KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

First Edition: April 8, 2013

Today's headlines include reports about the politics surrounding the Wednesday unveiling of President Barack Obama's budget as well as other news about the health law's implementation. 

Kaiser Health News: Worries Mount About Enrolling Consumers In Federally-Run Insurance Exchanges
Kaiser Health News staff writer Jenny Gold, working in collaboration with USA Today, reports: "The plan to insure as many as 27 million Americans under the federal health law beginning this fall will be the biggest expansion of health coverage since that launch. Millions will be eligible to shop for insurance in the new online marketplaces, which open for enrollment Oct. 1 with the coverage taking effect Jan. 1" (Gold, 4/8). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: VA Drive To Hire 1,600 Mental Health Professionals Hits Community Clinics' Supply
Reporting for Kaiser Health News in collaboration with The Washington Post, Guy Gugliotta writes: "The Department of Veterans Affairs, trying to cope with a surge in psychological needs of veterans, has vowed to hire 1,600 additional mental health care professionals by the end of June, but some experts say the pool of qualified candidates is too small and the federal effort could jeopardize already-understaffed community health organizations" (Gugliotta, 4/7). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News also tracked weekend health policy headlines, including reports about how Democrats and Republicans are viewing President Barack Obama’s budget, which is scheduled for release on Wednesday (4/7).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Ahead Of Budget Release, Top Obama Adviser Warns Both Parties They May Not Be Happy With Plan
The White House is warning friend and foe alike: They're not going to like every part of President Barack Obama’s budget when it is released this week. White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer is telling Republicans their "my way or the highway" approach would spell the GOP's defeat in upcoming budget negotiations. He also is telling Obama's Democratic allies that they, too, will have to bend on the spending plan that is due Wednesday (4/8).

USA Today: Obama's Budget Revives Talk Of Entitlement Changes
A brief reprieve on imminent budget deadlines is providing Republicans and Democrats alike an opportunity to regroup for the next fiscal debate that will dominate the spring and come to a head this summer: increasing the nation's ability to borrow money to pay its bills.  Negotiations to raise the debt ceiling are increasingly linked to an ongoing debate over how to revamp the nation's social safety net to help reduce the deficit (Davis, 4/7).

The Washington Post: Health-Care Law Could Backfire For Thousands On Medicaid
At a time when most states are preparing to expand their Medicaid programs in line with the new health-care law, tens of thousands of people in states with historically generous Medicaid coverage could soon be kicked off the rolls. In Wisconsin, officials want to take advantage of the law to shift nearly 100,000 low-income people from the health insurance program for the poor into subsidized private plans. ... An additional 180,000 people in five other states could lose coverage because they are in experimental versions of Medicaid that expire this year and may not be renewable under the new law (Aizenman, 4/6).

Politico: Obamacare Foes Using It For Medicaid Control
Conservatives who hate President Barack Obama's health law have been agitating to convert Medicaid into a no-strings-attached block grant for states since the Reagan era. That effort died — or at least got put on indefinite hold — with Obama's reelection. But red-state governors see another chance to ram through some of the changes they seek. Ironically, their opening was created by the health law's Medicaid expansion (Millman and Cheney, 4/7).

The Wall Street Journal: Some Small Businesses Opt For The Health-Care Penalty
Small-business owners across the U.S. are bracing for the health-care law that kicks in next year, fearing it will increase the cost of providing insurance to employees. But Rick Levi, a business owner in Des Moines, Iowa, is among those considering the government's escape hatch: paying a penalty to avoid the law's "employer mandate" (Maltby and Needleman, 4/7).

Politico: Exchanges, But Not As Envisioned
Delay? What delay?  Even though the Obama administration is delaying a key component of federally run small-business exchanges, some states building their own exchanges say they’re on track to have the program running next year. The feds last month said the 33 exchanges it will run next year won’t allow employees whose companies use the exchanges to choose their own health plans until 2015. Instead, they’ll have to accept whatever plan their employer selects for them (Millman, 4/8).

