KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

First Edition: July 8, 2013

Today's early morning highlights from the major news organizations, including news about a new ad campaign against the health law, more reaction to the administration's delay of the employer mandate provision and states efforts to restrict abortions. 

Kaiser Health News: National Health Plans, Designed To Spur Competition, May Be Unavailable In Some States Next Year
Kaiser Health News staff writer Julie Appleby, working in collaboration with The Washington Post, reports: “National health insurance plans aimed at giving consumers more choice might be unavailable in some states next year, leaving residents with fewer options and potentially higher premiums. Such ‘multi-state’ plans were included in the federal health law to boost competition among insurers, particularly in states with few carriers. They were also seen as a consolation to supporters of the failed effort to require a government-run ‘public option’” (Appleby, 7/5). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: Advocates Urge More Government Oversight Of Medicaid Managed Care
Reporting for Kaiser Health News in collaboration with USA Today, Jenni Bergal writes: “When the federal government recently gave Florida the green light to vastly expand its experiment with privatizing Medicaid, patient advocates quickly raised an alarm. They cited serious problems with the state’s five-county pilot managed care program and urged close monitoring of the companies that run private Medicaid plans to ensure that they don’t scrimp on care (Bergal, 7/5). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: A Busy ER Doctor Slows Down To Help Patients Cope With Pain
Alaska Public Radio’s Annie Feidt, working in partnership with Kaiser Health News and NPR, reports: “Dr. Linda Smith walks into a room at Providence Alaska Medical Center, ready with a stethoscope and a huge grin. She teases her patient, Dawn Dillard, saying that her spiky hair recently resembled a ‘faux hawk.’ Dillard found out she had uterine cancer a year ago. Her oncologist gave her a year to live. The 57-year-old has beaten those odds, but now her kidneys are failing. After the laughs are over, Smith sits down on the edge of Dillard's bed, leans in, and starts talking about a surgical procedure to help her kidneys” (Feidt, 7/5). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: FAQ: What Workers And Employers Need To Know About The Postponed Employer Mandate
Surprising both friends and foes of the health law, the Obama administration on Tuesday announced the delay of a key provision: the requirement that all but the smallest employers offer medical coverage or pay a fine. … Meanwhile other parts of the law remain on track for implementation next year, according to officials. Here’s what the change means — and doesn’t mean — for workers and employers (KHN staff, 7/3). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: Capsules Video: New AMA President On Health Law
Now on Kaiser Health News' blog, KHN’s Mary Agnes Carey and The Washington Post’s Sarah Kliff interviewed Dr. Ardis Hoven, the new American Medical Association president, for an episode of the C-SPAN program “Newsmakers” that aired Sunday. The three talked about implementation of the health care law, a shortage of primary care practitioners, as well as the AMA’s decision to classify obesity as a disease and what to expect from her tenure as president. Check out what else is on the blog.

Philadelphia Inquirer: How Baby Erik Got Insurance
The Philadelphia Inquirer's Don Sapatkin, writing in partnership with Kaiser Health News, reports: "Two days after Erik Friedman was born, his parents applied for coverage under Pennsylvania's universal Children's Health Insurance Program. Six months later, they got it. What happened in between were 86 phone calls, two lost applications, a calculation error that tripled their income (and raised their premium), incorrect advice that they should (and did) drop their baby's catastrophic health insurance to qualify, multiple promises of responses that never came, and collection agency letters for hospital bills, which, of course, hadn't been paid" (Sapatkin, 7/8). Read the story.

The New York Times: Conservatives’ Aggressive Ad Campaign Seeks To Cast Doubt On Health Law
Though many of its rules will not take effect for months, President Obama’s health care law is already the subject of an aggressive advertising campaign by Republicans to sow doubts about how it will work. In one of the largest campaigns of its kind, Americans for Prosperity, a conservative advocacy group financed in part by Charles and David Koch, will begin running television commercials this week asserting that the law will limit Americans’ health care choices (Peters, 7/6).

The New York Times: British Company Is Awarded Contract To Administer Health Rollout
Racing to meet an October deadline, Obama administration officials said Thursday that they had awarded a contract worth as much as $1.2 billion to a British company to help them sift applications for health insurance and tax credits under the new health care law. The company, Serco, has extensive experience as a government contractor with the Defense Department and intelligence agencies, and it also manages air traffic control towers in 11 states and reviews visa applications for the State Department. But it has little experience with the Department of Health and Human Services or the insurance marketplaces, known as exchanges, where individuals and small businesses are supposed to be able to shop for insurance (Pear, 7/4).

The New York Times: Clinton Aide Joins Obama On Health Care
In an effort to put President Obama’s health care program back on track, the White House has recruited Chris Jennings, a respected veteran of the Clinton administration, to join the Obama team as a health policy coordinator and strategist, the White House said on Sunday night. The White House expects to announce the hiring of Mr. Jennings and other health care personnel later this week (Pear, 7/7).

