KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

First Edition: February 21, 2014

Today's headlines include reports checking the status of different state health exchanges as well as efforts to expand Medicaid.   

Kaiser Health News: Health Centers See Threat From 'Private Option' Medicaid
Kaiser Health News staff writer Phil Galewitz, working in collaboration with Politico Pro, reports: "Medicaid reimburses health centers better than private doctors because federal law requires the centers be paid in relation to the actual cost of care they provide. The higher rates are supposed to reflect the sicker and poorer patients they see and the fact they can’t limit the number of uninsured or Medicaid patients they treat. As more states look to follow Arkansas’ lead --- Utah and New Hampshire are among those considering similar expansion plans --- health centers are bracing for the worst" (Galewitz, 2/20). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Latino Insurance Enrollment Picks Up In California, But …
KPCC’s Stephanie O’Neill, working in partnership with Kaiser Health News and NPR, reports: "Enrollment in health insurance plans through Covered California in the first two weeks of February maintained the same pace reported for the last two weeks of January, while Latino enrollment jumped significantly in January, according to state data released yesterday" (2/20). Check out what else is on the blog.

The New York Times: Public Sector Cuts Part-Time Shifts To Bypass Insurance Law
Cities, counties, public schools and community colleges around the country have limited or reduced the work hours of part-time employees to avoid having to provide them with health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, state and local officials say (Pear, 2/20).

USA Today: Private Exchange Sees Surge In Health Care Enrollment
The number of customers on the nation's largest private health insurance exchange increased by 50% in the final three months of 2013, a direct result of demand created by the Affordable Care Act, the company's CEO said Thursday. Gary Lauer, CEO of eHealth Insurance, said individual memberships rose 50% in the fourth quarter of 2013 compared with the same period in 2012, from 113,600 applications in the last three months of 2012 to 169,800 in 2013 (Kennedy, 2/20).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Looking For The Uninsured? Just Hail A Taxi Driver
In recent weeks, the sign-up effort has evolved from a dragnet strategy to a highly targeted approach focused on people most likely to be uninsured — cab drivers, restaurant workers, artists, community college students — and where they can be found. Cab drivers have particular health care needs because of the hazard of traffic accidents and the long hours they spend sitting. Enroll America, a nonprofit involved in the enrollment campaign, targeted cab drivers in Philadelphia and Austin and plans to expand to other cities, hoping to reach a good portion of the 233,000 taxi and limo drivers in the U.S. The Chicago effort is chasing after the city’s 12,000 drivers (2/20).

NPR: As Deadline Nears, State Insurance Exchanges Still A Mixed Bag
With a bit more than a month left for people to sign up for health insurance plans set up under the Affordable Care Act, the federal website known as finally seems to be working smoothly — in 36 states. But what's happening in the 14 states that are running their own exchanges? (Rovner, 2/21).

Los Angeles Times: Anthem Blue Cross Widens Enrollment Lead On California’s Exchange
Insurance giant Anthem Blue Cross stretched its lead over rival Blue Shield of California in the state's healthcare-coverage exchange, new data show. Anthem signed up 223,630 people through Jan. 31, or 31% of California's exchange market as part of the healthcare law. Anthem is a unit of Indianapolis-based WellPoint Inc., the nation's second-largest health insurer (Terhune, 2/20).

The Washington Post: More Than 12,000 Congressional Staffers Have Enrolled In Health Plans Through Obamacare
Thousands of people have purchased health coverage through the District of Columbia’s new small-business insurance marketplace, but only a tiny fraction of them actually own or work for a small business. The rest are members of or work for a single large organization — Congress (Harrison, 2/20).

Los Angeles Times: Loophole In Healthcare Law May Put Medi-Cal Patients’ Assets At Risk
Luis Rios, who lost his job at a filling station in December at the age of 56, is newly eligible for Medicaid, the healthcare program for the poor. Following the advice of state-trained medical insurance enrollment workers, he filled out the paperwork required to get coverage — but has a nagging fear that he may have put his family's financial assets at risk. That's because, in certain cases, Medi-Cal, California's version of Medicaid, will be able to collect repayment for healthcare services from the estate after a recipient dies, including placing government liens on property (Brown, 2/20).

The Wall Street Journal: Nevada’s Health Exchange Director To Resign
Nevada’s insurance exchange director, Jon Hager, announced his resignation Thursday, days after he had described “a difficult month” for the online insurance portal set up under the federal health care law. The 39-year-old former Navy pilot told the Silver State Health Insurance Exchange board that he would be leaving March 14, the board confirmed (Radnofsky, 2/20).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Group Sues To Force Insurers To Take AIDS Money
An advocacy group has filed a federal lawsuit seeking to force insurance companies in Louisiana to take payments from a federal program that helps HIV and AIDS patients. Lambda Legal filed the suit in a Baton Rouge federal court Thursday saying at least one insurance company is violating the Affordable Care Act by refusing to take premium payments from the federal Ryan White HIV/AIDS program (2/20).

