KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

First Edition: January 9, 2014

Today's headlines include reports about how the politics of the health law continue to play out on Capitol Hill.  

Kaiser Health News: Study: Supplemental Plans Raise Medicare Costs 22 Percent
Kaiser Health News staff writer Jay Hancock reports: "Supplemental 'Medigap' plans shield millions from Medicare's deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs. Pay a flat Medigap premium to a private insurer such as UnitedHealthcare or Humana and you might have little or no out-of-pocket expense for doctor visits, hospitalization or other Medicare services. Naturally many worry that the all-you-can-eat model inflates Medicare's costs by encouraging consumers to seek -- or doctors to order -- potentially unnecessary procedures. Now economists at the University of Texas and the University of Chicago have taken what some call the closest look yet at the relationship between Medigap coverage and Medicare spending" (Hancock, 1/9). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Report: Effort To Curb Costs Should Be 'Led By The States'; More Shoppers, Including Young Ones, Showing Up At Health Exchanges
Now on Kaiser Health News’ blog, Julie Appleby writes about a report finding that states should lead cost-cutting efforts:"“Governors and other state leaders have the leverage to slow rising health costs and should not wait for action by the federal government, a commission chaired by two former governors said in a report Wednesday. State leaders can use their clout as large purchasers of health care as well as regulators to set goals for health spending and quality, said the report by the State Health Care Cost Containment Commission" (Appleby, 1/9).

Also on the blog, Ankita Rao reports on who is shopping on the health exchanges: "Seventeen percent of people potentially eligible for coverage visited the marketplaces when they opened in October, according to a survey of 622 people conducted by The Commonwealth Fund. That encompasses people going to both the finicky run by the federal government for 36 states and those who went to the marketplaces run by 14 states and the District of Columbia. By the end of December — after government officials announced a fix to some of the website glitches — that number had risen to 24 percent" (Rao, 1/9). Check out what else is on the blog.

Kaiser Health News: Doors To Treatment Opening For Poor Illinoisans Struggling With Mental Illness
Reporting for The Chicago Tribune, in partnership with Kaiser Health News, Judith Graham reports: "Five years ago, Joseph Hale didn't care whether he lived or died. He was unemployed, hooked on drugs and deeply depressed. Help came after Hale swallowed a bottle of pills and landed in South Shore Hospital. There, an outreach worker persuaded him to seek help at a local mental health agency. Within a few months, Hale was living in a men's residence, going to group therapy every day, and beginning to feel secure for the first time in his life" (Graham, 1/9). Read the story.

Politico: Democrats Blame Big Business For Botched Rollout
Democrats taking heat back home for Obamacare’s rocky online rollout say don’t blame them — blame Big Business. Facing an onslaught of constituent frustration over problems with online exchanges, several Democrats have started pointing fingers at the companies and senior executives in their home states that have contracts to get the health care websites up and running (Palmer and Haberkorn, 1/9).

NPR: Legal Loopholes Leave Some Kids Without Dental Insurance
If you think buying health insurance under the Affordable Care Act has been complicated, just wait. Buying dental coverage on the health exchanges, it turns out, is even more confusing. Dental coverage for children is one of the benefits that must be offered under the law. But, it turns out, a loophole in the law means that — in most states — families don't actually have to buy that coverage. These rules are so confusing they even tripped me up (Rovner, 1/9).

The Wall Street Journal’s CIO Journal: Minnesota Governor Blasts IBM For State Health Exchange Troubles
Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton blamed IBM Corp. for software problems that have stalled thousands of insurance purchases on the state’s online health exchange. The exchange, MNsure, said it is bringing in UnitedHealth Group Inc.-owned contractor Optum to review operations. But MNsure may have to accept some of the blame after taking systems integration duties from the site’s general contractor just eight months before launch (Boulton, 1/8).

The Wall Street Journal: HHS Watchdog Sees Fraud Risk In Electronic Medical Records
Electronic health records may make it easier for medical providers to overbill the government for treating elderly patients in Medicare, the watchdog for the Department of Health and Human Services said Wednesday. The Obama administration and many health-policy experts have sought to steer doctors and hospitals away from paper records, arguing that computerized records are more efficient and can lead to better care. The administration said last year that it had persuaded more than half of U.S. doctors to make the switch. Doctors may face penalties in future years if they don't use electronic records (Radnofsky, 1/8).

Politico: House Back To Obamacare Votes In Week 1
House Republicans are back in town — and immediately getting back to the business of anti-Obamacare votes. It’s a notable change from the opening week of Congress in the past two years, when Republicans had somewhat relaxed their Obamacare game. In 2012, they were waiting for the Supreme Court to rule on the law and in early 2013 they’d just watched President Barack Obama win reelection — after which Speaker John Boehner temporarily declared the Affordable Care Act “the law of the land.” The repeal vote last year didn’t come until May, and only after freshman Republicans clamored for it (Cunningham and Kim, 1/8).

