KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

First Edition: May 28, 2014

Today's early morning highlights from the major news organizations, including reports about efforts to cut back spending on cancer care and the ouster of a key Army hospital administrator.

Kaiser Health News: 7 Things You Should Know About The Next Big Benefit Change
Kaiser Health News staff writer Julie Appleby reports, "After getting a green light from the Obama administration earlier this month, more employers may begin to cap what they pay for certain medical treatments, such as joint replacements and drugs, potentially shifting more costs to workers. Done right, economists and policy experts say the move to “reference pricing,” as the approach is known, could slow health care spending by prompting consumers to choose less expensive providers or treatments— and leading providers to lower their charges. Still, consumer advocates warn that the approach is likely to make health insurance even more complex, and could expose unwitting consumers to thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket costs" (Appleby, 5/28).

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Can Employers Dump Workers To Health Exchange? Yes, For A Price
Now on Kaiser Health News’ blog, Jay Hancock reports: “The latest tweak from the Internal Revenue Service essentially prohibits employers from giving workers tax-free dollars to buy policies in the online public marketplaces created by the health law. ... Nothing stops employers from canceling company plans and leaving workers to buy individual policies sold through the exchanges — as long as they pay the relevant taxes and penalties, said Christopher Condeluci, a Venable lawyer specializing in benefits and taxes. Those will vary according to a company’s size and circumstances" (Hancock, 5/28). Check out what else is on the blog.

The Wall Street Journal: Insurers Push To Rein In Spending On Cancer Care
Insurers are changing how they pay for cancer care, aiming to blunt soaring costs and push oncologists to adhere to standardized treatment guidelines. The largest effort yet is set to be unveiled by WellPoint Inc., which will begin offering oncologists a $350-per-month payment for each patient who is on one of the insurer's recommended regimens. WellPoint, the No. 2 insurer in the U.S., will roll out its new program July 1 in six states and through its entire network by the middle of next year. Initially, it will focus on breast, lung and colorectal cancer, but it will expand to other forms of the disease (Wilde Mathews, 5/27).

The Wall Street Journal: Some Democrats Talking Up Health Law On Stump 
Democratic candidates have begun to take a more assertive stance on the Affordable Care Act, highlighting the most popular benefits of the law and attacking Republicans for trying to repeal them. Not long ago, many Democrats were in a defensive crouch when it came to health care, amid public anger about the botched rollout of the federal website to sign up for insurance and stories of people who lost existing coverage because it didn't meet federal standards. ... Now, in at least half a dozen competitive Senate and gubernatorial races, Democrats and their allies are airing TV commercials that directly support the legislation, focusing on its guaranteed coverage for pre-existing conditions, preventive-care benefits and a ban on charging women more for insurance (Meckler, 5/27).

USA Today: Many Employees Hit With Higher Health Care Premiums
More employees are getting hit with higher health insurance premiums and co-payments, and many don't have the money to cover unexpected medical expenses, a new report finds. More than half of companies (56%) increased employees' share of health care premiums or co-payments for doctors' visits in 2013, and 59% of employers say they intend to do the same in 2014, according to the annual Aflac WorkForces Report. It's based on a survey of 1,856 employers and 5,209 employees at small, medium and large-size companies (Hellmich, 5/28).

The New York Times: Army Ousts Commander Of Hospital After Deaths
The Army ousted the commander of one of its busiest hospitals and suspended three top deputies on Tuesday after two patients in their 20s who had visited the hospital’s emergency room died unexpectedly in the previous 10 days. The shake-up at the hospital, Womack Army Medical Center at Fort Bragg, N.C., came at a moment of heightened sensitivity about health care in the military community, stirred by the furor over treatment delays in the separate medical system serving the nation’s veterans. Late Tuesday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered a broad review to ensure that military patients — many of them active-duty service members and their families — are not facing similar problems (LaFraniere, 5/27).

The Washington Post: Hagel Orders Review Of Pentagon Health-Care Facilities
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Tuesday announced a sweeping review of the Pentagon’s health-care facilities born out of concern that it could be suffering from strains similar to those afflicting the Department of Veterans Affairs system. Officials said the review, which they expect to take 90 days, was not triggered by the type of lapses and whistleblower allegations that have thrust several VA hospitals around the country into a politically charged scandal. As outrage spread over reports that several patients at a VA facility in Phoenix died waiting for care Hagel became concerned about the state of the health-care network that treats the active-duty force, his spokesman said (Londoño, 5/27). 

