Kaiser Health News Original Stories

3. Political Cartoon: 'Treat Yo Self'

Kaiser Health News provides a fresh take on health policy developments with "Political Cartoon: 'Treat Yo Self'" by Hilary Price.

Here's today's health policy haiku:

BREAST CANCER SCREENING: GUIDELINES AGAIN A MATTER OF DEBATE

The mamms must be grammed.
The question is: how often?
Still no consensus.

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Health Law Issues And Implementation

4. Revamped Healthcare.gov Website Debuts

Federal officials say the online insurance marketplace includes many upgrades and improvements, though some key elements -- such as tools that help consumers search for plans that cover specific doctors and prescription drugs -- will not be ready in time for the Nov. 1 start of open enrollment season.

The New York Times: Health Law’s Revamped Site, HealthCare.gov, To Debut On Sunday
Starting on Sunday, health care consumers shopping on the Affordable Care Act’s federal website, HealthCare.gov, can see the cost and benefits of insurance plans for 2016, the Obama administration said Friday. But they will have to wait a little longer for new features that will allow them to search for plans that cover specific doctors and prescription drugs, administration officials said. (Pear, 10/23)

McClatchy: New Healthcare.gov Features Won't Be Ready When Enrollment Begins
Tests on both new features are well underway, and officials at the Department of Health and Human Services are encouraged by the results. But insurers have provided HHS with only half of the information that consumers need to make educated coverage decisions. Having learned from the premature launch of HealthCare.gov in October 2013, HHS officials won’t unveil the new “doctor lookup” and “prescription drug lookup” features until they’re sure the information and technology are solid. (Pugh, 10/23)

The Wall Street Journal: Health-Insurance Exchange Website To Receive Overhaul
Consumers will see a raft of improvements to the federal website for obtaining health insurance, government officials said Friday, though they cautioned that some enhancements are unlikely to be ready in time for the start of open enrollment next month. Open enrollment under the Affordable Care Act begins Nov. 1 in the 38 states that use the website, HealthCare.gov. It also launches in most of the states that run their own sign-up sites. (Armour, 10/23)

The Associated Press: New Health Law Premiums Available Online This Weekend
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. ... Independent experts are forecasting bigger premium increases in 2016 than last year, averaging from the high single digits to the teens. Next week the government will release a master file that researchers use to piece together national trends. Averages won't tell the story, because health care is local. Premiums can vary widely from state to state, and within a state. (Alonso-Zaldivar, 10/23)

Bloomberg: Obamacare Website Upgraded To Highlight Costs As Sign-Ups Near
The new website estimates what individuals' upfront payments and out-of-pocket costs are likely to be in different plans. It asks customers to select whether their health-care use is likely to be low, medium or high, in order to display what their spending on doctor visits and drugs is likely to be. It also highlights additional subsidies that may be available to some low-income people in mid-level silver plans. (Tracer, 10/23)

USA Today: Federal Health Insurance Site Opens Sunday For Window Shopping
Open enrollment will run from Nov. 1 to Jan. 31. Those who don't have health insurance in 2016 - and aren't eligible for a hardship exemption - will face a penalty of $695 per person on their taxes for the year. Many consumers have purchased plans based on their low premiums only to find their doctors or drugs weren't covered and that high deductibles and cost-sharing made them far from ideal choices. About 10 million people have bought and paid for plans on the federal and state exchanges for 2015. (O'Donnell, 10/23)

The Washington Post: HealthCare.gov To Open On Nov. 1 With Upgrades And One Delay
By this third year, [Andy Slavitt, acting CMS administrator,] and the other officials said, the Web site will be 40 percent faster than a year ago and will, in spots, use vocabulary that is easier to understand. Computer screens will remind insurance shoppers that they need to submit certain information, such as Social Security numbers, to avoid problems later on. And a new “out-of-pocket calculator” will show insurance shoppers what various health plans would cost them in deductibles and co-payments, as well as monthly premiums. (Goldstein, 10/23)

Meanwhile, for some, subsidies may be at risk -

The New York Times: Thousands Who Didn’t File Tax Returns May Lose Health Care Subsidies
Tens of thousands of people with modest incomes are at risk of losing health insurance subsidies in January because they did not file income tax returns, federal officials and consumer advocates say. Under federal rules, anyone who receives an insurance subsidy must file a tax return to verify that the person was eligible and received the proper amount of financial assistance based on household income. (Pear, 10/25)

5. Countdown To Health Law Open Enrollment Is On, And Outreach Strategies Are Taking Shape

Most people involved in this year's efforts to sign people up for new coverage agree that the stakes are higher and the uninsured populations will be more difficult to reach.

