KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

First Edition: April 17, 2014

Today's headlines include reports about emerging political strategies related to the health law and the upcoming congressional elections.  

Kaiser Health News: VA, California Panels Urge Costly Hepatitis C Drugs For Sickest Patients
Kaiser Health News staff writer Julie Appleby reports: “Doctors should consider expensive new hepatitis C drugs for patients with advanced liver disease, including those awaiting transplants, but ask most others to wait for drugs in development, the Department of Veterans said Wednesday” (Appleby, 4/17). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Hospitals Get Into Doctor Rating Business; Hospital Visits Fell When Seniors Got Drug Coverage
Now on Kaiser Health News’ blog, Phil Galewitz reports about hospitals and patient ratings: “After some doctors at University of Utah Health Care noticed scathing online reviews about themselves in 2012, the hospital system decided the best way to respond was by posting its patients’ ratings of physicians on the hospital’s own website. The hospital was already randomly surveying patients about their experiences with physicians” (Galewitz, 4/17). 

Also on Capsules, Jay Hancock reports on new research regarding Medicare Part D: “Researchers at the University of Illinois and the Johns Hopkins University have made the broadest test yet of Medicare Part D prescription drug program’s promise — that covering drugs would keep seniors out of the hospital. Comparing national records from before and after 2006, when Part D kicked in, they found that drug coverage was associated with an 8 percent drop in hospital admissions and nearly as much in hospital-cost savings — an amount they calculate to be $1.5 billion a year” (Hancock, 4/16). Check out what else is on the blog.

Los Angeles Times: Obamacare Effects Are Bigger Than Expected, Poll Finds
President Obama's health law has led to an even greater increase in health coverage than previously estimated, according to new Gallup survey data, which suggests that about 12 million previously uninsured Americans have gained coverage since last fall. That is millions more than Gallup found in March and suggests that as many as 4 million people have signed up for some kind of insurance in the last several weeks as the first enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act drew to a close (Levey, 4/16).

The Associated Press: Defend ‘Obamacare’ Unabashedly, Some Democrats Say
With enrollments higher than expected, and costs lower, some Democrats say it’s time to stop hiding from the president’s health care overhaul, even in this year’s toughest Senate elections. Republicans practically dare Democrats to embrace “Obamacare,” the GOP’s favorite target in most congressional campaigns. Yet pro-Democratic activists in Alaska are doing just that, and a number of strategists elsewhere hope it will spread (4/17).

The Wall Street Journal: GOP Fall Strategy: Slam Health Law
Republican leaders are telling the party's House members that persistent criticism of the federal health-care law is the best path to victory this fall regardless of how the law's implementation evolves ahead of the November elections. Leaders of the congressional wing of the party say opposition to the Affordable Care Act will resonate with the voters most likely to go to the polls, and they are encouraging House members, currently at home for a two-week recess, to keep up their attack (Crittenden, 4/16).

The Washington Post: Census Bureau: Question Changes Make It Easier To Assess Health Insurance Law
Concerns, first reported in the New York Times, have arisen that changes in the phrasing of one survey’s questions may make future comparisons more difficult. Critics of the health-care law have accused the Census Bureau of working to fudge the numbers so the White House can claim more success than is merited. Thompson said that Census Bureau demographers had been preparing for many years to modify the questions and that the changes should make it easier to measure the law’s impact, not harder (Morello, 4/16).

The Associated Press: DC Extends Deadline To Enroll In Health Plans
More than 2,000 District of Columbia residents either enrolled in a health insurance plan or were found to be eligible for Medicaid after the official end of open enrollment on March 31, but a spike in call volume this week led to another extension of the deadline, officials said Wednesday. The district was one of a handful of states that joined President Barack Obama’s administration in offering a grace period into April for people who started applications but didn’t finish them by the end of March (4/16).

The Associated Press: New York Says 960,000 Enrolled In Health Exchange 
More than 960,000 New Yorkers signed up for health insurance through the state exchange, officials said Wednesday. About 94,000 of those finished applying in the two weeks after the original March 31 deadline, according to figures released by the exchange's executive director, Donna Frescatore. That leaves the program about 140,000 shy of a goal of 1.1 million enrollees by 2016, a sign of the public's "tremendous interest" in it, Frescatore said (4/16).

The Associated Press: Va. Small Business Owners Advocate For Medicaid
A group of small business owners want Virginia House Republicans to drop their opposition to expanding publicly funded health care to low-income residents. Lee Russell, a butcher from Fredericksburg is scheduled to deliver a letter Wednesday signed by more than 400 current and former small business owners to House Speaker William J. Howell (4/16).

