First Edition: March 28, 2014

Today's headlines include the latest health insurance enrollment figures from the White House as well as news on the Medicare 'doc fix' from Capitol Hill.  

Kaiser Health News: Health On The Hill: Permanent 'Doc Fix' May Be On Hold As House Passes Short-Term Patch
In a voice vote Thursday, the House passed yet another short-term patch to the Medicare physician payment formula. Kaiser Health News staff writer Mary Agnes Carey and CQ Roll Call's Emily Ethridge discuss what that means for the effort to make long-term changes to how providers are paid (3/27). Listen to the audio or read the transcript.

Kaiser Health News: A Reader Asks: How Do I Get A Subsidy If I'm Hiding From My Abusive Spouse?
Kaiser Health News consumer columnist Michelle Andrews answers this reader’s question (3/28). Read her response.

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Obama Announces 6 Million Have Signed Up For Insurance
Now on Kaiser Health News’ blog, Mary Agnes Carey reports: "President Barack Obama, who is traveling in Europe, announced the number in a conference call with groups that are helping consumers sign up for coverage. In a blog post, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Administrator Marilyn Tavenner said the health law’s web site, healthcare.gov, and 800 number, had near record traffic Wednesday, with 1.5 million visitors and more than 430,000 phone calls" (Carey, 3/27). Check out what else is on the blog

Kaiser Health News: Cartoon: Dear President Obama By Mark Martin
In this Kaiser Health News cartoon, Mark Martin tells his health insurance story (3/28). Take a look at the cartoon

The Associated Press: Poll: Obama Health Law Fails To Gain Support
Public support for President Barack Obama’s health care law is languishing at its lowest level since passage of the landmark legislation four years ago, according to a new poll. The Associated Press-GfK survey finds that 26 percent of Americans support the Affordable Care Act. Yet even fewer — 13 percent — think it will be completely repealed. A narrow majority expects the law to be further implemented with minor changes, or as passed (3/28).

The New York Times: White House Says Health Care Rolls Top Goal: 6 Million
The White House said on Thursday that more than six million people had signed up for medical insurance plans under President Obama’s health care law, exceeding the administration’s revised goal for enrollment by the Monday deadline. Demand for new policies has surged in recent days as the open enrollment period draws to a close, the White House said, with 1.5 million visits to HealthCare.gov and 430,000 calls to the program’s call centers on Wednesday alone. The enrollment figure is up from five million a week ago (Joachim, 3/27).

The Wall Street Journal: Health-Law Sign-Ups Top Six Million, White House Says
But left unclear was how many of those signing up had been uninsured—a key aim of the law—and whether they include many of the young and mostly healthy Americans needed to keep costs in check, and whether those signing up have actually paid premiums to bring the insurance coverage into effect (Radnofsky and McCain Nelson, 3/27).

Los Angeles Times: More Than 6 Million People Have Signed Up For Obamacare
That number, though shy of the 7 million sign-ups the administration had once hoped for, marks a significant milestone because 6 million was the projection for this year's enrollment made last month by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. The figure also further underscores the strong recovery that the marketplaces have made since their disastrous debut last fall, potentially quieting concerns that the new system would fail to get a large-enough pool of consumers to work as planned (Hennessey and Levey, 3/27).

The Washington Post: Obamacare Sign-Ups Now Exceed 6 Million
The administration originally expected 7 million to buy health plans during the law’s initial six-month enrollment period but revised its target to 6 million after the disastrous rollout of HealthCare.gov, the federal Web site (Eilperin, 3/27).

USA Today: HHS Hits 6 Million Health Care Enrollment Mark
But until the government releases demographics, numbers of those who have paid their premiums, and numbers of those newly insured, the number "enrolled" won't tell a complete story, said Brendan Buck, press secretary for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. "They won't say how many have paid, so the number is likely significantly lower," Buck said. "And every survey has shown most people who've signed up already had coverage, so they're not actually newly insured" (Kennedy, 3/27).

Politico: Obamacare Enrollments: White House Says 6 Million Signed Up For Coverage
With outreach by both officials and their allies in high gear, the White House can expect the tally to keep climbing — especially as it announced this week that it would allow extra time and assistance for anyone who self-reported hitting a snag as they tried to sign up by Monday (Epstein and Kenen, 3/28).

