Sebelius recruits women to blog about health law


AP Medical Writer

CHICAGO — President Barack Obama’s administration is courting female bloggers to play a role in a massive campaign aimed at informing the public about the benefits of the new health care law.

Over breakfast at a blogging conference Thursday in Chicago, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius asked a banquet hall full of bloggers — most of them women — to help spread the word about new health insurance opportunities that begin this fall under the Affordable Care Act.

Many uninsured Americans know little about how the law will affect them, Sebelius said, and want information from people they trust.

“I bet you more people could tell you the name of the new prince of England than could tell you that the health market opens Oct. 1,” Sebelius said at the national BlogHer conference.

In a little more than two months, each state will have a Web-based insurance market where people can comparison shop for a health policy. The law requires most people to get covered and many will receive financial help paying their premiums through new tax credits.

The administration has been recruiting celebrities, librarians and now bloggers to help with a marketing blitz aimed at enrolling the uninsured. The federal government has a $41 million contract with public relations firm Weber Shandwick for a national campaign. Separately, federal grants will fuel a $684 million outreach effort through the states.

To the bloggers, Sebelius plugged the law’s protections for women, garnering applause when she said health insurers will no longer be able to charge women more than men for a similar policy. She cited the law’s guarantee of breast cancer screenings and contraception benefits for women without extra fees or copays.

In the audience was Jenni Prokopy of Chicago, who blogs at and has 20,000 unique visitors a month, mostly women with chronic illnesses. Her readers often ask her about insurance and health care costs when “they’re freaked out and don’t know where to turn.”

“It’s my responsibility to give them accurate information (about the health care law) and present that information in a way that’s still my voice,” Prokopy said.

Blogger Jennifer Kehl of Deerfield, Ill., was more skeptical. She said she’s “not a big fan of Obamacare, to be honest” because “I need less bureaucracy, not more.” But after hearing Sebelius speak, she said she would check the government’s website to learn more.

The BlogHer blogging network has a combined audience of 92 million on all social media platforms, said co-founder Jory Des Jardins of Oakland, Calif., so it makes sense for Sebelius to recruit them.

“It’s the best way to get to the grassroots,” she said.

“Very often the conversation (on health care) happens over the heads of most people,” Des Jardins said.

Bloggers know their audiences and can write about the law in terms they can understand, she said.

Mothers are a big target for the administration. Market research shows that healthy young adults — who are important to the financial sustainability of the new insurance marketplace — listen to their moms when it comes to health decisions.

“One of the most trusted voices is mothers,” Sebelius said at a Chicago health center later in the day. “We’re trying to get a lot of information into women’s hands because women often purchase the health care for their family …. With adult children they can be a very powerful and compelling voice.”

Coverage under the new health policies begins Jan. 1, but people can still enroll through March 31 of next year.

Bloggers can keep the enrollment message alive after the mainstream news media moves onto other stories, said another BlogHer co-founder, Lisa Stone of Palo Alto, Calif. Stone said she heard buzz after Sebelius spoke about coordinating a day where bloggers would simultaneously write about the law.

“After the first wave, bloggers could remind people that they have enough time to get educated and make some choices,” Stone said.
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‘Obamacare’ mandate delay will cost $12 billion, affect 1 million workers

By David Morgan | Reuters

WASHINGTON | Tue Jul 30, 2013 6:38pm EDT

(Reuters) – President Barack Obama’s decision to delay implementation of part of his healthcare reform law will cost $12 billion and leave a million fewer Americans with employer-sponsored health insurance in 2014, congressional researchers said Tuesday.

The report by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office is the first authoritative estimate of the human and fiscal cost from the administration’s unexpected one-year delay announced July 2 of the employer mandate – a requirement for larger businesses to provide health coverage for their workers or pay a penalty.

The analysts said the delay will add to the cost of “Obamacare’s” insurance-coverage provisions over the next 10 years. Penalties paid by employers would be lower and more individuals who otherwise might have had employer coverage will need federal insurance subsidies.