The Wall Street Journal: Workers Stuck In Disability Stunt Economic Recovery
The unexpectedly large number of American workers who piled into the Social Security Administration's disability program during the recession and its aftermath threatens to cost the economy tens of billions a year in lost wages and diminished tax revenues (Scism and Hilsenrath, 4/7).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Pentagon Presses For Higher Fees For Military Health Care Beneficiaries, Congress Resists
The loud, insistent calls in Washington to rein in the rising costs of Social Security and Medicare ignore a major and expensive entitlement program — the military’s health care system. Despite dire warnings from three defense secretaries about the uncontrollable cost, Congress has repeatedly rebuffed Pentagon efforts to establish higher out-of-pocket fees and enrollment costs for military family and retiree health care as an initial step in addressing a harsh fiscal reality. The cost of military health care has almost tripled since 2001, from $19 billion to $53 billion in 2012, and stands at 10 percent of the entire defense budget (4/8).

Politico: Marilyn Tavenner Might Be Beneficiary Of Bipartisan Nod
President Barack Obama’s nominee to run the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services will go before the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday with potential for bipartisan support for her confirmation. Marilyn Tavenner, who has been running the agency in an acting capacity for more than a year, appears to have risen above the volatile politics of health reform to garner support — or at least not vocal, universal opposition — on Capitol Hill (Haberkorn, 4/8).

The Washington Post: Telemedicine Makes New Advances, All The Way To Antarctica
When the doctors at University of Texas Medical Branch are reading an ultrasound, examining an X-ray or evaluating an echocardiogram, the patient they are treating is not necessarily right in front of them. Instead, the patient is often in one of the farthest-flung corners of the Earth: a scientific research station in Antarctica (Halzack, 4/7).

The Washington Post: Two D.C. Hospitals Vie To Establish Costly Cancer Treatment Option
Two of the region’s largest hospital systems are competing to offer a controversial cancer treatment — joining what critics say is a nationwide medical arms race as hospitals scramble for dominance by investing millions of dollars in technology that has not been proven to be better than cheaper alternatives for some cancers (Sun, 4/7).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Risk For Obama In Pursuing Legal Appeals After Judge Reverses Morning-After Pill Limits
President Barack Obama supports requiring girls younger than 17 to see a doctor before buying the morning-after pill. But fighting that battle in court comes with its own set of risks. A federal judge in New York on Friday ordered the Food and Drug Administration to lift age restrictions on the sale of emergency contraception, ending the requirement that buyers show proof they’re 17 or older if they want to buy it without a prescription (4/6).

NPR: With Plan B Ruling, Judge Signs Off On Years Of Advocacy
Federal District Court Judge Edward Korman has been overseeing the case on and off since 2005. He found, among other things, that the Food and Drug Administration "has engaged in intolerable delays ... that could accurately be described as an administrative agency filibuster" in deciding whether to approve a 2001 citizens' petition to allow nonprescription sale of the drug (Rovner, 4/6).

Los Angeles Times: Teen Contraception Decision: Doctors Say Science Trumps Politics
Science trumped politics, but politics may still present problems for teens trying to purchase emergency contraception. "A lot of stuff is going to happen over the next 30 days," said Dr. Cora Breuner, a pediatric medicine specialist at the University of Washington (Mohan, 4/6).

The Associated Press: Sweeping Anti-Abortion Goes To Kansas Gov.
Kansas legislators gave final passage to a sweeping anti-abortion measure Friday night, sending Gov. Sam Brownback a bill that declares life begins "at fertilization" while blocking tax breaks for abortion providers and banning abortions performed solely because of the baby's sex. ... The measure's language that life begins "at fertilization" had some abortion-rights supporters worrying that it could be used to legally harass providers. Abortion opponents call it a statement of principle and not an outright ban on terminating pregnancies (Hanna, 4/6).

Los Angeles Times: Judge Denies Gov. Jerry Brown's Bid To End Prison Oversight
Lawyers representing about 33,700 California prisoners requiring mental health care contend serious shortfalls in care remain, evidenced by staff shortages in some psychiatric wards, the housing of mentally ill inmates in isolation cells and a climbing prison suicide rate. California presented reports from a team of experts, including one who became Brown's current secretary of corrections, who contend conditions, while imperfect, now meet the minimum adequate care required under the U.S. Constitution and continue to improve (St. John, 4/5).

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