KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

First Edition: May 9, 2013

Today's headlines include reports about the politics surrounding the health law, both in terms of the latest GOP push for repeal and the Obama administration's implementation efforts.

Kaiser Health News: Medicare Lags In Project To Expand Hospice Care
Kaiser Health News staff writer Jordan Rau, working in collaboration with Politico, reports: "Despite a three-year-old order from Congress, Medicare has yet to begin an experiment to expand hospice services to allow beneficiaries to continue potentially lifesaving treatments to see if it would save money while improving the patients' quality of life. The demonstration project would eliminate one major reason that people are reluctant to take up Medicare's hospice benefit: they have to first agree to forgo curative treatments such as chemotherapy" (Rau, 5/9). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: Health Perks Geared To Top Workers Could Trigger Penalties Under Health Law
Kaiser Health News staff writer Julie Appleby, working in collaboration with USA Today, reports: "Many executives have long enjoyed perks like free health care and better health benefits for themselves and their families. But under a little noticed anti-discrimination provision in the federal health law, such advantages could soon trigger fines of up to $500,000" (Appleby, 5/9). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: California Weighs Expanded Role For Nurse Practitioners
Capitol Public Radio's Pauline Bartolone, working in partnership with Kaiser Health News and NPR, reports: "As state governments get ready for the Affordable Care Act coverage expansion, some are taking a close look at their networks of health care professionals to make sure they will be able to meet increased demands as more people gain health insurance. California is one of 15 states expected to consider legislation this year that would give advanced practice nurses more independence and authority" (Bartolone, 5/9). Read the story

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Study: Per Capita Rx Spending Fell For First Time In 2012; Colo. Launches Ad Campaign For New Online Marketplace
Now on Kaiser Health News' blog, Alvin Tran reports on a study tracking per capita prescription drug spending: "Americans' per capita spending on prescription drugs fell last year for the first time on record, according to a report released Thursday by the IMS Institute For Healthcare Informatics firm headquartered in Danbury, Conn., which tracks pharmaceutical sales and other health care data" (Tran, 5/9).

Also on the blog, Phil Galewitz writes about the new ad campaign in Colorado: "With less than five months until Colorado’s new online health insurance marketplace opens for business this fall,  officials are concerned that few state residents have heard of it. This week, it became the first state to launch a public awareness campaign with television, print, radio and billboard ads that will cost $2 million and run two months. The TV ad shows a woman at her kitchen table scrolling through health plan information on the Connect for Health Colorado website. The voice over says the website lets people shop and buy a health plan online" (Galewitz, 5/8). Check out what else is on the blog.

The Washington Post: House To Vote Again On Repealing 'Obamacare' Next Week
Cantor's decision to schedule the vote comes as he’s devoted most of the House calendar in recent months to a series of bills that fit within his "making life work" agenda that emphasizes kitchen-table issues over slashing federal spending. Among such bills is the "Working Families Flexibility Act," which would give private employers the option of offering workers additional time off in lieu of overtime pay and is set for a vote Wednesday (O'Keefe and Kane, 5/8).

The Wall Street Journal's Washington Wire: House Plans Another Vote To Repeal Obama Health Law
Republicans remain implacably opposed to the health-care law, more than three years after it was signed into law by Mr. Obama. Many of the law's key provisions come into effect from 2014, including the creation of health-care exchanges to help individuals who don't receive health insurance through work to group together to purchase more affordable insurance (Boles, 5/8).

Politico: Eric Cantor Sets Repeal Vote On Health Care Law For Next Week
It will be the first vote against all or part of the law this year. The House had voted more than 30 times on repealing all or parts of the law since it passed in March 2010, but many members — especially first-year lawmakers — were pushing leadership to get a vote on the record in 2013 (Haberkorn, 5/8).

USA Today: Obama To Promote Jobs, Health Care Plan
President Obama will spend the rest of the week on two issues that largely define his years in office: jobs and health care. Obama will board Air Force One on Thursday for a flight to Austin, where he will kick off a series of "Middle Class Jobs and Opportunity Tours" designed to push his budget plans and criticize congressional Republicans for inaction on the economy (Jackson, 5/8).

The Wall Street Journal’s Washington Wire: Health Care, Economy Discussed At Latest Obama Dinner
According to a White House official familiar with the dinner, the president and House members discussed the economy and deficit reduction, as well as Mr. Obama’s efforts on overhauling immigration law, gun control and school improvement. Mr. Obama also talked about continuing efforts to support the investigation of the Boston marathon bombing. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D., Md.), ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee who also attended the dinner, said the group also talked about implementation of the president’s health-care law. That process is being viewed by some Democrats as fraught with potential political peril if there are glitches as a major new system of insurance exchanges is set up. But Mr. Van Hollen said the discussion with the president was "very upbeat" (Hook, 5/8).

