First Edition: October 29, 2013

Today's headlines include previews of a Capitol Hill hearing that will feature Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Serivces Administrator Marilyn Tavenner.  

Kaiser Health News: Insuring Your Health: Short-Term Plans Can Skirt Health Law Requirements
Kaiser Health News consumer columnist Michelle Andrews writes: "What a difference a day makes. Consumers who buy a health insurance policy good for only 364 days might save hundreds of dollars in premiums, but they could also find themselves without important benefits and charged a penalty for not having insurance next year" (Andrews, 10/28). Read the column.

Kaiser Health News: My Other Pre-Existing Condition: Unstable Insurance
Writing for Kaiser Health News, Randy Dotinga tells his personal story of seeking health coverage on the individual insurance market: "I'd like to start a long-term relationship with a health plan, but all I've had are flings -- seven insurers in the last 13 years. Is it something I said? Nope, it's something I am: a self-employed, 45-year-old single guy with a heart that beats funny" (Dotinga, 10/28). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Updating The Latest Efforts On Fixing Healthcare.gov
Now on Kaiser Health News' blog, watch a video of Mary Agnes Carey on C-SPAN's Washington Journal Monday talking about efforts the federal government is making to fix the troubled healthcare.gov website for purchasing health insurance (10/28). Watch the video.

The New York Times: U.S. Health Insurance Website's Problems Continue Despite Improvements
The Obama administration on Monday reported improvements in the operation of the federal health insurance marketplace, but insurers said that severe technical problems were still making it difficult to enroll new subscribers (Pear, 10/28).

Los Angeles Times: Healthcare Law Also Faces Plenty Of Low-Tech Problems
When advocates for the president's healthcare law strategized about how to reach the uninsured, they knew exactly whom to tap: mothers who could spread the word about the law's benefits, sign up their younger children and nudge their twentysomethings to take part. But beyond the widely publicized problems with the federal website, low-tech challenges also are complicating that part of the drive to sell the program — even in California, where the state website is running more smoothly and officials are fully behind the push (Reston, 10/28).

The Wall Street Journal: Health Site Recovers From Latest Snafu
The troubled federal health-insurance website was recovering Monday after another outage, this time caused by a network failure at one of the companies supporting the site. Health-insurance exchanges in all 50 states couldn't function for about 16 hours Sunday and Monday due to the outage, which affected a data hub on which the exchanges rely to transmit information about enrollees' identity and income (Radnofsky, 10/28).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: White House OKs Penalty-Free Health Insurance Sign-Ups Until March 31 Amid Website Problems
With website woes ongoing, the Obama administration Monday granted a six-week extension until March 31 for Americans to sign up for coverage next year and avoid new tax penalties under the president’s health care overhaul law. The move had been expected since White House spokesman Jay Carney promised quick action last week to resolve a "disconnect" in the implementation of the law (10/28).

USA Today: HHS Issues Formal Insurance Deadline Clarification
People who have purchased insurance by March 31, even if they are not covered by their plans until May 1, don't need not file a waiver to avoid paying a fine for violating the individual mandate law under the Affordable Care Act, according to new guidance released Monday by the Department of Health and Human Services. There had been some confusion because some had interpreted the health law to mean that people must be covered by insurance to avoid paying a fine. In 2014, most people who do not have health insurance, including parents of uncovered children, must pay a fine (Kennedy, 10/28).

Politico: Obamacare And The Limits Of The Wayback Machine
It just means that President Barack Obama’s signature health care law shouldn’t be written off just yet. Everything depends on what happens in the next few months. A full recovery is possible, if the federal enrollment website stops having comical breakdowns within the next month and the rest of the implementation runs more smoothly. If that doesn’t happen, none of the lessons of Medicare Part D’s rollout will be able to save Obamacare (Nather, 10/29).

USA Today: Report: W.H. Knew Plans Would Be Cancelled Under ACA
Millions of Americans are getting their health insurance cancelled under the Affordable Care Act and the Obama administration has known for about three years that this would happen, NBC News is reporting. Between half and three quarters of 14 million consumers who buy health insurance individually will receive a cancellation letter or its equivalent in the next year because their current policies don't meet the standards laid out by the new law, the news organization reports (Eversley, 10/29).