The Washington Post: Is This The End Of Health Insurers?
In 2012, MedStar Health, like many large employers, struggled to keep up with rapidly rising health-care costs. For three years, the company held down premiums for its 19,000 employees by absorbing the increases itself. Most employers would have had no choice but to raise premiums — in this case, by about $550 for a family — and cope with frustrated employees. MedStar, one of the Washington area’s largest health systems, saw another option. It would launch its own health insurance plan (Kliff, 7/5).

Chicago Tribune: Health Care Void Fills Immigration Debate
It has been nearly two years since a car hit Jesus Arroyo as he crossed a Chicago street on his way home from work, an accident that crushed his left side, fractured his skull in multiple places and left him in a coma for six months. Today, Arroyo, 38, remains partially paralyzed and in constant pain, his plight an illustration of a health care problem that Congress sees as politically toxic and that area hospitals and other medical facilities are struggling to address: Who will pick up the health care tab for millions of immigrants who could become citizens under new immigration reform legislation? (Olivo, 7/6).

Politico: Tax Talk Third Rail: The Health Care Exemption
The tax break on employer-sponsored health plans is one of the government’s largest tax expenditures, costing the feds $200 billion to $300 billion a year, depending on who’s doing the estimating. But it’s also proved to be one of the hardest to undo — arguably even more so now that the Affordable Care Act is full steam ahead (Cunningham, 7/8).

The Washington Post: Health Insurance Marketplaces Will Not Be Required To Verify Consumer Claims
The Obama administration announced Friday that it would significantly scale back the health law’s requirements that new insurance marketplaces verify consumers’ income and health insurance status. Instead, the federal government will rely more heavily on consumers’ self-reported information until 2015, when it plans to have stronger verification systems in place (Kliff and Somashekhar, 7/5).

Los Angeles Times: Obamacare Delay Has Foes Focusing On Flaws
The Obama administration's surprise decision to delay penalizing large employers that fail to provide health coverage appears unlikely to unravel the president's signature healthcare law, despite claims from Republicans that the law's collapse is imminent. But the move casts a spotlight on a central dilemma facing the administration as it moves to implement the complex law: Even supporters acknowledge that some of the Affordable Care Act's provisions may not work as written. But partisan tensions in Washington have made changes all but impossible (Levey and Terhune, 7/4).

The New York Times: Postponing Health Rules Emboldens Republicans
Republican leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee demanded documents and other information from the Treasury secretary and the secretary of health and human services about the decision announced Tuesday to put off for a year, until 2015, the law’s reporting requirements and penalties. Some Republicans said the White House was trying to help Democrats by postponing the changes until after the midterm elections, but others saw no gain for Democrats either way (Calmes and Pear, 7/3).

The New York Times: Health Law Delay Puts Exchanges In Spotlight
The Obama administration’s decision, announced on Tuesday, to delay for a year a requirement that larger employers provide insurance or pay a penalty has made the operation of the state exchanges — where individuals can shop for insurance starting Oct. 1 — more critical to the success of the new health care  (Abelson and Thomas, 7/3).

The Wall Street Journal: Health-Law Penalty Delay Clouds Individual Mandate
Supporters of the 2010 Affordable Care Act characterized the delay as a hiccup and said new health-insurance exchanges for individuals will likely go ahead as planned. But other observers said that by declining to enforce the rules on employers, the Obama administration might find it harder to carry out the individual mandate under which people must carry health insurance or pay a tax penalty (Radnofsky, Mathews and Weaver, 7/3).

The Washington Post: Obamacare Backers Launch Campaign, Want Moms To Convince Their Youths To Get Coverage
The Obama administration and its allies need lots of healthy young adults to sign up for insurance this fall to make the president’s health-care law successful. So they are going after their moms (Somashekhar, 7/6).

The Washington Post: In Connecticut, A Struggle To Launch Obamacare
At a monthly board meeting of Connecticut’s health insurance exchange, members of the standing-room-only crowd got a reminder that they, too, were behind schedule. The insurance marketplace they were working on nights and weekends won’t be completely ready on time. “It is highly complex, it’s unprecedented and it’s not going to be smooth,” Kevin Counihan, chief executive of the state’s exchange, Access Health CT, told the group. That’s why Connecticut — like other states across the country — has lowered the bar, doing what it can in the time it has left before the health-care law’s major programs are launched Oct. 1 (Kliff, 7/4).

USA Today: Obamacare Requires Most Insurers To Tackle Obesity
There's new hope for heavy people desperate to lose weight. Many insurers are stepping up their coverage of obesity. Some insurance companies have helped obese patients fight fat for years. They've offered weight-loss and wellness programs at businesses, schools and in communities. Some have paid for prescription obesity medications and even covered expensive bariatric surgeries, including gastric bypass (Hellmich, 7/4).

Los Angeles Times: State Insurance Chief, Health Exchange Differ On Kids' Dental Care
Backed by children's health advocates, California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones is challenging the state's health insurance exchange over the way it wants to provide children's dental benefits. At issue is whether pediatric dental care should be part of the basic health insurance package sold through the exchange or sold separately. The exchange has proposed selling it on a stand-alone basis to parents (Terhune, 7/5).

