KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

First Edition: February 19, 2013

Today's headlines include a report about President Barack Obama's push to fix the sequester. 

Kaiser Health News: Health Technology's 'Essential Critic' Warns Of Medical Mistakes
Kaiser Health News staff writer Jay Hancock, working in collaboration with The Philadelphia Inquirer, reports: "Computer mistakes like the one that produced incorrect prescriptions for thousands of Rhode Island patients are probably far more common and dangerous than the Obama administration wants you to believe, says Drexel University's Dr. Scot Silverstein" (Hancock, 2/18). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: Insuring Your Health: New Coverage May Spur Younger Women To Use Long-Acting Contraceptives
In her latest Kaiser Health News consumer column, Michelle Andrews writes: "Even though they're more effective at preventing pregnancy than most other forms of contraception, long-acting birth-control methods such as intrauterine devices and hormonal implants have been a tough sell for women, especially younger ones. But changes in health-care laws and the introduction of the first new IUD in 12 years may make these methods more attractive. Increased interest in the devices could benefit younger women because of their high rates of unintended pregnancy, according to experts in women's reproductive health" (Andrews, 2/18). Read the column.

Kaiser Health News: Cancer Rehab Begins To Bridge A Gap For Patients
Reporting for Kaiser Health News, in collaboration with NPR, Rachel Gotbaum writes: "It was her own experience with debilitating side effects after cancer treatment that led Dr. Julie Silver to realize there is a huge gap in care that keeps cancer patients from getting rehabilitation services" (Gotbaum, 2/18). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: Federal Government To Run Insurance Marketplaces In Half The States
Kaiser Health News staff writers Phil Galewitz and Alvin Tran report: "It's official. The Obama administration will be running new health insurance marketplaces in half the states— including the major population centers of Texas, Florida and Pennsylvania. The federal government had hoped more states this week would agree to form a partnership exchange—the deadline to apply was Friday—but the offer was largely rebuffed. New Jersey, Ohio and Florida, several of the biggest states that had not declared their intentions, officially said no late in the week (Galewitz and Tran, updated 2/16). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News also tracked weekend headlines regarding the shape of the insurance marketplace under the new law (2/18).

The Washington Post: Obama To Press For Sequester Fix
Obama favors replacing the sequester with a combination of spending cuts in automatic programs like Medicare and Medicaid and new tax revenue, raised by scaling back tax breaks that benefit the wealthy and select industries, such as energy firms. With a sweeping deal unlikely in two weeks, Obama is pushing for a short-term measure to delay the start of the sequester — such as one proposed last week by Senate Democrats that would use alternative spending cuts and tax hikes to postpone the sequester through the end of the year. Republicans argue that Obama has focused too much on raising taxes to solve the nation's debt problem and not enough on cutting spending (Goldfarb, 2/19).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: States Or Feds: Who Will Do A Better Job Covering Uninsured Americans Under Obama's Health Law?
President Barack Obama's health care overhaul is unfolding as a national experiment with American consumers as the guinea pigs: Who will do a better job getting uninsured people covered, the states or the feds? The nation is about evenly split between states that decided by Friday's deadline they want a say in running new insurance markets and states that are defaulting to federal control because they don’t want to participate in "Obamacare." That choice was left to state governments under the law: Establish the market or Washington will (2/16).

The New York Times: Some Employers Could Opt Out Of Insurance Market, Raising Others' Costs
Companies can avoid many standards in the new law by insuring their own employees, rather than signing up with commercial insurers, because Congress did not want to disrupt self-insurance arrangements that were seen as working well for many large employers. Federal and state officials and consumer advocates have grown worried that companies with relatively young, healthy employees may opt out of the regular health insurance market to avoid the minimum coverage standards in President Obama's sweeping law, a move that could drive up costs for workers at other companies (Pear, 2/17).

Los Angeles Times: States Worry About Rate Shock During Shift To New Health Law
Less than a year before Americans will be required to have insurance under President Obama's healthcare law, many of its backers are growing increasingly anxious that premiums could jump, driven up by the legislation itself (Levey, 2/18).

