KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

First Edition: February 6, 2014

Today's headlines include reports about how the day-after debate about the Congressional Budget Office's updated health law projections played out on Capitol Hill.  

Kaiser Health News: Insurers Eye Market For Supplemental Health Coverage To Fill Gaps Left By Obamacare, Employer Plans
Kaiser Health News staff writer Jay Hancock, working in collaboration with The Washington Post, reports: "As out-of-pocket medical costs grow for many Americans, the insurance industry is offering a way to help and, at the same time, expand its business: by selling supplemental policies that may fill the gaps for consumers. Insurers are increasingly marketing these limited policies that pay cash after a hospital stay or specific disease diagnosis, such as cancer" (Hancock, 2/6). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: Health On The Hill: Hill Republicans Hammer Health Law's 'Risk Corridors'
Republicans labeled the provision a bailout for insurers despite projections it will raise $8 billion. Kaiser Health News staff writers Julie Appleby and Mary Agnes Carey discuss it (2/5). Read the transcript or listen to the audio.

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Humana ACA Enrollees Younger Than Expected
Now on Kaiser Health News’ blog, Jay Hancock reports: "Here’s more fodder for the debate over whether older, sicker members will swamp insurance plans created by the Affordable Care Act. Insurers have wondered whether enough younger, healthier 'invincibles' would sign up through online exchanges to subsidize folks with poorer health. The worry was that, without their premiums, expenses for older folks would drive up average costs and make plans less affordable" (Hancock, 2/5). Check out what else is on the blog.

The Wall Street Journal: Insurers Face New Pressure Over Limited Doctor Choice
Insurers are facing pressure from regulators and lawmakers about plans that offer limited choices of doctors and hospitals, a tactic the industry said is vital to keep down coverage prices in the new health law's marketplaces. This week, federal regulators proposed a tougher review process for the doctors and hospitals in plans to be sold next year through, a shift that could force insurers to expand those networks (Mathews and Weaver, 2/6).

NPR: Reining In Health Care Costs Key To Trimming Deficit
The Congressional Budget Office earlier this week said this year's deficit is likely to be about a-third the size it was back in 2009 when the Great Recession bottomed out. A recovering economy is the main reason for the deficit's improvement, but moderating health care costs have also contributed. Harvard economist and health policy specialist David Cutler says getting the federal government's finances under control is all about health care (Ydstie, 2/6).

NPR: One Day After CBO Report, It's Time To Start Your Spin Cycle
On Tuesday, economists with the Congressional Budget Office announced findings that indicated the new health care law may result in hundreds of thousands leaving the workforce. The findings spurred new debate on the merits of the law and its economic impact. NPR's Scott Horsley has more on the reactions to the report (Horsley, 2/5). 

The Wall Street Journal’s Washington Wire: Health-Care Storm Roils White House Again
Since Democrats passed President Barack Obama’s health-care overhaul in 2010, the White House has tried to move its agenda beyond the storm of criticism that followed. Yet every time Mr. Obama and his aides find reprieve from one politically charged battle – the Supreme Court case, the many Republican attempts to repeal the law and the 2012 election, to name a few – another emerges. This week it was a report by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office that predicts the law will insure fewer people than expected and reduce the number of hours that Americans work by more than previously thought. Republicans seized on the findings (Lee, 2/6). 

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Fact Check: Anti-Obamacare Chorus Is Off Key
New estimates that President Barack Obama’s health care law will encourage millions of Americans to leave the workforce or reduce their work hours have touched off an I-told-you-so chorus from Republicans, who’ve claimed all along that the law will kill jobs. But some aren’t telling it straight (2/6). 

The Washington Post: What Small Business Owners Should Know About The New Obamacare Report
Congressional budget analysts on Tuesday released revised estimates concerning the economic footprint of the health care law, spawning another round of headlines declaring that Obamacare will take a massive bite out of workers’ hours and eliminate millions of jobs. Thing is, that’s not what the report said at all. In fact, the nonpartisan group’s predictions actually refute some of the warnings from small business leaders — namely, that the law will force employers to trim hours for their current workers and think twice about hiring new ones (Harrison, 2/5). 

