KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

First Edition: June 17, 2013

Today's headlines include reports about how states are tackling the implementation of specific provisions of the health law.   

Kaiser Health News: Hospital CEO Bonuses Reward Volume And Growth
Kaiser Health News staff writer Jay Hancock, working in collaboration with ABC News, reports: "Like hospital leaders everywhere, the people running Valley Medical Center in Renton, Wash., talk frequently about the need to control soaring medical costs. … But even as Valley officials talk about change, they're paying hospital CEO Richard Roodman tens of thousands of dollars in bonuses for driving the kind of profits and expansion many say are no longer affordable for patients, employers and taxpayers" (Hancock, 6/16). Read the story and related components, including a chart tracking CEO compensation, a sidebar detailing what sometimes determines a CEO’s compensation, a look at some CEOs who shuns bonus pay and an FAQ about the story. You can also watch the video.

Kaiser Health News: Panel Tells Congress Medicare Is Unfairly Penalizing Hospitals Serving The Poor
Kaiser Health News staff writer Jordan Rau, working in collaboration with The Washington Post, reports: "The financial penalties that Medicare imposes on hospitals with high rates of patient readmissions are too harsh for hospitals serving the poor and should be changed, according to a congressional advisory agency" (Rau, 6/14). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: Your Smartphone Might Hold Key To Your Medical Records
Minnesota Public Radio’s Elizabeth Stawicki, working in partnership with Kaiser Health News and NPR, reports: "How could a local doctor in Maryland access his dad's medical record in Boston? Through Medicare Blue Button, a computer program that allows patients to download their medical history into a simple text file on their smartphones and personal computers. Then third-party applications that you download help organize this information" (Stawicki, 6/17). Read the story.

The New York Times: Choice Of Health Plans To Vary Sharply From State To State
When a typical 40-year-old uninsured woman in Maine goes to the new state exchange to buy health insurance this fall, she may have just two companies to choose from: the one that already sells most individual policies in the state, and a complete unknown — a nonprofit start-up.  Her counterpart in California, however, will have a much wider variety of choices: 13 insurers are likely to offer plans, including the state's largest and best-known carriers (Abelson, 6/16).

The Washington Post: States Running Out Of Time On Health Insurance Exchanges
With the deadline for states to implement Affordable Care Act-mandated health insurance exchanges less than four months away, state governments will need to move fast. States are having to reevaluate their existing health insurance infrastructures to meet the act's requirements. They have already received nearly $4 billion in funding for the effort thus far — and can access more dollars through 2014 (White, 6/16).

The Wall Street Journal’s Law Journal: Want A Law Job? Learn The Health-Care Act
Some companies are warning that President Barack Obama's health-care overhaul will cost jobs. It won't be in their legal departments. Health-care companies racing to comply with the Affordable Care Act and other rules are calling in the lawyers, sparking a mini-boom for specialist attorneys who can backstop overloaded internal teams and steer clients through an increasingly crowded regulatory minefield  (Smith, 6/16).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: IRS Scandals Jeopardize Agency Funding To Put In Place Obama's Massive New Health Care Law
Mounting scandals at the Internal Revenue Service are jeopardizing critical funding for the agency as it gears up to play a big role in President Barack Obama's health care law. Obama sought a significant budget increase for the IRS for next year, when the agency will start doling out subsidies to help people buy health insurance on state-based exchanges. Congressional Republicans, however, see management problems at the IRS as an opportunity to limit the agency's funding just as it is trying to put in place the massive new law (6/15).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Senate Democrats Running In 2014 In GOP-Leaning States Firm Up Support Of Health Care Law
Far from reversing course, Senate Democrats who backed President Barack Obama's health care law and now face re-election in GOP-leaning states are firming up their support for the overhaul even as Republican criticism intensifies. Mark Begich of Alaska, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Kay Hagan of North Carolina will face voters in 2014 for the first time since voting for the Affordable Care Act — also known as "Obamacare" — three years ago. They aren't apologizing for their vote, and several are pursuing an aggressive strategy: Embrace the law, help voters use it and fix what doesn't work (6/15).

NPR: To Find Out How The Health Law Affects You, Ask The President
Call it the Affordable Care Act, call it Obamacare, call it whatever you want — it's coming. And soon. In less than four months people without health insurance will be able to start signing up for coverage that begins Jan. 1. A lot has been said about the law, most of it not that understandable. So starting now, and continuing occasionally through the summer and fall, we're going to try to fix that (Rovner, 6/17).

