KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

First Edition: April 30, 2014

Today's headlines include a new round of articles exploring recent polls and politics related to the public's view of the health law.  

Kaiser Health News: Some Obamacare Enrollees Emboldened To Leave Jobs, Start Businesses
KPCC’s Stehanie O’Neill, working in partnership with Kaiser Health News and NPR, reports: “Until recently, Mike Smith, 64, worked 11 hours a day, Monday through Friday and then half a day on Saturday, as a district manager for a national auto parts chain -- a schedule he’s kept for nearly 40 years. Early retirement, while certainly appealing, wasn't a viable option for him because both he and his already-retired wife, Laura, also 64, relied heavily on his job-provided health insurance. ‘At our age, with some preexisting medical conditions, it would have been very costly to buy insurance on the open market - about $3,000 a month,’ he says” (O’Neill, 4/29). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: Who Really Pays For Health Care Might Surprise You
Kaiser Health News staff writer Jay Hancock, working in collaboration with USA Today, reports: “Eight million people have signed up for subsidized private health insurance under Affordable Care Act, President Obama said this month. Millions more obtained new coverage through the Medicaid program for the poor. Full implementation of the health law, and its wider coverage, new taxes and shifting subsidies, has renewed discussions of winners and losers, makers and moochers. Here's a corrective to common misconceptions about who pays for health care” (Hancock, 4/30). Read the story.

The Wall Street Journal: Americans Want To Pull Back From World Stage, Poll Finds
But the president's standing remains perilously low just six months before the midterm congressional elections, and the poll was riddled with warning signs for his party. Support for his signature health-care law is improving slightly, a result that comes after the announcement that eight million people had picked insurance plans under the law. Still, support for the law remains weak, with 46% saying it is a bad idea and 36% saying it is a good one. "Clearly, the president has better news from his health-care law. But in general, that better news has still left people, by double-digit margins, saying it is a bad idea," said Mr. McInturff, the GOP pollster (Hook, 4/30).

Los Angeles Times: Support Wanes For Repeal Of Obamacare, Surveys Suggest
Kaiser, which has surveyed public opinion about the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, each month, found impressions of it warming slightly from the low points of November through January. Overall, however, opinions of the law remain negative, with 46% now having a generally unfavorable view of it and 38% generally positive, the poll found. Those views are sharply divided by party, as has been the case since the law passed. A survey by Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg found a similar division on the question of fixing the law versus repealing it. Among likely voters in competitive congressional districts, 52% say the country should “implement and fix the healthcare reform law” while 42% say they want to “repeal and replace” it, he found (Lauter, 4/29).

Politico: Steny Hoyer: Obamacare Not Election’s ‘Holy Grail’
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer predicted on Tuesday that Obamacare will not prove to be the massive political liability for Democrats that Republicans hoped ahead of the 2014 midterm elections. “I think health care at worst is going to be a neutral in this election,” said Hoyer (D-Md.) during a press conference. “This is not the holy grail of this election” (French, 4/29).

USA Today: No Medicaid Expansion Could Create Health Care Gaps
States that have not expanded their Medicaid programs as part of the Affordable Care Act risk larger-than-ever gaps in overall health between residents of their states and those that have expanded Medicaid, a report released Wednesday shows. Nine of the top 13 states in overall health have expanded Medicaid, while three in the lowest 12 have not expanded, according to the report by the Commonwealth Fund, a non-profit group studying U.S. health care (Kennedy, 4/30).

The Washington Post’s Wonkblog: Why The Uninsured Are Sitting Out Obamacare
With Obamacare's first enrollment period finally in the books, two new surveys out this morning offer new insight into why the still-uninsured decided to remain on the sidelines this year. Hint: It has a lot to do with cost. This newest monthly Kaiser Health Tracking poll, which has provided some of the most reliable data on the public's opinion interaction with the Affordable Care Act over the past four years, finds that nearly 4 in 10 uninsured adults cited affordability as their main reason for skipping health insurance coverage. Twenty-two percent cited employment reasons (they were unemployed or couldn't get coverage through their job), while another 11 percent said they missed the deadline and 9 percent said they just didn't want insurance (Millman, 4/29).