The Washington Post: Abortion Limits At State Level Return Issue To The National Stage
[Wisconsin Gov. Scott] Walker signed legislation requiring that women get an ultrasound before having an abortion and mandating that doctors who perform the procedure have admitting privileges at a local hospital. Opponents say the bill would force at least two clinics in Wisconsin to close. The measures are part of a wave of abortion limits passed this year by conservative lawmakers and governors, who have approved more than 40 restrictions in statehouses around the country, according to data from the Guttmacher Institute, which tracks the issue. The push has been aided by the expanded control of state governments by Republicans (Eilperin, 7/5).

The Hill: Abortion Bills In State Legislatures Gaining National Attention
Efforts by conservatives to restrict abortion in several state legislatures are receiving national attention, as Republicans work to pass national versions. In Texas, state Sen. Wendy Davis (D) found herself in the national spotlight after filibustering a proposal that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. ... Republican legislators' efforts to pass similar laws in other states have received national attention as well. The state legislature in North Carolina is pushing through a similar ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy (Strauss, 7/7).

The Hill: Perry Vows Texas Will Pass Abortion Bill
Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) on Sunday promised his state will push through a law restricting abortion rights, which has gained national attention, within the next 10 days. "We have a special session with some important issues in front of us. We're going to pass some restrictions on abortion in Texas so that Texas is a place where we defend life. That's the powerful message here, that's what we're focused on," Perry said on “Fox News Sunday.” "We can be in and out of here in another 10 days... we will get this done and get Texas back focused on the economic interests" (Joseph, 7/7).

Los Angeles Times: Wisconsin Governor Signs Bill Restricting Abortion
Wisconsin this week became the latest state to pass legislation restricting abortions, though opponents of the measure quickly filed suit. The bill, signed Friday by Gov. Scott Walker, would require women to view an ultrasound of the fetus before an abortion. Providers would be required to point out the fetus’ features on the ultrasound (Kelly, 7/6).

Politico: ‘Turn Texas Blue’ Hits Headwinds With Abortion
Democrats are gearing up to spend millions of dollars to “turn Texas blue” by bringing in a new generation of Latino voters. So when an abortion fight flared in Austin this summer, it seemed the stars had aligned — liberals had a hot-button cause to galvanize new supporters who just might stick around for the long haul. There’s just one problem: Latinos as a group oppose abortion more strongly than most other voting groups (Nather, 7/8).

The Wall Street Journal: Fighting Drug-Based Births
When Tara Lee Bailey, a longtime pain-pill addict, became pregnant last year, she tried to quit cold turkey. But she said the experience was so miserable—with vomiting, cold sweats and aching bones—that she went right back to using. Then she learned about a program at the new Maternal Addiction and Recovery Center at Marshall University's medical school here and signed up. It's one of a small but growing number of clinics for mothers-to-be cropping up around the country in response to the prescription-drug epidemic, which has triggered a rise of addicted mothers giving birth to drug-dependent babies. The clinics, which are typically free for patients, are often tied to university medical centers and funded through a combination of Medicaid, health insurance and grants (Campo-Flores, 7/5).

NPR: Finding Simple Tests For Brain Disorders Turns Out To Be Complex
If you're having chest pain, your doctor can test you for a heart attack. If you're having hip pain, your doctor could test for osteoarthritis. But what if you're depressed? Or anxious? Currently there are no physical tests for most disorders that affect the mind. Lab tests like these could transform the field of mental illness. So far efforts to come up with biomarkers for common mental health disorders have proven largely fruitless. That doesn't stop people from trying (Standen, 7/8).

Los Angeles Times: An Autism Treatment Lost In California's Shift From Healthy Families
Evan Kim was 2 years old when he was diagnosed as autistic last year, and his parents searched for some way to curb his head-banging tantrums. Using a state-financed healthcare program for low-income families, they found therapists who could provide a specific kind of autism treatment aimed at analyzing and improving behavior. ... Evan's therapy was a casualty of the state's effort to phase out its Healthy Families insurance program and shift the nearly 900,000 children it covered into Medi-Cal, the broader healthcare program for the poor. Despite officials' assurances that the transition would not jeopardize services, activists say hundreds of children are losing coverage for applied behavior analysis (Megerian, 7/7).

The Washington Post: Too Much Noise From Hospital Alarms Poses Risk For Patients
Walk into a hospital intensive-care unit and hear the din: A ventilator honks loudly. An infusion pump emits a high-pitched beep-beep every six seconds. A blood pressure monitor pushes out one long tone after another. ... The sheer number — several hundred alarms per patient per day — can cause alarm fatigue. Nurses and other workers, overwhelmed or desensitized by the constant barrage, sometimes respond by turning down the volume on the devices, shutting them off or simply ignoring them — actions that can have serious, potentially fatal, consequences. Clinicians and patient-safety advocates have warned of alarm fatigue for years, but the issue is taking on greater urgency as hospitals invest in more-complex, often-noisy devices meant to save lives (Sun, 7/7).

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