First Edition: August 28, 2014
Today's headlines include reports about the Congressional Budget Office's latest projections regarding Medicare and Medicaid spending.
Kaiser Health News: Health Law Spurs Focus On Faster Drug Development
Kaiser Health News staff writer Daniela Hernandez reports: “Imagine if scientists could recreate you---or at least part of you---on a chip. That might help doctors identify drugs that would help you heal faster, bypassing the sometimes painful trial-and-error process and hefty health care costs that accompany arriving at the right treatment. Right now, at the University of California, Berkeley, researchers in bioengineer Kevin Healy's lab are working to make that happen. Funded under a provision of the health law, they're trying to grow human organ tissue, like heart and liver, on tiny chips” (Hernandez, 8/28). Read the story, which also ran in Wired.
Kaiser Health News: Capsules: CBO Projects Lower Medicare and Medicaid Costs; Urgent Care Centers Opening For People With Mental lllness
Now on Kaiser Health News’ blog, Mary Agnes Carey reports on the CBO’s latest projections for Medicare and Medicaid: “Reduced costs for medical services and labor have trimmed the 10-year projected cost of Medicare and Medicaid by $89 billion, the Congressional Budget Office said Wednesday. Medicare spending is projected to drop by $49 billion — or less than 1 percent — from 2015 and 2024, while Medicaid spending is expected to drop by $40 billion — or about 1 percent — over the next decade, CBO said in an update to its April forecast” (Carey, 8/27).
Also on Capsules, Anna Gorman reports on how urgent care centers are opening to treat people with mental illness: “Mental health urgent care centers, also known as crisis stabilization units, are opening throughout California in response to the shortage of psychiatric beds and the increase in patients with mental illnesses showing up at hospital emergency rooms with nowhere else to go, experts and advocates said. In Los Angeles County, four such centers have opened and several more are planned. L.A. County’s mental health director Marvin Southard said the centers are a more effective way to care for many patients with mental illness and are less disruptive to hospitals. And county Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who led the effort to open the center, said they are “more humane” and a smarter approach” (Gorman, 8/28). Check out what else is on the blog.
The Associated Press: 3 Ways Insurers Can Discourage Sick From Enrolling
Insurers can no longer reject customers with expensive medical conditions thanks to the health care overhaul. But consumer advocates warn that companies are still using wiggle room to discourage the sickest — and costliest — patients from enrolling. Some insurers are excluding well-known cancer centers from the list of providers they cover under a plan; requiring patients to make large, initial payments for HIV medications; or delaying participation in public insurance exchanges created by the overhaul (8/27).
The Washington Post: Health-Care Premiums Fall In Arkansas
Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe’s office said Wednesday that most health-care customers will pay less for their plans next year, a relief to state residents — and to the Democratic senator trying to hold onto his seat in one of the country’s most expensive elections. Health-care premiums will decline about 2 percent next year, Beebe (D) wrote in a statement Wednesday. Beebe helped lead an at-times reluctant Republican legislature to expand Medicaid. In his statement, he said insurance costs nationwide “historically rise by six-to-ten percent annually.” The state used federal funds to launch a private Medicaid option that has been described as a potential model for conservative-leaning states (Ferris, 8/27).
The Washington Post’s Wonkblog: The Obscure Part Of Obamacare That Takes On Executive Pay
We all know Obamacare is a pretty big law, with plenty of obscure provisions that don't get much attention. For one, the law targets big executive pay packages at health insurance companies — and based on data released Wednesday, the provision is already going a long way. Companies have long been able to deduct salaries to top executives from their federal tax bills, although since the early 1990s — in an effort to reduce excessive pay — the government has limited the amount to $1 million (Millman, 8/27).
USA Today: Consumers Deal With Insurance Deadline, Site Glitches
Hundreds of thousands of people risk losing their new health insurance policies if they don't resubmit citizenship or immigration information to the government by the end of next week -- but the federal Healthcare.gov site remains so glitchy that they are having a tough time complying. Consumers are being forced to send their information multiple times, and many can't access their accounts at all, immigration law experts and insurance agents say (O’Donnell, 8/27).
The New York Times: Expansion Of Mental Health Care Hits Obstacles
The Affordable Care Act has paved the way for a vast expansion of mental health coverage in America, providing access for millions of people who were previously uninsured or whose policies did not include such coverage before. Under the law, mental health treatment is an “essential” benefit that must be covered by Medicaid and every private plan sold through the new online insurance marketplaces (Goodnough, 8/27).