The Washington Post: Republicans Take Aim At Health-Care Provision; CBO Chief Forecasts Reduced Unemployment 
Congressional Republicans took aim Wednesday at a provision of the health-care law that they claim amounts to “an insurance company bailout,” using a House oversight hearing to push for the measure’s repeal. In a separate House committee hearing, Democrats countered what has emerged as a key GOP talking point by eliciting testimony from the Congressional Budget Office director that the Affordable Care Act would reduce unemployment over the next few years by boosting overall demand for goods and services (Branigin, 2/5). 

The Wall Street Journal: Lawmakers Spar Over CBO's U.S. Health-Law Findings
Republicans at a House Budget Committee hearing said the report, released Tuesday, shows the health law will drive people out of the work force. Democrats countered that the report shows the law will give workers flexibility to leave jobs they are locked into because of health-care benefits. The sparring came in response to a Congressional Budget Office analysis concluding that subsidies in the law, combined with easier access to health care, would create incentives for many Americans to cut their work hours, leading to a net reduction of 1.5% to 2% from 2017 through 2024 (Paletta, 2/5).

The Wall Street Journal’s Washington Wire: CBO Estimate on ‘Health Corridors’ Doesn’t Change GOP Concerns
Republicans lawmakers weren’t swayed by Tuesday’s Congressional Budget Office report that seemed to exonerate the “risk corridor” provision in the Affordable Care Act – a provision many Republicans have called a bailout for insurance companies. The CBO estimated the government would actually collect about $8 billion rather than pay money to insurance companies. Previously, it had projected no returns for the government. At a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing Wednesday, Republicans continued to press for legislation to undo the provision, which had been designed to reduce the financial risk to insurers who sold health care plans on the new exchanges (Corbett Dooren, 2/5). 

NPR: Obamacare Opponents Open New Front For Debate In 'Risk Corridors'
Some Republicans have begun to demand the repeal of a key feature in the president's health care law, which protects insurance companies taking part, in exchange for agreeing to raise the nation's debt ceiling. But according to Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas Elmendorf, the so-called "risk corridors" actually benefit the Treasury, rather than costing taxpayers money (Welna, 2/5). 

The Washington Post: Maryland Lawmakers To Resume Inquiries Into Troubled Health Exchange
Members of Maryland’s House of Delegates on Wednesday said they plan to forge ahead with questioning the leaders of the state’s troubled health insurance exchange, even though days earlier a high-ranking state senator said the General Assembly was largely done with its inquiries (Johnson, 2/5). 

The Washington Post: Fewer Than 2 Million Signed Up For Medicaid Under The Health Law, Report Says
Between 1 million and 2 million Americans signed up for Medicaid last year because of the health-care law, according to a new report suggesting that many of the people who have joined the program since the initiative’s rollout in October would have done so absent the law. The Obama administration has said that 6.3 million people were determined to be eligible for Medicaid between October and December. But the study, from health-care industry consulting firm Avalere Health, suggests that only a fraction of the enrollments are strictly the result of the health-care law (Somashekhar and Sun, 2/5). 

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Lower Medicaid Signups Seen In New Study
A new study estimates that fewer than 2 million people have newly enrolled in Medicaid as a result of President Barack Obama’s health care law. The figures released Wednesday by the market-analysis firm Avalere Health are well below a statistic of 6 million people often cited by administration officials. The administration’s number also includes people renewing their coverage (2/5). 

The Washington Post: McAuliffe Pushes For Medicaid Expansion
Gov. Terry McAuliffe used the occasion of his first bill-signing Wednesday to make a far-reaching pitch for Medicaid expansion as an economic development tool. Saying he’s flexible about the details, hungry to find bipartisan compromise and “willing to work with anybody, around the clock, 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” McAuliffe (D) said that the commonwealth should seize the chance to insure hundreds of thousands of low-income Virginians under the new health-care law — for their sake, and the sake of the economy (Laris, 2/5). 

