Thursday Short Cuts

CodeBaby, a provider of Intelligent virtual assistant technology, today announced Connect for Health Colorado® and Access Health CT have expanded the use of CodeBaby as a way to increase consumer education and improve the online experience for customers purchasing health insurance during the 2016 open enrollment period.

Connect for Health’s virtual assistant, Kyla, can be found at key points in the website, presenting important information in a clear manner, assisting users in making informed decisions, and providing decision support for critical choices. In time for this year’s open enrollment, Connect for Health has expanded Kyla to the Subsidy Eligibility System so that the avatar can answer questions, help people determine if they are eligible for subsidies, and walk them through the enrollment process.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The number of people who lack health insurance has fallen substantially since the implementation of the federal health care law known as the Affordable Care Act.

That’s been particularly true in the 30 states that expanded Medicaid. But in more than a dozen of those states, enrollment in the public insurance program for the poor has far eclipsed projections, straining budgets and an overburdened health care system.

Special correspondent Sarah Varney has our report from San Diego.

This story was produced in collaboration with our partner Kaiser Health News.

Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum fired back at Oracle America Wednesday after the technology company threatened to file a lawsuit to compel the state to release former Gov. John Kitzhaber’s emails.

“There has been no denial of Oracle’s public records request,” Rosenblum wrote in a Wednesday letter toDorian Daley, Oracle’s general counsel. “Your threat to file yet another lawsuit is frivolous and unnecessary. It would only waste the time of the court and parties.”

The CMS has sent letters to Medicaid consumers (PDF)who received tax credits to purchase insurance through the Affordable Care Act marketplace.

The agency says these people will have to terminate marketplace coverage and pay back the amount of the credit they've received. 

A CMS spokeswoman declined to say how many people fall into this group only noting it was “a small number.

Julia Hutchins, the cooperative's chief executive, responded that it has successfully created a fast-growing, low-cost alternative to private health insurance.

"Things are going really great. We're in a really good position to be able to pay taxpayers back," she said. Most of the loans can be repayed over a 15-year period, she said.

In one year, the cooperative has grown from insuring 14,000 individuals and small businesses to 80,000, "bringing down the cost of health care to Colorado," she said.

Uncompensated care in Minnesota hospitals dropped 6.3 percent in 2014, according to a report released Tuesday by the Minnesota Department of Health(MDH).

Between 2013 and 2014, Minnesota implemented many major aspects of the Affordable Care Act, including establishing the MNsure health insurance exchange. These provisions resulted in not only the decline of uncompensated care, but also in the uninsured rate plummeting to a record-low 5.9 percent, the MDH said.

For a while now I’ve been saying that one of the questions I have for Bernie Sanders is how he would pay for single payer health insurance - especially in light of the fact that this is what stopped single payer from going forward in his home state of Vermont.

And so I was interested recently to find this paper by Gerald Friedman, Ph.D. from the University of Massachusetts which outlined a payment plan for single payer. It’s important to note that the bill Friedman analyzed (HR 676) is authored by Rep. Conyers. Sanders has never endorsed this bill and it differs from the one he introduced in the Senate in 2013. But we’ll get to that later.

Despite the best efforts of politicians like former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R), more than 8 in 10 Americans think it's just fine for Medicare and private health insurance companies to pay doctors for end-of-life counseling, a new poll shows.

According to survey results published Wednesday by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, 81 percent of respondents believe Medicare should pay for these discussions, and 83 percent think health insurance companies should do so. 

Doctors' groups including the American Medical Association, seniors' groups like the AARP, and patient organizations such as the Alzheimer's Association have long endorsed end-of-life counseling sessions between patients and their physicians, and they support Medicare and insurance coverage of these consultations.

Universal healthcare is having a moment. In The New York Times last Thursday, The Rockefeller Foundation placed a full-page ad declaring its support for 267 economists from 44 countries who have argued that universal health coverage policies are morally urgent and economically efficient. Among the most famous signatories of the declaration was former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, who in an op-ed in the Financial Times wrote that providing universal health coverage could exceed the costs of not doing so by a factor of 10.

While some insurers around the country have proposed drastic rate hikes, Maine Community Health Options (MCHO), the state's consumer operated and oriented plan (CO-OP) that serves Maine as well as New Hampshire residents, has been able to keep prices in check.

One of MCHO's many goals from the beginning has been to provide members with price stability, MCHO CEO Kevin Lewis says in an interview with healthcare reform expert Kip Piper in his latest MediStrategy podcast.

Who wants out of Obamacare?

A group called ColoradoCare is petitioning for a 2016 ballot question that, if approved, would allow the state to extricate itself from the complicated federal law and establish universal health coverage under an independent board of directors.

So far, the group has met resistance from critics who contend that ColoradoCare is socialized medicine of the first magnitude. But it’s not exactly the “state-run, single-payer system” opponents are making it out to be. ColoradoCare wouldn’t be run by any state agency. It would be an independent payment system with an elected 21-member board of directors and wouldn’t exert state control of health providers. It would, however, use its immense buying power to contract with providers to control per-capita costs.

ColoradoCare calls for a payroll tax of varying rates to raise roughly $25 billion for universal health coverage. Every worker and employer would pay into the system, but private insurance would still be available for individuals and businesses that want to pay extra for health coverage.