KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

First Edition: June 11, 2013

Today's headlines include coverage of the Obama administration's decision to drop the fight to keep age restrictions in place for Plan B emergency contraceptive pill sales.

Kaiser Health News: Insuring Your Health: Federal Rule Allows Higher Out-Of-Pocket Spending For One Year
Kaiser Health News consumer columnist Michelle Andrews writes: “Starting next year, the Affordable Care Act sets maximum limits on how much consumers can be required to pay out-of-pocket annually for their medical care. But some people with high drug costs may find the limits don't protect them yet” (Andrews, 6/11). Read the column.

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Study: Brand Name Drugs Drive Up Medicare Spending
Now on Kaiser Health News’ blog, Ankita Rao reports: “A new study suggests that cash-strapped Medicare missed an opportunity to save more than $1 billion by not addressing the varying costs and use of prescription drugs” (Rao, 6/11). Check out what else is on the blog.

The Wall Street Journal: Room For Savings Found In Medicare
The federal government's Medicare program could have saved nearly $1 billion in 2011 if it had paid the lowest rate negotiated by private insurers for lab tests, federal investigators said in a report to be released Tuesday. A review of rates on 20 of the most common lab tests showed Medicare paid $910 million more than it would have if it had paid the rates of some state Medicaid plans and private insurers, according to the report by the Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Inspector General (Schatz, 6/11).

The New York  Times: U.S. Drops Bid To Limit Sales Of Morning-After Pill
The Justice Department had been fighting to prevent that outcome, but said late Monday afternoon that it would accept its losses in recent court rulings and begin putting into effect a judge’s order to have the Food and Drug Administration certify the drug for nonprescription use. In a letter to Judge Edward R. Korman of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, the administration said it would comply with his demands (Shear and Belluck, 6/10).

Los Angeles Times: Obama Administration Reverses Course On Plan B Pill
In papers filed in federal court in New York, government attorneys announced that the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Health and Human Services would remove age and point of sale restrictions on the emergency contraceptive, pending approval by U.S. District Judge Edward Korman. The decision would not apply to similar brands of emergency contraceptives, or to a two-pill version of the same drug, which is manufactured by the Israel-based pharmaceutical firm Teva. Loretta Lynch, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, wrote in the court papers that other manufacturers could submit approval applications, but the FDA might grant Teva "marketing exclusivity." The limited nature of the government's proposal could be an issue for Korman, who has ordered that all such drugs be available over the counter like aspirin (Morin, 6/10).

The Washington Post: Obama Administration Drops Fight To Keep Age Restrictions On Plan B Sales
The Obama administration on Monday abandoned its fight to keep age restrictions on sales of a widely used morning-after contraceptive pill, a stark legal reversal that ended years of court battles but did little to extinguish political passions on both sides of the issue. … President Obama has not changed his position and still opposes over-the-counter access to emergency contraceptives for young girls, said a senior administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity Monday to describe the White House’s reasoning. But the Justice Department decided to drop the case after multiple setbacks in federal courts in recent months (Dennis and Kliff, 6/10).

The Wall Street Journal: Government To Comply With Morning-After Pill Ruling
The drug won't immediately be made available to all ages without a prescription. The FDA said it has asked Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd., the maker of Plan B One-Step, to reapply for approval of the product without any restrictions. The FDA said it would act promptly to approve any application. However, if approved the drug would need to be relabeled for sale, a process that could take several weeks. A Teva spokeswoman said in a statement, "We do not have a comment at this time" (Dooren, 6/10).

NPR: Feds Cave On Emergency Contraception Age Restrictions
The Obama administration has gone to Plan C on Plan B. Backed into a legal corner, the Justice Department said Monday it would drop its appeal of Judge Edward Korman's ruling last April that it make the morning-after birth control pill available over the counter with no age restrictions (Rovner, 6/10).