USA Today: New Data Signal Smaller Jump In Health Care Costs
Statisticians working with insurers to project next year's insurance premium rates say they expect to see an average increase of about 7%, well below the feared double-digit increases making recent headlines. "The double-rate increases we've been hearing are probably exaggerated," says Dave Axene, a fellow with the Society of Actuaries. … Axene says that as insurers dig through the new health exchange enrollees to figure out their ages and health conditions to determine next year's premiums, he expects an overall increase of 6% to 8.5%. He bases that on work he and others within the society have done with insurance clients. Before the Affordable Care Act, premiums rose an average of 7-10% a year (Kennedy, 4/16).

The Washington Post’s Wonkblog: Price Transparency Stinks In Health Care. Here’s How The Industry Wants To Change That.
There's been much written in the past year about just how hard it is to get a simple price for a basic health-care procedure. The industry has heard the rumblings, and now it's responding. About two dozen industry stakeholders, including main lobbying groups for hospitals and health insurers, this morning are issuing new recommendations for how they can provide the cost of health-care services to patients (Millman, 4/16).

ProPublica/NPR: Medicare Kept Paying Indicted, Sanctioned Doctors
In August 2011, federal agents swept across the Detroit area, arresting doctors, pharmacists and other health professionals accused of running a massive scheme to defraud Medicare (Ornstein, 4/17).

The New York Times: For Diabetics, Health Risks Fall Sharply
Federal researchers on Wednesday reported the first broad national picture of progress against some of the most devastating complications of diabetes, which affects millions of Americans, finding that rates of heart attacks, strokes, kidney failure and amputations fell sharply over the past two decades (Tavernise and Grady, 4/16).

The Wall Street Journal: UnitedHealth's Profit Declines
UnitedHealth is the first major health insurer to report its results for the latest quarter, the first period to reflect the Affordable Care Act. Planned reductions in government funding for Medicare Advantage and other provisions of the health law are expected to affect the managed-care provider's performance this year. UnitedHealth has improved its results recently through membership growth. At the end of the latest period, the number of people who had health coverage through the UnitedHealthcare insurance business reached 44.7 million, compared with 42 million a year earlier and 45.4 million people at the end 2013 (Stynes, 4/17).

The Associated Press: UnitedHealth’s 1Q Profit Tumbles 8 Percent
UnitedHealth Group says its first-quarter net income slid 8 percent as fees and funding cuts from the health care overhaul helped dent the performance of the nation’s largest health insurer. UnitedHealth says it earned $1.1 billion, or $1.10 per share, in the three months that ended March 31. That’s down from $1.19 billion, or $1.16 per share, a year earlier. Revenue rose nearly 5 percent to $31.71 billion (4/17).

NPR: Free Drug Samples Prompt Skin Doctors To Prescribe Costlier Meds
Every "free" sample comes with a price. Dermatologists who accept free tubes and bottles of brand-name drugs are likelier to prescribe expensive medications for acne than doctors who are prohibited from taking samples, a study reports Wednesday (Doucleff, 4/16).

The Washington Post: Gansler Calls Health Care ‘A Right’ In His Latest TV Ad For Maryland Governor
Maryland Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Douglas F. Gansler is keeping the focus on health care in his latest television ad. In the 15-second spot, Gansler, Maryland’s attorney general, tells viewers that “health care is a right” (Wagner, 4/16).

The New York Times: Sebelius Said to Weigh Run for Kansas Senate Seat
In her darkest hour last fall, Kathleen Sebelius suffered one of the deepest cuts from an old family friend who accused her of “gross incompetence” over the rollout of the Affordable Care Act and demanded that she resign as secretary of health and human services. Now she is weighing revenge. Ms. Sebelius is considering entreaties from Democrats who want her to run against that old friend, Senator Pat Roberts, Republican of Kansas (Peteres, 4/16).

The Washington Post’s Wonkblog: New York Court Guts A Groundbreaking Health-Care Fun That Would Have Changed Taxi Drivers’ Lives
Until late last week, help seemed close. In 2012, the city's Taxi and Limousine Commission had voted to take six cents on every fare for a fund that would help with exactly these kinds of situations, providing upwards of $300 per week in assistance as soon as a driver could produce a doctor's note. The money started flowing in February, and Singh was just waiting for newly installed Mayor Bill DeBlasio to greenlight a contract for the fund's administrator, who could then begin doling out cash. And then, on Friday, Singh's hopes fizzled: A New York State Supreme Court judge struck down the TLC's rule, in a decision that may limit how independent workers -- who are exposed to the most economic risk and enjoy the fewest legal protections -- can collectively organize for benefits that are otherwise beyond their reach (DePillis, 4/16).

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