KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

First Edition: February 19, 2014

Today's headlines include reports about the doubts that now surround Arkansas' Medicaid expansion plan -- a compromise plan that has gained national attention.   

Kaiser Health News: Colorado's Elusive Goal: A Complete, Useful Health Care Price List
Reporting for Kaiser Health News, in collaboration with NPR, Eric Whitney writes: “Coffee is important to many of us, but let’s say your coffee maker breaks. Finding a new one is as easy as typing “shop coffee maker” into your browser. Voila – you’ve got models, prices and customer reviews at your fingertips. But say you need something less fun than a coffee maker, like a colonoscopy. Shopping for one of those is a lot harder. Actual prices for the procedure are almost impossible to find, and Bob Kershner says there's huge variation in cost from one clinic to the next” (Whitney, 2/19). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Bipartisan Group Of Senators Concerned About Medicare Advantage Cuts
Now on Kaiser Health News’ blog, Mary Agnes Carey reports: “Some Democrats have now joined their Republican counterparts in asking the Obama administration to moderate scheduled Medicare Advantage payment cuts for 2015” (Carey, 2/19). Check out what else is on the blog.

The Wall Street Journal: Health Law's Impact Has Only Begun
On Jan. 1, the key provisions of the Affordable Care Act took effect. Americans gained access to new health plans subsidized by federal dollars. Insurers no longer can turn away people with existing conditions. Millions are now eligible for new Medicaid benefits. But the federal law also upended existing health-insurance arrangements for millions of people. Companies worry about the expense of providing new policies, some hospitals aren't seeing the influx of new patients they expected to balance new costs and entrepreneurs say they may hire more part-time workers to avoid offering more coverage (Mathews, 2/18).

Politico: Who Will Help The Newly Insured? 
Newfound health benefits often come with newfound questions. But most states have either spurned or run out of federal funding for consumer assistance programs aimed at guiding Obamacare’s newly insured through the complexities of using their coverage. Some states with GOP governors never sought Affordable Care Act dollars for these programs. Most states that did have almost used up the federal cash and are struggling to keep programs afloat. Only 12 states and the District of Columbia now have active consumer assistance programs, and they’re basically on their own (Villacorta, 2/18).

The New York Times: Obama’s Vote-Getting Tactics Struggle To Find The Uninsured
The hunt for the uninsured in Broward County got underway one recent afternoon when 41 canvassers, armed with electronic maps on Samsung tablets, set off through working-class neighborhoods to peddle the Affordable Care Act door to door. Four hours later, they had made contact with 2,623 residents and signed up exactly 25 people. Many of their targets, people identified on sophisticated computer lists generated in Washington as unlikely to have health insurance, had moved away. Some were not home. Many said they already had insurance through Medicare, their parents or a job. A few were hostile at the mere mention of President Obama’s health care law (Shear, 2/18).

Politico: Kathleen Sebelius: No Job Loss Under Obamacare
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius says there is “absolutely no evidence” that the Affordable Care Act will drive down employment, despite a report from the Congressional Budget Office released Feb. 4 predicting fewer people would be working (Kalter, 2/18).

The Washington Post’s Post Politics: Sebelius: ‘Absolutely No Evidence’ Of Job Losses Under Obamacare
Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius said Monday that there is zero evidence of job losses occurring as a result of the new federal health-care law (Blake, 2/18).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Health Exchange Woes To Come Before Md. Board
The Maryland Board of Public Works is scheduled to consider a contract modification of up to $2 million due to technical problems with the state’s health care exchange. The board is meeting Wednesday to consider the emergency contract modification to provide outreach, education and enrollment services to HealthChoice and Maryland Children’s Health Program enrollees (2/18).

The Wall Street Journal: Arkansas House Fails To Pass 'Private Option' Health Law
The Arkansas House of Representatives on Tuesday failed to pass legislation to continue a state program that used Medicaid dollars to enroll low-income residents in private health insurance, throwing the future of the nationally watched program into doubt (Campoy and Radnofsky, 2/18).

