Tag Archives: Health Reform

Branding Health Insurance Exchanges To Make The Sale


By Pauline Bartolone, Capital Public Radio

September 25, 2012

This story is part of a partnership that includes Capital Public RadioNPR and Kaiser Heath News.

As states work to comply with the federal health care law, many are designing their insurance exchanges, where people will be able to shop for coverage.

But just the word “exchange” sounds to many like off-putting government-speak, and some states are eager to come up with a more appealing name for these new marketplaces.

Peter Lee, who directs California’s Health Benefit Exchange, says it’s up for a new name, and he says they want it to sound fresh, dynamic and innovative.

“What we’re trying to figure out is what’s a name that’s going to stick, that’s going to grab hold, that all Californians are going to say ‘Boy, that’s where I go to find healthcare,’ ” Lee says.

The exchange will have a website where people can buy private health insurance, and many consumers will have government subsidies to help them purchase the insurance. Planners hope at least 3 million California customers will enroll for benefits starting in 2014. But that 3 million is a diverse bunch — so organizers want a name that will graball of them.

“Almost half of the people that are going to be eligible for subsidized coverage in the exchange are Spanish-speaking,” Lee says. “But that’s not the only market. We have about 600,000 people that speak Asian-Pacific Islander languages. Some of them speak Mandarin; some speak Hmong.”

Lee and his team solicited names in California and got hundreds of suggestions. Among them: Avocado, Ursa, Eureka — names or concepts uniquely Californian. They tested them with focus groups.

The name Avocado got laughs but is now out of the running. Other names were borrowed from Spanish, like Calvida and Beneficia. They considered Healthifornia and Wellquest.

Claudia Caplan, a marketing expert with the RP3 Agency in Maryland, has done everything from naming fast-food hamburgers to marketing for a freight rail carrier. She says a name for a new health marketplace should have humanity but shouldn’t be too cute.

“This is a whole new world for people in terms of how they’re going to access insurance, and it might be wise to give them a name that makes them feel metaphorically wrapped in some nice, warm arms that are going to take care of them,” Caplan says.

Still, a name isn’t as important as what you build around it, she notes. “It’s going to be such a turnoff if you give it this great, nurturing name and it just turns out to be the DMV all over again,” Caplan says.

California’s exchange staff is sharing notes with counterparts in other states. Maryland just came up with its name and logo.

Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, Maryland’s Secretary of Health and Mental Hygeine and chairman of that state’s exchange, says they tossed around action names. “We had some that had verbs in them like ‘Cover Me Now Maryland,’ ‘Cover Insure Maryland,’ ‘Get Health Care Maryland,’ those sorts of things,” Sharfstein says.

He says one person even suggested “www.icantbelieveitsthiseasytobuyhealthinsurance.com.” But the Maryland planners went with something safe and trustworthy: Maryland Health Connection.

“We thought it was simple,” says Sharfstein. “It illustrated the importance of connecting: connecting with insurance brokers, producers, connecting people to insurance products as well as connecting people to health care and health.”

California is expected to release its new name and logo in November. The frontrunners? Eureka, a reference to the gold rush (and the state’s motto), and Ursa, which is Latin for bear and a symbol on California’s state flag. Condor is off the table. While uniquely Californian, it is a vulture that almost went extinct.

This story is part of a partnership that includes Capital Public Radio, NPR and Kaiser Heath News.



Uninsured Have Limited Options Until 2014



Let’s talk about this some more with NPR health policy correspondent Julie Rovner, who’s in our studios.

Julie, good morning.

JULIE ROVNER: Good morning.

INSKEEP: Just to clarify what’s happening here, isn’t the health care law that Congress passed last year supposed to cover or at least give people an opportunity – everybody an opportunity to get covered in a situation like this?

ROVNER: Well, yes. And assuming it doesn’t get repealed or ruled unconstitutional, it will. And it will help couples like these. But, as Jenny pointed out in her story, that won’t happen until the year 2014. And between now and then there’s a lot of frustration and consternation on the part of patients and, I might add, states.

INSKEEP: What are the options for people in a situation like the Boyles, because there must be many?

