First Edition: December 23, 2013

Published on December 23, 2013 at 8:27 AM · No Comments

The early morning highlights from the major news organizations examine today's deadline for enrolling for health insurance that would begin Jan. 1, as well as a variety of other health law stories and several articles on mental health issues:

Kaiser Health News: Young Invincibles' Decision: To Get Coverage Or Not
Kaiser Health News' staff writer Jay Hancock, working in collaboration with USA Today, reports: "The success of the Affordable Care Act's online marketplaces may depend on people like [26-year-old] Lizzie Bunnen. If healthy adults her age don't sign up, the risk is that predominantly older and sicker members will drive up costs and threaten the portals' future. With the Dec. 23 deadline approaching for January coverage, and at the end of March for all 2014 enrollment, the clock is ticking on what many believe is one of the health law's biggest challenges. As a result, ACA backers have stepped up efforts to persuade Bunnen and others aged 18 to their mid-30s to give Obamacare a second chance on newly improved websites such as" (Hancock, 12/20). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: Health Insurers Scramble Toward Jan. 1 Coverage Deadlines
Kaiser Health News staff writers Jay Hancock and Julie Appleby report: "Insurance companies selling through the health law's troubled online marketplaces are scrambling to provide coverage by Jan. 1 even as swarms of customers are still enrolling and making their first payments. ... Medical plans, with potentially billions in revenue at stake in the health law's expansion of private coverage, have hired extra workers to run phone banks and tangle with paper applications that were supposed to be processed online. They've assigned staff to pore through electronic enrollments that might be inaccurate or incomplete, or to remind customers to pay" (Hancock and Appleby, 12/20). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: Even In Well-Funded Colorado, Tough To Help People Enroll In Obamacare
Eric Whitney, writing for Kaiser Health News in collaboration with NPR, reports: "There are navigators working at 57 assistance organizations across Colorado – everyone from county health departments to local clinics to the state trucking association. Neighboring states Nebraska and Arizona aren't embracing the health care law like Colorado is. They have just two navigator organizations each and about $2 per uninsured person to spend on assisters. Colorado has almost $24 per person. But all the effort had netted about 23,000 customers for private insurance in the state's marketplace as of Dec. 14 – only about 17 percent of the way to the state's goal of enrolling 136,000 people by the end of March" (Whitney, 12/23). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Catastrophic Obamacare Policies Prove Hard Sell So Far; Explaining Obama's Move To Allow Some 'Catastrophic' Health Coverage Plans
Now on Kaiser Health News' blog, Phil Galewitz examines catastrophic insurance policies: "The Obama administration's decision this week to allow people to buy catastrophic-level policies if their individual health plans had been canceled comes amid reports that few people have bought these less expensive policies sold in new online insurance marketplaces" (Galewitz, 12/20).

Also on the blog, KHN's Mary Agnes Carey was on PBS NewsHour Friday to talk about the Obama administration's plan to allow people who had their health insurance plans canceled to buy so-called "catastrophic" plans, which that are cheaper than ordinary plans but provide less coverage than others being sold under the Affordable Care Act. Watch the video. (Carey, 12/23). Check out what else is on the blog.

The New York Times: Mixed Messages Add Anxiety As Deadline Nears In Health Act
For most Americans, Monday is the deadline to sign up for health insurance that takes effect on Jan. 1. It was supposed to be a turning point in the troubled history of the new health care law, the moment when the spotlight would shift from the federal government's online marketplace to the insurance companies providing coverage to hundreds of thousands and eventually millions of people. But as the date approaches, a series of decisions by the Obama administration to delay some of the law's most important provisions and to extend some deadlines has caused uncertainty among insurers and confusion among consumers (Pear, 12/21).

The Wall Street Journal: Rule Change On Health Insurance Rattles Industry
Monday is the final day for consumers to get new health coverage that takes effect when the new year arrives, leaving thousands of people racing to sign up in time-;and health insurers trying to figure out whether the federal health law will work in the way they had hoped. The number of Americans enrolling continues to fall short of the goals the Obama administration has laid out, which is a problem for the White House. It also represents a problem for the insurance industry, which calculated that the prospect of millions of new customers brought their way by the Affordable Care Act and its coverage requirements would make up for any disruption that came along with the law (Williamson and Radnofsky, 12/22).

USA Today: Monday Marks Key Health Care Deadline
Monday marks the last day to sign up through the federal and state health exchanges to have insurance coverage beginning Jan. 1. And while government officials said the federal site,, can handle a last-minute rush of consumers, there's still fear that the word may not be getting out to the people who most need to enroll (Kennedy, 12/22).

