First Edition: December 24, 2013

NOTE TO READERS: KHN's First Edition will not be published from Dec. 25 through Jan. 1. Look for it again in your inbox Jan. 2. Happy Holidays!

Today's early morning highlights from the major news organizations:

Kaiser Health News: Consumers Beware: Not All Health Plans Cover A Doctor's Visit Before The Deductible Is Met
Kaiser Health News staff writer Julie Appleby, working in collaboration with NBC News, reports: "If you buy one of the less expensive insurance plans sold through the health law’s marketplaces, you may be in for a surprise. Some plans will not pay for a doctor visit before you meet your annual deductible, which could be thousands of dollars" (Appleby, 12/23). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Alabama Blue Cross Shares Obamacare Tax Woes With Customers
Kaiser Health News staff writer Jay Hancock reports: "Insurance companies aren’t crazy about their share of the health law’s taxes, but mostly they've complained to politicians and regulators. At least one health plan wants to bring consumers into the loop. 'Affordable Care Act Fees and Taxes' is a separate line item on bills Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama is sending to individual customers" (Hancock, 12/23). Check out what else is on the blog.

The New York Times: Day Is Added To Deadline As Rush Hits Health Portal
A record-setting crush of last-minute shoppers descended on HealthCare.gov on Monday, creating long wait times for users and putting new stress on the government's much-maligned health portal as they raced against a midnight deadline to sign up for coverage that will go into effect on Jan. 1. More than one million people had logged on to the site by 5 p.m., officials said, five times more than the previous Monday (Shear and Pear, 12/23).

The Wall Street Journal: Health-Insurance Deadline Extended In Late Push To Boost Numbers
In a last-minute push to boost lagging enrollment in the health-insurance marketplaces, federal officials on Monday extended the deadline by 24 hours for people to sign up for coverage starting Jan. 1. The deadline was originally set for midnight on Monday, but changes made over the weekend to the federal HealthCare.gov website will allow users to sign up for the first wave of coverage through Tuesday, people familiar with the matter said. Insurers said they received no warning about the deadline change and hadn't prepared for it (Weaver and Martin, 12/23).

The Wall Street Journal: California Health-Insurance Site Sees Rush At Finish Line 
Procrastinators, take heart: California’s health-insurance exchange shows you’re not alone. Officials said Monday 77,000 people picked a private insurance plan between Friday and Sunday in California, one of 14 states running its own insurance marketplace. Those three days alone accounted for nearly one-fifth of the roughly 400,000 people who have enrolled in private coverage so far, according to state figures. A similar number have been found eligible for Medicaid (Corbett Dooren, 12/23).

USA Today: HealthCare.gov Tops 1 Million Visitors; Deadline Extended
More than 1 million visitors logged into HealthCare.gov by late Monday, racing to meet the administration's new midnight, Christmas Eve deadline to enroll in health insurance. Officials pushed back the Dec. 23 deadline by a day, acknowledging the site was still having problems signing people up. Earlier Monday, more than 60,000 people hit the landing page when it was too busy to accommodate them and left an email address so they could be alerted when the site wasn't busy, said Julie Bataille, spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (O'Donnell and Kennedy, 12/23).

The Washington Post: Obama Administration Quietly Extends Health-Care Enrollment Deadline By A Day
Obama administration officials acknowledged Monday that they made an 11th-hour change in rules for the federal health insurance exchange to allow Americans to enroll in health plans through Christmas Eve — 24 hours later than advertised — and still get coverage that begins on New Year’s Day. The switch occurred in the form of a software change that government officials and IT contractors inserted into the computer system over the weekend for the online insurance marketplace. Anyone who finishes enrolling by 11:59 p.m. Tuesday will have insurance on Jan. 1, the first day it becomes available (Goldstein and Eilperin, 12/23).

The Washington Post: HealthCare.gov’s Last-Minute Shoppers See Mixed Results Signing Up
The HealthCare.gov Twitter handle tweeted mid-morning that the site was having a "record day" with "thousands visiting and enrolling." Around 11 a.m., the Obama administration deployed the site's queuing system, which kicks in when the site has reached its maximum capacity for visitors. Navigators around the country say they have been deluged with phone calls, and that a lot of people are walking into their offices, hoping to get help signing up for coverage despite the navigators’ packed schedule of appointments (Kliff, 12/23).