Politico: The Obamacare Report Card
If you’re a supporter of the law, you might be cringing right now — you know the areas where the grade is not going to be good. It’s pretty obvious that the Obama administration wasn’t ready for the launch, despite three and a half years to prepare. The political messaging hasn’t impressed anyone; Democrats are scampering away from what was supposed to be a legacy achievement. No one’s going to forget that notion that everyone could keep their plans. But the critics will have to round out their picture of the law, too. The signups have now hit 6 million — a feat that seemed impossible in the worst days of the website failures — and the administration’s outreach efforts are better than they used to be. And although there are lots of complaints about the prices, some low-income customers seem to be genuinely happy with the rates and subsidies they’re getting (Nather, 3/28).

Los Angeles Times: Covered California Q & A: Is Monday Still The Deadline To Enroll? 
Many Californians are confused by Obamacare, and news this week about changing enrollment deadlines may be giving people an even bigger headache. Here are some answers to common questions as the final days tick down for enrollment under the Affordable Care Act (Terhune, 3/27).

The Wall Street Journal: In New Jersey, A Dash To The Health-Care Deadline
Gov. Chris Christie has made no secret of his disdain for the Affordable Care Act, calling it a "failed federal program" and receiving sustained applause after criticizing it at several town-hall events across New Jersey. Yet in the final days of Affordable Care Act enrollment, a band of liberal activists, community groups and Democratic politicians is trying to prove him wrong, finishing a six-month crusade to drive citizens to the marketplace. They have enlisted U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who spoke behind an army of volunteers in Montclair, and Democratic Sen. Cory Booker, who lobbied the Latino community in Union City (Dawsey, 3/27).

The Wall Street Journal’s Washington Wire: Oregon Extends Deadline For Buying Health Insurance
The website, which opened for enrollment in October, hasn’t been fully functioning. Although residents can apply online, the application must be processed manually by state workers. Still, more than 50,000 people have been enrolled in a private insurance plan in Oregon and almost 123,000 people have been enrolled in the state’s Medicaid system (Corbett Dooren, 3/27).

The Wall Street Journal: Talk Turns To Penalties As Obamacare Deadline Nears
The agency in charge of the health-law enrollment effort has learned to love the individual mandate as a way of getting consumers to sign up for health insurance. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Service (CMS) sent a nudging email Wednesday to users of HealthCare.gov who have applied for coverage but haven’t yet picked a plan. The message: Hurry up (Radnofsky, 3/27).

The New York Times: Deadline Near, Health Signups Show Disparity
The disparities reveal a stark truth about the Affordable Care Act: With the first open enrollment period set to end Monday, six months after its troubled online exchanges opened for business, the program widely known as Obamacare looks less like a sweeping federal overhaul than a collection of individual ventures playing out unevenly, state to state, in the laboratories of democracy (Stolberg and Pear, 3/27).

NPR: Obamacare's National Enrollment Looks OK, But States Matter More
With this year's deadline to register for individual health insurance just a weekend away, much attention is being lavished on two numbers — the 6 million Americans who have signed up so far, and the percentage of those folks who are (or aren't) young. But experts say the national numbers actually don't mean very much (Rovner, 3/28).

The Associated Press: Gay Couples Find Uneven Access To Health Insurance
Nearly every day for three months, Carl Bechdel had to make calls or send emails to try to get family insurance coverage for his husband and himself under President Barack Obama’s landmark health law. The Harrisburg, Pa., couple had sent an insurer their application and a month’s premium in early December but heard nothing. Weeks later, they were told their application was not processed because Pennsylvania doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage. So Bechdel pushed back, repeatedly explaining their predicament in phone calls and emails. Finally, they got a call and apology from the president of the insurance company last month, plus a family plan that started in March (3/27).

USA Today: Hospitals Chart Ways To Boost Care, Funding Under ACA
Hospitals are getting creative when it comes to meeting tough new mandates in the Affordable Care Act to improve care and increase patient satisfaction — and they're getting paid more as a result (McElhaney, 3/27).

The Washington Post: In Voice Vote, House Approves Medicare ‘Doc Fix’
The House quickly approved another so-called "doc fix" bill early Thursday afternoon that serves as a temporary solution to an ongoing structural problem in the formula used to determine Medicare funding levels. After hours of uncertainty over whether the bill have sufficient support to pass, House Republican leaders moved quickly to approve the measure by voice vote. The bill, which is also expected to be taken up and passed by the Senate later Thursday, prevents a 24 percent cut in reimbursements to physicians under Medicare (Lowery, 3/27).

