KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

First Edition: January 31, 2014

Today's headlines include reports about the retirement announcement by Rep. Henry Waxman and the health policy legacy he will leave behind. 

Kaiser Health News: Rep. Waxman, Passionate Advocate For Medicaid And Public Health Issues, Announces His Retirement
Kaiser Health News staff writer Mary Agnes Carey reports: “Rep. Henry A. Waxman, a California Democrat who is one of the Medicaid program's most vocal -- and effective -- champions, announced Thursday he plans to retire from the House at the end of this year, his 40th on Capitol Hill. The former Energy and Commerce Committee chairman has been one of his party's central figures in the highest profile health care debates, most recently helping to craft the sweeping 2010 health care law, which Waxman said was one of his "lifelong dreams … finally achieved” (Carey, 1/31). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: Can I Get My Insurance To Pay For An IUD Removal?
Kaiser Health News consumer columnist Michelle Andrews answers this reader question (1/31). Read her response.

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: ACOs Saving Some Money, But Medicare's Short On Details; CA Exchange Posts Customer Ratings Of Health Plans
Now on Kaiser Health News’ blog, Jenny Gold reports on news from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services about accountable care organizations: “The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced Thursday that overall, provider groups involved in Medicare ACO programs saved a total of $380 million in the first year. Sounds like a lot of money, but CMS declined to explain which hospitals were winners and which were losers, how it compared to expectations and how much the participants invested in coordinating care. Also missing is the scale of the savings; CMS did not provide the context of total spending by the ACOs” (Gold, 1/31). 

Also on Capsules, Anna Gorman writes that California’s health exchange includes customer quality ratings information: “Covered California assigned star ratings to the health plans based on member survey responses. The surveys were taken before the insurance marketplace opened, so they only compare plans that had a track record beforehand” (Gorman, 1/30). Check out what else is on the blog.

The Wall Street Journal: Coordinated Health Care Program Saves Millions
Nearly half of the 114 hospitals and doctor groups that began Accountable Care Organizations under the health law in 2012 managed to slow Medicare spending in their first year, but only 29 of them saved enough money to qualify for bonus payments, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said Thursday. CMS called the results "very promising"—particularly for the first year of a program that involved significant changes in the delivery of health care. But the fact that more than half the ACOs didn't achieve savings underscores the challenges that remain in curbing health-care costs this way (Beck, 1/30).

USA Today: New Care Organizations Save $380 Million In First Year
The section of the Affordable Care Act aimed at changing the treatment of Medicare beneficiaries saved the program more than $380 million in its first year of operation, a top Medicare official said Thursday. Accountable Care Organizations were created as part of the 2010 health care law and started in a series of pilot programs around the country. Instead of paying health care providers for each service they perform, ACOs focus on keeping patients out of the hospital (Kennedy, 1/30).

The Wall Street Journal’s Washington Wire: Union Chiefs ‘Bitterly Disappointed’ With Obamacare Efforts
Labor leaders are widely praising President Barack Obama for his State of the Union address Tuesday night –but his signature health-care law remains a point of contention for some. Their beef: The administration hasn’t adequately addressed their complaints that provisions in the law will undermine the current health coverage of millions of union members (Trottman, 1/30).

Los Angeles Times: Anthem To Raise Some Premiums As Much As 25%
Thousands of Anthem Blue Cross individual customers with older insurance policies untouched by Obamacare are getting some jarring news: Their premiums are going up as much as 25%. hese increases, 16% on average, are slated to go into effect April 1 for up to 306,000 people — unless California regulators persuade the state's largest for-profit health insurer to back down (Terhune, 1/30).

Los Angeles Times: Lawmakers Criticize Hiring Of Obamacare Enrollers With Criminal Records
California's health insurance exchange allowed 31 people with criminal records to be enrollment counselors for Obamacare coverage, drawing fire from Republican lawmakers. Two state legislators are calling for a hearing on the exchange's hiring practices and its efforts to prevent identity theft and fraud (Terhune, 1/30).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Candidates Debate Fix To Health Exchange
Two Democratic candidates who are running for governor debated Thursday night about how Maryland should best address ongoing problems with the state’s health care exchange. Attorney General Doug Gansler said the state should allow residents to choose whether they want to use the state’s exchange or the one run by the federal government. But Del. Heather Mizeur said Gansler’s proposal is not a viable option. She said the only way Maryland and the federal government can work together on a website is if the state administers the Medicaid portion of health care reform and turns over the private insurance portion to the federal government (1/30).

