First Edition: March 4, 2013
Today's headlines include an array of stories about various aspects of the health law as well as continuing coverage of sequestration and the federal budget impasse.
Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Expert: Hospitals' 'Humongous Monopoly' Drives Prices High; Panel Calls For 'Drastic Changes' In Medicare Doctor Pay; Nurse Practitioners Say How They're Paid Affects Care They Can Provide; New Reasons To 'Like' Online Hospital Reviews
Now on Kaiser Health News’ blog, Jay Hancock reports on hospital consolidations and cost issues: "The American Enterprise Institute didn’t plan its panel last week on hospital consolidation to coincide with Steve Brill's much-talked-about Time magazine article on hospital prices. But the Friday session could have taken the piece, Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us, as its text. Participants mentioned it several times" (Hancock, 3/4).
Also on Capsules, Jordan Rau reports on panel's new doctor-pay recommendations: "A panel convened by a major medical group is recommending that Medicare heal its physician payment shortfalls with 'drastic changes' in how it reimburses doctors and other providers, rather than seeking more taxpayer money" (Rau, 3/4).
In addition, Alvin Tran reports on a study exploring nurse practitioners' attitudes about how they are paid and scope-of-practice law: "In the study, published Thursday by the National Institute for Health Care Reform, researchers found that while so-called 'scope of practice' laws did not appear to restrict the primary care services nurse practitioners can provide to patients, they do affect how the advanced nurses are paid" (Tran, 3/1).
In another blog post, Jordan Rau details studies about online hospital reviews: "Millions of dollars and some of the best minds in health care have been devoted to measuring how good a hospital is. But two studies suggest users of two social media giants, Facebook and Yelp, may do a solid job of reflecting quality" (Rau, 3/1). Check out what else is on the blog.
The Associated Press: Health Care Overhaul Rolls On Despite Budget Havoc
But President Barack Obama's health care law - a program Republicans have spent the last three years trying to kill - will roll out on time, the administration says. Only a small fraction of the $1.6 trillion the Affordable Care Act spends to cover the uninsured over the next decade is subject to the so-called sequester. ... Some independent experts see irony in the situation. Others say the administration must be bluffing, and surely the cuts will slow the health law in some way. "It's so strange that the one thing Republicans were so ticked off at was the ACA, and now, when it comes time for reductions in spending, for all practical purposes the ACA gets a pass," said Bill Hoagland, senior vice president at the Bipartisan Policy Center, and formerly a long-serving GOP budget aide in Congress (Alonso-Zaldivar, 3/1).
The New York Times: Obama Asks Health Plans To Report Rising Rates
The Obama administration says it will require health insurance companies to report all price increases, no matter how small, to the federal government so officials can monitor the impact of the new health care law and insurers' compliance with it (Pear, 3/3).
The Wall Street Journal: Obama Clarifies Part Of Health Law
The Obama administration on Friday released new rules aimed at smoothing the rollout of a piece of the 2010 federal health-care law designed to give Americans more insurance options. Federal officials said insurers that get a contract to offer a so-called multistate plan will have to adhere to most of the insurance laws in each state, but in some cases they would be allowed to use a federally approved package of benefits rather than replicating ones set for each state (Radnofsky and Mathews, 3/1).
The Associated Press/Washington Post: Hard Time Understanding Health Reform Law? Try Figuring It Out In Tagalog, Hmong Or Vietnamese
Set on a gritty corner of Oakland's International Boulevard, the nonprofit Street Level Health Project offers free checkups to patients who speak a total of 22 languages, from recent Mongolian immigrants seeking a doctor to Burmese refugees in need of a basic dental exam. It also provides a window into one of the challenges for state officials who are trying to implement the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama's sweeping health care overhaul (3/4).
Politico: Loophole For Mental Health Care
Even if you get insurance under the new health care law, that's no guarantee you'll be able to pay your shrink. With mental health on the front burner since the Newtown, Conn., school shooting, Democrats have pointed out that the Affordable Care Act expands access to mental health care in several ways. It will get coverage for more people, either through private plans or Medicaid — and the benefits will have to include mental health. A number of other proposals are circulating on Capitol Hill to address gaps in behavioral health (Cunningham, 3/4).
The New York Times: Seeking Compromise, President Reaches Out To The Rank And File
Appearing immediately before him on the program, Speaker John A. Boehner reinforced his opposition to any deal to reverse the cuts in military and domestic programs — $85 billion this year and nearly $1 trillion over 10 years — that includes raising new revenue. But he did leave open a narrow path to a comprehensive budget agreement that could restore at least some of the money at some point. Mr. Boehner said Mr. Obama had already raised nearly $1 trillion to finance his health care program and, in January, won $650 billion from tax increases on high incomes. (Weisman, 3/3).
