KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

First Edition: February 4, 2014

Today's headlines include progress reports on health exchanges in Washington state and New York as well as poll results on Virginia's Medicaid Expansion.

Kaiser Health News: Insuring Your Health: Advocates Worry That Drug Company Assistance Programs Will Be Banned From Helping Patients With Marketplace Policies
Kaiser Health News consumer columnist Michelle Andrews writes: “People who need expensive drugs to treat serious medical conditions often rely on drug manufacturers’ assistance programs to help afford their medications. But it’s uncertain whether such programs are permitted to aid people who buy health insurance on the marketplaces established by the federal health law. With open enrollment ending in less than two months, federal rules remain unclear, leaving patients, advocates and drug programs in limbo. They're concerned about how recent guidance recommending that third parties refrain from making payments to help patients with cost sharing or premiums may affect these programs” (Andrews, 2/4). Read the column.

Kaiser Health News: From Ethiopia To West Virginia, Community Health Workers Help Close Access-To-Care Gaps
Kaiser Health News staff writer Ankita Rao, working in collaboration with The Atlantic, reports: “Across the world, countries have started to embrace community health workers as a means of reaching people who don't always have regular access to care through clinics and hospitals. Their titles vary -- India has more than 800,000 "Accredited Social Health Activists" and Malawi employs 11,000 Health Extension Workers -- but the impact seems to be universal. Not only do the workers treat and manage care, they also help curb health care costs by preventing complicated disease and emergency room visits” (Rao, 2/4). Read the story.

The Washington Post: House GOP Finalizes Debt-Limit Playbook
Several House members told The Washington Post on Monday that Republican leaders have narrowed their list of possible debt-limit strategies to two options: trading a one-year extension for approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, or trading a one-year extension for repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s risk corridors (Costa, 2/3).

USA Today: Health Insurance Ads Target Gen Y Women
The campaign by the non-profit advocacy group Enroll America uses pets to reach its audience and launches with less than two months to go before the March 31 deadline for enrollment. Enroll America says about 81% of the public doesn't know about the deadline and 69% of people don't know that financial help is available to those with incomes below 400% of the poverty level (O’Donnell and McElhaney, 2/4).

The Washington Post’s WonkBlog: Seattle Has A Great Football Team – And An Awesome Obamacare Exchange, Too.
Yes, there is the Super Bowl victory, as well. But you have enough things to read about that -- and not nearly as much coverage of the Washington Health Plan Finder, which is arguably having one of the best open enrollment seasons in the country. Washington, alongside Vermont, leads the nation in percentage of eligible population enrolled in its exchange. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 33.1 percent of Washingtonians eligible to sign up for coverage through the exchange have gone ahead and done so (Kliff, 2/3).

The Associated Press/Wall Street Journal: NY Health Exchange Insures Thousands More
The state's new health exchange reports more than 657,000 New Yorkers have completed applications for insurance while nearly 381,000 of them have enrolled for specific coverage (2/4).

The Washington Post: Poll Finds Support For Medicaid Expansion In Virginia
A majority of Virginia voters support expanding Medicaid as long as there are federal funds to pay for it, according to a new poll. The Wason Center at Christopher Newport University found that 56 percent of the state’s registered voters back the expansion of the state-federal health program for the poor, but almost the same number — 54 percent — would oppose it if the federal government did not provide the promised funding (Weiner, 2/3).

Los Angeles Times: 30% Of College Students Report Being Uninsured, Most Citing Cost
About a third of California college students report being uninsured and they said the primary reason was cost, not an aura of invincibility, according to a new survey. The results released Monday are based on a poll of 836 students at three Cal State University campuses last fall in Los Angeles, Fresno and San Jose (Terhune, 2/3).

