Obama Administration Tightens Health Plan Standards For 2015

The New York Times: White House Tightens Health Plan’s Standards After Consumers Complain
The Obama administration issued stringent new standards on Friday for health insurance to address a flood of complaints from consumers who said that costs were too high and that the choice of doctors, hospitals and prescription drugs was too limited in many health plans offered this year under the Affordable Care Act. In deciding which products can be sold in the federal marketplace next year, officials said, they will scrutinize health plans more closely and rely less on evaluations by state insurance regulators and private groups that accredit health plans. ... Officials issued the new standards, buried in a stack of documents, at 7:15 p.m. on Friday even as President Obama was stepping up efforts to increase enrollment in health plans this year (Pear, 3/14).

The Washington Post: White House Orders Broader Obamacare Health Plans In 2015
The Obama administration is requiring health plans in Obamacare insurance marketplaces to include a more robust offering of care providers in 2015 after some early backlash over limited networks in the health care law's first year. Health plans selling on the federal marketplaces in 2015 must include 30 percent of area "essential community providers," which are usually health centers and other hospitals serving mostly low-income patients. That's up from a 20 percent requirement in 2014, the first year of expanded overage under the health care law (Millman, 3/14).

The Wall Street Journal: Health Site Plans Deadline Leeway
Federal officials are planning a workaround that would effectively extend the March 31 deadline to enroll for health-care coverage for some users if technical glitches hamper a last-minute surge of signups on HealthCare.gov, people familiar with the matter say. ... Under the workaround plan, people who can demonstrate that they tried to enroll in a plan before the deadline, but failed because of website troubles, would be able to sign up after March 31. Details are still being hammered out including how long the so-called special-enrollment period would last and what documentation people might need to offer as proof they were blocked by glitches, say people familiar with the matter (Weaver, Ante and Radnofsky, 3/14).

Meanwhile, President Barack Obama defends the marketplace efforts so far.

Politico: Obama: Health Care Law Has Enough Customers To Work
Obamacare may not be beloved, but President Barack Obama says it’s got enough customers to survive. In a sit-down interview with WebMD posted Friday, the president dismissed any concern that people resisting the law could somehow keep it from functioning. ... During the wide-ranging interview with WebMD’s Lisa Zamosky, Obama also called out governors and state lawmakers who have resisted the health care law’s massive expansion of Medicaid — a decision he said was based purely on politics. "This is a source of great frustration for me," he said. "We don't have the ability at the federal level to pressure those states to do what they should be doing" (Cheney, 3/14).

And in other health policy changes announced Friday -

Kaiser Health News: HHS Says Insurers’ Coverage For Same-Sex Spouses Must Match Other Married Couples
Insurers can’t offer health coverage to a spouse in a traditional marriage if they don’t also make the same coverage available to spouses in same-sex marriages, the federal government announced Friday. ... The change means that same-sex married couples who have been unable to buy family policies will be able to do so. The guidance, presented in an FAQ format from the Department of Health and Human Services, applies to health plans in the group and individual markets that were not in operation before the health law and grandfathered in the federal health law. ... Same-sex couples who were married in any of the 17 states and the District of Columbia that authorize same-sex marriage are entitled to equal access to spousal coverage, no matter where they currently live or where the policy is offered (Andrews, 3/14).

Kaiser Health News: Federal High Risk Pools Extended For A Month
Participants in the federal high-risk pool created in the health law will have another month to find coverage, the Obama administration announced Friday. In a notice posted on the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan website, officials announced that program enrollees who have not yet purchased coverage through the health law’s online marketplaces, or exchanges, could keep their current coverage until April 30 while they continue their search. But they must enroll in a new plan by April 15 to avoid any gaps in coverage (Carey, 3/14).

The Washington Post: HHS Will Let Sickest Patients Stay On Their Health Plans Longer
The Obama administration is again extending a temporary Obamacare program insuring some of the sickest patients in the country amid concerns not enough people will find new coverage by the end of the month. People enrolled in the temporary Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan, which was set to expire March 31, can purchase an extra month of coverage, the Obama administration said this afternoon (Millman and Eilperin, 3/14). 

This is part of Kaiser Health News' Daily Report - a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. The full summary of the day's news can be found here and you can sign up for e-mail subscriptions to the Daily Report here. In addition, our staff of reporters and correspondents file original stories each day, which you can find on our home page.