KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

First Edition: June 4, 2013

Today's headlines include a report about what the Democrats' health law strategy might be as the 2014 mid-term elections approach.

Kaiser Health News: Insuring Your Health: 'Will My Family Be Eligible For Subsidized Coverage?'
Kaiser Health News consumer columnist Michelle Andrews responds to reader questions about coverage subsidies for families under the Affordable Care Act, filling the gaps in Medicare coverage and laws governing health plans in companies that conduct business in more than one state (Andrews, 6/4). Read the column.

Kaiser Health News: Miss. To Require Cord Blood Testing On Babies Born To Some Teenage Moms
Mississippi Public Radio's Jeffrey Hess, working in partnership with Kaiser Health News and NPR, reports: "Mississippi lawmakers have embarked on a novel campaign to discourage older men from having sex with teenagers: Starting July 1 doctors and midwives will be required to take umbilical cord blood samples from babies born to some women under the age of 16 so officials can try to identify the father through a match from the state's DNA database" (Hess, 6/3). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Calif. Law Likely Resulted In Lower Bills, Care For Uninsured; Medicare Data Show Wide Divide In Outpatient Hospital Bills; Fewer Families Report Difficulty Paying Medical Bills
Now on Kaiser Health News blog, Julie Appleby writes about the impact of a California law on health care bills: "A California law limiting how much hospitals can charge the uninsured likely resulted in lower bills for many patients – and free care for most of the state's poorest uninsured residents, according to a study published today in the journal Health Affairs" (Appleby, 6/3).

In addition, Jordan Rau writes about Medicare data and the cost of outpatient hospital services: "Medicare released average bill charges for 30 hospital outpatient procedures Monday, showing big differences from hospital to hospital in how much they bill patients for the same service. The data come a month after the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services garnered front-page attention for its release of similar information about 100 common hospital inpatient procedures" (Rau, 6/3).

Also on Capsules, Judith Graham reports on how families are doing with medical bills: "Fewer American families are having problems paying medical bills, according to a study released Tuesday by the National Center for Health Statistics. Still, nearly a fifth off families still struggle with that financial responsibility" (Graham, 6/4). Check out what else  is on the blog.

Politico: Democrats' 2014 Strategy: Own Obamacare
Scarred by years of Republican attacks over Obamacare, with more in store next year, Democrats have settled on an unlikely strategy for the 2014 midterms: Bring it on. Party strategists believe that embracing the polarizing law — especially its more popular elements — is smarter politics than fleeing from it in the House elections. The new tack is a marked shift from 2010, when Republicans pointed to Obamacare as Exhibit A of big government run amok on their way to seizing the House from Democrats (Isenstadt, 6/4).

Los Angeles Times: Blue Shield, Anthem Owe Small  Firms Millions Of Dollars In Rebates
Blue Shield of California owes $24.5 million in rebates to thousands of small-business customers, and rival Anthem Blue Cross will return $12 million to small firms under requirements of the federal healthcare law. The annual rebates were disclosed in reports to state regulators, and the final tally from some companies may change before they are paid out by Aug. 1 (Terhune, 6/4).

Politico: HHS Releases Prices For Outpatient Treatment
The Obama administration expanded its efforts to shine the light on hospital pricing Monday, making public charges for outpatient services from its vast trove of Medicare claims. It follows a move last month to publicize the often wild variation in charges for the 100 most common inpatient procedures. Experts say it’s part of a long-delayed transition to price transparency for an industry that’s been largely protected from it in the past (Norman, 6/4).

The Wall Street Journal’s CIO Journal: WellPoint Tries To Avoid Another Mobile 'Crapplication'
Health insurer WellPoint Inc. acknowledged Monday that it does a poor job of designing consumer mobile applications, and will work with more experienced companies to improve the usability of applications intended for use by its customers. WellPoint expects that approximately 30 million people will start signing up for insurance plans in October 2013 under the Affordable Care Act, and it could well lose market share to competing insurers if consumers don't like its apps. That's no vain concern – its first mobile application, released last December, was widely panned by Apple Inc. and Google Android consumers – an experience Rickey Tang, vice president, chief architect and chief technology officer at WellPoint, called "humbling" (King, 6/3).

