KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

First Edition: April 23, 2014

Today's headlines include a range of health policy news reports, including developments related to the health law, to the marketplace and at the state level.

Kaiser Health News: Is Bigger Better? Idaho Hospital Battle A Microcosm Of Debate Over Industry Consolidation
Kaiser Health News staff writer Phil Galewitz, working in collaboration with The Washington Post, reports: “When Idaho's largest hospital system bought the state's largest doctor practice in 2012, the groups expressed hope that the deal would spark a revolution in delivering better-quality care. Instead, it ignited a costly legal battle with state and federal regulators and rival hospital systems. Officials at Boise-based St. Luke's Health System thought they had the Obama administration on their side because the federal health law encourages hospitals to collaborate with doctors to improve quality and lower costs” (Galewitz, 4/22). Read the story.

The Wall Street Journal: Blum To Leave Centers For Medicare And Medicaid Services
Jonathan Blum, a top official at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, will leave his post on May 16. The departure of Mr. Blum, the agency's principal deputy administrator, was announced Tuesday in an email to staff by CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner. He was first appointed as the director for the Center for Medicare in 2009 before becoming a deputy administrator last year (Corbett Dooren, 4/22).

Los Angeles Times: Nearly 7 In 10 Americans Say Health Plans Should Cover Birth Control
Among the various provisions of the Affordable Care Act, few are as controversial as the one requiring health insurance providers to include coverage for contraception. A new survey finds that support for this rule is widespread, with 69% of Americans in favor of the mandate (Kaplan, 4/22).

The Washington Post: Va. Assembly, Reconvening Wednesday, Unlikely To Solve Medicaid, Budget Issues
Virginia legislators return to the Capitol on Wednesday intending to wrap up some unfinished business but with no plans to tackle the budget and Medicaid stalemates that could ultimately shut down the state government. The General Assembly will hold its annual “veto session” to complete work from the regular session that ended March 8. But no action is expected on the biggest issues looming over Richmond: Medicaid expansion and, because that matter was folded into the Senate’s two-year, $96 billion state spending plan, the budget (Vozzella, 4/22).

The Wall Street Journal: Centene Profit Rises On Expanded Memberships
Centene Corp. said first-quarter profit rose 43% as the Medicaid insurer posted double-digit revenue growth and expanded membership. Shares climbed as earnings beat expectations and the company raised its per-share profit outlook for 2014 by 10 cents, to $3.60 to $3.90. Centene said the sharp 38% growth in its premium and services revenue in the latest quarter primarily was a result of expansions in Florida and Ohio, the additions of the California, New Hampshire and three Centurion contracts, as well as participation in the Health Insurance Marketplaces and acquisitions (Stynes, 4/22).

The Washington Post: 38 GOP Lawmakers Join Ron Johnson’s Obamacare Lawsuit
Thirty-eight Republican lawmakers are signaling support for a lawsuit filed by Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) that challenges a rule by the Obama administration allowing the federal government to subsidize health insurance for lawmakers and some congressional staffers. With the health-care law exceeding enrollment expectations and legislative attempts to undo the law failing to advance beyond the GOP-controlled House, Johnson's lawsuit is one of the few other attempts underway to chip away at the law (O’Keefe, 4/22).

The Washington Post: Landrieu: I’ll Put GOP Foe On Defensive On Health Care
Senator Mary Landrieu is one of the most vulnerable of red state Democratic incumbents, and her reelection challenges — like those of other red state Dems — are said to be all about Obamacare. But in an interview today, Landrieu vowed to campaign aggressively against GOP foe Bill Cassidy’s opposition to the Medicaid expansion in the state, offered a spirited defense of the law — while acknowledging it has some problems — and even insisted he’d be at a “disadvantage” over the issue (Sargeant, 4/22).

The New York Times: Gilead Revenue Soars On Hepatitis C Drug
Record sales of a new hepatitis C drug pushed the first-quarter earnings of Gilead Sciences far beyond expectations, the company reported on Tuesday, but could also heighten concerns about the high cost of the drug, known as Sovaldi, and the ability of the health care system to pay for it (Pollack, 4/22).

The Associated Press: Novartis Reshapes Business With GSK, Lilly Deals
The deals unveiled Tuesday are the latest in a string of mergers and acquisitions that have engulfed the industry of late and which, analysts said, could trigger some further activity in the months ahead. (4/22).

The Wall Street Journal: Deal Flurry Shows Drug Makers' Swing Toward Specialization
The companies said the deals aim to focus each firm on specific sectors where it believes it has the size and expertise to generate significant sales growth. But the deals also may leave them more vulnerable to setbacks in their remaining businesses, analysts and industry officials said (Rockoff, Whalen and Falconi, 4/22).

NPR: FDA Advisers Vote Against Approving New Opioid Painkiller
A key government panel Tuesday voted unanimously against approval of a powerful opioid prescription painkiller intended to provide faster relief with fewer side effects. At the conclusion of a hearing, the Food and Drug Administration advisory committee voted 14-0 against recommending that the agency approve Moxduo, the first drug to combine morphine and oxycodone into one capsule (Stein, 4/22).

The Wall Street Journal: Court Strikes Down Ohio Hospital Merger
A federal appeals court on Tuesday ordered a major health system in northwest Ohio to unwind its merger with a local hospital on antitrust grounds. The unanimous decision by a three-judge panel of the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati comes amid growing concerns about hospital mergers and their effect on prices against the backdrop of America's health-care upheaval (Gershman, 4/22).

The Associated Press: Oklahoma Limits Abortion Drug Use
Gov. Mary Fallin signed a bill on Tuesday to further restrict the use of abortion-inducing drugs in Oklahoma, despite objections from opponents who say it will force more women to have surgical abortions. The bill was written in response to a recent Oklahoma Supreme Court decision that ruled a similar bill signed by Ms. Fallin in 2011 was unconstitutional (4/22).

Los Angeles Times: Measure Barring Covered California From Hiring Certain Felons Fails
A bill barring the state's health insurance exchange from hiring individuals convicted of certain felonies failed to advance Tuesday. Under the proposal by Assemblywoman Connie Conway (R-Tulare), Covered California would not be able to hire people who have been convicted of certain crimes--felonies concerning breach of trust or dishonesty--for jobs where enrollees' financial or medical data could be accessed (Mason, 4/22).

Los Angeles Times: UC Oks Paying Surgeon $10 Million In Whistleblower-Retaliation Case
University of California regents agreed to pay $10 million to the former chairman of UCLA's orthopedic surgery department, who had alleged that the well-known medical school allowed doctors to take industry payments that may have compromised patient care (Terhune, 4/22).

Tennessean/USA Today: Change In Tennessee Law Lets Hospitals Drop Patients
The amendment, sponsored by Rep. Andrew Farmer after he was approached by various hospitals, was added to a bill designed to protect those who are placed in the care of conservators. The amendment gave hospitals a way to petition for court approval to discharge patients they say no longer need the costly care of a major health facility. In Nashville the add-on provision has been used a dozen times to try to discharge people, more than half of them listed on court documents as currently or formerly homeless. In nine of the cases, including Gordon's, the petitions were approved by Davidson Probate Judge David "Randy" Kennedy (Roche Jr., 4/22).

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