ROVNER: Well, yes. There is a new program that’s already in effect called a high-risk pool that was established into law and it’s supposed to give the uninsured a way to get insurance between now and then, sort of a bridge to coverage, if you will.

INSKEEP: High-risk pool, that just means you’re at high-risk for disease. Insurers are not really very interested in giving you anything very affordable and so you’re thrown into this pool people where you’re supposed to be able to get insurance.

ROVNER: Exactly. Now technically, this couple could get into one of these pools, which are available in every state. But there are some big catches that have kept a lot of people from signing up.

INSKEEP: Catches?

ROVNER: Catches. Yes. One big one is that in order to get into those pools you have to have been uninsured for at least six months. That means in cases like the Boyles, where they’re losing insurance at the end of the month, they’d have to wait until September before they could sign up for the program.


ROVNER: Another big obstacle in the high-risk pools is price. I did a little research. In Pennsylvania, it would cost each of the Boyles $283.20 a month or $600 for the two of them. That’s a lot less than the high-risk pools that a lot of states run on their own. But it’s still a whole lot more than the $36 a month that they’ve been paying under the plan that’s ending.

INSKEEP: Oh, okay. So the question is if you got the $600 a month or almost $600, you can benefit but if not, you’re out of luck? So how many people are signing up for the new high-risk pools under the new health care law, the National Health Care Law?

ROVNER: Well, a whole lot fewer than have been expected. Nationally, as of February 10th, there were just over 10,000 people enrolled in the plans. Now that’s a 50 percent more than there were back in November. But it’s way below the estimates that were between 200,000 and 375,000 people that were expected to enroll in the first year.

In fact, more than a few governors declined to set up their own high-risk pool programs and they let the federal government step in and do it. They were afraid that the program would be overrun with people and become too expensive.

INSKEEP: All right. Well, why has it been a flop instead?

ROVNER: Well, if you ask federal officials, of course, they say it is not a flop. They point out it’s still very new, that programs like the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which now covers more than nine million low and moderate income children, also got off to a relatively slow start. But there’s other reasons that this particular program hasn’t been all that popular. A couple we’ve already mentioned, the six-month waiting period and that it’s expensive, but there’s also the problem that a lot of people who could be enrolling in this plan just don’t know that it’s out there.

We keep talking so much about how this new coverage isn’t going to start until 2014, people have no idea that some of its already begun.

INSKEEP: Okay, so let’s get back to the Boyles, this couple that we’ve profiled. They’ve got a problem, they’ve got a problem now. What options do they have?

ROVNER: Well, for actual health insurance between now and 2014, there are not that many options unless, obviously, one of them finds a job that offers employee health insurance. In the meantime, they can probably get primary care from a community health center. There’s more than 1,200 health centers that serve more than 20 million people every year, most of them low income or uninsured.

INSKEEP: Just to be clear, there’s a lot of states where there are cutbacks in health coverage that people have today or have had up until today. You say there are some other options? But aren’t there efforts in Congress to cut back on the options?

ROVNER: Yes, there are. The budget bill that’s moving through Congress right now would cut funding by more than a billion dollars and it might make that kind of service a lot harder to come by.

INSKEEP: How are the problems in various states going to affect the national debate then, over health care?

ROVNER: Well, nearly every state is struggling with budget shortfalls. Health costs are a huge part of every state’s health problem. The nation’s governors are coming to Washington later this month and they are going to be talking about what they want to do about the Medicaid program, a huge, huge budget issue, and what they’re going to do about health costs. It’s a really big issue. So there’s a lot more to come on this subject.

INSKEEP: Julie, it’s always a pleasure to talk with you.

ROVNER: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: That’s NPR health policy correspondent Julie Rovner.

GOP Forces Health Amendments Bill Back To House : NPR


by NPR staff and wires

Senate Republicans forced late-night changes to a bill amending President Obama’s landmark health care legislation early Thursday, a move that bounces the package of “fixes” back to the House for another vote.

A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Republicans consulting with the Senate parliamentarian identified problems with “two minor provisions” relating to Pell grants for low-income students. Democrats were using a procedure called budget reconciliation to speed the bill’s passage and block a filibuster, but the Pell grant sections were found to violate reconciliation rules that all provisions must directly impact the budget.

Democrats called the development a minor glitch and said they believe they have a comfortable margin of passage in the House.

