KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

First Edition: September 2, 2014

Today's early morning highlights from the major news organizations, including an analysis of care at small military hospitals and a look at the $8 billion in health law taxes that come due Sept. 30.

Kaiser Health News: States To Help Pay Obamacare Tax On Insurers
Kaiser Health News staff writer Phil Galewitz reports: "When Congress passed the Affordable Care Act, it required health insurers, hospitals, device makers and pharmaceutical companies to share in the cost because they would get a windfall of new, paying customers. But with an $8 billion tax on insurers due Sept. 30 -- the first time the new tax is being collected -- the industry is getting help from an unlikely source: taxpayers" (Galewitz, 9/2). Read the story, which also ran in USA Today.

Kaiser Health News: Infertility Patients Finding Creative Financing Help 
Kaiser Health News consumer columnist Michelle Andrews reports: "Even as insurance plans are modestly improving their coverage of such treatments, clinics and others are coming up with creative ways to cover the costs to help would-be parents reduce their risk for procedures that can run tens of thousands of dollars. Some even offer a money-back guarantee if patients don't conceive" (Andrews, 9/2). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: Consumers Will Owe Uncle Sam If They Got Health Insurance Subsidies Mistakenly 
Kaiser Health News staff writer Julie Appleby reports: "Consumers getting government subsidies for health insurance who are later found ineligible for those payments will owe the government, but not necessarily the full amount, according to the Treasury Department. The clarified rule could affect some of the 300,000 people facing a Sept. 5 deadline to submit additional documents to confirm their citizenship or immigration status, and also apply broadly to anyone ultimately deemed ineligible for subsidies" (Appleby, 8/29). Read the story

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Federal Judge Blocks Texas Restriction On Abortion Clinics; Another Audit Finds Fault With Nursing Home Inspections In Los Angeles County
Now on Kaiser Health News' blog, KUHF’s Carrie Feibel reports on a federal judge's ruling about Texas' abortion law: "In a highly anticipated ruling, a federal judge in Austin struck down part of a Texas law that would have required all abortion clinics in the state to meet the same standards as outpatient surgical centers. The regulation, which was set to go into effect Monday, would have shuttered about a dozen abortion clinics, leaving only eight places in Texas to get a legal abortion — all in major cities" (Feibel, 8/30). 

Also on Capsules, Anna Gorman reports on the probe of nursing home inspections in Los Angeles: "Los Angeles County public health officials inappropriately closed nursing home investigations and failed to follow state guidelines on prioritizing complaints, according to an audit released this week. The Los Angeles County auditor-controller also found that even after nursing home inspectors found serious problems, their supervisors downgraded the severity of findings without any explanation or without discussing the changes with the inspectors as required" (Gorman, 8/29). Check out what else is on the blog.

The New York Times: Smaller Military Hospitals Said To Put Patients At Risk
Mrs. Smith underwent hernia surgery at Winn Army Community Hospital in Fort Stewart, Ga., one of 40 hospitals across the country run by the armed forces. Her case illustrates what outside experts and dozens of current and former military hospital workers interviewed by The New York Times call a signal failing in a system that cares for 1.35 million active-duty service members and their families, among others. Put simply, they say, many of the hospitals are so small and the trickle of patients so thin that it compromises the ability of doctors and nurses to capably diagnose and treat serious illnesses. ... Two-thirds of the hospitals last year served 30 or fewer inpatients a day (LaFraniere and Lehren, 9/1). 

The Washington Post: 23 States Still Haven’t Expanded Medicaid. Which Could Be Next?
Thursday's announcement that Pennsylvania will expand its Medicaid program brings the country one state closer to the original expansion outlined under Obamacare. But because of the Supreme Court's 2012 decision making the expansion a voluntary program, there are still 23 states that haven't expanded public health insurance to all of their low-income residents. ... There are other states, though, that appear to be on the cusp of following in Pennsylvania's footsteps (Millman, 8/29). 

The Associated Press: Tax Forms Could Pose Challenge For
If you got health coverage through President Obama's law this year, you'll need a new form from your insurance exchange before you can file your tax return next spring. Some tax professionals are worried that federal and state insurance marketplaces won't be able to get those forms out in time, creating the risk of delayed tax refunds for millions of consumers (Alonso-Zaldivar, 8/30).

The Wall Street Journal: GOP Eyes Agenda For Senate
Republican senators say the emerging plans aim to show voters that the party can successfully govern—enacting GOP policy while avoiding a sharply confrontational tone that some Republicans fear could endanger the party's electoral prospects in 2016. Some of the top goals include approving the Keystone XL pipeline, passing accelerated rules for overseas trade agreements, speeding up federal reviews of natural-gas exports and repealing the 2010 health law's medical-device tax (Peterson, 9/1). 

