First Edition: December 18, 2013

Today's early morning highlights from the major news organizations, including reports about the former Microsoft executive who has been tapped by the Obama administration to take over the repairs of healthcare.gov.

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Study: It’s All Healthy People — Not Just Young Adults — Who Are Critical To ACA Success
Now on Kaiser Health News’ blog, Jay Hancock writes: "Pushing back against those who warn that low levels of younger subscribers could threaten coverage sold under the health law, analysts for the Kaiser Family Foundation say enrollment of young adults 'is not as important as conventional wisdom suggests.' Even if insurance pools contain only 25 percent young adults rather than the hoped-for 40 percent, medical claims and other costs would exceed premium revenue by only about 2.4 percent, they estimate. That’s far below the kind of loss that would lead to an unsustainable spiral of huge premium increases and fewer and fewer subscribers, they say" (Hancock, 12/17). Check out what else is on the blog.

The New York Times: Ex-Microsoft Executive To Take Over Health Site Repairs
President Obama has chosen a former Microsoft executive, Kurt DelBene, to replace Jeffrey D. Zients as head of the effort to finish repairs on the government’s health insurance website, administration officials said on Tuesday (Calmes, 12/17).

Los Angeles Times: Former Microsoft Executive To Lead Effort To Fix Obamacare Website
Kurt DelBene, who most recently served as president of the Microsoft Office Division, will take over from Jeffrey Zeints, a management expert whom the president asked to rescue the site after its disastrous rollout on Oct. 1 (Levey, 12 17).

The Washington Post: Kurt DelBene, Former Microsoft Executive, Will Take Over Healthcare.gov
Several lawmakers, concerned about the Web site’s rocky rollout, had pressed the administration to install an outside expert to oversee its operations once Zients left. Zients, who was appointed in late October and oversaw major improvements in the system, had requested a month’s time to prepare for his next West Wing assignment. DelBene spent two decades managing large technical teams at Microsoft and recently served as president of its Microsoft Office division; he announced in July that he would retire by the end of the year. Sebelius said that he will work with Health and Human Services officials and the site’s general contractor, QSSI (Eilperin, 12/17). 

The Associated Press/Washington Post: New Tech Honcho For Obama Health Care Website
DelBene’s appointment was announced Tuesday by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. He is married to Rep. Suzan DelBene, a Washington state Democrat, who also has a technology background. The website is the insurance portal for Obama’s health care law (12/17). 

Politico: White House To Tap Microsoft Exec To Fix Healthcare.gov
DelBene will be in that role for at least the first six months of 2014, Sebelius said. He was most recently the president of the Microsoft Office Division and has been with the company since 1992. Bill Gates, Microsoft’s chairman and founder, praised DelBene for his expertise in "managing complex large-scale technology projects" (Kim, 12/17).

USA Today: Obama Meets With Tech Execs To Talk NSA, Health Care
President Obama met privately with several tech executives Tuesday to discuss the administration's efforts to address problems with the federal online health care exchange as well as the fallout that national security leaks have had on their companies, according to the White House. Among those who were invited to the White House meeting were Apple's CEO Tim Cook, Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer, Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg and Google's executive chairman, Eric Schmidt (Madhani, 12/17).

The New York Times: Tech Leaders And Obama Find Shared Problem: Fading Public Trust
For months, leading technology companies have been buffeted by revelations about government spying on their customers’ data, which they believe are undermining confidence in their services. The Obama administration has been blasted for the botched rollout of the health site, which prevented many people from signing up for health insurance in the first weeks of the site’s introduction, but seem to have been largely repaired since then. The meeting on Tuesday brought those two issues together into a common forum, and at least partly in the public eye (Calmes, 12/17). 

USA Today: Government Seeks Health Website Tech Help
The government put out a call for businesses that could address concerns at HealthCare.gov, the federal health insurance exchange. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services asked small businesses to describe experience that compared in "size, scope and complexity" to the skills needed to create the website (Kennedy, 12/17).

The Associated Press/Washington Press: Obama, First Lady Meet With Moms On Health Care
President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama are meeting with mothers in the Oval Office to promote the president’s health care law. The White House says Wednesday’s meeting will focus on ways the law can benefit families. White House spokesman Jay Carney says moms are a key part of the administration’s outreach because they play a major role in helping their family members, peers and adult children sign up for health insurance coverage (12/18). 

USA Today: White House Taps New Chief For Health Care Website
Sebelius said DelBene would provide oversight and advice on everything from technology to marketing, as well as execute the existing plan. "The President and I believe strongly in having one person, with strong experience and expertise in management and execution, who is thinking 24/7 about HealthCare.gov," she wrote. He will continue to work with QSSI, the general contractor for HealthCare.gov (Kennedy and Jackson, 12/17). 

USA Today: Insurers, Consumers Await HHS Guidance As Deadline Looms
Some frustrated consumers are sending premium payments to insurers who have never heard of them. Others say they will pass up federal subsidies and pay full price through insurers, while still others have given up altogether on the promise of health insurance by Jan. 1. Consternation and confusion over applications sent through the federal HealthCare.gov website continue into the last seven days before the Dec. 23 enrollment deadline. Consumers with health issues are particularly nervous about the prospect of not having insurance at the start of the new year (O'Donnell, 12/17).