The Washington Post: Funds Run Low For Health Insurance In State 'High-Risk Pools'
Tens of thousands of Americans who cannot get health insurance because of preexisting medical problems will be blocked from a program designed to help them because funding is running low. Obama administration officials said Friday that the state-based "high-risk pools" set up under the 2010 health-care law will be closed to new applicants as soon as Saturday and no later than March 2, depending on the state (Aizenman, 2/16).

The Washington Post: Will Young Adults Face 'Rate Shock' Because Of The Health Law?
Many young, healthy Americans could soon see a jump in their health insurance costs, and insurance companies are saying: It's not our fault. The nation’s insurers are engaged in an all-out, last-ditch effort to shield themselves from blame for what they predict will be rate increases on policies they must unveil this spring to comply with President Obama's health-care law (Aizenman, 2/15).

Los Angeles Times: Key Legislative Committee To Consider Medi-Cal Expansion
A key Assembly panel will consider legislation Tuesday that would dramatically expand Medi-Cal, the state's public insurance program for the poor. The proposal, authored by Assembly Speaker John A. Perez (D-Los Angeles), is part of a legislative package that aims to help California implement President Obama's healthcare overhaul (Mishak, 2/18).

USA Today: Novartis CEO Upbeat On Company, Health Care
One of the worst flu seasons in decades is finally showing signs of abating. But health care companies and individuals are still absorbing higher costs as the president's health care legislation begins to take effect. The fees and taxes related to Obamacare take effect this year, while the rest will be implemented in the coming two years. For the latest, I caught up with Joe Jimenez, the CEO of Novartis, one of the largest pharma companies and maker of the leading flu vaccine. Our interview follows, edited for clarity and length (Bartiromo, 2/17).

The New York Times: Obama Seeking To Boost Study Of Human Brain
The Obama administration is planning a decade-long scientific effort to examine the workings of the human brain and build a comprehensive map of its activity, seeking to do for the brain what the Human Genome Project did for genetics (Markoff, 2/17).

The New York Times: DNA Test For Rare Disorders Becomes Routine
Even if there is no treatment, there is almost always some benefit to diagnosis, geneticists say. It can give patients and their families the certainty of knowing what is wrong and even a prognosis. It can also ease the processing of medical claims, qualifying for special education services, and learning whether subsequent children might be at risk (Kolata, 2/18).

Los Angeles Times: Nursing Home Chain Settles With State Over Poor Patient Care
Hit with dozens of citations over poor patient care, a company that operates 20 nursing homes in Los Angeles County and elsewhere in California will increase its staffing levels under a settlement with the state attorney general’s office. As part of the agreement, an independent monitor will ensure that Skilled Healthcare Group Inc. complies with state staffing laws, Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris’s office said Friday (Pringle, 2/15).

The New York Times: Cuomo Bucks Tide With Bill To Ease Limits On Abortion
Bucking a trend in which states have been seeking to restrict abortion, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is putting the finishing touches on legislation that would guarantee women in New York the right to late-term abortions when their health is in danger or the fetus is not viable (Kaplan, 2/16).

The Washington Post: Plan To Close Va. Institutions Stokes Worry For Families Of The Developmentally Disabled
Virginia is among the last states to begin dismantling its large institutions for the developmentally disabled, a decision that was made as part of a year-old settlement agreement with the Justice Department, which argued in a lawsuit that Virginia was discriminating against training center residents by keeping them institutionalized. All but one of the commonwealth’s five training centers, as the state calls them, are to be shuttered by 2020, with the one in Fairfax set to close by July 2015 (Reilly, 2/17).

Los Angeles Times: State Opens New Prison Psychiatric Ward
California prison officials have opened a new psychiatric center for inmates, contending that the $24-million treatment facility is proof the state is ready to shed federal oversight of mental health care for prisoners (St. John, 2/19).

The Washington Post: Clinics Bring Together Doctors And Psychiatrists To Cure Physical, Mental Health Ailments
On a recent day at Family Services Inc., a low-income mental health clinic in Gaithersburg, clinic director Amy Van Grack was treating one of her regular patients when she realized the patient was homeless, pregnant and hadn't seen a primary care doctor in months. So Van Grack walked the patient down the hall to meet with one. In addition to therapists, counselors and psychiatrists, FSI in December added a medical clinic to its site. The idea: Individuals with behavioral health disorders are more likely to get the physical treatments they need when a doctor is readily available, affordable and near their mental health care provider (Khazan, 2/18).

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