Google's "strange or speculative" new venture. To hear Google execs tell the story, Calico aims at nothing less than extending human life spans by 100 years or more. Given enough time, Google might even defy the aging process and make us immortal. And, the brilliance of all this is that President Obama’s Affordable Care Act may end up making this possible within our lifetime (Basulto, 10/8).

The New York Times: Lift 'Threats,' Obama Insists, Spurning Talks
But he raised the possibility of reopening the government and raising the debt limit in the short term to allow negotiations, a development Republicans saw as positive. "If they can't do it for a long time, do it for the period of time in which these negotiations are taking place," he said. … Eight days since House Republicans refused to finance the government because Mr. Obama would not defund or delay the new health care law, and nine days before the Treasury Department says it will reach the legal limit to borrow money for existing bills and obligations, the two parties showed no movement toward an accord. Both sides dug in deeper, even as polls showed that Americans are fed up with Republicans, Democrats and the president — but more so with Republicans. The Senate held a rare all-hands-on-deck debate, but aired familiar partisan arguments (Calmes and Parker, 10/8).

Politico: Obamacare Negotiations: What Would They Discuss?
Even if President Barack Obama and Republican and Democratic leaders suddenly started talking about Obamacare, there would be a problem: They just don’t have that much to talk about. Obama says he’s willing to talk about his health care law, after the crisis is over. 'If you disagree with certain aspects of it, tell us what you disagree with, and let’s work on it," Obama said at a press conference Tuesday afternoon (Nather, 10/9).

Politico: Conservatives Want To Keep The Focus On Obamacare
The most conservative House Republicans are starting to worry that the growing focus on the debt ceiling could overshadow their top priority: gutting Obamacare. The health care law has always been at the center of the fight over government funding. But the debt ceiling fight, which is already rattling financial markets, could touch on a broader range of policies, including tax and entitlement reform, the Keystone XL pipeline and broader efforts to slash the deficit (Gibson, 10/8).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Obama Claims GOP Extortion, Boehner Vows No Surrender Amid Hints Of Short-Term Budget Truce
President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner are increasing the pressure on each other to bend in their deadlock over the federal debt limit and the partial government shutdown. Even as they do, there are hints they might consider a brief truce. With the shutdown in its ninth day Wednesday and a potential economy-shaking federal default edging ever closer, neither side was showing signs of capitulating. Republicans were demanding talks on deficit reduction and Obama’s 2010 health care law as the price for boosting the government’s borrowing authority and returning civil servants to work, while the president wanted Congress to first end the shutdown and extend the debt limit (10/9).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Government Efforts To Protect Health And Safety Are Slowed Or Halted As Shutdown Lingers
The government shutdown has slowed or halted federal efforts to protect Americans' health and safety, from probes into the cause of transportation and workplace accidents to tracking foodborne illness. The latest example: an outbreak of salmonella in chicken that has sickened people in 18 states. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday that it was recalling some of its furloughed staff to deal with the outbreak, which has sickened more than 270 people. Before then, the CDC had only a handful of scientists working on outbreak detection, severely hampering its ability to track potentially deadly illnesses (10/8).

The Wall Street Journal: Government Shutdown Delays Medical Supplier’s Bankruptcy Exit
Blaming the government shutdown, lawyers for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services persuaded a bankruptcy judge on Monday to delay a court hearing that could have allowed a California medical supplier to get out of Chapter 11 protection (Stech, 10/8).

Los Angeles Times: L.A. County Officials Vote To Create Obamacare Marketing Plan
Because of the vast number of uninsured people living in Los Angeles County, it is going to be one of the primary places in the nation to measure the effectiveness of Obamacare. On Tuesday, county leaders voted to create a marketing plan to inform residents of their options under the Affordable Care Act (Mehta, 10/8).

Politico: Chris Christie Makes Point On Obamacare
Republican Gov. Chris Christie said Tuesday that he doesn't like Obamacare but that he found a way to deal with it in New Jersey, another signal that he sees the government shutdown as an opportunity to contrast himself with feuding parties in Washington. "I don’t agree with the law, but we’ve complied with it, and that’s the job you have as governor," Christie said at a gubernatorial debate at William Paterson University in Wayne. "You don’t always agree with every law you have to enforce, but I’ve enforced this one, and I’m proud of our record on health care" (Titus, 10/8).

The Wall Street Journal: Maine to Allow Prescription-Drug Imports
The hunt for cheaper prescription drugs long has led consumers to reach beyond U.S. borders, but under a Maine law set to take effect Wednesday, their search now will have the state's blessing. The law, the first of its kind, sanctions the direct purchase of mail-order drugs from some foreign pharmacies. It has ignited a court battle with the pharmaceutical industry and set the stage for a broader fight over access to less-costly medication (Levitz and Martin, 10/8).

Los Angeles Times: Loyola Marymount Drops Health Coverage For 'Elective' Abortions
Amid a debate about the role of Catholic colleges in a secular society, Loyola Marymount University this week decided to drop staff health insurance coverage for "elective" abortions and instead offer employees a separate, unsubsidized plan to cover those procedures. The move was seen on campus as a compromise between traditionalist alumni and faculty — who think the university should have nothing to do with abortion — and a more liberal group who contend LMU should not impose religious doctrine on the large number of non-Catholics it enrolls and employs (Gordon, 10/8). 

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