KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Kaiser Health News Original Stories

Political Cartoon: 'Split The Difference?'

Kaiser Health News provides a fresh take on health policy developments with "Political Cartoon: 'Split The Difference?'" by Chris Browne.

Here's today's health policy haiku:


Lousy decisions
Disgraceful, poor responses.
At stake: public health.

If you have a health policy haiku to share, please Contact Us and let us know if you want us to include your name. Keep in mind that we give extra points if you link back to a KHN original story.

Spending And Fiscal Battles

What's In Obama's $4.15 Trillion Budget?

Although much of the president's budget includes proposals that are dead on arrival in the Republican Congress, ideas such as funding cancer research and opioid treatment could garner bipartisan support in a rancorous election year.

The Washington Post: Budget Breakdown: What The White House Wants To Spend Money On
President Obama released the final budget proposal of his presidency Tuesday, a $4.15 trillion tax and spending plan that would boost federal government spending by just under 5 percent. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, part of the sprawling Health and Human Services Department, is seeking funding boosts for some of the Obama administration’s top priorities. These include an additional $40 million to prevent, detect and control illness and death related to infections caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria; $10 million more to protect against domestic and global health threats; and $10 million more as part of a government-wide program to prevent drug overdoses. The agency is also seeking $15 million in new funding to improve health and wellness for Native Americans and $30 million in mandatory funding for suicide prevention. The latter is part of the administration’s proposal to boost federal mental health spending by $500 million over two years to improve access to care and prevent suicides. ... Spending for the Health and Human Services Department’s discretionary programs would decrease slightly, to $82.8 billion, down $1 billion from the president’s budget proposal a year ago. (Sun and Goldstein, 2/9)

The New York Times: Obama’s Last Budget, And Last Budget Battle With Congress
President Obama on Tuesday sent his final annual budget proposal to a hostile Republican-led Congress, seeking $19 billion for a broad new cybersecurity initiative and rejecting the lame-duck label as he declared that his plan “is about looking forward.” The budget for fiscal year 2017, which starts Oct. 1, would top $4 trillion, although only about one-quarter of that is the so-called discretionary spending for domestic and military programs that the president and Congress dicker over each year. The rest is for mandatory spending, chiefly interest on the federal debt and the Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits that are expanding as the population ages. (Calmes, 2/9)

The Associated Press: Obama Sends Congress Record $4.1 Trillion 2017 Spending Plan
President Barack Obama sent Congress his eighth and final budget on Tuesday, proposing to spend a record $4.1 trillion on a number of initiatives, from a new war on cancer to combating global warming to fighting growing threats from Islamic State militants. ... Obama’s final budget has a playbook filled with ideas sure to appeal to Democrats: A “moonshot” initiative to cure cancer; increasing Pell Grants for college students from low-income backgrounds; renewed incentives for GOP-governed states to join the expanded Medicaid system established under the health care law, and incentives to boost individual retirement accounts. (Taylor and Crutsinger, 2/9) 

The Washington Post: Obama’s Final Budget Proposal Calls For An Almost 5 Percent Spending Boost
President Obama presented the final budget proposal of his presidency Tuesday, a $4.15 trillion package that he is calling “a roadmap to a future that embodies America’s values and aspirations.” The proposal would boost total spending by 4.9 percent, mainly as a result of increases in mandatory programs, most notably Social Security, and a rise in interest payments on the national debt. The president requested only a slight increase, less than 1 percent, in discretionary spending programs overall, although Republicans blasted him for promoting profligate spending. (Mufson, 2/9)

Politico: Obama Seeks Tax Hikes On Banks, The Wealthy To Pay For Budget
President Barack Obama’s final budget proposal is a clarion call for Democratic progressivism — a $4 trillion spending blueprint that would pour billions into clean energy, education and Medicaid, and pay for it by raising taxes on big banks and the wealthy. ... The budget boosts spending for Obamacare Medicaid expansion by $2.6 billion over a decade, designed to be an enticement to the 19 holdout states that have yet to take part.

Reuters: Corporate Winners Of Obama Budget Still Face Long Odds
Ipsita Smolinski, managing director at healthcare research consulting firm Capitol Street, said it was doubtful the Republican Congress would approve Obama's plan to aid the 19 state governments that passed up an earlier offer to expand the Medicaid program for low-income Americans. Such a plan, she said, would benefit hospital companies including Tenet Healthcare and HCA Holdings and Medicaid insurers such as Centene and Molina Healthcare. More palatable to Congress could be Obama's push for $755 million to jumpstart cancer research. But that level of investment without being more targeted may not benefit any specific firms, given that so many drug and biotech companies are invested in developing cancer therapies. (Krauskopf, 2/8)

As CDC Put On Highest Level Of Alert Over Zika, Obama Asks For $1.8 Billion In Emergency Funding

The president says there's no need to panic, and experts do not expect a large U.S. outbreak. They say, however, that the extra funding will help them prepare as spring and summer approach.

