KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

First Edition: August 20, 2014

Today's headlines include a report from California that Anthem Blue Cross is being sued again regarding its narrow-network health plans as well as a prediction from Maryland officials regarding the state's online insurance marketplace.

Kaiser Health News: Wrestling With A Texas County’s Mental Health System
Kaiser Health News staff writer Jenny Gold reports: "Evans is the director of the Center for Health Care Services, the community mental health system in San Antonio and Bexar County. Texas ranks 49th out of 50 states in how much funding it commits to mental health. But under Evans’ leadership, Bexar County has built a mental health system considered a model for other cities across the country -- one that has saved $50 million over the past five years" (Gold, 8/20). Read the story, which also ran on NPR.

The Washington Post: Md. Health Officials: Rebuilt Health Insurance Online Site Will Be Fixed By Nov.
Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley’s administration is confident that its rapid rebuilding of the state’s health insurance Web site is progressing as planned and will be ready before the next enrollment period begins in November. The state’s first attempt at launching a site was riddled with technical problems that made it much more difficult for residents to sign up for health insurance made possible by the Affordable Care Act. Maryland is now rebuilding the site using technology developed by Connecticut. The fix is estimated to cost at least $40 million, if not much more (Johnson, 8/19).

The Washington Post’s Wonkblog: Health Care Data Breaches Have Hit 30M Patients And Counting
The recent theft of 4.5 million medical records by Chinese hackers highlights one undeniable truth about health care data: it's valuable, and bad people want it. In this latest incident, hackers reportedly stole personal data from Community Health Systems patients, including their Social Security numbers, which is an especially coveted piece of information if you want to steal someone's identity. But it appears that patients' medical data and credit card numbers were not stolen in this case (Millman, 8/19).

The Wall Street Journal’s CIO Journal: Health Care CIOs Boosting Security In The Wake Of Breaches
A recent string of high-profile data breaches is leading some health-care CIOs to modify their approach cybersecurity. The new approach is partly influenced by executive boards demanding more communication from IT on security efforts. CIOs say they are implementing new security software and processes, hiring staff and meeting with their boards more regularly. But the industry may need to up its security spending to get results. Health-care providers generally have smaller IT budgets than private-sector companies (Boulton, 8/19).

The Associated Press: Analysis: Congress Can Still Do Deals When It Must
The must-do bills included $16 billion to improve veterans’ access to health care and a short-term $11 billion measure to prevent federal funding for highway projects and transit systems from drying up this month. Voting against either effort could have cost lawmakers in November’s elections. The veterans bill came together when Democrats agreed to lower the price tag and Republicans accepted adding the additional cost to the national debt. On the highway bill, Senate Democrats bowed to House Republicans on financing it through anticipated revenues the government might or might not reap a decade from now (8/18).

Los Angeles Times: Anthem Blue Cross Sued Again Over Narrow-Network Health Plans
Health insurance giant Anthem Blue Cross faces another lawsuit over switching consumers to narrow-network health plans — with limited selections of doctors — during the rollout of Obamacare. These types of complaints have already sparked an ongoing investigation by California regulators and other lawsuits seeking class-action status against Anthem and rival Blue Shield of California (Terhune, 8/19).

Los Angeles Times: Auditor Says $93 Million In Medi-Cal Payments Could Be Fraudulent
The audit released Tuesday reviewed billing data from July 2008 to December 2013 for Medi-Cal's Drug Treatment program, which reimburses rehabilitation clinics. The audit found the state's Department of Health Care Services and the Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs failed to administer the program "and created opportunities for fraud" (Karlamangla, 8/19).

The Wall Street Journal: Walgreen Shakeup Followed Bad Projection
A billion-dollar forecasting error in Walgreen Co.'s Medicare-related business has cost the jobs of two top executives and alarmed big investors. At an April board meeting, Chief Financial Officer Wade Miquelon forecast $8.5 billion in fiscal 2016 pharmacy-unit earnings, based partly on contracts to sell drugs under Medicare (Siconolfi, 8/19).

The Wall Street Journal: Broken Commitment Ruined Vascular Biogenics IPO
The events that led to the collapse of the IPO haven't been previously reported. The highly unusual event—many traders and investors struggled to recall another IPO being canceled in such a manner—was a major setback for a company seeking money to pay for clinical trials to complete its work on treatments for cancer and other diseases. For executives, it also raised questions about the role of underwriters in an offering (Demos, 8/19).

NPR: Cardiologist Speaks From The Heart About America's Medical System
As a young doctor working at a teaching hospital, Sandeep Jauhar was having trouble making ends meet. So, like other academic physicians, he took a job moonlighting at a private practice, the offices of a cardiologist. He noticed that the offices were quick to order expensive tests for their patients — even when they seemed unnecessary (8/19).

Los Angeles Times: Simple Measures Made Hospital Patients 70% More Likely To Quit Smoking
A free supply of nicotine replacement medication and a handful of automated phone calls made smokers who wanted to quit much more likely to succeed, according to results of a clinical trial published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Assn. The researchers who designed the trial said they were looking for a simple and inexpensive way to aid smokers who were already motivated to kick the habit. They estimated that once their 90-day program was set up, it could be maintained at a cost of less than $1,000 per quitter (Kaplan, 8/19).

The Washington Post: Rare D.C. House-Call Doctor Straddles Two Washingtons
Brown is a rarity: a family medicine doctor who performs house calls. Working mostly in the District, he’s fully independent and unaffiliated with insurance programs. His work straddles two Washingtons. His paying patients are foreign and domestic travelers, including foreign dignitaries, staying at the city’s hotels. Treating those clients allows him to serve as the primary care doctor — pro bono — for more than a dozen elderly homebound residents in poorer neighborhoods (Najarro, 8/19).

Des Moines Register/USA Today: Judge Rules Against Use Of Telemed Abortion System
Iowa regulators were within their authority when they voted to ban a first-in-the-nation videoconferencing system that allows doctors here to dispense abortion drugs to women in rural clinics, a Polk County District Court judge ruled Tuesday. Planned Parenthood of the Heartland had sued the Iowa Board of Medicine, contending that the board's decision to ban doctors from using its system was a blatant attempt to limit rural women's access to abortions (Leys, 8/19). 

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