“I expect to get this bill back from the Senate sometime later this afternoon, and I would expect a couple of hours thereafter we will have the bill on the floor for final passage and it will pass the House and be sent to the president,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told CBS’ The Early Show Thursday.

The two provisions are expected to be formally removed from the bill on Thursday, and the Senate is expected to take a final vote that afternoon. A final vote in the House could come as soon as Thursday night.

The Senate announcement followed a nine-hour marathon session stretching past 2 a.m. in which Democrats defeated 29 Republican amendments — any one of which would have sent the legislation back to the House.

Although President Obama signed the health care overhaul into law Tuesday, the package of changes sought by the House still needed to get through the Senate. So Republicans sought to gum up the process by issuing the barrage of amendments.

One by one, Democrats voted down GOP proposals that, for example, would have rolled back cuts to Medicare and barred tax increases for families earning less than $250,000. They also defeated an amendment that would have prohibited federal money for the purchase of Viagra and other erectile dysfunction drugs for sex offenders. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) introduced the amendment, saying it would save millions of dollars. Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) called the proposed change “a crass political stunt.”

Democrats noted that nearly every reconciliation bill has been subject to last-minute revisions. But lawmakers didn’t rule out the possibility that Republicans could scuttle other sections of the reconciliation bill.

Despite the glitch, Obama was expected to go ahead with a trip to Iowa City, where as a presidential candidate, he offered a blueprint for fixing health care.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said that “the president believes it is important to continue to talk about the many aspects of the law that will do precisely what he said they’re intended to do.”

He added that those included help for small businesses to provide their employees coverage and allowing parents to keep their children on policies through the age of 26.

As Congress wrangles with legislative details, discontent over changes to the nation’s health care system spilled over into threats of violence against lawmakers who voted for the overhaul.

The FBI is investigating at least four incidents in which bricks were thrown through the windows of Democratic offices in New York, Arizona and Kansas, including Rep. Louise Slaughter’s district headquarters in Niagara Falls, N.Y. And at least 10 members of Congress reported received threatening emails, phone calls and faxes.

Some of the worst threats targeted Michigan Rep. Bart Stupak, an anti-abortion Democrat who cast a key vote for the overhaul in exchange for an executive order prohibiting federal funding of abortion. One man called Stupak’s office to say he hopes the congressman gets cancer and dies, while a female caller said “millions of people wish you ill” and “those thoughts will materialize into something that’s not very good for you.”

Hoyer said he takes such threats “very seriously.”

“The bottom line is, we need to be very careful in public life that our rhetoric doesn’t incite to violent acts,” the Maryland Democrat told a TV news show Thursday. Hoyer said dealing with difficult issues in a civil and peaceful manner is “at the core of our democracy.”

via GOP Forces Health Amendments Bill Back To House : NPR.

Immediate Effects Of Health Reform Bill


Most of the consumer benefits will not kick in until 2014 but changes that will occur this year includes:

Dependent children can remain on their parents’ health insurance plans until age 26.

Senior citizens will get more help paying for drugs in Medicare.

People with health problems that left them uninsurable can qualify for coverage through a federal program.

Tax credits will be given to small businesses that offer health insurance to their workers

Children will be able to get insurance-even if they have pre-existing conditions

 All new insurance plans must offer and cover preventative care

Anyone Remember What’s In The Health Care Bill? : NPR


 by Julie Rovner

March 9, 2010

Since the Senate passed its version of a health overhaul on Christmas Eve, most of the debate has focused on the politics of the effort. By now, many people have forgotten — if they ever knew — what the bill would actually do.

So here’s a short refresher.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, the Senate-passed bill would expand coverage to roughly 30 million of the 46 million people in the U.S. who lack health insurance. Most of the remaining uninsured would be undocumented immigrants, who would be ineligible for benefits under the bill.

Insurance Mandates

One of the most popular things the bill would do is ban insurance companies from excluding people or raising their rates, because they have what’s known as a pre-existing medical condition.

What’s that? Here’s how California Democratic Rep. George Miller described his: “I sit here with two artificial hips, a little bit of arthritis, and I have a kidney stone. I’m dead in that insurance market if I have to switch policies or switch companies.”

