KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

First Edition: April 5, 2013

Today's headlines include reports about how President Barack Obama's budget proposal -- to be released next week -- will handle Medicare and Medicaid. 

Kaiser Health News: Immigrant Docs Help Ease California's Primary Care Shortage
Kaiser Health News staff writer Jenny Gold, working in collaboration with NPR, reports: "When Jose Chavez Gonzalez moved to the United States from El Salvador, he took any job he could get — stocking warehouses, construction, cleaning houses and working in a meat processing plant. But unlike most of the other immigrants he worked alongside, Chavez, 38, was a doctor with eight years of medical training. He came to the U.S. in the mid-1990’s to be with his family, but like all doctors from other countries, he still had to pass the U.S. medical boards and go through at least three years of residency in order to practice here. The process can be both expensive and time consuming, so during the day he worked various menial jobs and at night he studied for the boards" (Gold, 4/4). Read the story.

The New York Times: Obama Budget Reviving Offer Of Compromise With Cuts
President Obama next week will take the political risk of formally proposing cuts to Social Security and Medicare in his annual budget in an effort to demonstrate his willingness to compromise with Republicans and revive prospects for a long-term deficit-reduction deal, administration officials say (Calmes, 4/4).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Obama's Budget Will Avoid Deep Cuts In Medicaid As He Presses States To Expand Aid For Poor
President Barack Obama's budget next week will steer clear of major cuts to Medicaid, including tens of billions in reductions to the health care plan for the poor that the administration had proposed only last year. Big cuts in the federal-state program wouldn’t go over too well at a time that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is wooing financially skittish Republican governors to expand Medicaid coverage to millions who now are uninsured. That expansion in the states is critical to the success of Obama's health overhaul, which is rolling out this fall and early next year (4/4).

The Washington Post: Obama Budget Would Cut Entitlements In Exchange For Tax Increases
President Obama will release a budget next week that proposes significant cuts to Medicare and Social Security and fewer tax hikes than in the past, a conciliatory approach that he hopes will convince Republicans to sign onto a grand bargain that would curb government borrowing and replace deep spending cuts that took effect March 1. When he unveils the budget on Wednesday, Obama will break with the tradition of providing a sweeping vision of his ideal spending priorities, untethered from political realities (Goldfarb, 4/5).

The Wall Street Journal: Common Ground On Medicare Emerges
A long-standing idea of combining what consumers pay for their portion of Medicare hospital and doctor treatment costs is gaining new attention as lawmakers search for ways to slow the growth of what the government pays for the programs. The concept of merging the deductibles for Medicare Part A insurance, which covers hospital stays, and Part B, which covers doctors' services, is one of the few ideas that appeals to both parties (Radnofsky and Hook, 4/4).

The New York Times: Paper Offers Options On Limiting Higher Health Rates
State regulators are looking for ways to protect consumers against increases in health insurance rates that they expect to occur next year as major provisions of the new health care law take effect. A paper drafted by a panel of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners analyzes steps that states can take to "mitigate expected premium increases" (Pear, 4/4).

The Wall Street Journal: Small-Business Insurance-Shopping Feature Is Delayed
The Obama administration plans to delay a piece of the federal health law designed to help small businesses shop for insurance policies, citing the need for additional time to prepare. The Small Business Health Options Program, or SHOP, is supposed to provide small employers with an insurance marketplace, or exchange, that offers multiple plan options starting in 2014. But the Department of Health and Human Services has proposed that for the first year, businesses that use the 33 state exchanges run fully or in part by the U.S. will be able to offer only one plan to their workers (Needleman and Radnofsky, 4/4).

The Wall Street Journal: Probes Launched Into Leak of Health-Care Policy Shift
A federal agency and a senior senator Thursday launched separate probes into whether news of an important government announcement was improperly leaked to traders about 30 minutes before it was made public. The leak, which was the subject of a Page One story in The Wall Street Journal, caused a run up in stocks of major health-insurance companies in the final few minutes of trading Monday (Mullins, 4/4).

The Texas Tribune/New York Times: Turning Away Federal Dollars, Once Again
Proponents are emphasizing what it might do for the state’s gigantic uninsured population. Opponents stress the dangers of a new federal entitlement program. A governor who might or might not have future political plans in mind is opposed. Go back to 1997. The federal government offered to send piles of money to states to start a new health care and insurance program. In Texas, a majority of the state's officeholders and lawmakers were skeptical, worried about creating new entitlements and wary of creating a program that started with attractive federal enticements but could end up draining the state budget (Ramsey, 4/4).

Los Angeles Times: Alabama Legislature Oks Abortion Limits; Kansas Clinic Reopens
Alabama this week moved to tighten the regulation of clinics and of medical personnel who perform abortions, the latest step in what abortion rights advocates argue is a campaign to use the regulatory power of government to limit a woman’s right to an abortion. … Meanwhile, a Kansas abortion clinic that closed in 2009 after one of its doctors was murdered by an anti-abortion activist, reopened this week. The Wichita clinic has been closed since Dr. George Tiller was slain in a church in May 2009 (Muskal, 4/4).

The Washington Post: Abortion Debate Riles Virginia General Assembly
The Virginia General Assembly's decision Wednesday to prohibit insurers from offering abortion coverage in federally managed health-insurance exchanges under the Affordable Care Act has reopened an emotional debate along familiar partisan divides. But members of both parties agree that the measure's biggest impact will likely fall along class lines, landing hardest on some of the people the federal health-care overhaul was designed to help: working women who barely get by on their incomes (Kunkle, 4/4).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Jury: Health Management Group Liable For $24M In Las Vegas Hepatitis C Outbreak Case
A Nevada state court jury found the state’s largest health management organization liable Thursday for $24 million in compensatory damages to three plaintiffs in a negligence lawsuit stemming from a Las Vegas hepatitis C outbreak that lawyers called the largest in U.S. history (4/4).

The Wall Street Journal: St. Jude Hit By Suits
A raft of lawsuits filed Thursday against St. Jude Medical Inc. over an implanted heart device could challenge the broad liability protection that medical-device makers have enjoyed since a key Supreme Court ruling in 2008. The lawsuits, filed both in Los Angeles Superior Court and federal court in the Central District of California, claim that problems with the manufacturing and oversight of Riata defibrillator "leads" injured or killed more than 30 patients (Weaver and Smith, 4/4). 

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