The Associated Press: Obama Asking Congress For Emergency Funding To Combat Zika
President Barack Obama is asking Congress for more than $1.8 billion in emergency funding to fight the Zika virus and the mosquitoes that spread it here and abroad, but says "there shouldn't be a panic on this." The virus is spreading rapidly through Latin America. While most people experience either mild or no symptoms, Zika is suspected of causing a devastating birth defect — babies born with abnormally small heads — and pregnant Americans are urged to avoid travel to affected areas. U.S. health officials say the money is critical for research into the birth defect known as microcephaly. (2/8)

The Washington Post: $1.8 Billion To Fight Zika: CDC Moves To Highest Alert Level
"We must work aggressively to investigate these outbreaks, and mitigate, to the best extent possible, the spread of the virus," the administration said in a statement. It said it has not yet seen a case of Zika transmitted directly within the continental United States, but with the approach of spring and summer mosquito seasons, it wants to be prepared to fight the disease. (Mufson and Sun, 2/8)

The Wall Street Journal: White House To Request $1.8 Billion To Combat Zika Virus
The largest portion of funding, $828 million, would go to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for programs that include mosquito control and surveillance efforts to track the virus. It would also go to ensuring the ability of birth-defect registries in the U.S. to detect Zika-related risks. It is uncertain whether the request will get full approval from Congress, but lawmakers said Monday they were pleased to see the White House acknowledging the need to act promptly before transmission of the virus by mosquitoes in the continental U.S. is seen. (Armour and Lee, 2/8)

USA Today: Obama Asks For $1.8 Billion In Emergency Zika Funding
The new request comes as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that its emergency operations center has been put on a “Level 1” status — its highest level of activation — because of the Zika outbreak. The CDC has only put its operations center at Level 1 three times in the past: during the Ebola outbreak in 2014; during the H1N1 pandemic in in 2009; and after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Obama's spending proposal includes $355 million in foreign aid to South America, Central America, the Caribbean, where the Zika virus is spreading most rapidly. (Korte and Szabo, 2/8)

NBC News: White House Seeks $1.8 Billion For Zika Virus Response
"The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports 50 laboratory-confirmed cases among U.S. travelers from December 2015 - February 5, 2016. As spring and summer approach, bringing with them larger and more active mosquito populations, we must be fully prepared to mitigate and quickly address local transmission within the continental U.S., particularly in the Southern United States," the White House said. (Fox, 2/8)

Health Law Issues And Implementation

Eight States Show Significant Drops In Uninsured: Gov't Report

The Associated Press reports that the eight states -- Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and New York -- with statistically significant coverage gains in the National Health Interview Survey represent a political grab bag. Meanwhile, news outlets in Georgia, Connecticut and Montana detail state-based coverage numbers.

The Associated Press: Report: Eight States Show Big Drops In Uninsured
Eight states saw a significant drop last year in the number of residents going without health insurance, according to a government report out Tuesday that has implications for the presidential campaign. All but Florida had accepted a Medicaid expansion that is one of two major pathways to coverage under President Barack Obama’s health care law. The law’s other coverage route is subsidized private insurance, available in all 50 states. (Alonso-Zaldivar, 2/8)

The Associated Press: Enrollment Rises For Montana Health Insurance Exchange
More Montanans are getting medical coverage through the federal health insurance marketplace. According to the federal government, 58,114 Montana residents enrolled for an insurance plan through the marketplace during the most recent open enrollment period. That's up 7 percent from the previous year. Last year, 54,266 Montanans were enrolled for health coverage through the exchange. (2/8)

The Connecticut Mirror: 116,019 CT Residents Signed Up For Obamacare Plans
In all, 116,019 Connecticut residents signed up for private insurance through the state’s health insurance exchange, Access Health CT, during the open enrollment period that ended last week, officials said Monday. That figure is slightly higher than the 110,095 who signed up during last year’s enrollment period and exchange officials’ goal for this year of signing up 105,000 to 115,000. (Levin Becker, 2/8)

Changes may be afoot for —

Kaiser Health News: Will Get A California Makeover?
The federal government — in pending proposed rules for 2017 — has signaled it too wants to have more of a hand in crafting plans. Though there are no plans to go as far as a monthly drug copay cap, would be forging ahead on a path California already paved, swapping variety for simplicity in plan design. (Bartolone, 2/9)

Meanwhile, news outlets also report on how the health law may create tax questions and issues —

The Associated Press: Health Care Law Makes Tax Season Tougher For Small Companies
As more requirements of the health care law take effect, income tax filing season becomes more complex for small businesses. Companies required to offer health insurance have new forms to complete providing details of their coverage. Owners whose payrolls have hovered around the threshold where insurance is mandatory need to be sure their coverage — if they offered it last year — was sufficient to avoid penalties. (Rosenberg, 2/8)