The Associated Press/New York Times: Arkansas: Compromise On Medicaid Is Held Up
The Arkansas House failed Tuesday to renew the state’s compromise Medicaid expansion plan, leaving in limbo a program heralded as a model for Republican-leaning states to implement the federal health overhaul (2/18).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Arkansas Lawmaker Pans Va. Medicaid Plan
The war of words between Democratic and Republican lawmakers over whether to accept federal Medicaid funds to provide health insurance to low-income residents continued at the Capitol Tuesday, with members from both parties accusing the other of being out-of-touch obstructionists. Leaders in the GOP-controlled Virginia House organized a news conference call with a top state lawmaker from Arkansas, who saying his state has buyer’s remorse after approving a Medicaid compromise plan last year (2/18).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Md. Medicaid Head Leaving As Program Adds Clients
The head of Maryland’s Medicaid program is leaving his post as the program adds tens of thousands of new clients under the health care overhaul. The Daily Record reports ( that Charles Milligan is expected to leave his post as deputy secretary of health care financing at the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene in April (2/18).

NPR: Insurance Marketplace Prices Vary Regarding Location
What you pay for health insurance on the Affordable Care Act's marketplaces varies widely based on where you live. Steve Inskeep talks to Jordan Rau, senior correspondent with Kaiser Health News, about the 10 cheapest health care markets (read his related story here), the 10 most expensive and what may behind the price differences (2/19).

USA Today: Do You Check Online Doctor Ratings? 1 in 4 Consumers Do
Online ratings of physicians haven't caught on as much as ratings of books, movies and plumbers, but a majority of consumers know they exist and one in four consulted them when picking a primary care doctor in 2012, new research shows. Just 5% have rated a doctor themselves online, according to a research letter published Tuesday in JAMA, a journal of the American Medical Association (Painter, 2/18).

Los Angeles Times: Healthcare Organizations Under Siege From Cyberattacks, Study Says
Add this to the list of things to freak you out: Healthcare organizations of all kinds are being routinely attacked and compromised by increasingly sophisticated cyberattacks. A new study set to be officially released Wednesday found that networks and Internet-connected devices in places such as hospitals, insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies are under siege and in many cases have been infiltrated without their knowledge (O’Brien, 2/18).

Los Angeles Times: Voters May Decide Medical Malpractice Cap
A protracted political battle over California's medical malpractice law may be coming to a new front: the voting booth.For decades, trial lawyers and consumer groups have railed against limits on certain damages in malpractice cases, arguing that such restrictions deny victims fair compensation for grisly medical mistakes (Mason, 2/18).

The New York Times: A Crusader On What Ails Artists
These are among the dozens of stories Ms. Sokolow, 26, has collected over the past two years, showing how the lives of Pittsburgh artists are intertwined with their struggles over the costs of medical coverage. Her online video series, “Healthy Artists,” has chronicled the experiences of more than 40 painters, poets and musicians — talented, ambitious and often with a painful story of medical debt — and drawn the attention of national media figures like Michael Moore (Sisario, 2/18).

Los Angeles Times: City Attorney: Assisted-Care Facilities Abused, Punished Residents
L.A. City Atty. Mike Feuer has filed a lawsuit against two assisted-care facilities for allegedly abusing their disabled patients in "deplorable, overcrowded and substandard living conditions." At the behest of Feuer's office, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge on Friday also appointed a receiver to immediately begin relocating those being cared for at the two facilities with the assistance of state and county officials (Winton, 2/18).

The Washington Post: Shortage Of Va. Psychiatric Beds Worsened By Lack Of Community Services, Report Finds
Virginia hasn’t done a good job of managing a program designed to help the mentally ill return to their communities, making it harder to free up much-needed beds for psychiatric emergencies, according to a report released last week by the Office of the State Inspector General. Ensuring the availability of emergency psychiatric beds has become a top priority this year in Richmond, as lawmakers respond to the death in November of Austin “Gus” Deeds (Shin, 2/18).

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