The Wall Street Journal: Cruz Vows to Step Up Attack on Health Law
In an interview, he lambasted Senate Republicans for a lack of courage, compared himself to Ronald Reagan and vowed to "fight even harder…to repeal every word of Obamacare" (King Jr., 1/8).

Politico: Darrell Issa Accuses Sebelius Of ‘False’ Testimony
House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa continued his intense push to highlight security risks of, accusing HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius of giving “false and misleading” testimony to Congress. In a letter Wednesday to Sebelius, he accused the secretary of making false statements on several points based on what he characterized as contradictory testimony by the agency’s security testing contractors and CMS’s chief information security officer, Theresa Fryer (Norman, 1/8). 

The New York Times: Two House Democrats Announce Retirement
While Mrs. McCarthy’s seat is likely to stay in Democratic hands, Mr. McIntyre’s district, which includes Wilmington and other parts of eastern North Carolina, is an almost certain pickup for Republicans. After 18 years in Congress, Mr. McIntyre said in a news release, he is ready for a “new chapter” in his life. Republicans saw evidence of Democrats’ vulnerability over the health care law in Mr. McIntyre’s announcement, which comes on the heels of a decision by Representative Jim Matheson, Democrat of Utah, to retire from the House. Yet Mr. McIntyre and Mr. Matheson both voted against the Affordable Care Act (Wheaton, 1/8).

Politico: Battling Cancer Again, Coburn May Cut Short His Term
Sen. Tom Coburn doesn’t seem like a typical cancer patient. The Oklahoma Republican often arrives in his office two hours before his aides, sometimes as early as 4 a.m. He attends virtually all of his committee hearings. And in the evenings, he either dines with his senator buddies at Capitol Hill establishments or attends his weekly meetings of Christian conservatives at the infamous C Street house (Raju, 1/8).

The Wall Street Journal: Health Management Shareholders Approve Takeover By Community Health
Health Management Associates Inc. shareholders voted to approve the hospital operator's $3.9 billion takeover by Community Health Systems Inc., overcoming opposition from some investors. The pact, which is expected to be completed by the end of the month, would create the largest U.S. hospital company by number of hospitals and No. 2 by revenue (Pollock and Stynes, 1/8).

The Wall Street Journal: Massachusetts Wastes Third Of Health Spending, Report Says
More than a third of health-care spending may be wasteful in Massachusetts, where costs are among the highest in the nation, a state report released on Wednesday said. Main drivers of excess spending included patients returning to hospitals for preventable reasons and emergency-room visits that better primary care could have warded off, the state's Health Policy Commission concluded, citing 2012 data. The commission estimated between $14.7 billion and $26.9 billion in wasteful spending that year, representing between 21% and 39% of total health expenditures (Kamp, 1/8).

Los Angeles Times: New California Physician Group Ratings Unveiled By Consumer Reports
Californians searching for a doctor have new ratings from Consumer Reports on 170 physician groups statewide. The scores released Wednesday are intended to help consumers see how different medical offices measure up on providing care and dealing with patients (Terhune, 1/8). 

The New York Times: In Annual Speech, Vermont Governor Shifts Focus To Drug Abuse
In a sign of how drastic the epidemic of drug addiction here has become, Gov. Peter Shumlin on Wednesday devoted his entire State of the State Message to what he said was “a full-blown heroin crisis” gripping Vermont (Seelye, 1/8).

Los Angeles Times: Gov. Jerry Brown To Propose Billions In New Spending
When he unveils his new budget plan Thursday, Gov. Jerry Brown will propose billions of dollars in new spending on schools, healthcare, social services and environmental programs as California reaps the benefits of an economic turnaround. … The proposed budget includes $670 million more for Medi-Cal, the state's public healthcare program, which is expanding as part of President Obama's federal overhaul. The program is expected to serve a quarter of California's residents next year (Megerian and York, 1/8).

The Washington Post: Deeds Returns To The Virginia Senate Seven Weeks After His Son’s Attack And Suicide
In one of his rare public comments since the November tragedy, Deeds told his local paper via email that he would make it his life’s work to correct the systemic flaws that he blames for his son’s death. He has already proposed two bills intended to do just that. One would lengthen the time authorities can hold someone subject to a court order while searching for a psychiatric placement. The other would create an online registry that would provide real-time data on the availability of psychiatric beds (Vozzella, 1/8). 

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