The Washington Post: Governor Hopefuls Gansler, Mizeur Focus Ire On Md. Health Site During Candidates Forum
Two leading Democratic candidates for governor of Maryland harshly criticized the rollout of the state’s online health insurance exchange Thursday but sparred during a candidates forum over the wisdom of a solution one of them proposed earlier in the day. Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler and Del. Heather R. Mizeur (Montgomery) both told an audience of senior citizens that Maryland had no excuse for botching the start of its exchange, which has been riddled with glitches since its Oct. 1 debut (Wagner and Johnson, 1/30).

Los Angeles Times: House GOP Will Offer Obamacare Alternative This Year
House Republicans plan to pass a healthcare reform bill that could replace the Affordable Care Act, Majority Leader Eric Cantor announced Thursday. The No. 2 House Republican included the announcement in his presentation to rank-and-file members at the party’s three-day retreat here on its legislative agenda for 2014. Cantor’s promise comes just two days after President Obama, during his State of the Union address, mocked the House for its repeated efforts to repeal his signature legislative accomplishment (Memoli, 1/30).

The New York Times: Henry Waxman, Key Democrat And Force For Health Care Law, Is To Retire
Mr. Waxman’s departure after 20 terms in the House will be particularly poignant. One of his most notable accomplishments, the Affordable Care Act, which he was instrumental in writing, is shaping up as the centerpiece of campaigns all over the country, not as a triumph but as a Republican cudgel. And the expansion of Medicaid that he has championed has been challenged in a number of states run by Republican governors (Weisman, 1/30).

NPR: Rep. Waxman Leaves Behind A Legacy Of Health Laws
California Democratic Congressman Henry Waxman, one of the last remaining members of the huge post-Watergate class of 1974, is calling it quits at the end of this term. Most people who live outside his Los Angeles district and off Capitol Hill have likely never heard of Waxman. He was never a fixture on the Sunday talk shows, or in Washington's social scene (Rovner, 1/31).

Los Angeles Times: Rep. Henry Waxman to Retire After Four Decades In Congress
His retirement, which set off a political scramble among potential replacements, was the latest of a series of departures that are remaking the state's long-stable congressional delegation. It also brings an end to an era of Democratic political activism that opened when a huge class of Democrats, including Waxman, entered the House in the post-Watergate election of 1974 (Simon, 1/30).

Los Angeles Times: ‘End Of An Era’: Washington Reacts To Rep. Henry Waxman’s Retirement
"One of the giants of Congress." "A tough partisan, but above all, an institutionalist." "End of an era."
Those were among the reactions Thursday to the announcement by Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Beverly Hills) that he would be retiring from Congress after 40 years. Tributes came from environmental and health groups, whose causes Waxman championed, and Democratic allies and Republican adversaries (Simon, 1/30).

The Washington Post: Henry Waxman To Retire At End Of Congressional Session
Waxman is the 17th House member — 10 Republicans; seven Democrats — to call it quits. Fourteen others are running for the Senate or for governor. Although his Los Angeles seat appears almost certain to remain Democratic, his departure after 20 terms will leave a void of experience and legislative skill in the liberal ranks (Tumulty, 1/30).

Politico: Henry Waxman’s Rich Legislative Legacy
But anyone who has worked in the Washington policy trenches over the past four decades — especially in public health and the environment — also will remember Waxman as a legislative maestro who had an instinctive feel for finding the perfect equilibrium to pass landmark legislation (Samuelsohn and Kenen, 1/31). 

The Associated Press/Washington Post: 20-Term Dem Waxman To Retire; Sandra Fluke May Run
By days’ end, a prominent liberal activist was weighing a run to replace Waxman. “I am strongly considering running,” Sandra Fluke, the former Georgetown University law student who testified to congressional Democrats that she wanted her college health plan to cover her birth control. Radio personality Rush Limbaugh branded her a “slut,” but later apologized. “I’ll be making my decision soon,” Fluke said Thursday. Waxman himself said he never expected to serve in the House for so long (1/30).

The New York Times: State Health Dept. Defers Action on Troubled Agency
The New York State Department of Health on Thursday abruptly withdrew its recommendation that a home health care agency with a checkered past be granted an expanded license, saying that new information had come to its attention and that officials needed more time to evaluate it before a vote on the license (Bernstein, 1/30).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Mississippi Governor Signs Youth Concussion Law
Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant has signed a bill into law requiring public and private schools to evaluate student athletes for concussions if they’ve been especially shaken up or taken a hard hit during practice or competition. A player with a concussion would be banned from play until fully recovered (1/30). 

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