The Hill: ObamaCare Gets Extra Sign-Up Period To Clear Tax Issues
The Obama administration is setting up a new ObamaCare sign-up period for people who failed to file 2014 tax returns. Jan. 31 was the deadline for most people to sign up, but this new period will provide another chance until March 31, for certain people who might have missed out on coverage because of confusion about new ObamaCare requirements regarding taxes and health insurance. People who received tax credits under ObamaCare to help them afford insurance in 2014 were required to file a 2014 tax return in order to make sure they received the right amount of credit. If people failed to file a tax return, they became ineligible for further tax credits starting in 2016. (Sullivan, 2/8)

Kaiser Health News: A 401(k) Withdrawal Can Lead To Trouble For Health Plan Subsidies
It’s not uncommon for people to fail to count one-time income bumps from retirement savings or other sources when they’re estimating their annual income to qualify for advance premium tax credits for marketplace coverage, said Tara Straw, a senior policy analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. In the case of retirement savings, “they’re not thinking of it as income because it’s their own money,” she said. But since retirement money is generally deposited on a pretax basis, it counts as income when it’s withdrawn and can affect how much people qualify for in premium tax credits. (Andrews, 2/9)

Wyo. Governor Presses For Medicaid Expansion In Address To Legislature

Gov. Matt Mead tells lawmakers that the program would help uninsured residents and the state's hospitals. Also in the news, bills are introduced in the Kansas legislature that promote an expansion plan authored by the state's hospital association.

Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune: Mead: 'We Must Not Prioritize Projects Over People'
Gov. Matt Mead told the Wyoming Legislature during the State of the State address Monday morning the state’s residents will not accept budget cuts if the state continues to sock away money in savings. ... [The Joint Appropriations Committee] nixed a suggestion from Mead to expand Medicaid to 20,000 low-income Wyoming adults, which would funnel $268 million in federal money to the state over the next two years. “I wonder, are we willing to cut more than $33 million from literacy, tourism, local government, senior centers and early childhood development – just so we don’t have to expand Medicaid?” Mead asked lawmakers. (Hancock, 2/8)

Wyoming Public Radio: Governor Calls For Medicaid Expansion In His State Of The State Message
Governor Mead asked legislators to support Medicaid expansion in his biennial budget. That request was rejected which led to additional budget cuts. During his state of the state address he expressed concern about that. ... Mead said Medicaid expansion would provide health coverage to many uninsured in the state, as well as help many Wyoming hospitals by bringing in needed revenue. (Beck, 2/8)

Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune: Rally Draws Mead, Medicaid Expansion Supporters
Citing Bible verses while making financial and moral arguments, supporters of Medicaid expansion gathered Monday with Gov. Matt Mead at a church to rally for the Obamacare program that would extend coverage to 20,000 adults in Wyoming. ... Mead, [Rev. Dee] Lundberg and about 120 other people from around the state filled the sanctuary of Highlands United Presbyterian Church to discuss the importance of urging state lawmakers to expand Medicaid. Monday was the first of the approximately 20-day legislative session, in which lawmakers will adopt a two-year budget for the state. (Hancock, 2/9)

Wichita Eagle: Kansas Senate, House Bills Propose Medicaid Expansion
Medicaid expansion is officially up for debate in the Legislature, but passage still seems unlikely. The Kansas Hospital Association authored a plan dubbed “The Bridge to a Healthy Kansas.” The proposal was submitted as Senate Bill 371 and House Bill 2633, which was read Monday on the House floor. The association said its expansion plan would not only be budget neutral, but a moneymaker for the state’s general fund. (Dunn, 2/8)

Capitol Hill Watch

Senators Aim To Defy Odds With Bipartisan Medicare Reform Efforts

Lawmakers on the Senate Finance Committee are setting their sights on making changes to Medicare -- even if it means expanding aspects of the Affordable Care Act during an election year. In other news from Capitol Hill, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., has concerns about possible ties that experts on an advisory panel have to the pharmaceutical industry, and the Senate HELP Committee will mark up medical innovation bills.