The Wall Street Journal: House Passes 12-Month Bill To Prevent Doctor Payment Cuts
The so-called "doc fix" bill is designed to avert for one year a 24% pay cut to physicians treating elderly patients through the federal Medicare program, marking the 17th time lawmakers have sought to prevent the cuts with a short-term measure. Lawmakers last month had reached a bipartisan deal to increase the amount Medicare pays physicians by 0.5% annually for the next five years, but couldn't agree on whether or how to pay for its cost. Facing Monday's expiration of the previous patch, House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) this week brokered the 12-month deal to ensure that the cuts didn't go into effect (Peterson, 3/27).

The Associated Press: House Approves Bill To Stop Cut To Medicare Docs
Legislation to give doctors a yearlong reprieve from a looming 24 percent cut in their payments from Medicare overcame turbulence in the House on Thursday and appears on track to clear the Senate next week, possibly just hours before a Monday midnight deadline (3/27).

The New York Times: Jobs And Health Bills Make For Busy Day At Capitol
The unemployment bill, however, was one among many of Mr. Boehner’s concerns as he and Republican leaders found themselves backed into a corner after it appeared that legislation they favored that would prevent a 24 percent cut in Medicare payments to doctors almost failed with an April 1 deadline looming. The bill, known as the “doc fix,” ran into trouble after members of both parties objected to its temporary nature, as many prefer a permanent fix. … To avoid major disruption in hospitals and doctors’ offices next week, Mr. Boehner and leaders from both parties agreed to muscle the measure through. … The drama in the House was just one episode in an unusually eventful day on Capitol Hill. … The day began with a coalition of Democratic senators announcing their call for significant changes to President Obama’s health care law, an issue that is weighing on almost every Democrat up for re-election this year (Peters, 3/27).

The Associated Press: 5 Senate Dems Back Easing Small Business Mandate
Several Senate Democrats want to eliminate a requirement in the health care law for companies to provide coverage if they have fewer than 100 workers. The current cutoff is 50 employees, although the Obama administration has suspended the so-called small business mandate temporarily. The legislation would mean an estimated 98 percent of businesses could decline to provide insurance without fear of a penalty (3/27).

The Washington Post’s Wonkblog: ICD-10 Might Be Delayed Again. How Will We Know When Squirrels Attack? 
Just last month, the Obama administration said it wouldn’t again delay the scheduled shift to a new comprehensive system for coding and diseases, known as ICD-10. “There are no more delays and the system will go live on Oct. 1,” Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Marilyn Tavenner told a conference of health information management professionals. “Let’s face it, guys, we’ve delayed this several times and it’s time to move on” (Millman, 3/27).

The Texas Tribune/New York Times: Settlement in Medicaid Fraud Case Worries Health Providers
A major legal settlement with a children’s health provider in hand, a Texas agency investigating health care fraud says its ramped-up efforts to rein in faulty Medicaid charges have started to pay off (Aaronson, 3/27).

Los Angeles Times: Top L.A. County Public Health Official Announces He’s Retiring
The head of Los Angeles County's public health department has announced his intention to retire. In a letter sent to department employees Thursday, department director Jonathan Fielding wrote, "After considerable thought, I have decided to leave County service when a successor, whom I understand will be identified through a nationwide executive search, is ready to assume the post" (Sewell, 3/27).

The Associated Press: Court Hands Setback To Texas Abortion Law Critics
Dr. Lester Minto knows he won’t be able to reopen his clinic after a federal appeals court upheld tough new abortion restrictions in Texas. But he insists he won’t be silenced. Minto has been providing abortions for three decades, but he closed his clinic near the Mexico border earlier this month because of a law that imposes some of the nation’s strictest limitations on the procedure. The law, which was overwhelmingly approved last summer by the Republican-controlled Texas Legislature, has helped force numerous clinics to close (3/28).

The Wall Street Journal: Appeals Court Upholds Texas Abortion Rules
A federal appeals court in New Orleans upheld a Texas law restricting abortion clinics on Thursday, a ruling that could lead to a Supreme Court review of how far states can go in regulating the procedure (Bravin, 3/27). 

The Washington Post: Study: Mental Health Reform That Could Have Aided Deeds’s Son Not In Place For 2 Years
The inaction on the reforms suggested in 2012, the report says, contributed to the failure to get help for the 24-year-old. But most of those changes — as well as several others aimed at providing a better safety net — were implemented by the General Assembly in the wake of the young man’s death (Weiner, 3/27). 

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