The Washington Post’s The Fact Checker: Sen. Scott’s Claim That The Medical Device Tax Will Cost Small Businesses $29 Billion 
Sen. Scott, in decrying the impact of the Affordable Care Act, made some startling claims about the taxes in the law. First, he said that the medical device tax takes $29 billion from “the pockets of small business owners.” Then, he said the law also “takes another $800 billion out of the pockets of small business owners.” Greg Blair, press secretary for Scott, said that regarding the $800 billion, Scott meant to say this was “taken out of the pockets of small business owners and families.” We don’t like to play gotcha at The Fact Checker, especially when someone is speaking on live television, but we will note that he emphasized the impact on small business. We have previously highlighted that research from the Joint Committee on Taxation that only 3 percent of small businesses are affected by higher marginal rates on families making more than $250,000 a year (Kessler, 2/4).

Politico: Alex Sink, David Jolly Spar In Florida Debate
Several exchanges focused on the Obama’s newly implemented health care law, which remains unpopular throughout much of the country. Jolly portrayed Sink as a steadfast supporter of Obamacare and challenged her to explain what she does not like about it. Sink said she wanted to keep the law intact, saying that she had come across people who are thrilled with it. But she said she was unhappy with the law’s implementation and disagreed with several of its planks, including its tax on medical devices. “I could go on and on with the things that need to be fixed,” she said (Isenstadt, 2/3).

Los Angeles Times: Republican Congressional Candidate Hits Obamacare In Florida Debate
The Republican hoping to preserve his party's hold on a closely contested, vacant congressional seat in Florida took less than a minute in a debate Monday to hit what he hopes will be the winning theme. His Democratic opponent, Alex Sink, wants to "further the agenda of President Obama," Republican David Jolly said in his opening statement. At his earliest opportunity, Jolly returned to the idea, saying he favored repealing the president's healthcare law (Lauter, 2/3).

Politico: Massachusetts Republicans See 2014 Opportunity In Obamacare Flaws
Massachusetts may have inspired Obamacare, but state Republicans see its flaws giving them an opening with voters in November. The state’s transition from its own health reform law to federal reform — from Romneycare to Obamacare — has been a mess. Massachusetts’s first-in-the-nation exchange had to be revamped to meet Obamacare requirements, but it melted down, threatening coverage for hundreds of thousands of people. Officials are relying on costly workarounds so people don’t lose insurance altogether, and there’s no timetable for a permanent fix (Cheney, 2/3).

The Washington Post: New Rule Allows Patients To Get Test Results Directly From Labs, Without Doctors Clearance
Patients may obtain their test results directly from the laboratory that produced them, without having to go through their doctors first, under regulations announced Monday by the Obama administration. The rule is part of a broader effort by the administration to give Americans more control over their health care. It supersedes state law and will have particular significance in 13 states that forbid labs from releasing test results directly to patients (Somashekhar, 2/3).

USA Today: Patients May Now Get Lab Results Without A Doctor’s Help
Patients or their representatives may now see their medical test results directly from the laboratory, rather than having to request them from a doctor's office, according to a new rule announced Monday. "Information like lab results can empower patients to track their health progress, make decisions with their health care professionals and adhere to important treatment plans," Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said (Kennedy, 2/3).

The Washington Post: New FDA Anti-Smoking Campaign Eyes Teens Risk Of Becoming ‘Replacement Customers’
The graphic TV ad is part of a first-of-its-kind national anti-smoking campaign spearheaded by the Food and Drug Administration and targeted at young people ages 12 to 17. The effort, being publicly unveiled Tuesday, aims to show teens that the cost of smoking is not just financial. FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, in an interview with a small group of reporters Monday, said the campaign is designed to speak to the estimated 10 million young people who are considering trying cigarettes or who may be experimenting with them already (Cha, 2/4). 

The Associated Press/Washington Post: FDA Launching Anti-Smoking Campaign Aimed At Youth
The Food and Drug Administration is using ads that depict yellow teeth and wrinkled skin to show the nation’s at-risk youth the costs associated with cigarette smoking. The federal agency said Tuesday it is launching a $115 million multimedia education campaign called “The Real Cost” that’s aimed at stopping teenagers from smoking and encouraging them to quit (2/4).

NPR: HPV Vaccine Doesn't Promote Riskier Sexual Behavior In Teens
More than a few parents have worried that the HPV vaccine might encourage girls to be more sexually active. But girls say that's not so, even if they think, wrongly, that the HPV vaccine protects them against other sexually transmitted diseases (Shute, 2/3). 

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