The Hill: Senators Try For Bipartisanship On Medicare Reforms
The Senate Finance Committee is trying to do something a bit rare in an election year: legislate in a bipartisan way on a wonky but important issue. The project is to improve the way Medicare covers people with chronic conditions, such as diabetes and Alzheimer’s, so as to improve the coordination of care and bring about healthier outcomes at lower cost. At a hearing last month on failures of nonprofit “co-op” health insurers set up under ObamaCare, which featured some of the predictable partisan battles, Sen. Ron Wyden (Ore.), the top Democrat on the committee, pointed to the chronic care project as a hopeful sign of things to come, working with the chairman, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah). (Sullivan, 2/8)

The Associated Press: Senator Scrutinizes Pharma Links On Government Pain Panel
A high-ranking Senate Democrat is scrutinizing links between pharmaceutical companies and government advisers who recently criticized efforts to reduce painkiller prescribing. Sen. Ron Wyden says he has a "number of concerns" about how panelists were selected and screened for an advisory panel on pain issues that includes government experts, outside academics and patient advocates. Wyden's inquiry follows a recent Associated Press story that found nearly a third of panelists at a December meeting of the Interagency Pain Research Coordinating Committee had apparent financial ties to painkiller manufacturers, including the maker of OxyContin. (Perrone, 2/8)

Morning Consult: First Round Of Medical Bills To See Committee Votes
The Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee will on Tuesday begin its piecemeal approach to medical innovation legislation. Seven bipartisan bills are on the markup agenda, the first of three batches the committee will examine between now and April. This is the approach Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) decided to take after failing to come to a bipartisan consensus with ranking member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) on a broader bill. (Owens, 2/8)

Public Health And Education

Caregivers Struggle To Honor Requests Not To Be 'Sent Away' To Nursing Homes

As the population ages, more families face difficult choices when a loved one asks them to "promise you won’t put me away." Experts says that more must be demanded of the nation's long-term care facilities.

The Washington Post: ‘Promise You’ll Never Put Me In A Nursing Home’
Promise you won’t put me away. It is hard to say no to that request. But it often is even harder to honor it. There’s now a wider spectrum of facilities catering to different levels of need, but even the best ones can feel institutional. [Many] caregivers [are] concerned that being in an institution would hasten a loved one's decline. People in [that] position engage in a constant calculus: How long can you hold a job, take care of a declining loved one, and stay healthy before something cracks? Where is the line between self-abnegation and self-preservation? How do you balance the best interests of the sick person and those of other family members? (Bahrampour, 2/8)

Researchers: 'There's No Silver Bullet' To Eliminating Mosquitoes, But Progress Can Be Made

As the Zika virus spreads, scientists are looking for ways to wipe out the species that carry life-threatening diseases, but the solution isn't a simple one. In other news, experts find it hard to offer advice to pregnant women as they themselves receive ever-changing information about the virus; 12 groups are racing to find a vaccine; and workers have few legal avenues to pursue if they want to avoid being sent to Zika-afflicted areas for their jobs.

Los Angeles Times: Fighting Mosquitoes With Mosquitoes: Biological Weapons Target Zika Virus
No other animal has done so much harm to the human race. Each year, [mosquitoes] infect millions of people with malaria, yellow fever, dengue fever and other viruses and parasites, killing at least 600,000, the vast majority of them children in Africa. The World Bank estimates that they cost afflicted African countries 1.3% of gross domestic product each year. Which raises the question: Why not try to wipe mosquitoes off the planet? (Dixon, 2/8)

Los Angeles Times: Zika Virus Raises More Questions Than Answers For Pregnant Women
As public health officials and epidemiologists race to understand the Zika virus, doctors in the United States are struggling to counsel patients and ease their fears amid a flood of constantly changing information. Experts say pregnant women in the United States who haven't traveled to countries with outbreaks have no risk of being infected. But with a rapid stream of new information about how the illness is transmitted, new worries keep emerging among pregnant women. "You can't reassure them," said Dr. Kathleen Berkowitz, an obstetrician who practices in Los Angeles and Orange counties. (Karlamangla, 2/9)

Reuters: Race To Fast-Track Zika Trials As 12 Groups Seek Vaccine
At least 12 groups are now working to develop a Zika vaccine and health authorities said on Monday they were working to ensure development proceeded as rapidly as possible. The World Health Organization said it was important to establish speedy regulatory pathways, although all the vaccines remained in early-stage development and licensed products would take "a few years" to reach the market. (2/8)

Reuters: Lawyers See Limited Legal Options For Workers Sent In Zika's Way
Employees of U.S. companies seeking to avoid exposure to the Zika virus likely have few legal avenues to either refuse travel to affected areas or sue if they actually become sick from the virus. But it may be a different story if such workers subsequently give birth to Zika-infected babies. ... U.S. and world health authorities are not currently warning against all travel to affected areas, as they did with the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Adherence to the recommendations of the U.S. Department of State or the World Health Organization would shield companies to a large degree from claims they acted recklessly in sending employees into Zika-affected areas, lawyers who typically represent employers say. (Pierson, 2/8)

