KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

First Edition: July 5, 2011

In today's headlines, reports about how Medicare, Medicaid and the health care industry might fare in the ongoing budget negotiations.

Kaiser Health News: Federal Officials Try Again To Bolster Plans For People With Medical Conditions
In her latest Kaiser Health News consumer column, Michelle Andrews writes: "Uninsured sick people got some good news recently -- or some of them did, anyway. Starting July 1, the Obama administration reduced the premiums by up to 40 percent in special high-risk insurance plans that the federal government is running in 17 states and the District of Columbia" (Andrews, 7/5).

Kaiser Health News: Managed Care Enters The Exam Room As Insurers Buy Doctor Groups
Kaiser Health News staff writer Christopher Weaver, working in collaboration with The Washington Post, reports: "Even if UnitedHealth Group isn't your insurance company, there's a good chance it touches you in some way. The $100 billion behemoth sells technology to hospitals and other insurers, distributes drugs, manages clinical trials and offers continuing medical education, among other things, through the growing web of firms it owns" (Weaver, 7/1).

Kaiser Health News: From Capsules: The Secret Lives Of Docs-In-Training
Kaiser Health News' blog also includes the latest edition of Blogwatch

The New York Times: Administration Offers Health Care Cuts As Part Of Budget Negotiations
Obama administration officials are offering to cut tens of billions of dollars from Medicare and Medicaid in negotiations to reduce the federal budget deficit, but the depth of the cuts depends on whether Republicans are willing to accept any increases in tax revenues. Administration officials and Republican negotiators say the money can be taken from health care providers like hospitals and nursing homes without directly imposing new costs on needy beneficiaries or radically restructuring either program (Pear, 7/4).

Politico: Guide To Health Industries At Risk In Debt Deal
Last year, health care industry groups gave President Barack Obama's reform plan the support it needed to become law. Now, those same groups are sweating over what might happen in the debt ceiling talks - because their fortunes might be about to change. Critics of the reform often attack it as a collection of "backroom health care deals," and Democrats did have an easier time passing it because powerful groups - like hospitals and the drug industry - endorsed the legislation, or at least agreed to hold their fire. Some of them did get rewarded for their help, by being spared from deeper cuts or other legislation they've opposed for years (Nather, 7/4).

Chicago Tribune: Medicare Paving Way To Health Care Accountability
Encouraged by the health care overhaul, medical providers are slowly moving toward a new model of delivering care designed to hold doctors and hospitals more accountable for performance. Under so-called accountable care organizations, health care providers are working to better coordinate the treatment of elderly patients insured by Medicare. Some of the ideas include more electronic record keeping and specialized case managers to keep closer tabs on patients (Japsen, 7/3).

Los Angeles Times: Many Small Cities Pay Officials Hefty Health Benefits
Medical benefits have come under increased scrutiny in several communities as cities have been forced to slash budgets and as the Bell salary scandal has reverberated around the state. In the last year, cities including Redlands, Hemet, Vernon and Thousand Oaks have reduced benefits or eliminated council medical benefits, though in many cases the new rules don't apply to current council members (Saillant, 7/4).

The Washington Post: Corporate Fitness Programs Survive Hard Times
The number of companies with 20,000 or more employees that provided fitness centers, subsidies or discounts grew by 11 percent from a year earlier, according to a 2010 national survey by Mercer, a benefits consulting firm. Another survey, by the Society for Human Resource Management, shows that the proportion of companies offering gym benefits has held steady since 2007. During the same period, many employers were paring retirement and other financial benefits because of the recession (Bernstein, 7/4).

Los Angeles Times: More Employers Are Offering On-Site Medical Clinics
Major employers across the country, eager to curb fast-rising healthcare costs, are opening their own state-of-the-art health centers where doctors and nurses provide medical care to workers often just steps from their desks. The cost-cutting strategy has been embraced by dozens of companies - typically large employers that are self-insured and pay their own medical claims, including Walt Disney Co., Qualcomm Inc. and American Express Co. Many of the health centers are full-service medical offices equipped with exam rooms, X-ray machines and pharmacies. Some provide on-site appointments with dentists, dermatologists, psychiatrists and other specialists who treat life-threatening illnesses. Executives say providing in-house medical care keeps workers healthy and productive. But the clinics also help the bottom line by reducing absenteeism and slashing employers' medical bills for outside doctors and emergency rooms (Helfand, 7/3).

Los Angeles Times: Study Urges More Individual Mammogram Guidelines
The standard approach, which is based on age alone, has been challenged in recent years by a number of health experts who contend that some women get more mammograms than they need and others get too few. The new paper, published Monday in the Annals of Internal Medicine, argues for a more complex approach to mammography based on personal risk factors such as age, breast density, family history of breast cancer and even a woman's personal preference (Roan, 7/5).

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