Politico: Countdown For Obamacare Signups
The White House has been on a December dash to get people to sign up for health coverage by Monday, the first critical enrollment deadline for Obamacare -; and the last sign-up opportunity for people who want their new health benefits to kick in on New Year's Day. The White House spent the past three weeks trying to move past the double-barreled disaster of the botched website and the millions of canceled health plans. The website now works, although not perfectly. Many of the people who received cancellation notices have found alternatives, though some are still scrambling to get health coverage by Monday (Cheney and Villacorta, 12/22).

Politico: Mandate Change Adds To Obamacare Confusion
If your health insurance was canceled, you don't have to rush out and buy it right now. But if you don't have insurance, you still have to buy it or face a fine. And if you can't keep what some advocates have derided as a "junk plan," you can get another kind of slimmed-down plan -; for a while. Confused? You're not alone (Haberkorn and Millman, 12/20).

The New York Times: New Health Law Frustrates Many In Middle Class
Ginger Chapman and her husband, Doug, are sitting on the health care cliff. The cheapest insurance plan they can find through the new federal marketplace in New Hampshire will cost their family of four about $1,000 a month, 12 percent of their annual income. ... Even more striking, for the Chapmans, is this fact: If they made just a few thousand dollars less a year -; below $94,200 -; their costs would be cut in half, because a family like theirs could qualify for federal subsidies. ... An analysis by The New York Times shows the cost of premiums for people who just miss qualifying for subsidies varies widely across the country and rises rapidly for people in their 50s and 60s. In some places, prices can quickly approach 20 percent of a person's income (Thomas, Abelson and McGinty, 12/20).

The Washington Post: Federal Officials Seek More Time For People To Enroll In Health Care
President Obama expressed confidence Friday that "a couple million" Americans will have new health coverage as of New Year's Day. But behind the scenes, federal health officials have been pressing the insurance industry to give people more time to sign up. According to insurance industry executives, federal officials have been asking health plans to provide insurance starting Jan. 1 even for customers who sign up after a looming deadline on Monday (Goldstein and Eilperin, 12/20),

The Associated Press: Health Plan Sticker Shock Ahead For Some Buyers
As a key enrollment deadline hits Monday, many people without health insurance have been sizing up policies on the new government health care marketplace and making what seems like a logical choice: They're picking the cheapest one. Increasingly, experts in health insurance are becoming concerned that many of these first-time buyers will be in for a shock when they get medical care next year and discover they're on the hook for most of the initial cost (Johnson, 12/22).

The Washington Post: Contract: Politics Not A Factor, But Neither Were Firm's Ties To Failed Projects
CGI Federal, the company responsible for building the problem-plagued Web site for the Affordable Care Act, won the job because of what federal officials deemed a "technically superior" proposal, according to government documents and people familiar with the decision. Not considered in the 2011 selection process was the history of numerous executives at CGI Federal, who had come from another company that had mishandled at least 20 other government ­information technology projects more than a decade ago (Markon and Crites, 12/22).

Los Angeles Times: Californians Rush To Get Health Insurance As Deadline Nears
Like shoppers racing to buy last-minute holiday gifts, thousands of Californians are going online -; or lining up in person -; to get Obamacare insurance ahead of next week's deadline to have coverage starting next month. And the surge in enrollment is putting pressure on the state's health exchange and insurance companies at a time when they were already struggling to keep pace with a flood of applications (Terhune, 12/20).

The Washington Post: District's Online Insurance Marketplace Also Hampered By Glitches, Consumers Say
On the eve of the Monday deadline for District residents to sign up for health insurance that takes effect Jan. 1, the city's new online insurance exchange has run into so many technical problems that its staff is combing through incomplete applications looking for people who were stymied from buying insurance and are now running out of time (Kunkle, 12/21).

The Associated Press: Even In Willing States, Health Law's Rollout Rocky
A bug-ridden website. Endless wait times on a toll-free helpline. Error-laden data sent to insurance companies. These are not problems burdening Republican-led states that had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the federal health insurance overhaul. These are recent complications in the rollout of MNsure, the state-based exchange in Minnesota, a place with a long tradition of activist government and generous social programs (Condon, 12/21).

Dallas Morning News: Obamacare Sign-Ups Picking Up Steam In Texas
After a slow start in Texas, insurance sign-up under the Affordable Care Act seems to be growing this month as an important deadline looms for those needing immediate coverage. "I sense that our numbers are picking up dramatically," Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said after a round of meetings with federal officials to review the troubled rollout of the new law. ... "Monday is the last day to sign up for coverage that starts on Jan. 1," said Louis Adams, a spokesman for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas. "But open enrollment continues through March 31." A deluge of calls in early December forced the insurance carrier to add 500 customer-assistance representatives to a phone bank covering five states, including Texas, according to its Facebook page (Jacobson, 12/22).

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