KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Insurers, Employers Trimming Costs, Consumers Paying More

News outlets cover how companies are puzzling through the increasing costs of health care.

The Wall Street Journal: Insurers Push To Rein In Spending On Cancer Care
Insurers are changing how they pay for cancer care, aiming to blunt soaring costs and push oncologists to adhere to standardized treatment guidelines. The largest effort yet is set to be unveiled by WellPoint Inc., which will begin offering oncologists a $350-per-month payment for each patient who is on one of the insurer's recommended regimens. WellPoint, the No. 2 insurer in the U.S., will roll out its new program July 1 in six states and through its entire network by the middle of next year (Wilde Mathews, 5/27).

Kaiser Health News: 7 Things You Should Know About The Next Big Benefit Change
After getting a green light from the Obama administration earlier this month, more employers may begin to cap what they pay for certain medical treatments, such as joint replacements and drugs, potentially shifting more costs to workers. Done right, economists and policy experts say the move to "reference pricing," as the approach is known, could slow health care spending by prompting consumers to choose less expensive providers or treatments— and leading providers to lower their charges. Still, consumer advocates warn that the approach is likely to make health insurance even more complex (Appleby, 5/28).

NPR: How To Shop For Long-Term Care Insurance
One of the toughest money decisions Americans face as they age is whether to buy long-term care insurance. Many people don't realize that Medicare usually doesn't cover long-term care, yet lengthy assisted-living or nursing home stays can decimate even the best-laid retirement plan. Long-term care insurance is a complex product that requires a long-term commitment if you're buying it. So how can you tell if this insurance is right for you? (Tripoli, 5/28).

USA Today: Many Employees Hit With Higher Health Care Premiums
More employees are getting hit with higher health insurance premiums and co-payments, and many don't have the money to cover unexpected medical expenses, a new report finds. More than half of companies (56%) increased employees' share of health care premiums or co-payments for doctors' visits in 2013, and 59% of employers say they intend to do the same in 2014, according to the annual Aflac WorkForces Report. It's based on a survey of 1,856 employers and 5,209 employees at small, medium and large-size companies (Hellmich, 5/28).

Reuters: Insurers Scrutinize Drug Costs After $84k Sovaldi Surprise 
Shocked by the rapid adoption of a new $84,000 hepatitis C treatment, U.S. health insurers are trying to make sure they aren’t blindsided by other drugs being developed and are looking for ways to limit their use from the day they are launched. Manufacturer Gilead Sciences Inc says 30,000 people have received hepatitis drug Sovaldi so far, and that sales hit a record-breaking $2.3 billion within a few months. The treatment, typically 84 pills taken over 12 weeks, completely cures the disease in more than 90 percent of patients (Humer and Beasley, 5/28).

Meanwhile, on Medicare -

The Hill: Investigative Reporters Suing CMS For Medicare Advantage Data
The Center for Public Integrity filed a lawsuit against the CMS Tuesday to force the agency to release copies of program audits, billing data and the identities of any health plans suspected of overcharging the government under Medicare Advantage. Fred Schulte, a senior reporter at the CPI, requested the information in May of 2013. While the CMS acknowledges it received the letter in June, the request has since stalled (Al-Faruque, 5/27).

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