KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

First Edition: March 11, 2014

Today's headlines include reports that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services is stepping back from proposed changes to the Medicare drug program. 

Kaiser Health News: Insuring Your Health: Window Is Closing To Sign Up Or Seek Changes To Obamacare Plans
Kaiser Health News consumer columnist Michelle Andrews writes: "People who got off to a rough start with Obamacare or have yet to pick a plan still have options— but only if they move quickly before the open enrollment period ends on March 31. Those who were unable to sign up for a marketplace plan because of the glitches with federal or state websites can receive retroactive coverage to the date they originally applied, as well as retroactive premium tax credits and cost-sharing subsidies, the federal government announced in late February" (Andrews, 3/11). Read the column.

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Medicare Officials Back Away From Changes To Rx Plan; Missouri Pulls Out Stops, But Lags Better-Funded Illinois Effort; Business Groups Split On Medicaid Expansion
Now on Kaiser Health News’ blog, Mary Agnes Carey reports on the latest news regarding proposed changes to the Medicare drug program: "Facing heavy bipartisan opposition on Capitol Hill as well as from patient groups, businesses, insurers and others, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services said Monday it did not plan to move ahead 'at this time' with several proposed changes to the Medicare prescription drug program" (Carey, 3/10). 

In addition, Phil Galewitz reports on the different business community views on Medicaid expansion: "With several states weighing whether to expand Medicaid under the federal health law, supporters are looking to powerful business groups to help sway skeptical state legislators. But those groups are split on the issue — just like the public at large" (Galewitz, 3/10). 

Also on Capsules, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Tara Kulash reports on enrollment efforts in Missouri: "Cover Missouri — a coalition of 400 organizations led by the Missouri Foundation for Health — has 130 enrollment events statewide this month. The St. Louis Effort for Aids, for example, planned the Rock Enroll event last Saturday" (Kulash, 3/10). Check out what else is on the blog.

The New York Times: White House Withdraws Plan Allowing Limits To Medicare Coverage For Some Drugs
Under pressure from patients, pharmaceutical companies and members of Congress from both parties, the Obama administration on Monday withdrew a proposal that would have allowed insurers to limit Medicare coverage for certain classes of drugs, including those used to treat depression and schizophrenia (Pear, 3/10).

The Wall Street Journal: Proposed Medicare Part D Drug Changes Are Scrapped
In January, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services proposed broad changes to the Medicare Part D prescription-drug program that covers medicines for about 39 million beneficiaries. Among the most contentious proposals was one to end the practice of covering essentially any type of antidepressant, antipsychotic or immunosuppressant prescription drug for consumers in the program. Medicare had said the plan was meant to save taxpayers money and simplify the program for seniors (Corbett Dooren, 3/10).

The Associated Press/Washington Post Administration Drops Proposed Medicare Changes
The Obama administration says it’s pulling the plug on proposed changes to the Medicare prescription program that ran into strong opposition on Capitol Hill. Among other changes, the regulation proposed to remove three classes of drugs from a special protected list that guarantees seniors access to a wide selection of critical medications (3/10).

Politico: Medicare Drug Changes Put On Hold After Criticism
CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner wrote in a letter to Congress Monday that she was shelving changes proposed in January that could have loosened the requirements that Medicare Part D insurance plans cover a broad range of drugs in six “protected classes” of medications. The changes also would have limited the number of drug plans that were available (Norman, 3/10).

USA Today: Law, Healthier Beneficiaries Helping Trim Medicare Costs
Health care spending per Medicare recipient will slow in the future, because of lower payments to doctors, fewer services per beneficiary and a lower average age of beneficiary, according to a February monthly budget review by the Congressional Budget Office. "Under current law, spending per person in Medicare will increase much more slowly during the next decade than it has during the past few decades," CBO states in the review (Kennedy, 3/10).

NPR: As Health Law Takes Hold, Rate Of Uninsured Falls
Since the Affordable Care Act kicked in fully, the percentage of Americans without health coverage has fallen to its lowest point in five years. In the last quarter of 2013, just before the federal health law took full effect, 17.1 percent of Americans reported they lacked health insurance, according to a Gallup survey (Rovner, 2/10).

Los Angeles Times: Obamacare Meeting Goal Of Reducing Number Of Uninsured, Data Indicate
Evidence has begun to resolve one of the odder controversies surrounding Obamacare: The new law appears to be achieving its top goal of reducing the number of Americans who lack health insurance. The dispute over that question is a strange one because the answer would seem to be fairly obvious: Under the Affordable Care Act, the government will spend hundreds of millions of dollars to subsidize families who decide to buy insurance, a product that the vast majority of Americans value highly. Basic economics would seem to say that those subsidies would have to increase the number of people buying insurance (Lauter, 3/10).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Health Law Cited As US Uninsured Rate Drops
The share of Americans without health insurance is dropping to the lowest levels since President Barack Obama took office, but sign-ups under his health care law lag among Hispanics — a big pool of potential beneficiaries. With just three weeks left to enroll on the new insurance exchanges, the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, finds that 15.9 percent of U.S. adults are uninsured thus far in 2014, down from 17.1 percent for the last three months — or calendar quarter— of 2013 (3/10).