The Seattle Times: Still No Health Insurance? Open Enrollment Starts Nov. 1
Health-insurance holdouts — people who don’t want or haven’t found coverage in the era of Obamacare — will be the focus starting Nov. 1 as state and federal officials launch the Affordable Care Act’s third open enrollment period. The stakes are higher this time for everyone involved. For people without health insurance, the fines for ducking the ACA’s individual mandate are rising sharply this year — to $695 per adult — to the point where advocates say it might be better just to buy a policy than to pay the penalty. (Aleccia, 10/25)

Politico: The Ben's Chili Bowl Recruiting Strategy For Obamacare
The renowned D.C. eatery will serve up health insurance along with its half-smokes late at night as part of the drive to sign up many of the remaining uninsured — particularly the so-called young invincibles amid signs that Obamacare enrollment is trending older and sicker. Recruiting younger, healthier people is a make-or-break issue as the health law’s third open enrollment season gets underway Nov. 1. While the administration is tempering expectations by projecting only modest sign-up growth, it is intent on recruiting healthier and therefore less-costly people in a bid to keep a lid on rising premiums and ensure the new insurance marketplaces thrive. (Cook and Pradhan, 10/24)

The Associated Press: Illinois Awards $5M For Health Insurance Outreach Workers
Working on a shoestring compared to past years, 10 community groups will help Illinois consumers sign up for insurance during the third annual enrollment period under President Barack Obama's health care law. The Illinois Department of Insurance announced Friday that $5 million in federal funding would go to groups mostly located in Chicago and its suburbs. None of the groups serving southern Illinois last year — the Illinois Migrant Council, the Illinois Public Health Association or the Southern Illinois Healthcare Foundation — received funding. (Johnson, 10/23)

Los Angeles Times: Obamacare: 36% Of California's Uninsured Don't Know The Feds Can Help Pay Their Premiums
Survey data released Thursday show that 36% of uninsured Californians are unaware of the premium subsidies available under the Affordable Care Act. In contrast, only 16% didn't know about the tax penalty for lacking health coverage. About 90% of the 1.3 million Covered California enrollees receive subsidies, and more than 200,000 people pay less than $50 a month thanks to that financial assistance. (Terhune, 10/23)

California Healthline: Exchange Survey Sets Table For Upcoming Open Enrollment Period
Many Californians don't know they qualify for coverage help in the form of federal subsidies, according to a survey released on Thursday by Covered California. According to the survey, 36% of Californians without health insurance did not know they might qualify for tax subsidies from the federal government to help pay for health insurance through the Covered California exchange. (Gorn, 10/23)

The Charleston Gazette-Mail: Federal Health Secretary Praises WV For Reducing Uninsured
West Virginia has done well in cutting the number of residents without health insurance, but significant health challenges still remain, Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell, leader of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said Friday night. Speaking to a ballroom full of health care advocates at the University of Charleston, Burwell praised the state for its implementation of the Affordable Care Act. (Gutman, 10/23)

6. As More Co-Op Insurers Fail, Consumers Face More Limited Health Care Options

With a third of these cooperatives announcing they will be shuttering in recent weeks, thousands are left scrambling to find alternative health insurance for next year. The collapse of one of those, Kentucky Health Cooperative, is now also playing a role in the hotly contested governor race that will be decided in a few weeks.

The New York Times: Health Care Co-Op Closings Narrow Consumers’ Choices
The grim announcements keep coming, picking up pace in recent weeks. About a third, or eight, alternative health insurers created under President Obama’s health care law to spur competition that might have made coverage less expensive for consumers are shutting down. The three largest are among that number. Only 14 of the so-called cooperatives are still standing, some precariously. (Abelson and Goodnough, 10/25)

Politico: Collapse Of Kentucky Co-Op Could Be Wildcard In Governor's Race
The sudden collapse of nonprofit health plans supported by tens of millions of dollars in Obamacare loans is igniting a new political wildfire over the health law — and it’s playing out in a tight gubernatorial race in Kentucky. The recent demise of Kentucky Health Cooperative, a nonprofit startup seeded with federal loan dollars under the Affordable Care Act, is part of a bigger, national trend. More than a third of the 23 nonprofit health plans created under Obamacare with $2.4 billion in federal loan dollars have collapsed, and most experts predict more failures on the horizon. Late last week, South Carolina’s co-op became the ninth to fail, following similar crashes in Iowa, Louisiana, Nebraska and New York. (Demko, 10/26)