KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

First Edition: June 21, 2011

In today's headlines, the latest on the debt-reduction talks, the next chapter in the saga surrounding a McKinsey insurance survey and the details of the Obama administration's effort to tout the health law's prreventive care benefits.   

Kaiser Health News: Effort To End Surgeries On Wrong Patient Or Body Part Falters
Reporting for Kaiser Health News, in collaboration with The Washington Post, Sandra G. Boodman writes: "Mistakes such as amputating the wrong leg, performing the wrong operation or removing a kidney from the wrong patient can often be prevented by what O'Leary called 'very simple stuff': ensuring that an X-ray isn't flipped and that the right patient is on the table, for example. Such errors are considered so egregious and avoidable that they are classified as 'never events,' because they should never happen. But seven years later, some researchers and patient safety experts say the problem of wrong-site surgery has not improved and may be getting worse, although spotty reporting makes conclusions difficult" (Boodman, 6/20).

Kaiser Health News: Appealing An Insurer's Denial Is Often A Good Strategy
In her latest Kaiser Health News consumer column, Michelle Andrews writes: "Nobody wants to get into a fight with a health insurer, but it may be worth your while. A recent Government Accountability Office report found that more claims problems stemmed from annoying but often straightforward billing and eligibility issues than from disagreements over whether care was medically appropriate. What's more, the odds are about 50/50 that if you appeal an insurer's decision, you'll win" (Andrews, 6/20).

Kaiser Health News: Health On The Hill: Democrats, Republicans Stake Out Positions In Budget Talks
In this Kaiser Health News feature, PBS Newshour's David Chalian talks with Jackie Judd about the latest developments in the budget negotiations being led by Vice President Joe Biden and the role of Medicaid and Medicare in those talks (6/20). Watch the video or read the transcript.

The Washington Post: White House, Lawmakers Speed Up Debt-Reduction Talks
With an Aug. 2 deadline nearing, along with the threat of turmoil in global financial markets if Congress doesn't act, Vice President Biden is stepping up talks this week with six lawmakers from both parties in hopes of presenting a plan to President Obama and congressional leaders by July 4. So far, negotiators have identified many areas of consensus: Farmers are certain to lose some federal subsidies, for example. And federal workers will have to contribute more to finance their retirement. But what Biden called "the philosophically big-ticket items" remain: the Republican demand for significant savings from Medicare, the biggest driver of future deficits, and the Democratic demand for fresh revenue (Montgomery, 6/20).

The Washington Post: The Fact Checker: AARP's Misleading Ad About Balancing The Budget
With talks on reaching a deal to cut spending and raise the debt ceiling reaching a critical stage, the venerable over-50 organization AARP has weighed in with a television advertisement that seeks to shift the focus from entitlement programs such as Medicare onto what it deems to be wasteful spending by Congress. We had earlier given the American public four Pinocchios for failing to understand the basics of the federal budget. We reached that conclusion after a new poll showed 63 percent of those surveyed believe the federal government spends more on defense and foreign aid than it does on Medicare and Social Security. (That's wrong.) … Given those beliefs, it seems that the AARP pitch would have a receptive audience. But is it right? (Kessler, 6/20).

The New York Times: Health Law In A Swirl Of Forecasts
The debate over the effects of the federal health care law on employer-provided insurance has been intensifying in recent weeks, with controversial polls and consultants contradicting one another about whether employees will benefit or lose coverage by 2014 (Freudenheim, 6/20).

NPR: McKinsey Stands By Contested Health Insurance Survey
Under fire from Democrats in Congress, consulting firm McKinsey & Co. today released its methodology for a controversial survey that found as many as 30 percent of employers might drop health insurance after the new health law takes effect in 2014. But the hot water McKinsey's in doesn't seem to be cooling off (Rovner, 6/20).

Los Angeles Times: McKinsey Releases Insurance-Survey Data; More Controversy Ensues
Perhaps you recall that McKinsey report a few weeks back saying that nearly a third of employers might drop healthcare benefits when the healthcare overhaul takes effect. The report itself was the subject of many headlines. Then came the reaction from the White House and other supporters of the overhaul. That garnered more headlines – and a demand for McKinsey to explain its methodology. Now it's McKinsey's turn again (Cevallos, 6/20).

The Wall Street Journal's Health Blog: The Methodology Behind The McKinsey Health-Law Survey
Put on your green eye shades, because we're about to dive into one of the hotter recent issues in health care: the McKinsey report on implications of the health-care overhaul law (Hobson, 6/20).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Administration Says More Than 5 Million On Medicare Use Free Preventive Care
The Obama administration says more than 5 million seniors have taken advantage of one or more preventive services that Medicare started covering free of charge this year because of the new health care law (6/20).

Los Angeles Times: New Ad Campaign Touts Preventive Care Benefits Of Health Reform Law
The Obama administration is kicking off a nationwide ad campaign urging seniors to take advantage of free preventive services such as cancer screenings made possible in Medicare by the new healthcare law. The campaign - featuring television and radio ads in English and Spanish (see video below) - comes on the heels of a new report showing that less than one in six Medicare beneficiaries have taken advantage of the new benefit since President Obama signed the law last year (Levey, 6/20).

The Wall Street Journal: Another Pricing Test For Insuring People With Pre-Existing Conditions
For the second time in less than a year, the government hopes to help some of the as many as 25 million uninsured Americans with pre-existing health conditions. Critics say it may be a case of too little, too late. Next month, a nationally funded health-care program will lower premiums and relax eligibility for some people with pre-existing conditions ranging from low blood pressure to cancer. Dubbed the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan, the program is considered a cornerstone of President Obama's health-care law, hitting a range of Americans from different economic classes, including the rising numbers of unemployed who have lost health-care coverage (Andriotis, 6/21).

Los Angeles Times: Anthem Blue Cross Settles Lawsuit, Agrees To Limit Rate Hikes
Settling a class-action lawsuit, California health insurer Anthem Blue Cross has agreed to limit rate increases for 122,000 policyholders whose plans have been closed to new customers. Affected policyholders for the first time would also be able to switch plans without having their medical histories reviewed (Helfand, 6/21).

The Wall Street Journal's Washington Wire: AMA Sticks With Individual Mandate
The American Medical Association reaffirmed its support for the most contentious plank of the new health care law-requiring most Americans to carry insurance or pay a fee-but not before a lengthy debate. At its annual meeting in Chicago this weekend, the nation's biggest doctors' group debated whether to uphold its longstanding support for the "individual mandate." Two federal courts have ruled it violates the Constitution, and the Supreme Court ultimately is expected to decide the issue (Adamy, 6/20).

The Associated Press: AMA: Doctors Shortchanged By Insurers' Mistakes
The nation's largest doctors' group says about one in five payments of medical claims by commercial health insurers is inaccurate, shortchanging physicians (6/20).

Los Angeles Times: CalPERS Signs Pharmacy Benefits Deal With CVS Caremark
The California Public Employees' Retirement System signed a $575 million-a-year contract with CVS Caremark Corp. to provide prescription drug benefits to 346,000 members. The contract, announced Monday, came more than two weeks after Caremark settled a whistle-blower lawsuit alleging fraud in earlier contracts involving CalPERS and pension funds in other states (Lifsher, 6/21).

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