Meanwhile a family in Kansas tells its story of hope in the midst of fear —

The Kansas City Star: Kansas Family Offers Hope To Parents Of Children With Microcephaly
To many, having a child with a birth defect called microcephaly might seem to be the end of the world. And so it did, initially, for a family near Wichita, Kan., that experienced it — twice. But for Gwen and Scott Hartley, their two daughters, born with abnormally small heads and brains, are a source of joy. Microcephaly recently has been linked with the virus Zika, which is causing alarm among health officials. Thousands of parents have been heartbroken in Brazil, where the mosquito-borne virus has been most active. It has the potential to spread to parts of the United States. (Campbell, 2/7)

It's Not Just Putting Down The Eggs: Stress Plays An Under-Recognized Role In High Cholesterol

In an era in which digital technology makes it hard for employees to unplug and relax, researchers are warning that chronic stress from these tough jobs and other causes can lead to high cholesterol just like poor diet and lack of exercise do. In other public health news, scientists find a new species of bacterium that causes Lyme disease and victims of the Flint, Michigan, water crisis are filing lawsuits against the state and other officials.

The Wall Street Journal: Stress Raises Cholesterol More Than You Think
Of all the factors contributing to high cholesterol, many cardiologists say one often goes unmentioned in advice for patients: stress. Yet chronic stress from a tough job, a strained relationship or other anxiety-producing situations can play a role—along with poor diet, smoking and lack of exercise—in causing lipid concentrations to rise, they say. Cholesterol deposited by LDL can accumulate in the arteries, a condition known as atherosclerosis, which can reduce blood flow. (McKay, 2/8)

NPR: Scientists Discover A Second Bacterium That Causes Lyme Disease
Until very recently it was thought that just one bacterium was to blame for causing Lyme disease in humans. But it turns out that a second, related bug can cause it too. In 2013, during routine testing of bacterial DNA floating around in the blood samples of people suspected of having Lyme disease, researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., realized they were looking at something different. When they sequenced the genome of the bacterium, they realized it was different enough to be considered a new species. (Bichell, 2/8)

The New York Times: Unsafe Lead Levels In Tap Water Not Limited To Flint
In Sebring, Ohio, routine laboratory tests last August found unsafe levels of lead in the town’s drinking water after workers stopped adding a chemical to keep lead water pipes from corroding. Five months passed before the city told pregnant women and children not to drink the water, and shut down taps and fountains in schools. In 2001, after Washington, D.C., changed how it disinfected drinking water, lead in tap water at thousands of homes spiked as much as 20 times the federally approved level. Residents did not find out for three years. ... The crisis in Flint, Mich., where as many as 8,000 children under age 6 were exposed to unsafe levels of lead after a budget-cutting decision to switch drinking-water sources, may be the most serious contamination threat facing the country’s water supplies. But it is hardly the only one. (Wines and Schwartz, 2/8)

The Associated Press: Lead Contamination Of Flint Water Draws Multiple Lawsuits
One lawsuit seeks to replace lead-leaching water lines at no cost to customers. Another seeks money for thousands of Flint residents who unwittingly drank toxic water. A third complaint has been filed on behalf of people with Legionnaires' disease. While government officials scramble to rid Flint's tap water of lead, victims are suing Gov. Rick Snyder, the former mayor, rank-and-file public employees and almost anyone else who may have had a role in supplying the troubled city with corrosive river water for 18 months. The lawsuits accuse them of violating civil rights, wrecking property values and enriching themselves by selling a contaminated product. (White, 2/8)

State Watch

Conn. Governor, Health Officials Sued Over Ebola Quarantine

The plaintiffs say the decision was unconstitutional and was rooted in political, not scientific, grounds.

The Connecticut Mirror: Malloy, State Health Officials Sued Over Ebola Quarantine Policy
People quarantined in Connecticut during the height of the 2014 Ebola crisis sued Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and state health officials on Monday, saying the quarantine policy the governor imposed is unconstitutional. The complaint, filed by Yale law students in federal court, seeks unspecified monetary damages and an end to the policy Malloy and former Connecticut Department of Public Health chief Jewell Mullen put in place in October of 2014. Present acting health Commissioner Raul Pino is also named as a defendant. (Radelat, 2/8)

The Associated Press: Governor, Health Officials Sued Over Ebola Quarantines
Several people quarantined in Connecticut after returning from West Africa during the Ebola epidemic in 2014 were essentially imprisoned illegally under a state policy based on politics, not science, according to a lawsuit they filed on Monday. The lawsuit was filed by Yale Law School students against Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and state health officials on behalf of plaintiffs including a West African family of six quarantined at a relative's home for 20 days and a current student and former student at the Yale School of Public Health who were under 20-day quarantine orders at their homes. (2/8)

Meanwhile, the U.N. sharply criticizes WHO for its Ebola response —

Reuters: Lives At Risk Unless WHO Reforms, U.N. Report Says
The World Health Organization needs urgent reform to boost its ability to respond to crises, and failure to act now could cost thousands of lives, according to an advance copy of a high-level U.N. report. The report, entitled "Protecting Humanity from Future Health Crises", is the latest in a series of reviews by global health experts which have been sharply critical of the WHO's response to the devastating Ebola epidemic in West Africa. (Kelland, 2/8)

Lawsuits Will Test Whether State Medicaid Plans Must Provide Expensive Hepatitis C Drugs

A handful of lawsuits are seeking to turn around state policies that limit coverage of the drugs for Medicaid enrollees and prisoners. Also, media outlets look at Medicaid news in Alabama, Iowa and Montana.

