KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

First Edition: August 6, 2014

Today's headlines include reports about the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index that details how politics play a role in the nation's health care gap between red and blue states.

Kaiser Health News: A Tennessee Insurer Uses Its Monopoly To Deliver Bargain Premiums
Kaiser Health News staff writer Jordan Rau reports: “The dominion of Tennessee’s largest health insurer is reflected in its headquarters’ lofty perch above the city, atop a hill that during the Civil War was lined with Union cannons to repel Confederate troops. BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee has used its position to establish a similarly firm foothold in the first year of the marketplaces created by the health law. The company sold 88 percent of the plans for Tennessee individuals and families. Only one other insurer, Cigna, bothered to offer policies in Chattanooga, and the premiums were substantially higher than those offered by BlueCross” (Rau, 8/6). Read the story, which also appeared in The Tennessean.

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Advocates Say Florida Consumers To Pay For State Lawmakers’ Decision
Now on Kaiser Health News’ blog, Capsules, Phil Galewitz reports on the impact of Florida lawmaker’s decision to cancel the state’s rate review authority: “Republicans were quick to pounce Monday on Florida’s announcement that residents buying health insurance on the individual market for next year will face a 13.2 percent average increase in monthly premiums — one of the steepest rate hikes announced for any state. ‘Obamacare is a bad law that just seems to be getting worse,’ said Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican who is running for re-election. But consumer advocates and Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., the state’s former insurance commissioner, blame the increases on Florida lawmakers’ decision last year to suspend the state’s authority to negotiate and approve premiums on policies sold to people who buy insurance themselves instead of getting it through an employer” (Galewitz, 8/5). Check out what else is on the blog.

Los Angeles Times: Divide Between Red And Blue States Over Healthcare Deepens
States that have aggressively put the Affordable Care Act into practice have cut the number of uninsured residents sharply -- in some cases in half or better -- while those that balked have improved little if at all, according to new data released Tuesday. The state-by-state numbers, from the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, reinforce one of the major impacts of Obamacare so far: Political debate has widened the healthcare gap between red and blue states (Lauter, 8/5).

The Wall Street Journal’s Washington Wire: Study: States Embracing Obamacare See Biggest Drops In Uninsured
Some states that expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act and set up all or part of their own insurance exchanges have seen a marked drop in the number of uninsured adults. The uninsured rates in states that opted to expand Medicaid, a health program primarily for low-income residents, and set up their own exchanges declined more in the first half of 2014 than in the states that didn’t take that approach, according to a study released Tuesday by Gallup. The survey was based on a random sample of adults through June 30 (Armour, 8/5).

The Associated Press: Poll: Obama Health Law Is A Tale Of 2 Americas
States that fully embraced the law’s coverage expansion are experiencing a significant drop in the number of uninsured residents, according to a major new survey released Tuesday. States whose leaders still object to “Obamacare” are seeing much less change. The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index found an overall drop of 4 percentage points in the share of uninsured residents for states accepting the law’s core coverage provisions. Those are states that expanded their Medicaid programs and also built or took an active role managing new online insurance markets (8/5).

The Washington Post’s Wonkblog: People Don’t Get The New Obamacare Lawsuits, But They Think All Exchanges Should Provide Subsidies
It's been two weeks since a pair of federal appellate courts issued split rulings on whether Obamacare actually authorizes the 36 states relying on federal-run health insurance exchanges to provide premium subsidies helping low- and middle-income residents purchase coverage. If the legal argument pushed by critics of the law ultimately prevails, it could pretty much up-end the exchanges in states that have deferred responsibility to the federal government (Millman, 8/5).

ProPublica/The Washington Post: Watchdog: Some Medicare Spending On HIV Drugs Appear Questionable In 2012 Audit
Medicare spent more than $30 million in 2012 on questionable HIV medication costs, the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services said in a report set for release Wednesday. The report offers a litany of possible fraud schemes, all paid for by Medicare’s prescription drug program known as Part D (Ornstein, 8/6).

The Associated Press: New Ads Buys Escalate Arkansas Senate Race
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’s new ad buy targets Cotton over his vote against funding pediatric research at Arkansas Children’s Hospital. Democrats charge that the conservative Republican has failed to support federal programs important to Arkansas (8/5).

USA Today: Feds Stop Public Disclosure Of Many Serious Hospital Errors
The federal government this month quietly stopped publicly reporting when hospitals leave foreign objects in patients' bodies or make a host of other life-threatening mistakes. The change, which the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) denied last year that it was making, means people are out of luck if they want to search which hospitals cause high rates of problems such as air embolisms — air bubbles that can kill patients when they enter veins and hearts — or giving people the wrong blood type (O’Donnell, 8/5).

Los Angeles Times: Use Of Experimental Ebola Drug Raises Red Flags Among Medical Experts
Two American aid workers were gravely ill, fighting to survive infection with the deadly Ebola virus. A San Diego drug company had three doses of an experimental Ebola medicine that showed promise in monkeys but had never been tested in humans. Getting the medication to the two patients in Liberia seemed like the obvious thing to do. Members of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health and the Christian aid organization Samaritan's Purse worked together to make it happen (Morin, 8/5).

The Wall Street Journal: Ebola Virus: Giving Americans Drug Prompts Flak
Liberian officials were set to meet Wednesday with the World Health Organization to see about getting the experimental drug rushed into use for other patients, said Dr. Nyenswah. Ebola, which is usually fatal, causes fever, headaches, vomiting and diarrhea and can cause internal bleeding. The virus is transmitted through bodily fluids. The Ebola outbreak, the largest in history, started in February and has spread through Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone (McWhirter, Loftus and Hinshaw, 8/5).

The Wall Street Journal: Moody's: Medicaid Issue Is Negative Development For New York State
One of the nation's biggest credit-rating firms said the federal government's attempt to claw back nearly $1.3 billion in Medicaid payments from New York is a negative development for the state. In its report published Monday, Moody's Investors Service said a repayment "would result in an unwelcome drain on the state's cash balances," and future repayments would "pinch the state's liquidity." The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services told New York officials in late July that it would seek money paid out in 2010 that was used to care for about 1,300 developmentally disabled people in nine state facilities (Kravitz, 8/5). 

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