The Washington Post: Insurers Agree To Short Delay For January Enrollment Through Maryland Health Exchange
Consumers seeking to obtain coverage starting Jan. 1 through Maryland’s online health insurance exchange will get a few more days to apply, Gov. Martin O’Malley said Tuesday. O’Malley (D) said that all private insurers participating in the exchange, which has been riddled with technical glitches, have agreed to extend the enrollment deadline for January from Dec. 23 to Dec. 27 (Wagner, 12/17). 

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Embattled Minn. Health Exchange Chief Resigns
The chief of Minnesota’s health insurance marketplace resigned Tuesday after facing criticism over the troubled rollout and a questionably timed international vacation. April Todd-Malmlov submitted her resignation during an emergency closed session of the government board of MNsure, Minnesota’s version of the insurance exchange that’s tied to the federal health care overhaul. She had been under increasing pressure over insurance sign-up problems and failed to get a vote of confidence from Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton last week (12/17). 

The Associated Press/Washington Post: States To Get Medicaid Cases From Federal Website
Federal officials have begun sending Medicaid applications to states so they can enroll people, beginning with a handful of places where technical problems that have marred the new insurance marketplace are expected to be less of an issue. Until now, the applications were not forwarded as promised to the states, which put the enrollment process in limbo for those who are eligible to get health care coverage through Medicaid (12/17).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Va. Medicaid Expansion Holds Final Meeting Of Year
A Virginia legislative commission still appears a long way from deciding whether to recommend Medicaid expansion. The Medicaid Innovation and Reform Commission held its last meeting of 2013 Tuesday. The chairman, Sen. Emmett Hanger, described it as an informational meeting with presentations from experts on issues like Medicaid fraud and federal health care law revenue provisions (12/17). 

Los Angeles Times: Fewer Than 20% Of Blue Shield Customers Extend Health Coverage
Given the choice, fewer than 20% of Blue Shield of California customers with canceled policies opted for a three-month extension of their current health plans. The San Francisco insurer said about 15,000 policyholders out of 80,000 who were affected chose to keep their health plans until March 31 (Terhune, 12/17). 

The Washington Post’s Wonk Blog: Why Obamacare Won’t Spiral Into Fiery, Actuarial Doom
The rumors of an Obamacare death spiral have been greatly exaggerated. So say Larry Levitt, Gary Claxton and Anthony Damico, experts at the Kaiser Family Foundation who have put together a new brief analyzing what would happen if young adults snubbed the Affordable Care Act. Even if young people sign up at half the rate the administration hopes for, it would nudge premiums up only by a few percentage points, their report says (Kliff, 12/17). 

The Washington Post: The Silver Lining For Democrats On Obamacare
The myriad problems with the rollout of HealthCare.gov and the Obamacare exchanges have pushed President Obama’s approval ratings to a new low and, to hear many tell it, might give Republicans a leg up in the 2014 election. But tucked into the new Washington Post-ABC News poll released Tuesday is a cautionary tale for the GOP. It is this: Despite the country’s opposition to the Affordable Care Act and Obama’s leadership on it, it doesn’t want to turn the reins over to Republicans (Blake and Sullivan, 12/18). 

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Bipartisan Budget Agreement Nears Final Passage
A modest, bipartisan budget pact designed to keep Washington from lurching from fiscal crisis to fiscal crisis and ease the harshest effects of automatic budget cuts is on the brink of passing the Senate. The Senate is on track to clear the bill Wednesday for President Barack Obama’s signature after a 67-33 vote Tuesday in which it easily hurdled a filibuster threshold (12/18). 

The New York Times: Budget Deal Offers A Reprieve From Washington Paralysis
The question is whether it will be a turning point that will clear the way for agreements on long-stalled issues like Medicare, the tax code and immigration or simply be an asterisk in the history books. To President Obama and his strategists, the cross-aisle accord offers what one called “green shoots of hope” that next year may turn out better than this year. Along with the change in filibuster rules making it easier to confirm nominees, the White House sees prospects for progress, even if limited (Baker and Weisman, 12/17). 

Politico: Senate Poised To Pass Budget Deal
The Senate voted Tuesday to advance a bipartisan two-year budget deal – a move that puts Capitol Hill one step closer to a thaw in the fiscal wars that have paralyzed Washington. ... The deal sets discretionary spending at $1.012 trillion for the current fiscal year and $1.014 trillion in fiscal 2015. It raises revenue through fee increases but there are no tax hikes or entitlement reforms, demands that had thrown wrenches in previous fiscal talks. Another round of sequester cuts due to take effect in January will be replaced with more targeted spending cuts (Kim, 12/17).

The Washington Post: McAuliffe To Reappoint McDonnell’s Health Secretary, Bill Hazel
Gov.-elect Terry McAuliffe will keep Gov. Robert F. McDonnell’s health secretary on as his own, a choice that could help the new governor sell Medicaid expansion to wary Republicans but that also infuriates some abortion-rights activists. McAuliffe (D) will announce Wednesday that he will reappoint Dr. William A. Hazel Jr., an orthopaedic surgeon from Northern Virginia who served as secretary of health and human resources under McDonnell (R), two people familiar with the decision said (Vozzella, 12/17). 

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