Stateline: Are States Obligated To Provide Expensive Hepatitis C Drugs?
A handful of federal lawsuits against states that have denied highly effective but costly hepatitis C drugs to Medicaid patients and prisoners could cost states hundreds of millions of dollars. The drugs boast cure rates of 95 percent or better, compared to 40 percent for previous treatments. But they cost between $83,000 and $95,000 for a single course of treatment. (Ollove, 2/9)

AL. com: Governor To Make Major Announcement Tomorrow About Medicaid
Gov. Robert Bentley will make an announcement tomorrow about a transformation of the Medicaid payment system that is expected to control the costs of the program. Federal and state sources would not release any details about the announcement, except that it relates to regional care organizations. For more than a year and a half, officials from the Alabama Medicaid Agency have been negotiating with federal officials about the transition to regional care organizations. Federal authorities must approve the state's plan before officials change the Medicaid system. (Yurkanin, 2/8)

Des Moines Register: Senators Try To Halt Medicaid Privatization Plan
State senators pushed ahead Monday with their plan to reverse privatization of the state’s massive Medicaid program, even though Iowa House Republicans have vowed to block them. A key Senate committee voted to terminate contracts awarded by Gov. Terry Branstad’s administration last year to three national managed-care companies, which are slated to start running the Medicaid program March 1. The Senate Human Resources Committee voted 9-3 on Monday afternoon in favor of Senate Study Bill 3081. Sen. David Johnson was the only Republican to join Democrats in voting for the bill. (Leys and Petroski, 2/8)

Des Moines Register: Branstad: Culver 'Torpedo'-Ing Medicaid Privatization
Gov. Terry Branstad says he views a push by Iowa Senate Democrats to repeal his Medicaid privatization program as a “partisan, political” effort and he’s disappointed that former Democratic Gov. Chet Culver also has become involved in the health care debate. Culver has scheduled town hall meetings Tuesday in Coralville and Cedar Rapids to hear from some of the people affected by Branstad’s shift to private management of the Medicaid health insurance program, which helps about 560,000 low-income and disabled Iowans. (Petroski, 2/8)

Great Falls (Mont.) Tribune: State Launches Job Training For Medicaid Recipients
The launching of a key workforce training component to Montana’s 2015 Medicaid expansion program was announced in Great Falls on Monday. Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock, Republican state Sen. Ed Buttrey and state Labor and Industry Commissioner Pam Bucy said the HELP-Link program will use the state’s 24 Job Service centers to help 70,000 moderate income Montanans qualifying for expanded Medicaid health insurance to assess their job skills, get workforce training and obtain better jobs in their communities. (Johnson, 2/8)

State Highlights: Calif. Health Plan Tax; Newborn Deaths At Philadelphia Hospital

News outlets report on health issues in California, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Tennessee, New York, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Missouri and Virginia.

The Associated Press: Lawmakers Unveil California Health Plan Tax Proposal
The California Legislature on Monday unveiled a bill imposing a new tax on health insurance plans that would prevent a massive $1.1 billion hole in the state budget. The tax is designed to allow California to continue receiving matching funds from the federal government to pay for health insurance for the poor. It would replace a tax that applied only to Medi-Cal managed care organizations, which the federal government said it would not renew. (Cooper, 2/8)

The Philadelphia Inquirer: Newborn Deaths At Philadelphia Hospital Raise Questions
Two hospitals in the Philadelphia region perform complex heart surgery on newborn babies. But the institutions' results are vastly different, an Inquirer analysis of insurance claims data shows. At St. Christopher's Hospital for Children, one in four babies less than a month old died after arduous, highly risky heart operations performed between 2009 and 2014, a death rate nearly triple that of Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. The newspaper began a review of St. Christopher's after it declined last year to publicly reveal how many of its heart-surgery patients died - the only one of six hospitals not included in a first-ever state evaluation of such programs. (Avril and Purcell, 2/7)

The Boston Globe: Hospital, Physician Prices Driving Health Costs, Business Groups Say
Four business and trade groups are calling on the state to do more to rein in the prices charged by hospitals and doctors, saying rising health care costs are hurting consumers and the economy. The groups — representing retailers, insurers, and small and large businesses — did not offer specific ways to attack rising health care costs, but in a report to be released Tuesday identified the main culprit as medical prices. Echoing studies by the attorney general’s office and state Health Policy Commission, the business groups noted providers charging the highest prices don’t necessarily give the highest-quality care. (Dayal McCluskey, 2/9)