Politico: U.S. To Allow Plan B Access For All Ages
When finalized, the move would end a long-running dispute over emergency contraception dating back to the early years of George W. Bush’s presidency — a legal fight that forced the Obama administration to take a position on the availability of the controversial product in late 2011, just as the 2012 election fight was heating up — and make “Plan B” pills readily available on the shelves of drug stores nationwide (Epstein and Haberkorn, 6/10).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Obama Reverses Course On Morning-After Pill; Critic Sees Him ‘Caving To Political Press’
Advocates for girls’ and women’s rights said the federal government’s decision to comply with the judge’s ruling could be a move forward for “reproductive justice” if the FDA acts quickly and puts emergency contraception over the counter without restriction. … But an opponent of the contraception plan, at the anti-abortion Family Research Council, criticized the government for not sticking with its decision to appeal.  “We’re very concerned and disappointed at the same time because what we see here is the government caving to political pressure instead of putting first the health and safety of girls (and) parental rights,” said Anna Higgins, director of the council’s Center for Human Dignity (6/10).

The Wall Street Journal: Insider Probe Hits Congress
At issue is whether anyone violated insider-trading laws by improperly tipping off investors of a coming announcement by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to restore cuts in funding for private health insurance plans (Mullins, Grimaldi and Barrett, 6/10).

Politico: Mississippi’s Medicaid Plan May Fail
A partisan feud over Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion is threatening health care for thousands of low-income and elderly Mississippians whose coverage could be in jeopardy at the end of the month if lawmakers don’t come to a consensus. Both Republican Gov. Phil Bryant and Democratic state lawmakers face pressure to resolve their staring contest. If they don’t, the whole state Medicaid program — never mind any proposed expansion — would expire July 1 (Cheney, 6/11).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Lung Transplant Vote Aims For Medical And Legal Balance On Life And Death Issues
Faced with a federal judge’s order in the heart-wrenching cases of two terminally ill children who are seeking lung transplants, a national review board sought a balance that will keep such decisions in the hands of doctors, not lawyers or judges. The executive committee of the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network held an emergency teleconference Monday evening and resisted making rule changes for children under 12 seeking lung transplants, but created a special appeal and review system to hear such cases (6/11).

Politico: Transplant Panel Orders Policy Review
The national panel that sets organ donation policy on Monday ordered a yearlong review of the guidelines for allocating lungs to dying children — but also allowed for a case-by-case review by an expert panel in the interim. The Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network made the decision at an unusual emergency session. The cases of two seriously ill children hospitalized in Philadelphia have drawn congressional attention to the policy and prompted a highly unusual intervention by a federal judge after the families sued the U.S. government and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius (Norman, 6/10).

The Wall Street Journal’s The Informed Patient: Hospitals Work On Patients' Most-Frequent Complaint: Noise
Facing potential financial penalties from Medicare, more hospitals are changing decades-old practices that contribute to the din. Some are replacing overhead staff paging systems with wireless headsets, and allowing patients to shut room doors and post a Do Not Disturb sign. Designated sleep hours in some units mean there are no routine checks of vital signs unless necessary (Landro, 6/10).

Los Angeles Times: Doctors Brace For Pain As 10% Cut To Medi-Cal Rates Looms
In an office decorated with Chinese art and diagrams of body parts, Dr. George Ma cares for more than 4,000 patients. Nearly three-quarters are covered by Medi-Cal, the state's public insurance program for low-income Californians, and Ma said he receives $10 a month to treat most of them (Gorman and York, 6/10).

Los Angeles Times: Experts Seek Better Health Outcomes For Homeless
Years after facing patient dumping allegations and hefty legal settlements, Southern California hospital executives have begun working with advocates for the homeless to improve the health of homeless patients and to reduce their use of area hospitals. Hospital administrators are driven by the national healthcare law, which offers incentives to provide better care at lower cost and imposes penalties when patients are unnecessarily readmitted to hospitals. Homeless patients are among the most frequent users of the region's medical centers, often because they lack regular medical care (Gorman, 6/10).

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