Los Angeles Times: Last-Minute Surge Of Health Law Sign-Ups 
After months of technical glitches and political tumult, a burst of last-minute insurance shoppers illustrated the growing appetite for Obamacare and the enormous challenges ahead in making the massive healthcare expansion work. On Monday, the crush of consumers prompted the Obama administration to put thousands of applicants on hold and push back another key enrollment deadline to Tuesday. This unexpected move came despite weeks of computer fixes aimed at improving the troubled HealthCare.gov website. Even in California and other states where enrollment was running more smoothly, plenty of consumers were experiencing snags (Terhune, Lauter and Reston, 12/23).

Los Angeles Times: California Health Exchange Tops 400,000 Enrolled Prior To Deadline 
California's health insurance exchange said more than 400,000 people have signed up for health plans ahead of Monday's enrollment deadline as part of the Affordable Care Act. The Covered California exchange said the latest figures are based on preliminary data through Sunday, when about 27,000 people picked an insurance company. Enrollment Friday was even higher, at 29,000 people, according to the exchange (Terhune, 12/23).

Politico: Health Enrollment Deadlines Flexing Again In Several States
New York and Massachusetts are following the federal health exchange’s lead and extending their sign-up deadlines for coverage starting Jan. 1, those programs’ directors announced Monday afternoon. Other state exchanges, including the ones in California, Washington state and the District of Columbia, are offering general flexibility for individuals who started but couldn’t complete their applications by the 11:59 p.m. Monday deadline. Residents there will still be guaranteed coverage starting Jan. 1 (Villacorta, 12/23).

The Washington Post: Obama Signs Up For Health Care, Buying Bronze Plan The White House Calls ‘Symbolic’
He doesn’t need it and will never use it, but President Obama signed up for Obamacare anyway. The political maneuver, announced Monday by the White House, was aimed at showing solidarity with hundreds of ¬≠thousands of Americans enrolling in the new federal and state health-care exchanges. The move came after months of prodding from Republicans, who argued that the president should participate in his signature health-care law — although the exchanges are designed primarily for those who don’t have or can’t afford coverage (Rucker and Goldfarb, 12/23).

Politico: W.H.: Obama Has Signed Up For Insurance Under Obamacare
In what an official acknowledged is a “symbolic” move since the president gets his medical care from the military, Obama selected a low-cost bronze plan through the District of Columbia exchange. He made the pick over the weekend while vacationing in Hawaii (Epstein, 12/23).

The Associated Press: House Foe Of Health Overhaul Still Top GOP Target
Listen carefully when Republicans say they can blame almost every House Democrat for the flaws of the health care overhaul. Rep. Mike McIntyre, D-N.C., is the exception. He's never voted in favor of President Barack Obama's signature health care law. It's a key reason the nine-term Democrat is still in Congress. It might be enough in 2014, although he barely won last year. In a district redrawn by Republicans for Republicans, McIntyre is the GOP's top Democratic target in the battle for control of the House (Kellman, 12/23).

USA Today: Health Care Workers Will Lead U.S. Job Gains To 2022
The retirement of aging Baby Boomers will reshape the job market over the next decade, leading to the smallest portion of Americans employed or looking for work since the mid-1970s, barely six in 10, a new Labor Department forecast predicts. The result: slower economic growth but new employment opportunities in health care, where millions of new jobs are likely to be created (Davidson, 12/23).

The Wall Street Journal: Massachusetts Pharmacy In Settlement Over Tainted Injections 
The Massachusetts pharmacy whose tainted steroid injections were blamed for a deadly outbreak of fungal meningitis has agreed to pay more than $100 million to victims and their families, according to lawyers involved in a tentative settlement. The tentative deal is part of an effort to compensate victims and their families for injuries they suffered after receiving the injections for back pain (Rockoff, 12/23).

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