The Washington Post: Virginia Hospitals Are Lobbying For An Expansion Of Medicaid
Loudoun County area hospitals have joined a statewide lobbying effort launched by the hospital industry to urge the Virginia General Assembly to expand Medicaid eligibility in Virginia. The hospitals face an uphill battle trying to persuade local lawmakers, nearly all of whom are Republicans. GOP members in the General Assembly have generally resisted the expansion of Medicaid eligibility in Virginia, citing problems with the program and potential long-term costs to Virginia taxpayers (Barnes, 2/5). 

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Finding Uninsured Americans By The Numbers
Wanted: Millions of uninsured Americans willing to give President Barack Obama’s health care law a chance. With time running out, it may not be so hard for the administration and its allies to find them. A study for The Associated Press finds that the uninsured aren’t scattered evenly across the country: half of them live in just 116 of the nation’s 3,143 counties (2/5). 

The Washington Post’s Gov Beat: Half The Nation’s Uninsured Live In Just 116 Counties
Those without health insurance have less than two months to enroll in new plans before penalties kick in, and the Obama administration is racing the clock to get them signed up. A new study conducted for The Associated Press shows the administration is best off focusing on a relatively narrow geographic area: Half of those under 65 without insurance live in just 116 of the nation’s 3,143 counties. And half of all 19-39 year olds without insurance — the most coveted demographic as health-care providers look to expand their risk pools — live in 108 counties (Wilson, 2/5). 

USA Today: Athletes Pitch Health Care As Life ‘Game Plan’ With
A group of athletes who say access to health care saved their lives have volunteered to help young people understand that insurance needs to be part of their life "game plan." "Sometimes, when you're young, you don't think about the importance of having [insurance] until it's too late," Sanya Richards-Ross told USA TODAY. "I think I'm the same way, perhaps even more as an athlete. I eat well, I train really well, I rest well. I think, like most people, I thought I would never get sick" (Kennedy, 2/5). 

Politico: New Ad: Hey Kids, Your Mom Wants You to Sign Up For Obamacare
Listen to Mom. That’s the message in the latest Obamacare outreach ad announced by the White House Wednesday. It targets mothers of “young invincibles” and urges them to get their young adult children to sign up before the 2014 open enrollment season ends at the end of March (Kenen, 2/5).

USA Today: Mark Pryor Criticizes Medicare In New Campaign Ads
Sen. Mark Pryor is going on the air in Arkansas with new ads hitting GOP Rep. Tom Cotton over Medicare. Pryor, one of the most vulnerable Democrats up for re-election this year, criticizes Cotton in both ads for supporting a Republican plan to “change Medicare into a voucher system.” That’s a reference to House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan’s bill in the last Congress to dramatically overhaul the federal health care program for seniors by allowing them to buy their own insurance plans from private companies (Camia, 2/5). 

Politico: Feds Fight Notre Dame On Contraception Rule Reprieve
The Obama administration is fighting the University of Notre Dame's request for a reprieve from complying with Obamacare's contraception coverage requirements. Justice Department lawyers filed a legal brief Tuesday with the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals opposing the Catholic university's latest bid to be exempted from the law's mandate on contraception coverage (Haberkorn, 2/5). 

The Wall Street Journal: Humana Swings To Loss On Increased Costs 
Humana Inc. swung to a fourth-quarter loss as the Medicare-focused insurer posted an increase in operating expenses and a slight drop in medical membership. Humana and its peers face shrinking government funding for Medicare Advantage plans, which are the private industry's version of the health plan for the elderly and disabled. Humana is more tethered to these plans than any other big insurers, making its ability to digest lower incoming payments while guarding profit margins a key issue. However, the company said it expects continued growth in 2015 and beyond due to changes in public policy surrounding government programs (Rubin and Mason, 2/5).

Los Angeles Times: CVS’ Halt On Tobacco Wins Praise
CVS Caremark Corp.'s imminent exit from the cigarette and tobacco business — an unprecedented move for a major pharmacy company — is being cheered by many medical professionals and lawmakers as a triumph of corporate responsibility over the bottom line.But industry experts say the strategy shift is less an altruistic endeavor than a savvy marketing ploy from a drugstore giant trying to promote itself as a retail health hub in an age of increasingly self-serve healthcare (Hsu, Levey and Karlamangla, 2/5).

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