Today's early morning highlights from the major news organizations, including reports on the least expensive health insurance markets and efforts to set up skimpier plans under the health law.
Kaiser Health News: The 10 Least Expensive Health Insurance Markets In The U.S.
Kaiser Health News staff writer, Jordan Rau, working in collaboration with NPR, reports: "People in much of Minnesota, northwestern Pennsylvania and Tucson, Ariz., are getting the best bargains from the health care law's new insurance marketplaces: premiums half the price or less than what insurers in the country's most expensive places are charging. The 10 regions with the lowest premiums in the nation also include Salt Lake City, all of Hawaii and eastern Tennessee. This ranking is based on the lowest cost of a "silver" plan, the mid-range plan most consumers are choosing" (Rau, 2/13). Read the story.
Kaiser Health News: A Reader Asks: If I Am On COBRA, Do I Have To Buy A New Marketplace Plan?
Kaiser Health News' consumer columnist Michelle Andrews answers this question. Read her response.
Kaiser Health News: Libraries Serve As Health Insurance Info Hubs
Reporting for Kaiser Health News, in partnership with NPR, WHYY Elana Gordon writes: "What can't librarians do? Many are now becoming health insurance guides. The buzz at the American Library Association's winter meeting recently wasn't just about the annual awards (a.k.a. the book award "super bowl"); the Affordable Care Act was also on the agenda. Libraries across the country have been trying to meet a growing demand for health insurance information" (Gordon, 2/14). Read the story.
Kaiser Health News: Capsules: It's Hot Springs Vs. Ski Slopes In Colorado Insurance Battle
The county with the highest health insurance premiums in the country is drafting a lawsuit against Colorado, saying the state's approval of the rates violates anti-discrimination protections in the Affordable Care Act. Garfield County Attorney Frank Hutfless says county commissioners told him "to prepare a lawsuit to be filed against the state, and particularly the department of insurance, the insurance commissioner and perhaps the governor (Whitney, 2/13). Check out what else is on the blog.
The Wall Street Journal: Health-Law Backers Push Skimpier 'Copper' Insurance Policies
Some backers of the 2010 health-care law are pushing to create a new kind of insurance coverage that the measure essentially had ruled out: policies offering lower premiums but significantly higher out-of-pocket costs than those now available. The plans, dubbed "copper" because they would offer a lower level of coverage than the "gold," "silver" and "bronze" options on the government-run health-care exchanges, would be a departure from the minimum level of coverage that is one of the Affordable Care Act's core principles (Radnofsky, 2/13).
The Wall Street Journal: Obama Pleads For Uninsured To Sign Up For Health Coverage
President Barack Obama said Thursday that the "big problem" with the health care law now is that many people haven't signed up for coverage because of politics, misinformation and the problem-plagued rollout of the federal insurance website. In an interview on the Steve Harvey Morning Show, a radio show popular with African Americans, Mr. Obama pleaded for people to "take a look at the website or have somebody walk you through it on the phone" (Favole, 2/13).
The New York Times: States Struggle To Add Latinos To Health Rolls
With an estimated 15 percent of the country's uninsured population, California is crucial to the success of President Obama's health care overhaul. Here, that success cannot come without enrolling Latinos, who make up more than half of the state's uninsured. But so far, enrollment of Latinos has fallen strikingly below the hopes of the law's proponents, accounting for 20 percent or fewer of those who had signed up on the state-run health insurance exchange by the end of December. Now, state officials are rushing to expand marketing efforts and hire additional Spanish-speaking staff, hoping to sharply increase that number by March 31, when open enrollment in the new insurance plans ends (Medina and Goodnough, 2/13).
The New York Times: One In 5 Buyers Of Insurance Under New Law Did Not Pay Premiums On Time
One in five people who signed up for health insurance under the new health care law failed to pay their premiums on time and therefore did not receive coverage in January, insurance companies and industry experts say. Paying the first month's premium is the final step in completing an enrollment. Under federal rules, people must pay the initial premium to have coverage take effect. In view of the chaotic debut of the federal marketplace and many state exchanges, the White House urged insurers to give people more time, and many agreed to do so. But, insurers said, some people missed even the extended deadlines (Pear, 2/13).