But in exchange for getting insurance companies to agree to accept everyone, the insurance companies need more healthy people to be covered to help spread the risk. So the bill does something that’s a lot more controversial: It requires everyone to have insurance.

That’s something many Republicans used to support, but don’t now. “Never has the federal government said any American had to buy anything. Now, [you] have to buy insurance. If you don’t buy insurance, pay the IRS more money,” said Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) during the Senate’s floor debate in November.

Grassley is correct in that the mandate would be enforced at tax time. If you can’t prove you’re covered, you’ll pay a penalty.

Helping Hand

But help will be available. If you’re poor, you’ll get health insurance for free through the Medicaid program. For the first time, able-bodied adults who are simply low-income would become eligible for Medicaid.

Middle-class people who have to buy their own policies would get government subsidies. And small businesses would get tax credits to encourage them to help pay for insurance for their workers.

Those who have to buy their own health insurance get another leg up — a new marketplace called an exchange. There they could pool their buying power and compare their options.

At the same time, said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT), “exchanges will make it easier for consumers to choose the most efficient plans. And that will reduce their costs and put pressure on insurance companies to offer lower-cost, higher-quality plans.”

Another cost-cutting aspect of the bill is a new focus on paying doctors, hospitals and other health care professionals.

“We … believe that there should be incentives to provide care based upon best practices, not based upon simply procedures being reimbursed,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said at the White House health meeting last month. In other words, the new payment system would be based on how health care professionals do their jobs, rather than just how many tests they order or exams they perform.

Political Deal-Making

But politics has had a lot to do with getting the bill this far. Now House Democrats are being asked to cast a vote for the bill the Senate passed Christmas Eve. And, at least initially, they’ll have to approve that Senate bill with no changes.

That means, as Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) reminded everyone at last month’s meeting, “It still has the sweetheart deals in it. … I mean, what’s fair about taxpayers in Louisiana paying less than taxpayers in Tennessee? And what’s fair about protecting seniors in Florida and not protecting seniors in California and Illinois and Wyoming?”

Alexander was referring to several deals cut by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to win the 60 Democratic votes needed to get the bill passed by the Senate.

Of course, here’s where this process gets even more complicated. Those so-called sweetheart deals are expected to be cancelled in a second bill. That so-called fix bill will carry the compromises now being made between the Senate and the House. That bill is also likely to alter the way the health care program is paid for.

But that second bill is still being drafted, and House Democrats are skittish about its ultimate prospects. Don’t expect a House vote on the Senate bill until they get some assurances about what that second bill will do — and that the Senate can actually pass it.

via Anyone Remember What’s In The Health Care Bill? : NPR.

A Final Vote on Health Reform: Letter From Obama Administration


Last Thursday’s first-of-its-kind summit capped off a debate that has lasted nearly a year. Every idea has now been put on the table. Every argument has been made. Both parties agree that the status quo is unacceptable and gets more dire each day. Today, I want to state as clearly and forcefully as I know how: Now is the time to make a decision about the future of health care in America.

The final proposal I’ve put forward draws on the best ideas from all sides, including several put forward by Republicans at last week’s summit. It will put Americans in charge of their own health care, ensuring that neither government nor insurance company bureaucrats can ration, deny, or put out of financial reach the care our families need and deserve.

I strongly believe that Congress now owes the American people a final vote on health care reform. Reform has already passed the House with bipartisan support and the Senate with a super-majority of sixty votes. Now it deserves the same kind of up-or-down vote that has been routinely used and has passed such landmark measures as welfare reform and both Bush tax cuts.

Earlier today, I asked leaders in both houses of Congress to finish their work and schedule a vote in the next few weeks. From now until then, I will do everything in my power to make the case for reform. And now, I’m asking you, the members of the Organizing for America community, to raise your voice and do the same.

The final march for reform has begun, and your participation is crucial. Please commit to join with me to take reform across the finish line.

Essentially, my proposal would change three things about the current health care system:

First, it would protect all Americans from the worst practices of insurance companies. Never again will the mother with breast cancer have her coverage revoked, see her premiums arbitrarily raised, or be forced to live in fear that a pre-existing condition will bar her from future coverage.