The Washington Post: How You End Up Spending $800 Million On Healthcare.Gov
Signed into law by President Obama on March 23, 2010, the Affordable Care Act has proven to be its own kind of jobs act, especially when it comes to the Washington-area IT community. When, in several places, the bill called for the creation of an "Internet website" to allow Americans to find and sign up for new health insurance coverage, it opened the tap on hundreds of millions of dollars that would eventually go to creating HealthCare.gov's front end and back end, as well as a small universe of accompanying digital sites. On Wednesday, the office of Daniel Levinson, the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services, put out a report detailing the dozens of contracts that went into building out the Federal Marketplace project. And a look at each in the disaggregate paints a picture of an effort far more sweeping than even that suggested by the half-billion dollars the federal government has already paid out to implement the digital side of the health insurance law (Scola, 8/27).
The Washington Post: Why That One Democratic Obamacare Ad Didn’t Signal A New Trend
When Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas went up with a television ad last week alluding to some benefits of Obamacare, partisans on both the left and the right saw the spot as a sign that vulnerable Democrats might finally be embracing the polarizing health-care overhaul in their campaigns. But in the days since, it's become clear: there's little evidence that the hotly debated law is on its way to becoming a central Democratic talking point heading into the fall campaign (Gold, 8/27).
The Wall Street Journal: Deficit Forecast Trimmed As Rates Stay Low
Smaller deficits are the result of a variety of factors, including higher tax revenue and economic growth, budget cuts and new limits on government spending. The agency forecast the government would spend slightly less on Medicare and Medicaid over the next decade than it estimated earlier this year. Still, the changes were relatively minor—less than 1% of total spending on the programs. CBO expects the deficit to shrink for several years before starting a steady expansion in 2018, driven by the aging U.S. population, higher health-care costs and increasing subsidies for certain federal programs (Paletta, 8/27).
The Associated Press: US Economy Forecast To Grow By 1.5 Percent In 2014
The Congressional Budget Office on Wednesday forecast that the U.S. economy will grow by just 1.5 percent in 2014, undermined by a poor performance during the first three months of the year. The new assessment was considerably more pessimistic than the Obama administration’s, which predicted last month that the economy would expand by 2.6 percent this year even though it contracted by an annual rate of 2.1 percent in the first quarter (8/27).
The Washington Post: New Obama Plan Calls For Implanted Computer Chips To Help U.S. Troops Health
When President Obama on Tuesday highlighted 19 executive actions he says he is taking to improve the mental health of U.S. troops and veterans, one of them centered on a particularly novel effort: The development of new computer chips designed to modulate the nervous system to help with everything from arthritis to post-traumatic stress (Lamothe, 8/27).
NPR: Life After Ice Buckets: ALS Group Faces $94 Million Challenge
The ALS ice bucket challenge continues to bring in huge donations this summer for efforts to cure and treat what's commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease. As of today, the viral campaign has raised more than $94 million for the ALS Association. That's compared with $2.7 million raised by the group during the same time last year. Now the association faces a challenge of its own: figuring out the best way to spend all that money (Fessler, 8/27).
The New York Times: Heroin’s Death Toll Rising In New York, Amid A Shift In Who Uses It
A heroin crisis gripping communities across the country deepened in New York last year, with more people in the city dying in overdoses from the drug than in any year since 2003. In all, 420 people fatally overdosed on heroin in 2013 out of a total of 782 drug overdoses, rising to a level not seen in a decade in both absolute numbers and as a population-adjusted rate, according to preliminary year-end data from the city’s health department (Goodman, 8/28).
The Associated Press: Deal On Health Care Aids Port Contract Talks
Negotiators hoping to forge a new contract for dockworkers and keep hundreds of billions of dollars in cargo moving smoothly through West Coast seaports made significant progress with a tentative deal on health care benefits, a knotty issue that tied up talks for months. West Coast dockworkers already have unusually generous health benefits — so generous, argue their employers who pay for the coverage, that the insurance plan has become riddled with fraud (8/27).
The Associated Press: Firm Allegedly Gipped Workers Out Of Jobs, $100K
Prosecutors hammered a Brooklyn contractor Wednesday with allegations he cheated workers out of $100,000 and reneged on promises of permanent jobs and health care. Contractor Anthony Miller and his firm Bael Out Enterprises were arraigned in Brooklyn Supreme Court on charges they schemed to defraud more than 70 workers and failed to obtain workers' compensation insurance (8/27).
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