KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

First Edition: September 23, 2013

Today's headlines include reports about what could happen on Capitol Hill this week as the count down to a government shut down continues.

Kaiser Health News: FAQ: Seniors On Medicare Don't Need To Apply To The Health Law Marketplaces
Kaiser Health News staff writer Mary Agnes Carey reports: "Nearly 50 million Americans are enrolled in Medicare, the federal health insurance program for the elderly and disabled. The 2010 health care law, known as the Affordable Care Act, will make some changes to the program. Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about Medicare and the health law" (Carey, 9/23). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: A Reader Asks: How Can We Be Sure To Get A Policy That Covers Maternity Care?
Kaiser Health News consumer columnist Michelle Andrews answers a reader’s question about maternity care coverage (9/23). Read the answer.

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Report Looks At Income Disparities For Seniors On Medicare
Now on Kaiser Health News' blog, Mary Agnes Carey reports: "Lawmakers considering major changes to entitlement programs as part of a deficit reduction package might want to consider this: Future Medicare recipients won’t be much better off financially than current beneficiaries, according to a new analysis from the Kaiser Family Foundation" (Carey, 9/20). Check out what else is on the blog.

Kaiser Health News: Views On Obamacare Closely Track Party Preference In Washington State
The Seattle Times' Lisa Stiffler, working in partnership with Kaiser Health News, reports: "If you want to know whether people in Washington state like or loathe Obamacare, you could just ask them which political party they prefer. That's because 80 percent of Democrats surveyed approve of health-care reform while 80 percent of Republicans don't, according to an Elway Poll of Washington voters conducted on behalf of The Seattle Times. Independent voters are the wild card, with 41 percent in favor and 46 percent against the overhaul, formally known as the Affordable Care Act" (Stiffler, 9/23). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News also tracked weekend news headlines, including coverage of the Sunday morning talk shows and the back-and-forth over defunding Obamacare (9/22) as well as details of the House vote approving a stopgap spending measure that would defund the health law (9/20).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: 1 Week From Potential Shutdown, Congress And White House Weigh Options To Dodge Stalemate
The unyielding political posturing comes one week before Congress reaches an Oct. 1 deadline to dodge any interruptions in government services. While work continues on a temporary spending bill, a potentially more devastating separate deadline looms a few weeks later when the government could run out of money to pay its bills. Lawmakers are considering separate legislation that would let the United States avoid a first-ever default on its debt obligations. House Republicans are planning legislation that would attach a 1-year delay in the health care law in exchange for ability to increase the nation’s credit limit of $16.7 trillion (9/23).

The Washington Post: Shutdown Countdown: What The Next Eight Days Could Bring
On Friday, the House passed a measure that would keep the government running through mid-December. But it came with what Democrats consider a poison pill: It defunds President Obama’s signature health-care law, known as Obamacare. There is no way whatsoever — think pigs flying — that the Senate will agree to the House plan. Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said the House bill was "dead," then for emphasis added: "Dead." That sets up eight days of brinkmanship between the Republican House and the Democratic Senate and White House, leading to midnight Sept. 30, when much of the government will shut down if there's no deal. Leaders on Capitol Hill expect the face-off to go right up to the deadline, if not beyond. Below is a day-by-day look at how it’s all likely to play out — with the caveat that events can change quickly (Kane, 9/22).

The Washington Post: Fight Over Spending, Debt And Health Law Has Risks For Republicans And Obama
The strategy to tie defunding of Obamacare to the government-funding bill has divided Republicans, producing an extraordinary spectacle of intraparty second-guessing and pointed criticism. The debate highlights a fundamental schism within the Republican Party. Can Republicans cater to their conservative base and still find ways to expand their appeal across the electorate in order to win back the White House in the future? Are the two mutually compatible or mutually exclusive? There are reasons Republicans feel emboldened to go after Obama’s health-care law. Three years after he signed the measure, the president has clearly failed in the public relations effort to win support for the Affordable Care Act (Dan Balz, 9/21).

Politico: Ted Cruz Scrambles To Salvage Strategy
After months of fiery rhetoric, Cruz and his allies are scrambling to salvage their strategy. For starters, Cruz wants Reid to make an exception to Senate rules that would make it easier for Republicans to block Obamacare funding (Everett, 9/23).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Lawmakers Start Laying Groundwork For Blame Over Budget Showdown And Government Shutdown
Even before a budget deadline arrives, leaders from both parties are blaming each other — and some Republicans are criticizing their own — for a government shutdown many are treating as inevitable. The top Democrat in the House says Republicans are "legislative arsonists" who are using their opposition to a sweeping health care overhaul as an excuse to close government's doors. A leading tea party antagonist in the Senate counters that conservatives should use any tool available to stop the Affordable Care Act from taking hold. President Bill Clinton's labor secretary says the GOP is willing "to risk the entire system of government to get your way," while the House speaker who oversaw the last government shutdown urged fellow Republicans to remember "this is not a dictatorship" (9/22).