The Tennessean: Drug Testing For Benefits In Tennessee Yields Only 65 Positives
A Tennessee law requiring drug screening and testing of public benefit seekers has yielded few positives for illicit drugs — and no one has been denied benefits for failing a drug test, though scores of people have walked away from the application process. Just 65 of 39,121 people applying for a cash assistance program known as Families First in Tennessee tested positive for illegal substances or drugs for which they had no prescription since the law was implemented July 1, 2014, according to data provided by the Department of Human Services to The Tennessean. (Wadhwani, 2/7)

The Associated Press: Citing Huge Patient Load, NY Nurses Seek Rules On Staffing
When the emergency room fills up — whether it's a big accident, flu season or a stroke of misfortune — Brooklyn nurse Rose Green says she can find herself sprinting from room to room, trying to keep ahead of the whims of calamity. She and other nurses from around New York state are urging state lawmakers to pass legislation that would set minimum staffing levels for hospitals and nursing homes, a rule that they said would improve patient outcomes by addressing a chronic staffing problem. (Klepper, 2/8)

MetroWeekly: DC Passes Historic Health Care Competency Bill
The D.C. Council approved a first-of-its-kind bill that would require all licenses, certified and registered health care professionals to undergo cultural competency training on health challenges that specifically affect members of the LGBT community. The bill, which passed unanimously, would require health care professionals to receive two credits of instruction on treating and establishing clinical relationships patients who are LGBT, gender nonconforming, or questioning. (Riley, 2/5)

The Chicago Sun-Times: Aldermen Want 'Mental Health Safety Net' In Wake Of Police Shootings
Chicago will face more police shootings that trigger multi-million dollar settlements unless steps are taken to strengthen mental health services devastated by Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s 2012 decision to close six of the city’s 12 mental health clinics, aldermen argued Wednesday. One week after Emanuel stepped up crisis intervention training for Chicago Police officers and 911 call takers to dramatically improve the city’s response to emergencies involving people suffering from mental illness, eight aldermen argued that the mayor’s response was nowhere near enough. (Spielman, 2/5)

St. Louis Public Radio: PhD Student Grinds Up Antiacids And Stops Tumor Growth In Mice (Sort Of)
A Ph.D. student at Washington University’s School of Medicine has published the results of a surprising discovery: Calcium carbonate, the common compound found in antacids like Tums, can be used to stop tumor growth in mice. Here’s how it works: Cancer tumors need an acidic environment to survive. Calcium carbonate, on the other hand, is a base. In a swimming pool, bases can counteract acidity to neutralize the pH of the water and make it safe to swim. (Bouscaren, 2/7)

The Associated Press: Hospitals Launch Ad Campaign Ahead Of Vote
The Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association has launched a new statewide ad campaign aimed at defeating legislation it says would put smaller, rural hospitals out of business. Association spokesman Julian Walker said the TV and radio campaign was “substantial” and running exclusively in rural communities. Some Republican lawmakers and tea party groups are pushing legislation that would curtail much of the certificate of public need program, which requires government approval for new or expanded health care facilities. (2/9)

Editorials And Opinions

Viewpoints: Thinking About The Budget; Is Obamacare A Stepping Stone For Single Payer?

A selection of opinions on health care from around the country.

USA Today: Deficit Attention Disorder: Our View
From 2009 to 2012, the federal government ran annual deficits of at least $1 trillion, provoking outrage from politicians and fueling the rise of the Tea Party. Now that deficits have receded, few people seem to care anymore. ... Congress has been no better. Prodded by the Tea Party, Republicans forced dramatic cuts in year-to-year spending for defense and domestic programs — and then cut deals last year to significantly unwind the cuts, increase pay for doctors and extend an array of tax breaks. More important, both parties have largely ignored the part of the budget where the big money is: benefit programs such as Social Security and Medicare, which run on autopilot and now account for almost two-thirds of all federal spending. ... Most of the Republicans have offered absurdly expensive tax cuts that would add trillions to the national debt over the next decade, while the Democrats are offering irresponsible plans to spend huge amounts on higher education and health care. (2/8)

USA Today: Too Soon To Worry About Deficits: Opposing View
On Tuesday, the White House will unveil its annual federal budget. In recent years, the traditional hand-wringing over budget deficits sensibly took a back seat to ensuring that spending cuts did not drag on the still-incomplete economic recovery. Now, however, pressure is building again to reduce deficits. ... There’s still little economic evidence, however, that we should start cutting spending to reduce the deficit.Only when the economy achieves a full recovery should our focus shift to the national debt. But even then, the destructive toll of inequality on lower- and middle-class income households argues that essential social insurance programs such as Social Security and Medicare should be maintained and expanded, not slashed. And the first new revenue to fund these vital programs should be progressive. The biggest problems we face remain a still-weak economy and destructive inequality, not a too-large federal budget deficit. (Hunter Blair and Josh Bivens, 2/8)