The Associated Press/The Washington Post: AP Exclusive: Lawmakers Granted Calif. Health Exchange Unusual Secrecy In Contracting Records
A California law that created an agency to oversee national health care reforms granted it sweeping authority to conceal spending on the contractors that will perform most of its functions, creating a barrier from public disclosure that stands out nationwide. The degree of secrecy afforded Covered California appears unique among states attempting to establish their own health insurance exchanges under President Barack Obama's signature health law (5/9).

The Wall Street Journal: Data Shine Light On Hospital Bills
The release of government data showing wide variation in hospital pricing removes a layer of secrecy but probably won't make medical charges more uniform, experts said Wednesday. … Hospitals are required to set an official value of treatment for a given procedure, but private insurance carriers, Medicare and Medicaid—covering low-income people—all negotiate their own reimbursement rates with providers. Some uninsured people could be billed for the list price, although the amount they end up paying is also often subject to negotiation (Radnofsky and Barry, 5/8).

Los Angeles Times: Hospital Prices Diverge Wildly, U.S. Data Show
New Medicare data reveal wildly varying charges among the nation's hospitals for 100 of the most common in-patient treatments and procedures, calling into question medical billing practices just as U.S. officials try to rein in rising costs. The escalating price of medical care may complicate the rollout of the new federal healthcare law, which is designed to make health insurance affordable for millions of uninsured Americans next year. And federal officials said they hope the data will encourage more price competition and make consumers better healthcare shoppers (Terhune and Poston, 5/8).

Politico: Big Price Swings Among Hospitals Driving Costs
Although the data are only available in a dense Excel spreadsheet, administration officials say they're hopeful to crunch the numbers in a way that's more accessible to consumers. It also comes on the heels of a Time magazine story by Steve Brill, which highlighted hospitals' use of "chargemaster" lists of procedure prices. "This release helps to highlight the opaque pricing/payment system used in health care, and along with the recent Time magazine story, should increase the public awareness of this fact," said Don Taylor, a public policy professor at Duke University. In response to the HHS release, Brill hailed the "fire hose of data — which prints out at 17,511 pages" as a "tipsheet for reporters in every American city and town, who can now ask hospitals to explain their pricing" (Cheney, 5/9).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: 2 Florida Teens Who Are Best Friends Help Each Other Pay For Expenses During Cancer Treatment
Ashley was diagnosed with T-cell lymphoma in September. She needed a bone marrow transplant and would be in isolation for months. Tony knew how that would affect Ashley’s family financially. … Starting with a garage sale and car wash, he gathered donations. Then he opened an account with, a site dedicated to raising money for people with medical bills. Within months, Tony raised about $25,000 for Ashley. Ashley's mom, Pat Myers, who had quit her job as a website programmer so she could care for her daughter, was overwhelmed. Myers recalled thinking: "I hope we never have to repay the favor." But two weeks after Ashley's diagnosis, Tony discovered his cancer returned. He would need costly treatment in Bethesda, Md., at the National Institutes of Health. Ashley, from her hospital bed, told her mother that she wanted to start an online fundraiser for her friend (5/9).

The Wall Street Journal: Will Health-Care Law Beget Entrepreneurs?
Thousands of would-be entrepreneurs are itching to start their own businesses, but many are shackled to their current employer by health-care benefits they don't think they could otherwise afford. Economists call this phenomenon "job lock," or "entrepreneurship lock." But the pressure some Americans feel to cling to a corporate job chiefly for the health insurance could, conceivably, ease in coming years. Under provisions of the health-care law, new-business owners will be able to get coverage through public marketplaces, or "exchanges," beginning in October, for policies that will take effect starting in January (Maltby and Loten, 5/8).

Los Angeles Times: California Ranks 11th In Hospitals With A Grades For Safety
Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center improved slightly from an F to a D in a national hospital safety report released Wednesday, while Cedars-Sinai Medical Center stayed at a C grade. Leapfrog Group, a nonprofit healthcare quality organization, based the scores on an analysis of infections, injuries, medication errors and other problems that cause patient harm or death. The organization publicizes the scores in an effort to inform patients and reduce safety problems, said Leah Binder, its president and chief executive (Gorman, 5/8). 

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