Second, my proposal would give individuals and small businesses the same choice of private health insurance that members of Congress get for themselves. And my proposal says that if you still can’t afford the insurance in this new marketplace, we will offer you tax credits based on your income — tax credits that add up to the largest middle class tax cut for health care in history.

Finally, my proposal would bring down the cost of health care for everyone — families, businesses, and the federal government — and bring down our deficit by as much as $1 trillion over the next two decades. These savings mean businesses small and large will finally be freed up to create jobs and increase wages. With costs currently skyrocketing, reform is vital to remaining economically strong in the years and decades to come.

In the few crucial weeks ahead, you can help make sure this proposal becomes law. Please sign up to join the Organizing for America campaign in the final march for reform:


When I talked about change on the campaign, this is what I was talking about: coming together to solve a huge problem that has been troubling America for 100 years and standing up to the special interests to deliver a brighter, smarter future for generations to come.

I look forward to signing this historic reform into law. And when I do, it will be because your organizing played an essential role in making change possible.

Thank you,

President Barack Obama

Health Care Summit: Significant and Pointless


       All week President Obama and members of his administration repeatedly denounced pundit claims that the healthcare summit was an act of political theatre.  Neither side of the aisle wanted to imply that the summit had any real chance at producing a significant breakthrough in the healthcare debate.  In fact, Congressional Democrats came into the meeting having already threatened to expedite the bill through the legislative process, ironically, called ‘reconciliation’.  Congressional Republicans, prior to the assembly, planted their feet firmly into poll tested talking points and took every chance they could to mock the Presidents sincerity and willingness to act bipartisan.

As for the meeting itself? 

Well, it was too boring to be called political theatre and too theatrical to bring about any reconciliation.  There are two issues that immediately come to mind when attempting to define the reasoning behind this summits failure. The first, is that it was simply too late in coming.  Had President Obama come out immediately announced the meeting in early 2009 and challenged the two parties to discuss their differences face to face and in front of television cameras, then maybe he could have silenced much of the resistance and maintained control of the debate.  This actually brings to view the inexperience of President Obama, who deserves to take full responsibility for this disappointment.  President Obama promised to make his administration the most transparent in history only to turn around and hold closed-door meetings on healthcare reform with members of his own party long before meeting the brick wall known as the Republican Party.  This gave both instant legitimacy to Republican talking points and easy fodder to establish lasting distrust of President Obama’s agenda.  This, along with the lack of unity within the Democratic Party itself on this issue, allowed the republicans to keep the focus on bashing Obama’s proposal’s and fanning the flames of distrust that President Obama himself ignited.  Therefore, long before the summit was even announced, pundits were able to pump their rhetoric into the cynical minds of conservatives, loyal Republican Party constituents, and disillusioned moderate Democrats.  In other words, after a year of debate, minds were simply already made up and no amount of nationally televised discussion, even if it had been substantial, would have changed them. 

…and that brings me to my second point. 

President Obama challenged the Republicans to present their alternatives in front of the cameras because he viewed much of their rhetoric to be melodramatic and thought he could prove the Republicans were indeed just the party of ‘NO!’.  The Republican point of view was that this meeting of minds was just another slip up by the President and considered the offer to meet publically as a win-win scenario for their party.  If they showed up and engaged the President and Democratic Party than they could squash the partisan label that the Democrats had been trying to place on them.  Or they could walk away, regardless of how the debate went, declaring that it was the Democrats who continued to play partisan games because they refused to take the presented Republican concerns into account.

 Although both parties utilized the media’s presence with emotionally charged tales of constituent despair, it was the Republicans who maximized the attention and at times appeared to treat the event as a kind of massive campaign event.  The healthcare debate is so hot right now that Republicans knew it was not in their interest to present any in-depth, unified alternative to the Democrats plan, but instead cite polls showing the unpopularity of “Obamacare” and use the media stage to continue to present themselves as the voice of the American people. 

For the American people, the healthcare summit was really a bittersweet moment. 

I praise President Obama for orchestrating, and the representatives of both parties for participating, in a delightfully transparent view of the legislative process.  But I can’t help but feel that the conduct of our elected officials in this conference was bad for Republicans, worse for Democrats, and demoralizing for the American people.

Image Source: Reuters