KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

First Edition: May 15, 2014

Today's headlines include highlights from Wednesday's Senate confirmation hearing -- the second one -- for Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the White House pick to become the next Health and Human Services Secretary.

Kaiser Health News: Old-Fashioned Company With New-Fangled Problem: Obamacare
Ideastream’s Sarah Jane Tribble, working in partnership with Kaiser Health News and NPR, reports: “AmeriMark, like most businesses, has been coping with rising health insurance premiums for years. This year, the company’s initial estimate from a broker was a 30 percent increase in premium prices if they stayed with the same insurance provider. Lyons said they shopped around, chose a new company and altered benefits, including increasing the deductibles and co-pays. Such changes in plans have become increasingly common nationally as annual increases in health care premiums have become normal” (Tribble, 5/14). Read the story.

The New York Times: Another Breezy Hearing For Obama Health Pick
Sylvia Mathews Burwell, President Obama’s nominee for secretary of health and human services, appeared Wednesday to be on a swift path to confirmation after she sailed through another cordial congressional hearing without promising significant changes in federal health policy or regulations. Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, who presided over the hearing as the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said that he would seek a vote in the committee next week (Pear, 5/14).

Los Angeles Times: Obama Health Nominee Wins Bipartisan Support
Last week, Burwell garnered support from Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Richard Burr of North Carolina. Burwell’s hearing also signaled an unusual reserve by GOP lawmakers, who in recent years have used almost every opportunity to attack the health law and push for its repeal (Levey, 5/14).

The Associated Press: Health Secretary Nominee Faces Cordial Senators
Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the White House budget director, pledged under questioning from Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, to try to recoup any federal taxpayer dollars that have been misused on failed health law sign-up websites in states including Maryland and Oregon. She promised to try her best to be responsive to senators who complained that her predecessor, Kathleen Sebelius, was not. She also defended the administration’s record of making unilateral changes to the Affordable Care Act, such as delaying the requirement for employers to offer health coverage or pay fines. “What was intended was trying to implement the law in a better way that’s common sense,” Burwell said (5/14).

The Wall Street Journal: Health-Care Nominee Promises to Review State Exchanges
Although Senate Republicans used the hearing to attack the health law, they had mostly kind words for Ms. Burwell, who currently serves as Office of Management and Budget director. She is expected to be confirmed by a majority of Senate Democrats and some Republicans. Facing questions that spanned Medicare Advantage, Alzheimer's research, and powdered-alcohol, Ms. Burwell sought to assure the committee that she would be responsive to their questions. In a sign of her bipartisan support, Sen. Tom Coburn (R., Okla.)—a fierce critic of the health law—introduced her to the committee and praised her competence and character (Radnofsky and Hughes, 5/14).

Politico: Sylvia Mathews Burwell Aims To Get Misspent Funds Back
The Obama administration’s new pick to run Obamacare said she would use “the full extent of the law” to recover any federal funds that have been misspent on the state Obamacare exchanges that have failed. “Where the federal government and the taxpayer has had funds misused, we need to use the full extent of the law to get those funds back for the taxpayer,” Sylvia Mathews Burwell said Wednesday in her confirmation hearing before the Senate Finance Committee (Haberkorn, 5/14).

The Associated Press: Appeals Court Hears Health Care Tax Credit Case
A federal appeals court heard arguments Wednesday in a lawsuit claiming the Obama administration’s health care reform law provides tax subsidies only to people who buy insurance through state-run exchanges. Four Virginia residents are challenging an Internal Revenue Service regulation that makes the subsidies available to low- and moderate-income residents regardless of whether they buy policies through state exchanges or one established by the federal government. Virginia is among 34 states that chose not to establish its own health insurance exchange (5/14).

Los Angeles Times: Democrats Should Run On Obamacare, Bill Clinton Says
Bill Clinton encouraged Democrats to run on President Obama's healthcare law Wednesday, saying it was bringing down the cost of healthcare in the U.S. and that with 8 million people enrolled, "we’re rockin' along pretty good here." Vulnerable Senate Democrats, including in Clinton’s home state of Arkansas, have distanced themselves from the legislation in their reelection campaigns, but Clinton said they should highlight popular aspects of the law while assuring the public that they are focused on fixing the issues that remain (Reston, 5/14).

The Washington Post: Bill Clinton Urges Dems To Defend Obamacare
Speaking at the Peterson Fiscal Summit in Washington, Clinton said he realizes that some Democrats may have to campaign against the health-care law, or at least keep a distance from it. “There may be some places where the well may be so poisoned that they have to do it,” he said. But by and large, he said, nobody-even Albert Einstein-could have perfectly managed the rollout. The law is popular even in places where it might not be, like his home state of Arkansas, Clinton said (Goldfarb, 5/14).

Politico: Bill Clinton’s Advice To Midterm Democrats
Bill Clinton has some advice for Democrats who he said might have to run away from Obamacare “where the well has been so poisoned.” “I wouldn’t do it, but there may be some places where the well’s been so poisoned that they have to [run from Obamacare],” Clinton said during remarks at the Peter G. Peterson Foundation’s Fiscal Summit on Wednesday (McCalmont, 5/14).

Politico: Marco Rubio Cites Abortion To Defend Climate Comments
Marco Rubio said his liberal critics show their “hypocrisy” when they cite science and label him a climate-change denier when they decline to embrace the science of human life beginning at conception. In an interview with Sean Hannity on Wednesday afternoon, the Florida senator brushed off a backlash labeling him as a climate-change denier by aggressively accusing left-leaning critics as hypocrites given their abortion rights positions. He said emphatically that the “science is settled” that life begins at conception but that liberals “will never admit” to it (Everett, 5/14).

The Associated Press: Lung Cancer Screening Could Cost Medicare Billions
A new study estimates that it would cost Medicare about $2 billion a year to screen certain current and former heavy smokers for lung cancer. Researchers found that annual lung scans and follow-up tests and treatment would add $3 a month to Medicare premiums (5/14).

The New York Times: Advocating Pill, U.S. Signals Shift To Prevent AIDS
Federal health officials recommended Wednesday that hundreds of thousands of Americans at risk for AIDS take a daily pill that has been shown to prevent infection with the virus that causes it (McNeil Jr., 5/14).

Los Angeles Times: Study Of California Hospitals Shows A Third Of Patients Have Diabetes
The disproportionate numbers of diabetic patients -- overall, only 11.6% of Californians in that age group have diabetes -- have resulted in significant added hospital expenses, study authors said. The average cost of hospitalization for a person with diabetes was about $2,200 more than that for a person without the disorder, said study lead author Ying-Ying Meng, a researcher at the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research (Brown, 5/15).

Los Angeles Times: Official Says County Health System Needs 700 New Nurses To Boost Care
Los Angeles County health officials said Wednesday that they need to hire more than 700 new nurses to shore up and sustain the county's medical system in the new Obamacare world. The Department of Health Services presented a report to the Board of Supervisors on a hiring plan that was included in the county's proposed budget released last month (Karlamangla, 5/14).

Springfield (Mo.) News-Leader/USA Today: Mo. Lawmakers Pass 3-Day Abortion Wait Period
Missouri could become only the third state requiring women to wait 72 hours to have an abortion under legislation passed Wednesday night. Following a tense debate, the state House voted 111-39 to send House Bill 1307 the abortion measure to Gov. Jay Nixon. Lawmakers ensured the passage of the legislation earlier this week when Senate Democrats cut a deal with Republicans to stop filibustering the bill in exchange for stopping other controversial bills (Shormanb, 5/15). 

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