The New York Times: End-Of-Life Talks May Finally Overcome Politics
Five years after it exploded into a political conflagration over “death panels,” the issue of paying doctors to talk to patients about end-of-life care is making a comeback, and such sessions may be covered for the 50 million Americans on Medicare as early as next year. Bypassing the political process, private insurers have begun reimbursing doctors for these “advance care planning” conversations as interest in them rises along with the number of aging Americans (Belluck, 8/29).

The Wall Street Journal: Get Ready For Health-Insurance Enrollment 
If you get health insurance through your workplace, you'll probably have a chance this fall to make important decisions about your coverage and costs. Because many corporate health plans hold their annual open-enrollment periods in October and November, many employees can expect to get a packet of benefits, or instructions for making elections online, as well as updates on changes to their plans required by the Affordable Care Act (Johnson, 8/30). 

The New York Times: Increasingly, High-Deductible Health Plans Weigh Down Employees
Just as employers replaced pensions with retirement savings plans, more large companies appear to be in the midst of a similar cost-sharing shift with health plans. Besides making workers responsible for more of their care, employers hope these plans will motivate employees to comparison-shop for medical services — an admirable goal but one that some say is hard to achieve. Several big companies started offering consumer-driven plans as their only option in the last couple of years, including JPMorgan, Wells Fargo, General Electric and Honeywell, among others; it is the only choice for Bank of America employees earning more than $100,000 (Siegel Bernard, 9/1).

The New York Times: Judge Rejects Texas Stricture On Abortions
A federal judge in Austin, Tex., blocked a stringent new rule on Friday that would have forced more than half of the state’s remaining abortion clinics to close, the latest in a string of court decisions that have at least temporarily kept abortion clinics across the South from being shuttered. The Texas rule, requiring all abortion clinics to meet the building, equipment and staffing standards of hospital-style surgery centers, had been set to take effect on Monday (Eckholm and Fernandez, 8/29).

Los Angeles Times: Federal Judge Strikes Down Key Part Of Restrictive Texas Abortion Law
A federal judge late Friday struck down two provisions of a Texas law that has already forced the closure of half the state’s abortion clinics, granting at least a temporary reprieve to nearly a dozen more facilities that would have otherwise gone out of business Monday. ... Proponents of abortion rights, noting that Texas had 40 clinics before HB 2 was passed, cheered Yeakel’s ruling. They said it was the third decision in a month that knocked down the requirement on admitting privileges after judges in Alabama and Mississippi reached similar conclusions (La Ganga and Hennessy-Fiske, 8/29).

The Wall Street Journal: Judge Blocks Enforcement Of New Louisiana Abortion Law
A federal judge in Baton Rouge, La., issued a temporary restraining order Sunday night, blocking the enforcement of a Louisiana abortion law just hours before it was to take effect. The law, passed overwhelmingly this year by the state legislature, requires all abortion doctors in the state to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic where they work. If doctors at clinics don't comply, the clinic can be closed. In his order, U.S. District Judge John deGravelles allowed the law to technically be enacted Monday but blocked for the time being any punishments or penalties for abortion clinics and their doctors (McWhirter, 8/31).

The New York Times: Medicare Will Settle Short-Term Care Bills
Sharply criticized by Congress and others, Medicare quietly announced on Friday that it would settle hundreds of thousands of hospital appeals over bills for short-term care, by offering deals that could add up to several hundred million dollars (Abelson, 8/29).

Los Angeles Times: New Cells Will Lessen Solitary Confinement For Mentally Ill Inmates
State prison officials plan to open special solitary confinement units for the mentally ill as part of an effort to comply with court orders to improve their care. The cellblocks — while still isolating prisoners from the rest of the population and largely from one another — will increase the time those inmates are allowed outside their cells and the amount of treatment they receive (St. John, 8/29).

The New York Times: Federal Judge Approves California Plan To Reduce Isolation Of Mentally Ill Inmates
Corrections officials in California will make significant changes in the use of solitary confinement for mentally ill prisoners, revising decades-old policies that have kept thousands of inmates who have psychiatric disorders in isolation. The revised policies, filed in Federal District Court on Friday by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, were drafted in response to an order issued by Judge Lawrence K. Karlton last April (Goode, 8/29).

Los Angeles Times: Ventura County Medi-Cal Health Plan Probed
California officials are investigating financial dealings between Ventura County's Medi-Cal health plan and a key outside contractor, Xerox Corp., The Times has learned. The California attorney general's office has issued a subpoena to Gold Coast Health Plan for records related to its work with a Xerox unit, Affiliated Computer Services. Xerox is a major government contractor for Medicaid and other health programs nationwide (Terhune, 8/29).

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