Politico: White House Rejects NBC Obamacare Report
The Obama administration is strongly pushing back Monday night on an NBC News report that the White House has known for years that millions of consumers would lose their insurance under Obamacare. "NBC 'scoop' cites 'normal turnover in the indiv insurance market'. That's a) not new b) not caused by #ACA c) the problem #ACA will solve," White House principal deputy press secretary Josh Earnest said in a tweet (Haberkorn, 10/28).

The Washington Post: Carney Admits Some Americans Will Lose Existing Plans Under Health-Care Law
Back in 2009, President Obama assured Americans that even under the health-care law he was pressing Congress to adopt, nothing in their insurance would change if they were satisfied with their current plan. On Monday, White House press secretary Jay Carney acknowledged that some consumers would lose their "substandard plans" and have to pay higher premiums because of the new health-care law (Eilperin, 10/28).

Politico: Unions Sitting Out ACA Enrollment
President Barack Obama's loyal allies in the labor movement aren't jumping to help the administration in the public battle over the problematic Obamacare website. Put off by new reinsurance fees on group health care plans that affect union members, Big Labor is largely sitting out the effort to enroll people for health care coverage or make the White House’s public case that the mangled rollout of HealthCare.gov doesn’t mean the entire Affordable Care Act is flawed (Epstein, 10/29).

Politico: Affordable Care Act Advocates Press Outreach, Downplay Website
The faulty Obamacare sign-up site has created a dilemma for advocates of the health law organizing outreach and education efforts. Now that open enrollment has begun, they need to get out the word about new coverage options and try to overcome years of public confusion about the law (Villacorta, 10/29).

Politico: Ads Hit Red-State Democrats On Obamacare
Americans for Prosperity is targeting two red-state Democrats over Obamacare with a pricey new ad buy that launches this week. The conservative group singles out Sens. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) and Mary Landrieu (D-La.) in two new health care-related television ads, viewed first by POLITICO. The North Carolina and Louisiana 2014 contests will play key roles in determining which party controls the Senate (Glueck, 10/29).

The New York Times: Ohio Governor Defies G.O.P. With Defense Of Social Safety Net
Ever since Republicans in Congress shut down the federal government in an attempt to remove funding for President Obama’s health care law, Republican governors have been trying to distance themselves from Washington.  … But few have gone further than Mr. Kasich in critiquing his party’s views on poverty programs, and last week he circumvented his own Republican legislature and its Tea Party wing by using a little-known state board to expand Medicaid to 275,000 poor Ohioans under President Obama’s health care law (Gabriel, 10/28).

Politico: Medicaid Enrollment Surges Ahead Of ACA Sign-Ups
HealthCare.gov may be limping along to full viability, but Medicaid is flying off the shelves. New Medicaid enrollment is far outpacing new insurance customers under Obamacare so far, a subtle sign that the program could play a greater role in the law’s coverage expansion than first anticipated. Some people are signing up for the Medicaid expansion created by the president’s health law. Others were already eligible for their state’s current Medicaid program, but until this outreach campaign about health coverage, they had never signed up (Haberkorn, 10/29).

The New York Times: Health Site Puts Agency And Leader In Hot Seat
Ten days before HealthCare.gov opened for business, Marilyn Tavenner, the obscure federal bureaucrat whose agency oversaw the creation of the troubled online insurance marketplace, had a bad omen. It was a Sunday, and her mobile device was on the fritz, forcing her to go into the office (Stolberg, 10/28).

The Washington Post: Medicare Chief Marilyn Tavenner To Testify Before Congress About HealthCare.gov
On Tuesday, Tavenner will be the first Obama administration official to testify before Congress about the efforts of her agency — the Centers for Medicare and Medcaid Services — to implement the 2010 law. The agency recently hired contractor Quality Software Services Inc. to be the general manager for the effort to fix the troubled Web site. Tavenner is likely to face a barrage of questions about the lead-up to the site’s botched debut — as well as the administration’s previous claims that everything was on track for a successful launch (Kliff, 10/28).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Medicare Chief Tavenner Faces Lawmakers’ Questions Over Botched Health Overhaul Rollout
Trying to earn a second chance, the senior administration official closest to the implementation of the health care law’s malfunctioning enrollment website will answer questions from Congress at the start of a pivotal week. Medicare Chief Marilyn Tavenner will be questioned Tuesday by the House Ways and Means Committee not only on what went wrong with HealthCare.gov, but also whether lawmakers can trust Obama administration promises to have things running efficiently by the end of November (10/29).

