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First Edition: August 8, 2013

Today’s headlines include reports about the proposed rule released Wednesday by the Obama administration allowing the government to continue to pay for a significant portion of health insurance for lawmakers and Hill staffers.

Kaiser Health News: Health Insurers Tune In To Twitter For Customer Service
Kaiser Health News staff writer Ankita Rao reports: “The @aetnahelp Twitter feed is an example of how insurance companies are increasing their social media presence in an effort to amp up their customer service and capitalize on a platform that can serve to mediate, inform and advertise. The accounts also help companies manage their brands and do quick damage control on complaints aired in this public sphere. The accounts, which include @askanthem, @cignaquestions and several accounts for various Blue Cross Blue Shield companies around the country, are often separate from larger company accounts that focus on marketing and sharing relevant health care news” (Rao, 8/8). Read the story.

Los Angeles Times: Latinos Are Focus Of Grass-Roots Outreach On Affordable Care Act
Standing just inside a busy Baldwin Park supermarket that caters to Latinos, Moises Herreros smiles as he flags down shoppers. “Do you have insurance? Do you have any questions about Obamacare?” Many stop to chat in Spanish. They’ve heard of the health law but don’t know how it works. In a state where Latinos make up 60% of those without medical insurance, that lack of awareness is a pivotal challenge facing health officials charged with rapidly educating millions of residents and enrolling them in coverage (Gorman, 8/7).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Small Businesses Consider Cutting Family Insurance Coverage When Health Care Law Takes Effect
One casualty of the new health care law may be paid coverage for families of people who work for small businesses. Insurance companies have already warned small business customers that premiums could rise 20 percent or more in 2014 under the Affordable Care Act. That’s making some owners consider not paying for coverage for workers’ families, even though insurance is a benefit that helps companies attract and retain top talent. If more small business owners decide to stop paying for family coverage, it will accelerate a trend that started as the cost of health insurance soared in recent years (8/7).

NPR: Obamacare Foes Make Final Push To Stop Health Law’s Implementation
Probably the most aggressive effort is coming from FreedomWorks, a conservative advocacy group. It’s urging people, particularly young people, not to sign up for health insurance. “They can skip the exchange, pay the fine, and in doing that, do what’s best for them financially, and we hope help hasten the collapse of Obamacare,” said Dean Clancy, the group’s Vice President for Policy (Rovner, 8/8).

Politico: Grover Norquist, Coalition Want Obamacare Delay
Members of the Obamacare Repeal Coalition — including Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist — sent a letter appealing to congressional Republican leaders to demand a one-year delay on all 2014 provisions of the Affordable Care Act, as a bare minimum to a final deal (Edwards, 8/8).

The New York Times: Higher Costs Seen For Some In Congress On Health Plans
Older members of Congress and those who smoke, like Speaker John A. Boehner, could be facing much higher health insurance premiums under a new official interpretation of President Obama’s health care law. The administration said Wednesday that the government would continue contributing to the cost of health benefits for lawmakers and thousands of Congressional employees, but that they would have to buy coverage as individuals through new state-based markets known as insurance exchanges (Pear, 8/7).

Politico: Feds Clarify Hill Health Coverage Under ACA
The Obama administration on Wednesday issued a proposed rule allowing the government to continue to pay for a significant portion of health insurance for lawmakers and Hill staffers. The regulation begins to finalize a policy solution released last week in response to a growing controversy over how Hill staffers will get their health insurance in 2014. The health law essentially requires them to get insurance on the exchanges but does not provide a clear pathway for the government to continue to pay for part of their premiums. The Obama administration and congressional leaders want to preserve the payments to ensure staffers don’t leave the Hill in droves in response to the new costs (Haberkorn and Millman, 8/7).

NPR: Fix Is In For Congressional Obamacare Glitch
Finally, the federal HR department has released the health rule much of Capitol Hill has been waiting for. There’s now an explanation from the Office of Personnel Management on how members of Congress and much of their staff will get their health insurance starting next year (Rovner, 8/7).

