Kaiser Health News Original Stories

2. Political Cartoon: 'Data Dive'

Kaiser Health News provides a fresh take on health policy developments with "Political Cartoon: 'Data Dive'" by Ron Morgan.

Here's today's health policy haiku:

EBOLA NURSE FILES SUIT AGAINST N.J. GOVERNOR

Nurse was quarantined
at Newark airport -- now she's
suing Chris Christie.

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Health Law Issues And Implementation

3. GAO Finds Health Marketplaces Still Have Problems Validating Eligibility, Subsidies

The report says the problems have led to insurance subsidy payments to people who are also on Medicaid and leaves the operation vulnerable to fraud. In other health law news, an insurance co-operative in South Carolina is closing, The Associated Press looks at what's new as enrollment season grows near and California lays plans to draw more people into the market.

The New York Times: Investigation Finds Errors In Coverage And Payments Under Affordable Care Act
Federal investigators from the Government Accountability Office said Thursday that they had discovered many errors in eligibility decisions under the Affordable Care Act that had led the government to pay for duplicate coverage for some people and an excessive share of costs for others. The investigators said some people were receiving subsidies for private insurance at the same time they were enrolled in Medicaid. (Pear, 10/22)

NBC News: Obamacare Insurance Markets Still Vulnerable To Fraud, Experts Say
The Obamacare health insurance exchanges are still easily tricked by fraudulent applications, with fake Social Security numbers and bogus immigration details, more than a year after the weakness was first pointed out, officials say. A Government Accountability Office sting also found that many people were double-covered by private insurance and Medicaid after signing up on the exchanges, and that others were allowed to mistakenly go without coverage. (Fox, 10/22)

The Associated Press: Ninth Cooperative Formed Under Affordable Care Act Closing
A South Carolina health insurer has become the ninth insurance cooperative formed nationwide under the Affordable Care Act to fold. Consumers' Choice Health Insurance Co. said Thursday that it will not sell policies in 2016, a decision that will leave 67,000 individuals and business customers looking for new coverage. (Murphy and Smith, 10/22)

The Associated Press: Premiums Expected To Rise In Many Health Law Markets
Premiums are expected to rise in many parts of the country as a new sign-up season under President Barack Obama's health care law starts Nov. 1. But consumers have options if they're willing to shop, and an upgraded government website will help them compare. Online health insurance markets are entering their third year, offering people who don't have access to job-based coverage a taxpayer-subsidized private alternative. That's helped cut the share of Americans who are uninsured to about 9 percent, a historical low. Still, the many moving parts of the Affordable Care Act don't always click smoothly, and Americans remain divided about "Obamacare." (Alonso-Zaldivar, 10/22)

The Associated Press: California Eyes People Eligible For Health Care Subsidies
Heading into a third enrollment season with less fanfare and a more modest budget, California health exchange officials said Thursday they will strategically target about 750,000 uninsured people who qualify for health insurance subsidies but haven't signed up for coverage. The agency will spend $29 million on an advertising campaign aimed at lower-income and middle-class residents who don't know there's help available to pay for health insurance, Covered California Executive Director Lee said. That compares to a $43 million advertising budget last year and $55 million the first year. (Lin, 10/22)

The Sacramento Bee: Covered California Gears Up For 3rd Year Of Health Care Signups
Gearing up for a third year of health care sign-ups, Covered California officials announced Thursday they are doubling efforts to reach an estimated 2 million residents who are uninsured, primarily Latinos and African Americans. Those efforts include staffing 500 storefront locations, employing thousands of enrollment counselors, launching a $29 million advertising campaign and a statewide bus tour, starting Nov. 1 in East Los Angeles, all designed to encourage more Californians to come under the health care umbrella. (Buck, 10/22)

And on the subject of the health law's Medicaid expansion -

Utah Public Radio: Herbert: More Flexibility Would Solve Medicaid Crisis
Gov. Gary Herbert used his monthly press conference on Thursday to express his frustration concerning Medicaid expansion. UtahAccess+, the end product of a summer’s worth of negotiations between the state’s legislative and executive leaders, failed to clear a Republican caucus meeting last week. (Hall, 10/22)

4. Texas, Louisiana and Kansas Sue Obama Administration Over Health Law Fee

Attorneys general from the three states filed a lawsuit against the Department of Health and Human Services and the Internal Revenue Service, challenging the Health Insurance Providers Fee that helps pay for Obamacare.

