Saturday Short Cuts

U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein are calling on California’s health insurance marketplace, Covered California, to allow women to sign up for coverage when they become pregnant.

Under the current rules of the Affordable Care Act, uninsured women who discover they’re pregnant outside of open enrollment periods can only sign up for coverage once the baby is born. The senators sent a letter to Covered California on Wednesday urging the agency to change the policy to make pregnancy a “qualifying life event” that allows women to enroll in coverage at that time.

If Nevada Health Link officials, insurance brokers and consumers “went into open enrollment holding their collective breath,” then today, there are sighs of relief that the state’s insurance marketplace works, said its executive director, Bruce Gilbert.

The federal Department of Health and Human Services said Tuesday that 73,596 Nevadans had enrolled in a 2015 plan through the exchange between Nov. 15 and Feb. 22. That was more than double the 36,000 enrollees the exchange had in the first session from Oct. 1, 2014, through May 30.

Now, the exchange is at a “tipping point,” Gilbert said. Open enrollment proved the marketplace is “conceptually viable.” But it needs improvements.

As the state’s health care reform chief was about to address lawmakers Tuesday on Vermont’s trouble-plagued health insurance exchange, his computer  presentation couldn’t get started.

“Once again, we’re talking about Vermont Health Connect , so we’re having technical issues,” joked Lawrence Miller, health care reform chief for the administration of Gov. Peter Shumlin.

The brief holdup was far less severe than the issues dogging the state’s health insurance exchange since its launch in October of 2013. Miller’s main mission Tuesday morning was to affix an updated price tag to a system  still lacking key pieces that would make it fully functional.

A bill dissolving Cover Oregon, the state's dysfunctional health insurance exchange, has been signed by Gov. Kate Brown.

The measure, which had bipartisan support, transfers responsibilities for the Oregon exchange to the state Department of Consumer and Business Services.

The decision was announced in a nine-word tweet from Brown's account, which said simply: "This afternoon I signed Senate Bill 1 into law." She signed the legislation Friday.

Cover Oregon was plagued by problems almost from its onset. No Oregonian was ever able to enroll online in a private plan under the Affordable Care Act because the state exchange never had a functioning website, forcing insurance seekers to file paper applications.

Hialeah, Florida...the so-called "City of Progress" is the home to two of the five zip codes with the most Obamacare sign-ups in the country. Topping the list is zip code 33012, which, according to the Department of Health & Human Services' latest figures, saw more than 12,000 enrollments - leading the nation's zip codes, by far.

But here's the catch: This section of Hialeah is predominantly Republican.

In the last presidential election, which was dominated with rhetoric about the Affordable Care Act, this community voted roughly 58% to 42% in favor of Mitt Romney. It's a red island in a sea of blue, when you take into account that surrounding Miami-Dade County has gone for a Democratic presidential nominee in every election since 1992.

On two afternoons of interviews in two Miami-Dade locations this week, the looming fine was the most-cited reason among new enrollees — even when they acknowledged some benefits.

“There’s good coverage, especially for buying medication at a better price,” said 35-year-old Leonardo Gómez, a Hialeah trucker. “I had other insurance, but I’m switching to this one because it’s a little cheaper.”

Despite those savings, Gómez added flatly that Obamacare “doesn’t work.”

...To be sure, there are eager enrollees. But some, perhaps aware of the loud opposition from their friends and neighbors, are almost sheepish to admit it. They hesitate to respond to a reporter’s questions, and do so quietly.

“My job offers me health insurance, but it’s more expensive,” said Héctor Prats, 46. The new law, he added, is “humane.”

Republicans, though, have the advantage in the second-most important issue in the race, which voters identified as "doing away with the Kynect health insurance exchange."

Thirteen percent of respondents said eliminating the health exchange set up by Gov. Steve Beshear was their top priority, compared to 9 percent who said their top concern was "improving the Kynect health insurance exchange."

Scott and Bevin have been clear in saying that moving Kentuckians to the federally-run health insurance exchange is a top priority.

As noted in the accompanying email:

Overall, Kynect isn't real popular in the state as it's viewed as a hand-out to the undeserving and associated with Obama. Mitch McConnell recently ran against Kynect and won by his largest margin ever. The Democratic candidate for governor will be Jack Conway, who lost handily to Rand Paul for Senate. Significantly, as state attorney general, Conway refused to enforce the state ban on gay marriage which hurts him with lots of voters here. Even if SCOTUS eliminates the subsidies I'm sure a GOP governor will still want to do away with Kynect. Both Kynect and the Medicaid expansion were done by executive fiat by the current Democratic governor and presumably can be eliminated the same way. The legislature was opposed to both. National Democrats better put a lot of time and money in this race if they want Kentucky to stay on the ACA bandwagon. 

Rather than continuing to waste precious time and other resources trying to overturn a law that is benefiting the vast majority of Americans and could do great good in South Carolina, we would advise people to get educated regarding the implications of the law and to use this as a basis for working together to improve the public’s health. The imperative to do so is strong here in South Carolina, where we tend to have very poor health outcomes as compared to the rest of the nation.