Politico: Michigan Moves Toward Medicaid Expansion
Another Republican-controlled state embrace of Medicaid expansion could be just around the corner. The Michigan Senate is expected to vote this week on a compromise reached in the lower chamber that would expand the program but limit how long beneficiaries can stay on it (Millman, 6/17).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Va. Panel Established To Certify Medicaid Reforms And Approve Expansion Meets For First Time
The state panel responsible for verifying that a series of daunting reforms to Medicaid have been met as a condition for expanding access to the federal-state health care program meets for the first time (6/17).

The Wall Street Journal: Aetna To Leave California Individual Insurance Market
The pullout is likely to draw attention as California has become a focus of national debate over the law's impact. Supporters, including President Barack Obama, who highlighted the state in a recent speech, argue that it has shown the success of the health overhaul in encouraging competition and pushing down prices (Mathews, 6/14).

The Washington Post: Republicans Trying To Use Health-Care Law To Derail Obama's Immigration Reform Efforts
After spending years unsuccessfully trying to overturn "Obamacare," Republicans are now attempting to use President Obama's landmark health-care law to derail his top second-term initiative — a sweeping overhaul of the nation's immigration system. Conservatives in both chambers of Congress are insisting on measures that would expand the denial of public health benefits to the nation's 11 million illegal immigrants beyond limits set in a comprehensive bill pending in the Senate (Nakamura and Somashekhar, 6/16).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: From Cancer Patients To Head Start, Impact Of Sequester Cuts Slowly Ripples Across Nation
The first warnings about the spending cuts were dire. In March, as the sweeping $85 billion reductions known as sequestration kicked in, President Barack Obama called them "stupid" and "arbitrary" and said they could thwart economic progress. Opponents said the administration was using scare tactics, predicting doom even though the cuts amounted to a tiny slice of the federal budget (6/15).

Politico: New Project Addresses Mental Health Care Gap
A new project seeks to bridge the U.S.'s mental health care gap by linking up primary-care doctors and mental health experts. Though it's not funded as part of Obamacare, the project fits in with several of the health care law's goals: coordinating physical and behavioral health care for better health outcomes, shoring up the primary-care workforce and lowering costs through preventive care. The initiative, which is starting in New Mexico but could eventually be scaled nationwide, is also being launched amid heightened concern about filling gaps in the mental health care system after a series of high-profile shootings like the one in Newtown, Conn (Smith, 6/17).

Los Angeles Times: Walk-In Clinics Gaining Popularity
Nontraditional healthcare sites such as urgent care centers and retail clinics are gaining popularity with consumers looking to avoid the long waits and high prices of the doctor's office or emergency department. These sites, however, are not meant to replace a relationship with a primary care physician, and they're never a substitute for appropriate use of hospital emergency rooms (Zamosky, 6/14).

Los Angeles Times: California Lawmakers Finalize $96.3-Billion Budget
California lawmakers wrapped up their work on the state budget on Saturday, approving bills detailing plans for university tuition assistance, energy efficiency projects and the expansion of healthcare programs. The Legislature also renewed a $500-million tax on managed care plans, which was allowed to lapse last year, and approved a framework for boosting welfare grants in the coming years (Megerian, 6/15).

Los Angeles Times: S.F. Grudgingly Backs Kaiser Rate Hike For Public Workers
Officials who oversee the healthcare plans that cover San Francisco public employees this week excoriated Kaiser executives for failing to adequately explain a proposed rate increase but ultimately voted to back it. The city's public workers have seen their healthcare costs spiral while they have accepted pay cuts and furlough days at the bargaining table. In an unusual move, labor unions teamed up with San Francisco's Health Service System earlier this year to demand greater transparency from Kaiser (Romney, 6/14).

The Wall Street Journal: States Ease Use Of Life Policies For Elder Care
State lawmakers are encouraging elderly residents to use life insurance as a way to pay for long-term care—and lower the Medicaid tab in the process. The strategy marks a tacit endorsement of so-called life settlements, a practice in which policyholders sell their policies at a discount in the secondary market and the buyer takes over premiums and consequently collects the death benefit (Greene, 6/16). 

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