“Of those who would otherwise have obtained employment-based coverage, roughly half will be uninsured (in 2014),” CBO said in a July 30 letter to Representative Paul Ryan, Republican chairman of the House of Representatives Budget Committee.

Under Obama’s healthcare reform law, employers with 50 or more full-time workers were supposed to provide healthcare coverage or incur penalties beginning January 1. But the requirement will now begin in 2015.

The delay intensified doubts about the administration’s ability to implement Obama’s signature domestic policy achievement and stirred Republican calls for a similar delay in another Obamacare mandate that requires most individuals to have health insurance in 2014.

The Republican-controlled House followed up the administration’s decision by voting on July 17 for its own measures to delay the employer and individual mandates. Neither piece of legislation is expected to succeed in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

State and federal officials are racing to set up new online health insurance exchanges, where lower-to-moderate income families that lack health insurance will be able to sign up for federally subsidized coverage beginning on October 1. The poor will also be able to sign up for Medicaid coverage in 23 states that have opted to expand the program.

Most large employers already offer health insurance and CBO said few are expected to drop coverage because of the delay.

But the change will still result in a $10 billion reduction in penalty payments that some employers would have made in 2015 for failing to provide coverage next year, CBO said.

The change also means another $3 billion in added costs for exchange subsidies. That is because about half of the 1 million workers who would have gained employer-sponsored coverage next year will now obtain insurance through the exchanges or via public programs including Medicaid, CBO said.

Other changes, including an increase in taxable compensation resulting from fewer people enrolling in employment-based coverage, will offset those factors by about $1 billion.

CBO now puts the net cost of Obamacare’s insurance coverage provisions at around $1.38 trillion over the next 10 years, vs. its May baseline projection of $1.36 trillion.

(Reporting by David Morgan. Editing by Fred Barbash)

New WebMD Site Walks Consumers through Reform, Insurance Exchanges

JUL 31, 2013 3:35pm ET

WebMD has introduced the Health Care Reform Center, an online resource for consumers to better understand provisions of the health care reform law and how to enroll for insurance coverage.

According to a survey released on July 31, 22 percent of respondents and 40 percent of adults under age 30 are “almost certain” or “very likely” to purchase insurance via a health insurance exchange.

The new WebMD site contains information on using a state exchange, checking if eligible for Medicaid and what the program offers, understanding tax penalties for not getting health insurance, meeting insurance deadlines and budgeting costs. It also explains basic components of the health reform law as well as facts and myths about the law, and offers a checklist for getting ready to sign up for a health plan.

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Health Reform–From The Temp Industry’s Point of View

Elaine Pofeldt, Contributor

7/31/2013 @ 11:59PM

Many think that the nation’s health reform is already affecting the hiring market, even though the employer mandate has been delayed.

A new report by IQ Navigator, which tracks the contingent labor industry, delves into the likely effects in 2015, assuming the reform does get implemented on its new schedule.

The research firm points to several key forks in the road that businesses will face. For instance, businesses facing the employer mandate may provide insurance, or, if they need more people but can’t or won’t provide insurance, may either pay a penalty to the government or turn to temporary staffing agencies to bring on workers without the requirement to provide healthcare.

Each of these choices may have unanticipated consequences. For instance, businesses that try to manage employees’ hours more carefully may end up with more employees who are working fewer hours per week, IQ Navigator predicts. This may lead to administrative headaches.

Generally speaking, IQ Navigator points to rising labor costs as employers are asked to provide healthcare-something it says will be felt more by businesses that employ low wage workers. “The cost of health benefits is substantially higher in proportion to their compensation, their numbers are higher…and highly compensated workers are more likely to already have health insurance coverage,” writes IQ Navigator’s Gary Pollard. As IQ Navigator points out, companies in the U.S. are increasingly using temp agencies their “recruitment channel” in the post-recession economy. This is likely to increase, the firm predicts, if firms try to keep their rising labor costs in check.

That trend is going to have big implications for the U.S. labor market, but few seem to be addressing it.

