KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

First Edition: June 25, 2014

Today's headlines include a report about a recent analysis that finds new health plan enrollees are showing  high rates of serious health conditions.   

Kaiser Health News: Shortage Of Saline Solution Has Hospitals On Edge
KQED’s April Dembosky, working in partnership with Kaiser Health News and NPR, reports: “Hospitals across the country are struggling to deal with a shortage of one of their essential medical supplies. Manufacturers are rationing saline -- a product used all over the hospital to clean wounds, mix medications and treat dehydration. Now drug companies say they won’t be able to catch up with demand until next year” (Dembosky, 6/25). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: ‘Right-To-Try’ Laws On Experimental Drugs Stir Debate
Now on Kaiser Health News’ blog, watch a discussion in which KHN’s Julie Rovner participated in a Google Hangout with PBS NewsHour on state “right-to-try” laws, first approved in Colorado, which allow terminally ill patients to try potentially life-saving, but unapproved drugs to treat their conditions (6/24). Watch and listen to the discussion.

The Wall Street Journal: Sick Drawn To New Coverage In Health-Law Plans
People enrolled in new plans under the health law are showing higher rates of serious health conditions than other insurance customers, according to an early analysis of medical claims, putting pressure on insurers around the country as they prepare to propose rates for next year (Wilde Mathews and Weaver, 6/24).

The Wall Street Journal: Ruling Could Settle Health-Care Act's Contraception Dilemma
The Supreme Court in coming days is expected to decide on a challenge to an Affordable Care Act requirement in a ruling that could shape how much leeway the owners of for-profit enterprises have in exercising their religious beliefs. The high court by Monday will decide whether Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp.—owned by evangelical Christian and Mennonite families, respectively—must abide by the health law's requirement to cover all contraceptives approved by the Food and Drug Administration in workers' health plans without charging copayments. The firms say the requirement violates their religious rights because it includes the so-called morning-after pill and certain intrauterine devices, which the owners liken to abortion (Radnofsky, 6/24).

The Washington Post: As Health-Care Law’s Employer Mandate Nears, Firms Cut Worker Hours, Struggle With Logistics
But unlike Settles’s other experiments, this one hasn’t been great for his business. He put raises and expansion plans on hold as he figured out the cost and logistics of making the changes. To his surprise, his employees have not leaped at the chance to get health insurance. And he is still trying to figure some things out — for example, how to safeguard employee information that must now be reported to the Internal Revenue Service, such as the Social Security numbers of children who are covered under their parents’ health plans (Somashekhar, 6/23).

The Washington Post: D.C. Health Insurers Propose Rate Hikes For 2015
In its second year offering coverage under the Affordable Care Act, the District’s largest health insurer hopes to hike rates on most of its plans for individuals and small businesses by more than 10 percent — far outstripping the increases its competitors are seeking (DeBonis, 6/23).

The New York Times: Consumers Will Spend More On Health Care In 2015, Report Predicts
Growth in health care spending is expected to tick upward next year, in part because consumers who delayed treatment during the economic downturn are now seeking care they postponed, according to a report released on Tuesday. The report, from PricewaterhouseCoopers’s Health Research Institute, forecasts medical cost growth of 6.8 percent over all in 2015, compared with the institute’s estimate of 6.5 percent for this year (Carrns, 6/24).

The Wall Street Journal’s Real Time Economics: After A Lull, Health-Care Spending Is Poised To Pick Up, Study Says
Health-care spending will accelerate next year for the first time since the recession ended, a reversal of a trend that could have broad implications for employers and the economy, a new study says. Spending for identical employee health coverage as this year will rise by 6.8% in in 2015, a study the PricewaterhouseCoopers Health Research Institute released Tuesday found. The gain is only modestly higher than the institute’s 2014 forecast of 6.5% growth, but marks the first acceleration in medical outlays since 2007—when costs were estimated to increase 11.9% (Morath, 6/24).

The Wall Street Journal: Study: 3-D Scans More Accurate Than Standard Mammograms
While some radiologists hail 3-D mammography as more accurate, other experts say it isn't yet clear that the advantages outweigh the extra cost and the additional radiation exposure. The technology was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2011 for use along with regular 2-D mammography, so women get a double dose of radiation, although it is still below safe levels (Beck, 6/24).

Los Angeles Times: Preemie Baby And Toothless Adults Urge Smokers To Quit In New CDC Ads
You probably know that smoking causes lung cancer, emphysema and heart disease. But former smokers want you to know that cigarettes can give you a stroke, make your teeth fall out and cause your baby to be born dangerously early. These are some of the stories featured in the latest batch of “Tips From Former Smokers” ads from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. … Other ads highlight stories of former smokers who developed lung cancer and throat cancer. The ads will direct smokers to call 1-800-QUIT-NOW to find local resources to help them quit. The Affordable Care Act requires health insurance plans to cover smoking-cessation services, usually without any extra fees (Kaplan, 6/24).

The Wall Street Journal’s CIO Journal: Fitness Tracking Programs Enter The Big Data Challenge
Health-care providers and insurers are hoping that a new generation of connected devices can help improve patient outcomes and lower treatment costs and premiums. But those organizations are still unsure of how to use the data those devices help collect, and whether that data can consistently deliver on those lofty promises. While the upside is obvious, the downside is a ton of investment in technology that generates just “another data silo,” said Lynne Dunbrack, a health care analyst with IDC (Boulton, 6/24).

Los Angeles Times: Country Moves To Trim Retiree Healthcare Benefits For New Employees
Los Angeles County supervisors finalized reforms to health benefits for future employees Tuesday, in a move that is projected to save the county as much as $840 million over the next 30 years. Retiree health benefits became a sticking point in contentious labor negotiations last year. Although not technically part of the contract talks, unions objected to the proposal to reduce retiree benefits (Sewell, 6/24).

The New York Times: Shift In Law On Disability And Students Shows Lapses
Fewer than a third of states and territories now comply with federal disability law under a change announced Tuesday in the way the Department of Education evaluates how well public schools educate students with disabilities. Under the old system, nearly three-quarters of states and territories met the standards (rich, 6/24).

The Wall Street Journal’s Washington Wire: Effort To Stop Washington’s Yoga Tax Fails
Opponents of the levy, who have styled themselves the “Don’t Tax Wellness Coalition”, have been leading a charge over the past three weeks to remove a proposed 5.75% sales tax on gym memberships and fitness classes, one component of a larger effort to expand the city’s sales tax to cover more services (Hackman, 6/24). 

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