Los Angeles Times: Shutdown Threat Reveals Split In Republican Party
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is expected to begin debate this week on legislation approved by the Republican-led House that would keep the government running but do away with President Obama's Affordable Care Act. Because the Senate's Democratic majority is likely to have enough votes to strip out the healthcare law provision and keep Obama's signature domestic achievement on track, Republicans have few options. They can block the entire bill, joining Cruz's call for a filibuster and risking blame if the government shuts down. Or they can step aside and try to fight the healthcare law during the next budget battle in mid-October (Mascaro, 9/22).

Politico: Promises Vs. Reality: Obama's Health Care Conversion
The most important red line of Barack Obama’s presidency was scrawled hastily in January 2007, a few weeks before he even announced he was running for president. ... two aides, Robert Gibbs and Jon Favreau, hit on an idea that would make him appear more prepared and committed than he actually was at the moment. Why not just announce his intention to pass universal health care by the end of his first term? Thus was born Obamacare (Budoff Brown and Thrush, 9/22).

The Wall Street Journal: Health-Law Implementation To Vary By State
There is just one federal health law, but the way Americans experience the debut of its main provisions on Oct. 1 will vary widely depending on where they live. Every state, whether it supports the law or not, will have a health-insurance exchange where people will shop for coverage—the health overhaul's centerpiece (Schatz and Radnofsky, 9/22).

The New York Times: Lower Health Insurance Premiums To Come At Cost Of Fewer Choices
Federal officials often say that health insurance will cost consumers less than expected under President Obama’s health care law. But they rarely mention one big reason: many insurers are significantly limiting the choices of doctors and hospitals available to consumers (Pear, 9/22).

The Washington Post: With Deadlines Looming, Lobbyists Push For Changes To Obamacare
While conservatives on Capitol Hill are waging a last-ditch battle to scuttle the Affordable Care Act, some powerful Washington groups that were among the legislation’s loudest critics are now trying to shape the law and how it’s carried out, an acknowledgment that they need to learn to live with the landmark initiative. Other players that have been more supportive of the law are also engaged in a lobbying push, pressing Congress and federal agencies to refine provisions (Yeager, 9/21).

The New York Times: Ad Campaigns Compete As Health Law Rollout Looms
Starting this week, the White House will kick off a six-month campaign to persuade millions of uninsured Americans to sign up for health coverage as part of insurance marketplaces that open for business on Oct. 1. If too few people enroll, the centerpiece of the president’s Affordable Care Act could collapse. But instead of offering the kind of grudging cooperation that normally follows even the most bitter of legislative battles, Mr. Obama’s foes have intensified their opposition, trying to deepen the nation’s anger about the health insurance program, which both sides often call Obamacare. Across the country, Republicans are eager to prevent people from enrolling, fearing that once people begin receiving the benefit they will be loath to give it up (Shear, 9/21).

Los Angeles Times: Obama Looks To Hollywood To Help Promote His Healthcare Law
Wedged into the blotter on Mike Farah's desk at the Funny or Die studios in Hollywood is an index card with a list — wrangling talent, polishing scripts and arranging shoots — long enough to keep the comedy website executive fully occupied. But these tasks are part of a different quest: the campaign to ensure the success of President Obama's healthcare law (Reston, 9/20).

The Wall Street Journal: Ad Blitz Aims To Shift Views Of Health Law
Both sides are trying to shape perceptions. A majority of Americans say they don't understand the law. Meanwhile, it has taken center stage in continued political bickering over the federal budget and the national debt ceiling. Political groups have spent roughly $500 million since the law passed in March 2010 either denouncing or defending the new law, according to Kantar Media, an ad-tracking unit of WPP PLC. A majority of that spending was on ads opposing the law. The ads also have mostly been airing in political swing states like Ohio and Virginia. Supporters of the law have been focusing their efforts on states like California and Texas, which have a large population of young, uninsured people (Schatz, 9/21).

ProPublica/NPR: How Many Die From Medical Mistakes In U.S. Hospitals?
It seems that every time researchers estimate how often a medical mistake contributes to a hospital patient's death, the numbers come out worse. In 1999, the Institute of Medicine published the famous "To Err Is Human" report, which dropped a bombshell on the medical community by reporting that up to 98,000 people a year die because of mistakes in hospitals. … In 2010, the Office of Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services said that bad hospital care contributed to the deaths of 180,000 patients in Medicare alone in a given year. Now comes a study in the current issue of the Journal of Patient Safety that says the numbers may be much higher — between 210,000 and 440,000 patients each year who go to the hospital for care suffer some type of preventable harm that contributes to their death (Allen, 9/20). 

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