Update: Pro Publica recently released a story called“The Expendables: How the Temps Who Power Corporate Giants are Getting Crushed,” that many will find thought provoking. Some people love temp work, but, as the article points out, many don’t now have few other alternatives.

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State to release rates under Affordable Care Act


Associated Press

MIAMI — Florida residents are finally getting to see what so-called “Obamacare” means for them as state insurance officials released rate details late Wednesday showing how much some health plans may cost under the new federal health law and how many providers will be participating in the state exchange.

The details come one day after Florida Health Commissioner Kevin McCarty said rates will rise an average of 5 to 20 percent for small businesses and 30 to 40 percent in the individual market. But he countered that those increases are partly due to the fact that consumers will receive more benefits, and the higher costs will be offset by federal subsidies in many cases.

Most of the state’s roughly 3.5 million uninsured residents will not see extreme price hikes, McCarty said.

Officials said the new insurance plans will be more comprehensive, making direct comparisons to existing plans impossible, but the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation based its comparison on the average cost of premiums for midlevel plans from 11 insurers.

The smallest increase was an HMO plan from Humana that bumped up 7 percent from $293 to $315. The largest was 59 percent from a Sunshine State Health plan that jumped from $293 to $464.

Some of the state’s largest health insurers, including Florida Blue, Cigna, Humana and Aetna, will be among 11 plans competing through the state’s new health exchange in the individual market in all 67 counties. Many counties will be able to choose from six or seven carriers. But Bay, Franklin, Glades, Jefferson and Madison were among the 20 counties where consumers will only have one option.

Lack of competition from insurers under the health care law has raised concerns in some states. President Barack Obama told Democrats administration is working to fix the problem.

Residents in Miami-Dade and Broward counties will be able to choose from nine plans. Aside from where a person lives, insurers are limited in their ability to charge consumers different prices for health care.

So how will the new federal health law change insurance benefits and prices for average consumers?

As of Jan. 1, insurers can no longer turn away the more than 7.8 million non-elderly Floridians with pre-existing medical conditions, according to federal health officials. Insurers will be limited in what they can charge to older policy holders and out-of-pocket expenses will have an annual cap. Insurers are also required to offer beefed up benefits under the plans, so while prices may increase, consumers will get an upgraded product. Some Florida insurers currently offer skimpy benefit plans at cheap rates for catastrophic coverage, but those types of plans will no longer be allowed under the federal health law.

Additionally, residents making less than $48,000 a year will receive a federal voucher to help offset premium costs. The less a person makes, the more the government will pay.

The new marketplaces, which are open for enrollment Oct. 1, will have the feel of an online travel site where individuals, families and small businesses can compare different private insurance plans. Consumers will be able to choose from bronze, silver, gold, platinum and catastrophic plans that offer a range of premiums, deductibles and co-pays depending on variables such as how many doctors you want included in your network. Insurers are offering 308 plans through the exchange in Florida, according to state insurance officials.

Individuals will have to have health insurance from their employer or purchase it, and will pay a roughly $100 penalty next year if they don’t.

Anyone making below the poverty line won’t be eligible to buy insurance through the online marketplace. Federal health officials anticipate roughly 1 million Floridians will fall into a gap where they can’t get health insurance because the state rejected Medicaid expansion.

Federal health officials said the health care law will provide better options, better value, better health and a stronger Medicare program for Floridians. In many states, they said rates have turned out to be lower than previous estimates.

Educating Americans about the Affordable Care Act will be paramount for the federal government and insurers as 78 percent of uninsured adults don’t know about opportunities that will be available to them in 2014 under the new health laws, according to Enroll America, a nonprofit group sponsoring a national marketing campaign.

The insurance commission warned that enticing young healthy adults to buy insurance was also a significant concern. Many experts predict rates will rise for these so-called “young invincibles” and if too many young adults avoid the new insurance marketplace, it could throw off the entire equilibrium of the Affordable Care Act.

“I’m deeply concerned on many levels as to how this thing will roll out,” McCarty said.

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