The Hill: Texas Opens Up New ObamaCare Lawsuit
Three states are firing the latest volley in the court battles over ObamaCare with a new lawsuit filed Thursday over the law’s fee on health insurers. Texas, joined by Kansas and Louisiana, is suing the Obama administration over the alleged “unconstitutional Obamacare tax.” At issue is a fee that ObamaCare imposed on health insurers as a way to help pay for the law. (Sullivan, 10/22)

The Texas Tribune: Texas Files New Obamacare Suit Over Health Insurer Fee
In Texas' latest salvo against Obamacare, Attorney General Ken Paxton has filed suit over a fee states must help cover to pay for the sweeping federal health reform law. Texas joins Louisiana and Kansas in suing the Obama administration over the Health Insurance Providers Fee, which Paxton says cost Texas $86 million in 2013 and about $120 million per year since. Texas feels the effect of the fee, levied on health insurers, because it reimburses the companies that operate with public funds in the state’s privatized Medicaid program. (Walters, 10/22)

The Dallas Morning News: Paxton Sues Feds Over Obamacare Fee On Health Insurers
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has sued the Obama administration over an Affordable Care Act fee on health insurers that applies to private insurers under Medicaid — and thus has become a hit to state budgets. Joining his counterparts in Louisiana and Kansas, Paxton on Wednesday sued Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell and IRS Commissioner John Koskinen to challenge the federal law’s “Health Insurance Providers Fee.” (Garrett, 10/22)

Capitol Hill Watch

5. With Debt Ceiling Challenges Looming, Ryan Makes Bid To Become House Speaker

Meanwhile, the race to succeed Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee is heating up.

The Washington Post: Paul Ryan Officially Jumps Into The Race For Speaker
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) officially announced his bid for House speaker Thursday, yielding to pleas from across the Republican party that he step in and lead in a time of crisis. ... House Republicans continued to coalesce behind Thursday as two influential GOP blocs threw him their support. (Costa and Debonis, 10/22)

Los Angeles Times: As Paul Ryan Makes His Bid For Speaker Official, He Faces A Risky Road Ahead
Risks loom large for the boyish Wisconsin congressman, who until recently had enjoyed a lengthy run as a popular GOP figure, but who nevertheless failed to secure all the conditions he demanded as trade-offs for taking the leadership job. Instead, Ryan now appears willing to settle for less than full-throated support from the conservative base as he tries to steer the GOP away from dysfunction and redefine the speaker's office -- a potential career-killer for someone with presidential aspirations -- on his terms. ...Ryan has always done well as the party's deep thinker, the architect of the steep austerity cuts to Medicare and other safety net programs in the GOP budget. (Mascaro, 10/22)

The Washington Post: The Race To Replace Ryan At Ways And Means Has Begun
The race to replace Paul Ryan as chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee is on and it is shaping up to be a two-man battle between Republican Reps. Kevin Brady and Pat Tiberi. ... Brady, who chairs the panel’s health subcommittee, is a conservative who is viewed as an effective member of the committee and takes policy issues seriously. ... Tiberi, who chairs the trade subcommittee, is an Ohio moderate with close ties to outgoing Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and the business community, which has helped him with fundraising. ... The next chairman will have to work closely with Ryan, who has made overhauling the tax code and entitlement programs the cornerstone of his career. (Snell, 10/22)

Politico: House Republicans Scramble For Debt Ceiling Plan
Congress has a debt-ceiling problem again. A big one. House GOP leaders initially planned to vote on a red-meat proposal Friday pitched by the Republican Study Committee to increase the debt ceiling while imposing new limits on executive-branch power. That measure stood no chance of passing the Senate, but would at least show effort. ... Boehner is still trying to hammer out a broader budget deal with the White House that would boost defense and infrastructure spending while making offsetting cuts in entitlement programs. But Obama is playing a strong hand and has refused to make any major concessions. (Bresnahan and Sherman, 10/22)

In other news from Capitol Hill -

The Washington Post: Puerto Rico Rescue Plan Raises Eyebrows At Senate Hearing
[Antonio Weiss, the Treasury Department’s point person on Puerto Rico] outlined a series of actions that the administration wanted Congress to consider to help Puerto Rico, which has been suffering through a decade-long recession and is buried under $73 billion in debt. He said lawmakers should create a new class of bankruptcy only available to U.S. territories that would allow Puerto Rico to restructure all of its debt. The plan would also broaden the availability of federal tax breaks for island residents, including the earned-income tax credit, widen access to Medicaid and create a mechanism for congressional oversight of the island’s troubled finances. (Fletcher, 10/23)

6. Hopes Fade For Congressional Intervention To Block Medicare Premium Hike

Though there is bipartisan interest in a fix, lawmakers are struggling to find an offset to pay for this change. The premium cost increase, which stems from the fact that there will be no Social Security cost-of-living adjustment this year, would impact a large percentage of Medicare beneficiaries.

California Healthline: Decision On Social Security Could Affect Health Care Costs For State's Seniors
Some seniors on Medicare could end up paying about $120 more a month in premiums and deductibles if the Social Security Administration follows through on this week's announcement that there will be no cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) this year, according to a California congressman. In addition, the state could find itself picking up a tab of about half a billion dollars for many Californians who are dually eligible for Medicare and Medi-Cal, said Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Los Angeles), the Democratic Caucus chairman in the House of Representatives and the ranking member of the House Ways & Means subcommittee on Social Security. (Gorn, 10/22)

In related news, Politico examines GOP presidential hopeful Ben Carson's take on Medicare -