First Edition: October 10, 2014
Today's headlines include reports that Medicare's basic monthly premium will remain the same in 2015.
Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Study Finds Savings Low For Employers Capping Their Payments For Treatments; Burwell Meets The Press: Managing Expectations On Ebola, Healthcare.gov, ACA Year 2
Now on Kaiser Health News’ blog, Julie Appleby reports on a study about capping payments: “In an effort to slow health care spending, more employers are looking at capping what they pay for certain procedures — like joint replacements — and requiring insured workers who choose hospitals or medical facilities that exceed the cap to pay the difference themselves. But a study out Thursday finds employers might be disappointed with the overall savings. While the idea, known as “reference pricing,” does highlight the huge variation in what hospitals and other medical providers charge for the same services, the report says, it does little to lower overall health care spending” (Appleby, 10/9).
Also on the blog, Mary Agnes Carey opens up her notebook and reports on comments from Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell: “We’re working on it. No matter what the topic – from improving consumers’ experience with healthcare.gov, the health law’s Medicaid expansion, narrow networks and even Ebola — Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell told reporters Thursday her agency is on it. During a breakfast with reporters sponsored by Kaiser Health News and the health policy journal Health Affairs, Burwell tried to manage expectations about the health law’s next open enrollment season and declined to make a prediction about how many people would enroll this time around. She also cautioned that we are likely to see the number of Ebola cases rise before the crisis subsides” (Carey, 10/9). Check out what else is new on the blog.
The Washington Post’s Wonkblog: Five Things We Need To Know Before Obamacare Enrollment Starts Again
The Obama administration seems pretty confident that HealthCare.gov can avoid punch-line status again when Obamacare enrollment reopens next month. Administration officials this week showed off improvements to the enrollment Web site that are supposed to be much more consumer-friendly — things like new smartphone capabilities, a shorter application process and the ability to actually use the "back" button while filling out the online application. As new Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell talked with reporters Thursday about plans and expectations for Obamacare's second year, there are still some big question marks about the landscape for the health-care law when enrollment opens again Nov. 15 (Millman, 10/9).
Politico: A Maze To Opt Out Of Obamacare Individual Mandate
There are dozens of ways to escape Obamacare’s individual mandate tax — but good luck figuring that out come tax season. Tens of millions of Americans can avoid the fee if they qualify for exemptions like hardship or living in poverty, but the convoluted process has some experts worried individuals will be tripped up by lost paperwork, the need to verify information with multiple sources and long delays that extend beyond tax season (Bade, 10/9).
The Associated Press: Healthcare.gov Fixes Error On Website For Latinos
HealthCare.gov has fixed a conspicuous translation error on its Spanish-language website that had puzzled native speakers. The site suffered from clunky translations last year, and the latest mix-up involved an attempt to let consumers know they can start to “get ready” now for 2015 (10/9).
The Associated Press: Medicare’s Basic Monthly Premium Unchanged In 2015
The Medicare “Part B” premium that most older people pay for outpatient care will stay the same in 2015 — $104.90 a month. The government says it’s the third consecutive year that the basic monthly premium has held steady (10/9).
The Wall Street Journal: Medicare Premiums To Remain Flat
Most Medicare beneficiaries will pay monthly premiums of $104.90 for 2015, the same as this year and last year, while cost-sharing for hospital and skilled nursing stays will increase slightly, the Obama administration said Thursday. The premiums cover doctor’s visits, outpatient care and medical supplies under what is known as Part B of the federal insurance program for people over age 65. Higher-income seniors pay more. An individual whose tax return shows income between $85,000 and $107,000, for example, will pay $146.90 a month (Radnofsky, 10/9).
The Washington Post’s Fact Checker: The Fierce Fight Over An Abortion Ad In New Hampshire
Brown has been hopping mad over this ad, even cutting his own ad denouncing what he called “a smear campaign.” His campaign has called for the ad to be pulled. The Shaheen ad carefully does not actually say that Brown is against abortion, but some might argue that it certainly leaves that impression. Given the complexity of this issue, we are going to fact check both the key phrase in the ad and Brown’s claim that the goal of the bill was promoting adoptions (Kessler, 10/10).