USA Today: Help For Some - But Not All - Stymied Insurance Shoppers
Many consumers who have waited months to resolve insurance application issues on HealthCare.gov are finally getting help, but some are still stuck in limbo without Medicaid or insurance coverage, and many of the site's most vexing problems remain, according to insurers, brokers and state Medicaid officials. Applications that take days, clueless customer service representatives and error-ridden or orphan files persist. Changes made to the website last week will solve many of these problems, but the fixes were made so quietly that few brokers and consumers were aware of them, says Jessica Waltman, senior vice president of government affairs for the National Association of Health Underwriters, which represents insurance agents and brokers (O'Donnell, 2/13).
Politico: Republicans Press Obama On Medicare Insurance Cuts
House Republicans are blaming President Barack Obama for upcoming cuts to a popular Medicare insurance plan in an effort to open a new front in their battle against Obamacare. Top Republicans wrote to Obama on Thursday "to express deep concern about the impact of the cuts imposed by your health care law on the Medicare Advantage (MA) program and the recent action by CMS to fundamentally dismantle the Medicare prescription drug program." "These cuts, in addition to proposed rules issued by CMS, will force millions of American seniors to face higher health care costs or lose access to their doctor, health plan, lifesaving drugs, and the benefits they've come to rely on," the letter reads (Sherman and Haberkorn, 2/13).
The Washington Post: Republican Congressmen Request A Federal Probe Of Md. Health Insurance Exchange
Two Republican congressmen have called for an investigation of the tens of millions of federal dollars that Maryland spent to build an online health exchange that state officials say has so many defects that they might have to abandon parts, or even all, of it. Reps. Andy Harris (Md.) and Jack Kingston (Ga.) sent a letter Wednesday to the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services and asked for an immediate "formal investigation into the flagrant waste and abuse of taxpayer monies." The inquiry would focus on how federal money was spent, how contractors were hired, who provided oversight and whether the federal government can recoup any of its money (Johnson, 2/13).
The Associated Press: Congressman Calls For Cover Oregon Investigation
U.S. Rep. Greg Walden and three congressional colleagues -; all fellow Republicans-; on Thursday requested a federal investigation of Oregon's troubled health insurance exchange, which has been unable to sign up a single person through its online portal because of technical problems that were known months before it was supposed to launch (Barnard, 2/13).
The New York Times: As Health Care Shifts, U.S. Doctors Switch To Salaried Jobs
American physicians, worried about changes in the health care market, are streaming into salaried jobs with hospitals. Though the shift from private practice has been most pronounced in primary care, specialists are following. Last year, 64 percent of job offers filled through Merritt Hawkins, one of the nation's leading physician placement firms, involved hospital employment, compared with only 11 percent in 2004. The firm anticipates a rise to 75 percent in the next two years (Rosenthal, 2/13).
The New York Times: Federal Agency And New York State Are In Accord Over $8 Billion Medicaid Waiver
The Obama administration has agreed "in principle" to grant an $8 billion Medicaid adjustment for New York State that could help stabilize some hospitals in Brooklyn and would reconfigure the delivery of health care there and throughout the state, state officials said on Thursday (Hartocollis, 2/13).
The Wall Street Journal: New York State's Health System Set For $8 Billion Infusion
New York state is poised to receive a long-awaited infusion of $8 billion in federal money that could be used to make lasting changes to an outdated medical system and potentially save some cash-strapped Brooklyn hospitals. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the state has reached an agreement in principle with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that would "transform the state's health care system and preserve vital health services in Brooklyn and other parts of the state including struggling hospitals" (Kusisto, 2/13).
This article was reprinted from kaiserhealthnews.org with permission from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent news service, is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health care policy research organization unaffiliated with Kaiser Permanente.