Politico: Somehow, Marilyn Tavenner Still Has Backers
Plenty of people have called for heads to roll after the Obamacare rollout — including that of Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of Health and Human Services. But so far, they haven’t called for the head of Marilyn Tavenner, the administrator for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, which oversaw the office that created HealthCare.gov (Cunningham, 10/28).

USA Today: Medicare Part B Premiums Won’t Go Up In 2014
The premiums for Medicare Part B will remain flat in 2014 and seniors have saved $8.3 billion on Part D prescriptions since the Affordable Care Act was enacted in 2010, the Department of Health and Human Services announced Monday. Medicare Part B covers medically necessary services, as well as preventive services (Kennedy, 10/28).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Medicare Monthly Premium Will Stay At $104.90 A Month
Medicare says the “Part B” premium most seniors pay for outpatient care will stay the same in 2014, at $104.90 a month. That’s good news for beneficiaries, following a $5-per-month increase this year (10/28).

Los Angeles Times: Amid Obamacare Signup Glitches, Thousands Head To Free Clinic Event
Organizers of a high-profile annual free clinic in Los Angeles that attracts thousands of uninsured and underinsured patients have hoped that improvements in the nation's healthcare system would greatly reduce demand for their services. The massive Care Harbor event returns to town this week, amid the rollout of new and shifting insurance options for millions of Californians under the Obama administration's overhaul of the healthcare system. Once again, thousands showed up Monday at the Sports Arena to secure appointments for everything from mammograms to teeth cleaning — but with new expectations for the future (Brown, 10/28).

The New York Times: Judge In Texas Partly Rejects Abortion Law
A federal judge in Texas on Monday blocked an important part of the state’s restrictive new abortion law, which would have required doctors performing the procedure to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital (Eckholm, 10/28).

Los Angeles Times: Judge Rules Part Of Texas Abortion Law Unconstitutional
Some controversial new Texas abortion restrictions are unconstitutional and will not take effect as scheduled Tuesday, a federal judge ruled Monday. "Today's ruling marks an important victory for Texas women and sends a clear message to lawmakers: It is unconstitutional for politicians to pass laws that take personal, private decisions away from women and their doctors," said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America (Hennessey-Fiske, 10/28).

The Washington Post: Judge Blocks Parts Of Texas Abortion Law
The ruling by U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel represents a legal victory for abortion providers, who had challenged new requirements that abortion doctors must have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their clinic and that all abortions must take place in surgical centers, rather than allowing women to take abortion drugs at home (Eilperin, 10/28).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: After Judge’s Ruling To Throw Out New Law, Texas Abortion Clinics Set To Resume Appointments
The only abortion clinic in a 300-mile swath of West Texas can resume taking appointments Tuesday, after a federal judge struck down new restrictions that would have effectively shuttered it and at least a dozen other clinics across the state. Lubbock’s Planned Parenthood Women’s Health Center had stopped making appointments last week, bracing for this week’s scheduled enforcement of a new requirement that all doctors performing abortions in the state must have admitting privileges at a hospital less than 30 miles away (10/29).

The Wall Street Journal: Abortion Law Partly Blocked
The case concerning the new law, which was scheduled to take effect Tuesday, will now head to federal appeals court. A group of abortion-rights groups filed suit last month claiming the admitting-privileges requirement would unconstitutionally infringe on women's abortion rights, forcing many of the state's licensed abortion providers to stop performing the procedure. Similar lawsuits challenging admitting-privileges requirements have been filed in Alabama, Mississippi, North Dakota and Wisconsin (Koppel, 10/28).

Politico: Judge Blocks Texas Abortion Restrictions
A federal district court has ruled that one abortion restriction passed by the Texas state Legislature over the summer is unconstitutional and has partially blocked another. District Judge Lee Yeakel has blocked the state from enforcing a requirement that abortion-providing doctors obtain admitting privileges at local hospitals — a restriction that would have ended abortion services at one-third of the health centers currently providing them. He also blocked restrictions on the use of medication abortion. Both restrictions would have gone into effect on Tuesday (Villacorta, 10/29).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: State Of Alabama, Catholic Media Group Sue Over Health Care Law
The state of Alabama and a Roman Catholic broadcasting network based near Birmingham are again suing over the nation’s new health care law. Attorney General Luther Strange and Eternal Word Television Network filed suit Monday in federal court (10/28).  

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