Politico: How One Republican Has Navigated Abortion Attacks
Listen to Cory Gardner these days and you might think he backs abortion rights. Calling himself “a new kind of Republican,” the affable Senate hopeful looks earnestly into the camera in his TV ads and tells voters not to believe Democratic Sen. Mark Udall’s attacks on his record on women’s issues. He disavows his past support of the so-called “personhood” anti-abortion amendment. He’s even trying to run to Udall’s left by aggressively promoting over-the-counter contraceptives (Raju, 10/9).
The Wall Street Journal: Kindred Healthcare Gets Gentiva After Five-Month Chase
The combined company, which will be based in Louisville, Ky., will be the nation’s largest provider of long-term, acute-care hospitals; inpatient rehabilitation facilities; and hospice and home-health services, with annual revenue of about $7.1 billion, according to a statement Thursday. Kindred’s offer of $19.50 a share in cash and stock represents a 17% premium to Gentiva’s closing price on Wednesday, and is above the $13-a-share offer Kindred initially made earlier this year. Including the assumption of debt, the deal is valued at about $1.8 billion (Dulaney and Whalen, 10.9).
The Wall Street Journal’s Pharmalot: Pharma Sues Again Over Orphan Drug Discounts To Hospitals
An ongoing feud between the pharmaceutical industry and a federal agency over a discount drug program for certain hospitals is back in court. The industry trade group has filed another lawsuit trying to block the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration from enforcing a rule that allows so-called safety net hospitals and clinics to obtain orphan drugs at a discount. Orphan drugs are used to treat rare diseases (Silverman, 10/9).
The Associated Press: Ebola Screening Measures Rest On Federal Law
The Obama administration’s plans to screen certain airline passengers for exposure to Ebola are based on the Constitution and long-established legal authority that would almost certainly stand up in court if challenged, public health experts say. … Though airline passengers may find it intrusive to have their temperature taken or directed against their wishes to seek medical care, the government has wide power when it comes to public health and border control, experts say, including quarantine and isolation. Courts would likely defer to the judgment of public health professionals in the event someone sued over what they saw as an intrusion of civil liberties (10/10).
The Washington Post: The Ominous Math Of The Ebola Epidemic
When the experts describe the Ebola disaster, they do so with numbers. The statistics include not just the obvious ones, such as caseloads, deaths and the rate of infection, but also the ones that describe the speed of the global response. Right now, the math still favors the virus (Achenbach, Sun and Dennis, 10/9).
Politico: House Moves On Ebola Funding
After briefings this week, House Republicans signed off Thursday on the release of $700 million more in funding requested by the Obama administration in support of fighting the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Together with the $50 million already approved, that gives the green light to about three-quarters of the $1.06 billion sought by the Defense Department, which has taken the lead for the U.S. in providing hospital equipment, personnel and airlift capacity (Rogers, 10/9).
The Washington Post: Small Drugmakers Try To Scale Up To Meet Ebola Crisis
The manufacturer of the experimental Ebola drug ZMapp said Friday that it is trying to squeeze more production out of the tobacco plants used to create the medication and develop other ways of making the drug in an effort to boost supply. The 32,000-square-foot facility in Kentucky where the monoclonal antibodies are created in specially grown tobacco plants has put all other business on hold since August and is devoting its entire capacity to producing the Ebola medication, according to Mapp Biopharmaceutical (Bernstein and Dennis, 10/9).
Los Angeles Times: Dallas Hospital Defends Its Treatment Of Ebola Patient Who Died
Ebola victim Thomas Eric Duncan was treated professionally and compassionately without regard for his nationality or ability to pay, the hospital that treated him said Thursday, one day after he died. Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas was responding to complaints from those close to the victim that Duncan, the first person diagnosed with Ebola on U.S. soil, was not treated as well as three white American missionaries who contracted the deadly virus in West Africa but recovered after treatment in Atlanta and Omaha (Hennessey-Fiske and Muskal, 10/9).
The Wall Street Journal: Federal Appeals Court Denies Challenge To Texas Abortion Law
A federal appeals court on Thursday declined to review a decision upholding a Texas law that requires abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. The decision by the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was a blow to Texas abortion providers, who have had had to close many Texas abortion clinics partly because they were unable to obtain admitting privileges (Koppel, 10/9).
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