The New York Times: As Automatic Budget Cuts Go Into Effect, Poor May Be Hit Particularly Hard
The $85 billion in automatic cuts working their way through the federal budget spare many programs that aid the poorest and most vulnerable Americans, including the Children’s Health Insurance Program and food stamps. But the sequestration cuts, as they are called, still contain billions of dollars in mandatory budget reductions in programs that help low-income Americans, including one that gives vouchers for housing to the poor and disabled and another that provides fortified baby formula to the children of poor women (Lowry, 3/3).
The Los Angeles Times: Republicans Revisit Medicare Reform To Cut Spending
Fired up as once-unimaginable spending cuts start to slice the federal budget, Republicans are launching a new phase in their austerity campaign — resurrecting the party's cost-cutting plan to turn Medicare into a voucher-like system for future seniors. Despite public uncertainty Saturday about the $85 billion in so-called sequester cuts, Republicans now believe they have momentum to ask Americans to make tough choices on Medicare, as rising healthcare costs combine with an aging population to form a growing part of future deficits (Mascaro and Memoli, 3/2).
Bloomberg News/The New York Times: Letter From Washington: Cataloging Health Care’s Excesses
Nonprofit hospitals, the cornerstone of many communities, capriciously overcharge patients, sticking the powerless with exorbitant bills, while paying lavish salaries to their executives; drug companies, which charge humongous markups to American customers, rake in huge profits; trial lawyers, with the threat of legal action, add to the cost of defensive medicine; President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act does little to bend the cost curve, and while conservatives rail against Medicare, the government-run insurance program is more efficient and customer-friendly than the private system. None of this is new. Yet it resonates for several reasons: Mr. Brill documents the particulars more forcefully, and as health care spending approaches 20 percent of the U.S. economy, almost every American is affected and the debate is politically polarizing. When asked to respond to these charges, most of the system’s stakeholders react in similar ways: Many of these criticisms are valid — except when it applies to us (Hunt, 3/3).
Politico: Commission Advocates Ending Fee-For-Service System
The National Commission on Physician Payment Reform is calling for eliminating the fee-for-service model within seven years, starting with a five-year transition period to a blended payment system. The group, whose honorary chairman is former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and includes representatives from Tufts Medical Center, Harvard School of Public Health, CVS Caremark and WellPoint, said the sustainable growth rate repeal should be paid for by cuts in Medicare "physician payments and reductions in inappropriate utilization of Medicare services" (Haberkorn, 3/4).
The Washington Post: Lobbyists Weigh In On Pharmacy Oversight
Drug companies are ramping up efforts on Capitol Hill to block specialty pharmacies from mass producing drugs in lightly regulated conditions, urging lawmakers to require that these enterprises return to their traditional roles or face stricter standards. Commercial drug makers are also pressing a lobbying campaign aimed at stopping these specialty pharmacies, known as compounders, from making "knockoff" drugs for people and their pets that the companies say are costing them millions of dollars in annual profits, records and interviews show (Kindy and Sun, 3/2).
Los Angeles Times: Motion Picture Home Ranks Among California's Best Nursing Homes
The long-term care facility operated by the Motion Picture & Television Fund, which in previous years faced criticism from nursing home advocates over quality of care issues and staffing levels, got some good news this week. U.S. News & World Report placed the fund's nursing home, which caters to entertainment industry workers and was once slated for closure, on its 2013 list of "Best Nursing Homes in California" (Verrier, 3/2).
Los Angeles Times: Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris Urges Funding For Prescription Tracking
Calling prescription drug abuse an urgent public health problem, California Atty. Gen. Kamala D. Harris is pushing lawmakers to fund an effort to identify physicians who recklessly prescribe addictive medications (Girion and Glover, 3/3).
The Associated Press/Washington Post: Va. Panel Faces Contentious - Possibly Litigious – Task As Brakeman On Medicaid Expansion
There are blue-ribbon commissions and task forces in Virginia government that have done little more than huddle in conference rooms and pack hundreds of pages of dense bureaucratic jargon into binders set on backroom bookshelves or in forgotten archives boxes. There they gather dust for generations. The new Medicaid Innovation and Reform Commission won't have that luxury, provided it survives its infancy (3/3).
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