The Wall Street Journal’s Washington Wire: New Rules for Lawmakers, Staffs To Buy Health Insurance
The Obama administration released new details of how it plans to implement a controversial and complicated provision of the health law that requires members of Congress and their staffs to get health insurance through new exchanges rather than through the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. Democrats said last week they had found a way to make sure the federal government pays up to 75% of the insurance premiums for members, their staffs and families obtained through the exchanges (Radnofsky, 8/7).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Prognosis Uncertain For Obama Plan To Fix Health Law Glitch That Impacts Coverage For Congress
It started out a political “gotcha” — an amendment to President Barack Obama’s health care law requiring members of Congress and staffers to get the same coverage offered to uninsured Americans. Wednesday, the administration tossed it back in the lap of Congress. Proposed rules — issued when the halls of Congress are empty for summer recess — say lawmakers’ offices should individually decide whether staffers are subject to a health law provision that would require them to switch their insurance from the federal plan to new coverage coming next year under Obama’s overhaul (8/7).

Los Angeles Times: California Exchange Signs Up 12 Insurers, Loses Ventura County Plan
California signed contracts with 12 health insurers for its new state-run marketplace, but the Ventura County Health Care Plan unexpectedly dropped out. Covered California, which is implementing the federal healthcare law in the state, said it supported Ventura County’s decision to opt out next year and that it welcomes a subsequent bid for 2015 (Terhune, 8/7).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Maryland Opens Call Center To Provide Information About Health Care
The center opened in Baltimore on Wednesday. It will include bilingual staff to help residents and small employers with health coverage options. It also will have staff available to help explain financial assistance options (8/7).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Health Care Overhaul, Competition Push Drugstores to Stretch Well Beyond Filling Prescriptions
At some Walgreen stores, there are health clinics staffed by nurse practitioners, cafes that sell barista-prepared coffee and Eyebrow Bars where trained professionals groom unruly facial hair. Oh, and pharmacists fill prescriptions, too (8/7).

The Wall Street Journal: Rx To Avoid Health-Law Fines
Facing rising penalties under the health-care law for high readmission rates, some hospitals are turning to tech entrepreneurs like Chris Corio of San Francisco for help. Mr. Corio’s four-year-old startup sells technology that assists patients in completing the recovery process after getting discharged. Health-care experts say one of the leading causes for readmissions is failure by patients to follow doctor’s orders once they leave a hospital (Needleman, 8/7).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Insurer WellCare’s 2nd Quarter Profits Edged Up 1 Percent, Boosts 2013 Earnings Forecast
WellCare Health Plans’ second-quarter earnings inched up 1 percent, as a jump in medical benefits and other expenses countered a revenue spike for the Medicaid and Medicare coverage provider. The Tampa, Fla., company topped Wall Street expectations for the quarter and also raised its 2013 earnings forecast. Its shares rose almost 8 percent in trading Wednesday (8/7).

The Wall Street Journal: Budget Chaos To Test White House’s Envoy
Mr. McDonough, a 43-year-old former Obama campaign aide with a background as a foreign-policy expert, is an unlikely person to bridge the division over the budget. He has quietly built a career assisting various elected officials and candidates, unlike predecessors Rahm Emanuel, Bill Daley and Jacob Lew, who were peers and colleagues of many of the people Mr. McDonough is facing at the negotiating table. Mr. McDonough must now persuade Republicans that he isn’t simply an Obama loyalist, but a fair broker intent on surmounting differences. Those differences remain vast, including whether to raise tax revenue again or tackle persistent problems such as the cost of Medicare. House Republicans have said they would demand spending cuts in return for raising the debt ceiling, while the president has said he won’t negotiate over something as serious as paying the nation’s bills (Nicholas, 8/7).

USA Today: Experts Debate Coverage Of Scans For Alzheimer’s
The federal government will decide in early fall whether to pay for brain scans in people with suspected Alzheimer’s disease. The PET scans, which cost about $3,000-$5,000 apiece, have proved useful for research, and neurologists are eager to have access to them, but a recent government review raised questions about their effectiveness at detecting dementia (Weintraub, 8/7).

The New York Times: Judge Raises Prospect Of Criminal Charges In Hospital Case
Justice Johnny L. Baynes in Brooklyn, who has issued three temporary restraining orders in the case since March, all forbidding SUNY to take steps to close the hospital, asked a lawyer representing Bill de Blasio, the public advocate and a Democratic candidate for mayor, whether he had reported allegations of criminal interference with emergency room services to the Brooklyn district attorney. Murmurs of approval rose from the room, packed with longtime patients, doctors, nurses and residents of northern Brooklyn where the fate of the 150-year-old hospital has become a rallying cry (Bernstein, 8/7). 

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