The Washington Post: DC Officials, CareFirst At Odds Over Health Insurance Exchange
Top District officials, including its insurance commissioner, have sharply criticized the region's largest health insurer in recent days, accusing it of "gaming the system" and undermining the city's closely watched efforts to establish a health insurance exchange. But CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield said in a statement Monday that it remains committed to the exchange and said the officials' accusation is "neither correct nor reflects CareFirst's intent" (DeBonis, 6/3).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: DC Council To Consider Moving All Insurance For Individuals, Small Businesses To Exchange
The D.C. Council is taking up a bill that would push the nation's capital to the forefront of implementing a health insurance exchange as mandated by the federal health care overhaul. The bill being considered Tuesday would require that all health insurance for individuals and small businesses be purchased through the exchange by 2015, essentially closing the city's insurance market (6/4).

The Washington Post’s WonkBlog: Hospital Chains Keep Getting Bigger
The American Hospital Association brought Morasko to Washington on Monday morning to talk a small group of journalists about hospital mergers. As health policy experts have increasingly worried about a wave of hospital consolidation, the hospitals’ trade association wanted to make the case that growing integration of hospital practices is a positive trend – one with the potential to drive prices down, rather than up. First, it's helpful to review what’s been happening in the hospital industry in recent years. The sector has seen a wave of consolidation, with big hospital chains buying up smaller facilities. Analysts at Booz & Company counted, in a recent report, over 100 hospital mergers and acquisitions in the past year alone (Kliff, 6/3).

NPR: Obama Administration Seeks To Loosen Antibiotic Approvals
Every day in hospitals all over America, thousands of patients die of infections that used to be curable. But the antibiotics used to treat them aren't working any more. It's called drug resistance, and it's largely a consequence of antibiotic overuse. The more germs are exposed to antibiotics, the faster they mutate to evade being vanquished (Knox, 6/4).

The New York Times: Connecticut Legislature Approves Budget
To strike the budget, legislators relied on one-time revenues from various sources, adding 600 lottery terminals to bars and restaurants around the state for keno — a gambling contest in which players try to guess which numbers will be randomly generated by a computer — and by shifting about $6 billion in federal Medicaid assistance out of the budget, which kept it under the state spending cap (Applebome, 6/3).

The Wall Street Journal: Connecticut Legislature Approves $37.6 Billion Budget For State
Connecticut's state Legislature gave final approval Monday to a two-year $37.6 billion budget that restores aid to cities and towns while it slashes hospital funding and changes how the state accounts for Medicaid spending. … Instead, the budget now changes how it accounts for Medicaid spending by moving about $6 billion of health-care spending over the next two fiscal years off of the budget. Normally, Connecticut counts the full costs it pays for Medicaid without accounting for federal reimbursements. The state plans to spend about $10.4 billion on the program over the next two years, and the federal government is expected to pick up about $6 billion of that (De Avila, 6/3).

Los Angeles Times: One Of Medicare's Most-Wanted Fugitives Is Arrested In L.A.
One of Medicare's most-wanted fugitives, a former clinic owner in the Los Angeles area, was arrested on his return from South Korea, authorities said. Federal investigators said Won Suk Lee, 44, was taken into custody Saturday at Los Angeles International Airport (Terhune, 6/3).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Virginia Beach Hosts Training On Elder Abuse For Medicaid Fraud Control Unit Representatives
More than 150 Medicaid Fraud Control Unit representatives from around the country are gathering in Virginia Beach for an elder abuse training program. Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli is scheduled to speak to participants in the Resident Abuse Training Program on Tuesday morning (6/4).

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