Politico: Insurers: Millions More Have Coverage Now
A panel of health insurers agreed Tuesday that the number of insured people in the country has climbed by millions, despite arguments by some Republicans that the insured population has declined because of canceled plans. “I don’t doubt that,” said Jay Gellert, president and CEO of the California-based Health Net, when asked whether there’s any real question that the nation’s insured population has grown (Cheney, 4/29).

The Associated Press: Deadline Arrives To Enroll In Health Plan In DC
District of Columbia residents who’ve yet to enroll in a health insurance plan are facing a final deadline. Wednesday is the last day that people can sign up for insurance without having to pay a tax penalty under the federal health care overhaul (4/30).

Politico: Sylvia Mathews Burwell: The Obamacare War That Wasn’t
The proxy war over Obamacare that was expected to dominate the Senate in May is looking more and more like a dud. The chamber will begin consideration next week of Sylvia Mathews Burwell’s nomination to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, the agency tasked with implementing the health care law. Initially, Republicans seemed poised to use the confirmation process to spur further attacks on Obamacare. But instead, more than a half-dozen GOP senators said in interviews that they are impressed with Burwell’s credentials (Haberkorn and Everett, 4/29).

The Associated Press: House Passes Bipartisan Fix To Health Law
The measure, which passed 268-150, is aimed at helping U.S. insurance companies like Cigna and MetLife that are at a competitive disadvantage with foreign firms that do not have to comply with ACA requirements such as free preventive care and a ban on lifetime coverage limits. Sixty Democrats joined most Republicans in voting “yes,” while 17 Republicans opposed the legislation (4/29).

The Wall Street Journal: WellPoint Profit Declines On Higher Expenses
WellPoint Inc. on Wednesday said its first-quarter profit shrank 21%, as the health insurer's higher expenses offset a rise in revenue. The company raised its outlook for the year, predicting adjusted earnings above $8.40 a share and operating revenue above $73.5 billion. It previously forecast earnings above $8.00 a share and operating revenue of about $73 billion. WellPoint in January said the people enrolling in new health-law plans are skewing older than its previous individual consumers, but they appeared to match the less-healthy pool the company predicted when it set its prices (Rubin, 4/30).

The Wall Street Journal: HCA Profit Edges Up; Health-Care Reform Has Minimal Impact
HCA Holdings Inc. said its first-quarter earnings rose 0.9% as the hospital operator reported stronger revenue. "We are pleased with results for the first quarter," Chief Executive R. Milton Johnson said. "As expected, health-care reform had minimal impact on the company's first quarter results; however, we remain optimistic regarding the potential long-term benefits" (Stynes, 4/29).

The Associated Press: Express Scripts Profit Falls In 1Q On Lower Sales
The nation’s largest pharmacy benefits manager scaled back its 2014 earnings guidance to between $4.82 and $4.94 per share, citing several customer delays which pushed back implementation of service to early 2015 from mid-2014. The company had previously forecast earnings in the range of $4.88 to $5 per share. Company shares fell 5 percent in after-hours trading (4/29).

USA Today: Some Chiropractors Making Big Medicare Adjustments
More than 36,000 chiropractors were paid nearly $500 million by the federal government in 2012, making chiropractors one of the largest groups of Medicare providers. And one chiropractor in Brooklyn topped the list, receiving more than $1 million that year alone. Alexander Khavash, who works in Brooklyn out of a rented office, received nearly twice the Medicare payments than any other practitioner in his field, according to data released this month by the Department of Health and Human Services (O’Donnell, Hoyer and Alcindor, 4/29).

The Associated Press: Free Health Clinic To Ramp Up Operations In Va. 
Now RAM organizers are hoping to help more Virginians without health care. RAM founder and former “Wild Kingdom” TV star Stan Brock announced at the Capitol on Tuesday that his organization is launching a two-year “Stop the Suffering” campaign aimed at providing more free health clinics in Appalachian states. The announcement comes as the General Assembly continues to debate whether to expand Medicaid eligibility. Like most other Southern states, Virginia has thus far rejected expansion (4/29).

The Associated Press: McAuliffe Signs Va. Mental Health Reform Bill
Virginia officials are celebrating the signing of a mental health reform bill. Gov. Terry McAuliffe ceremonially signed the bill Monday at the University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville (4/29).

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