The Wall Street Journal’s Health Bog: Explorer: Decode The Health Law’s Subsidies
With just over three weeks left to choose new coverage in the health law marketplaces, deciphering the complex system of subsidies remains a key challenge for many would-be insurance customers (Weaver, 3/10).

The Washington Post: HHS Inspector General To Review Md. Health Exchange After Congressman Requests Probe
The inspector general for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services plans to review Maryland’s troubled online health insurance marketplace, according to a Republican congressman who called for an investigation into the tens of millions of dollars the state spent on the system, which has been marred with technical glitches and might soon be replaced or abandoned (Johnson, 3/10).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Lawmaker: Feds To Review Maryland Health Exchange
The inspector general of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has agreed to review Maryland’s troubled health care exchange, a congressman said Monday. Rep. Andy Harris, the state’s only Republican congressman, said he has confidence that the nonpartisan and independent inspector general, who has subpoena power, will thoroughly investigate problems that have plagued the exchange since it opened in October (3/10).

Politico: Feds To Investigate Flawed Maryland Obamacare Exchange
The HHS Office of the Inspector General is launching an investigation into Maryland’s troubled health insurance exchange, the latest target of expanding federal oversight of poorly performing Obamacare exchanges. As requested by Rep. Andy Harris, a Maryland Republican and foe of the Affordable Care Act, investigators will look at the procedures state officials followed in contracting with the tech companies behind the site’s botched development and at troubles with Medicaid enrollment that are expected to significantly drive up costs (Norman, 3/10).

The Associated Press/Wall Street Journal: NY Health Exchange Reports 591,000 Enrollees
The state's new health exchange reports more than 908,000 New Yorkers have completed applications for insurance while more than 591,000 of them have now enrolled for specific coverage (3/11).

Los Angeles Times: Survey: Kaiser Leads In Customer Satisfaction, Blue Shield Ranks Last
For the seventh consecutive year, Kaiser Permanente ranked highest in customer satisfaction for health insurance among California policyholders, according to ratings firm J.D. Power & Associates. But two other major rivals -- Blue Shield of California and Anthem Blue Cross -- scored the lowest on member satisfaction among seven California health plans (Terhune, 3/10).

The New York Times: Obama’s New Approach Takes A Humorous Turn
Aides said Mr. Obama’s immediate reason for subjecting himself to Mr. Galifianakis is to urge young people to sign up for health insurance on the government’s website, As a March 31 deadline for enrolling for 2014 approaches, the White House is making one final push to try to increase the numbers (Shear, 3/10).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Senate Democrats Aim Ire At Rich, Obscure Brothers
Democratic Senate candidates, facing withering criticism on the national health care law, are gambling they can turn voters against two billionaire brothers funding the attacks — even if few Americans would recognize the pair on the street. In an accelerating counteroffensive stretching from the Senate chamber to Alaska, Democrats are denouncing Charles and David Koch, the key figures behind millions of dollars in conservative TV ads hammering Democratic candidates and their ties to President Barack Obama (3/10).

The Washington Post’s The Fact Checker: Update: Julie Boonstra’s Claim Her Obamacare Plan Is ‘Unaffordable’ Gets Downgraded To Three Pinocchios
The problem with the original ad was two-fold. First, Boonstra, a cancer patient, suggested she had lost her “wonderful doctor” when in fact she could keep that doctor in the new plan. Second, her premiums were cut in half, from $1,100 a month to $571, and the savings were slightly more than the out-of-pocket costs permitted under the health care law. So it seemed highly suspicious that the costs were “unaffordable” (Kessler, 3/11).

The New York Times: Patentholder On Breast Cancer Tests Denied Injunction In Lawsuit
Myriad Genetics, which lost a closely watched Supreme Court case last year involving the patenting of genes, has suffered another setback in its efforts to protect its main genetic test from competition (Pollack, 3/10).

Politico: Joe Manchin Backs West Virginia Abortion Bill 
West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin is “supportive” of a West Virginia bill banning abortions after 20 weeks and is considering backing a similar federal ban in the Senate. “I am pro-life and supportive of the principles in the bill that was just passed in the West Virginia Legislature,” Manchin said in a statement (Everett, 3/10).

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