The Wall Street Journal: Hagel Orders Review of Military Health Care
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has ordered a sweeping review of the military health-care system to determine if it is hobbled by any of the problems recently exposed in the medical services provided to the nation's veterans. Mr. Hagel planned to meet Wednesday morning with his top deputy and military leaders to discuss the 90-day review, a senior officer said. The announcement came hours after the Army removed the head of one of its busiest hospitals where two patients unexpectedly died after visits to the emergency room in recent days, military officials said (Nissenbaum, 5/27).

USA Today: Shooting Spree Inspires Call For Mental Health Overhaul
Friday's stabbing and shooting spree in Santa Barbara, Calif., has renewed the debate over how and whether to require people with serious mental illness to get psychiatric care. Many families and advocates for people with serious mental illness say the country needs to change its standard for civil commitment, which allows people to be hospitalized against their will (Szabo, 5/27).

Los Angeles Times: Mass Killings Prompt Lawmakers To Propose New Firearms Bill 
The new firearms bill would create a "gun violence restraining order," using the same process employed for restraining orders in cases of domestic violence. If notified by a subject's family or friends that someone could harm himself or others, law enforcement officers would be able to petition a judge to grant a restraining order that could prohibit possession or purchase of a gun. ... Sam Paredes, executive director of the Gun Owners of California, called the proposal (AB 1014) offered by multiple lawmakers ..., a "knee-jerk reaction." California already has a system to prevent mentally ill people from obtaining weapons, he noted: an involuntary psychiatric detention known as a "5150" (McGreevy and Mason, 5/27).

The Washington Post: Michelle Obama Says It’s Time To ‘Fight The Hard Fight’ For School Lunch Program
First lady Michelle Obama told a group of school nutrition experts Tuesday that “we have to be willing to fight the hard fight” against Republican proposals on Capitol Hill that would permit a delay in enforcing new school lunch standards. “The last thing we can afford to do right now is play politics with our kids’ health,” she told a roundtable meeting hosted by the White House. “Now is not the time to roll back everything we have worked for" (Hamburger, 5/27).

The New York Times: First Lady Rebuts Effort To Weaken School-Lunch Rules
Michelle Obama turned uncharacteristically political on Tuesday, pushing back against a measure pending in the Republican-controlled House that would let some schools opt out of federal dietary standards for school lunches. The standards, approved by Congress and the president in 2010, set limits on sodium, fat and calories, and require that unhealthy menu items be replaced with fruits, vegetables and whole grains (Joachim, 5/27).

Los Angeles Times: First Lady Decries Plan To Lower School Lunch Nutrition Standards 
After steering clear of most messy legislative battles, First Lady Michelle Obama on Tuesday publicly took on lawmakers, food companies and lunch ladies who say the school lunch law she championed nearly four years ago is leading kids to brown bag it. The attempt to scale back new nutrition standards for the federal school lunch program is unacceptable, Obama said at a meeting with school nutrition officials that started her public campaign to defend the law. She criticized lawmakers for playing "politics with our kids' health" and suggested they were trying to "roll back everything we have worked for." "It's unacceptable to me not just as first lady, but also as a mother," she said (Hennessey, 5/27).

NPR: How To Shop For Long-Term Care Insurance
One of the toughest money decisions Americans face as they age is whether to buy long-term care insurance. Many people don't realize that Medicare usually doesn't cover long-term care, yet lengthy assisted-living or nursing home stays can decimate even the best-laid retirement plan. Long-term care insurance is a complex product that requires a long-term commitment if you're buying it. So how can you tell if this insurance is right for you? (Tripoli, 5/28).

The New York Times: GlaxoSmithKline Under Investigation By Serious Fraud Office
The British drug maker GlaxoSmithKline said late Tuesday that the Serious Fraud Office of Britain had opened a formal criminal investigation into its “commercial practices.” Neither GlaxoSmithKline nor the fraud office provided further details about what practices were being investigated. ... Earlier this month, the Chinese authorities accused Mark Reilly, the former head of Glaxo’s operations in China, of ordering employees to bribe doctors and other hospital staff to use the drug maker’s products, resulting in more than $150 million in illegal revenue. Two other Chinese-born Glaxo executives were also charged in the matter (Bray, 5/28).

The Wall Street Journal: Glaxo Being Investigated By U.K. Serious Fraud Office
The Brentford, England-based, multinational said it had been notified of the criminal inquiry Tuesday and was cooperating with investigators. "GSK is committed to operating its business to the highest ethical standards," the company said in a statement. ... The Serious Fraud Office is an independent government department under the U.K. Attorney General that investigates alleged fraud, bribery and corruption (Armental, 5/28).

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