The Philadelphia Inquirer: Was Obamacare Designed To Fail?
Democratic socialist progressives, hard to know what term to use these days, unabashedly embrace single payer healthcare for the United States. The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) was passed by Congress with no Republican votes in 2010. It didn’t achieve single payer. However, an examination of how Obamacare has evolved might lead to the conclusion that it was designed to fail as a way to, ultimately, force a single payer system. (Howard J. Peterson and Robert I. Field, 2/9)

Modern Healthcare: Expect More Attacks On 'Socialized Medicine' If Sanders Wins In New Hampshire
In Saturday's Republican presidential debate, Ted Cruz warned of the dangers of a government-led healthcare financing system. “Socialized medicine is a disaster. It does not work. If you look at the countries that have imposed socialized medicine, that have put the government in charge of providing medicine, what inevitably happens is rationing. ...." As we know from the “death panel” controversy fueled by Sarah Palin in 2009, sounding the alarm on rationing medical care is extremely explosive in American politics and such criticism spreads quickly. While that charge was completely bogus, the problem for Sanders and other proponents of single-payer health insurance is that countries with government-run or government-organized healthcare financing systems, such as Great Britain and Canada, do limit some services that are deemed too expensive, not medically necessary, or lacking sufficient clinical evidence. (Harris Meyer, 2/8)

USA Today: Doing What We Must On Alzheimer's: Column
My 93-year-old father hasn’t known my brother or me for two years. On rare occasions, he expresses a vague inkling that I’m the guy who cooks dinner, but that’s the exception rather than the rule. Most days, Dad sees only a potentially dangerous stranger — his unknown son — approaching the home he and Mom have shared for 60 years. I hear him yell out for her, his voice thick with confusion and panic, “Ruth! Somebody’s at the door!” At first that bothered me; now it’s just normal. (Ron Marr, 2/8)

STAT: Depression Screening For Adults And Adolescents Has Benefits, But Don’t Ignore The Downsides
Depression affects millions of Americans. Many of them know it; many others don’t. In an effort to reveal — and treat — hidden depression, the United States Preventive Services Task Force has reaffirmed that doctors should screen all adults and adolescents for depression. Screening means checking a seemingly healthy person for signs of hidden disease. It is done for all sorts of ailments, from high blood pressure and osteoporosis to breast and prostate cancer. (Patrick Skerrett, 2/8)

JAMA: Immunization Policy And The Importance Of Sustainable Vaccine Pricing
As novel, increasingly expensive vaccines are developed and considered for inclusion in the childhood immunization schedule, during pregnancy, and among the elderly, issues regarding efficacy, safety, burden of disease, equity, and compatibility with existing vaccine schedules will be evaluated. ... Consensus regarding use of a specific vaccine will not be achieved easily. Vaccine costs will weigh heavily on recommendations. Efforts to constrain vaccine pricing without removing the incentive for vaccine development will be a difficult balance. Establishing a model for vaccine pricing will be an integral part of ensuring broad access to the remarkable benefits that future vaccines surely will provide. (H. Cody Meissner, 2/8)

The New York Times: When Addiction Has A White Face
When crack hit America in the mid-1980s, for African-Americans, to borrow from Ta-Nehisi Coates, civilization fell. Crack embodied instant and fatal addiction; we saw endless images of thin, ravaged bodies, always black, as though from a famined land. And always those desperate, cracked lips. Our hearts broke learning the words “crack baby.” (Ekow N. Yankah, 2/9)

Bloomberg: New Hampshire Tests Candidates On Addiction
Melissa Crews has always voted Democratic, though her husband is a staunch Republican. This year, the family split is coming to an end: Melissa is switching sides, and heroin is the principal reason. Crews is board chair at Hope for New Hampshire Recovery, a nonprofit she helped set up last year to battle the state's heroin epidemic. New Hampshire was third in the nation for overdose deaths in 2014 (the latest year for which data are available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and in the top 10 for the use of illicit drugs other than marijuana. (Leonid Bershidsky, 2/9)

Des Moines Register: Culver, Democrats Defend Antiquated Medicaid System
The caucus chaos may have died down, but there is a new political circus in town. This week, Senate Democrats are teaming up with former Gov. Chet Culver. Culver is embarking on a series of anti-Medicaid modernization town halls, while Iowa Senate Democrats appear poised to pass legislation to terminate the modernization of the Iowa Medicaid system. (Jimmy Centers, 2/9)