The Washington Post: House And Senate In Virginia At Loggerheads Over Medicaid Austerity
Virginia’s Republican-controlled House of Delegates voted overwhelmingly Thursday to reject Medicaid expansion, signaling in the strongest terms yet that the chamber does not intend to budge on the marquee issue of this year’s legislative session (Laris and Vozzella, 2/20).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Virginia House, Senate Split On Medicaid Plan
The Virginia House and Senate cast opposing votes Thursday on whether to accept federal Medicaid funds in order to provide health insurance to as much as 400,000 low-income residents. The GOP-controlled House voted 67-32 against expanding Medicaid eligibility. The Democratically controlled Senate, with the support of a few Republicans, voted 23-17 for the expanded coverage (2/20).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Arkansas Senate Passes, House Rejects Health Plan
A compromise plan for Medicaid expansion in Arkansas remained stalled in the state House Thursday, despite the state Senate endorsing legislation to continue the nationally watched program that is providing subsidized health coverage to more than 87,000 people. The House on Thursday voted 72-25 to reauthorize funding for the “private option,” three votes shy of the 75 needed to continue the program using federal Medicaid funds to purchase private insurance for low-income residents. Arkansas was the first state to win approval for such a plan as an alternative to expanding Medicaid under the federal health law (2/20).

The Washington Post: With 2015 Budget Request, Obama Will Call For End To Era Of Austerity
The latest estimates from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office show the deficit falling to$514 billion this year and to $478 billion in fiscal 2015 — well below the trillion-dollar deficits the nation racked up during the recession and immediately afterward. But the CBO warned that deficits would start to grow again in a few years. In recognition of that fact, Obama would retain some parts of his grand-bargain framework, including a proposal to require wealthy seniors to pay more for Medicare benefits than they do now. White House officials said the president continues to believe that entitlement programs such as Medicare and Social Security must be reformed to be sustainable (Goldfarb, 2/20).

The Washington Post: For White House Staffer, The Health-Care Law May Be Harder Sell Than Obama Was
Two years ago, Marlon Marshall was deputy national field director for President Obama’s disciplined, centralized reelection campaign. His job was to mobilize enthusiastic supporters to do something that cost them nothing: cast a vote. Now he is at the White House working on a very different, and arguably more difficult, effort: helping persuade Americans to get — and in many cases pay for — health insurance (Eilperin, 2/20).

The Wall Street Journal: Justice Department To Join Suit Against Tenet Healthcare, Health Management Associates
The Justice Department will join a whistleblower suit against Tenet Healthcare Corp. and Health Management Associates Inc. alleging the firms' Georgia hospitals illegally paid kickbacks to obstetrics clinics for referring low-income and undocumented patients to their facilities for deliveries, the department announced Wednesday. The suit is the latest in a wave of similar cases the Justice Department is pursuing against hospital operators, including at least eight separate cases against HMA for a range of tactics (Weaver, 2/19).

NPR: Doctors Urge Patience, And Longer Labor, To Reduce C-Sections
Women with low-risk pregnancies should be allowed to spend more time in labor, to reduce the risk of having an unnecessary C-section, the nation's obstetricians say. The new guidelines on reducing cesarean deliveries are aimed at first-time mothers, according to the American College of Obstetricians and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine, which released the guidelines Wednesday online and in Obstetrics and Gynecology (Schute, 2/20).

The Washington Post: More Than 20 Charged In Federal Crackdown On D.C. Medicaid Fraud
In announcing five federal indictments against 12 people and related D.C. Superior Court charges against 13 people, U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. said federal law enforcement officials had pulled off the largest health-care fraud takedown “in the history of the District of Columbia.” Prosecutors, FBI agents and others had investigated the fraud for years — much of it allegedly emanating from corrupt operators of home-care agencies and personal-care assistants, he said — and uncovered a problem that they say has permeated a component of the city’s health-care system (Zapotosky, 2/20).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: 25 Charged In Fraud Involving Home Care In DC
Twenty-five people were charged Thursday with obtaining at least $75 million in fraudulent Medicaid payments from the District of Columbia government, a series of cases that federal prosecutors said added up to the largest health-care fraud in the city’s history (2/20).

Los Angeles Times: Assembly Democrats Seek To Restore Cuts To Medi-Cal Funding
Two Assembly Democrats want to restore funding for California's healthcare program for the poor, laying the groundwork for another debate over how to make the best use of the state's financial recovery. The proposal, AB 1805, would reverse a 10% cut to reimbursements to doctors and other healthcare providers who treat Medi-Cal patients (Megerian, 2/20).

The New York Times: A Pharmacy Provides Salves For A Community’s Spirits
Just about no one knows the territory like a neighborhood pharmacist, membrane by membrane. On Jan. 3, 2012, Dichter Pharmacy in the Inwood section of upstate Manhattan burned to the ground along with the entire corner of 207th Street and Broadway. Under one flag or another, a drugstore had been in roughly that spot for 90 years, but this certainly seemed like the end (Dwyer, 2/20). 

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