KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

First Edition: March 10, 2014

Today's headlines include reports about how the Virginia Assembly's impasse on Medicaid expansion is playing out.   

Kaiser Health News: Next Step for Smart Phones: Keeping Tabs on Patients
Kaiser Health News staff writer Daniela Hernandez, working in collaboration with Wired, reports: "Dr. Eric Topol, a cardiologist at the Scripps Clinic in San Diego, knows when his patients’ hearts are racing or their blood pressure is on the rise, even if they’re sitting at home. With high-risk patients hooked up to ‘personal data trackers’ — a portable electrocardiogram built into a smartphone case, for instance — he and his researchers can track the ups and downs of patients’ conditions as they go about their lives. ‘It’s the real deal of what’s going on in their world from a medical standpoint,’ says Topol, whose work is part of a clinical trial. ‘The integration of that with the classical medical record is vital'" (Hernandez, 3/10). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: Health On The Hill: How Proposed Part D Changes Are Playing On Capitol Hill
Kaiser Health News staff writer Mary Agnes Carey and CQ Roll Call’s Emily Ethridge Officials discuss how officials the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services is proposing to remove some drugs from Medicare’s prescription drug plans and to limit how many plans insurers can offer (3/7). Watch the video or read the transcript.

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Obamacare On Campus: Reaching The Young And Uninsured
Now on Kaiser Health News’ blog, KUHF’s Carrie Feibel, working in partnership with KHN and NPR, reports: "Young adults may be key to the success of Obamacare. Insurance companies need a mix of ages, and a mix of healthy and sick people to balance out the costs for everyone – and young people tend to be healthier. But persuading them to sign up for health insurance is no easy task. Many don’t know about the law, don’t think they need coverage, or are confused about how to sign up" (Feibel, 3/10). Check out what else is on the blog

Kaiser Health News also tracked the weekend’s health policy headlines, including reports about how Florida's upcoming special election could be a bellwether for Obamacare election strategies (3/9). 

The Washington Post: Slew Of Changes To Health-Care Law Creates More Confusion For Consumers
As the deadline approaches for most Americans to obtain health insurance, a flurry of changes by the Obama administration has led to a frenzied effort among employers, insurance companies, politicians and consumers to try and understand what they might mean. ... By allowing many people to keep their old plans for two years longer, the administration softened the blow for congressional Democrats up for reelection this fall. No longer do members have to fear a wave of cancellation letters right before the November midterm election (Somashekhar, 3/8).

The Washington Post: Timeline Of Major Change To The Affordable Care Act
As it has been implementing the 2010 law reshaping the U.S. health-care system, the Obama administration has instituted a series of delays and other changes to the way the statute works in practice. Some changes were prompted by the government’s technical and other difficulties in launching, the online insurance marketplace on which three dozen states rely. Other changes respond to complaints by specific groups of consumers or parts of the health-care industry. Major changes and the dates when they were announced (Goldstein, 3/8).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Survey: Uninsured Rate Drops; Health Law Cited
With just three weeks left to sign up under President Barack Obama health care law, a major survey tracking the rollout finds that the uninsured rate keeps going down. The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, released Monday, found that 15.9 percent of U.S. adults are uninsured thus far in 2014, down from 17.1 percent for the last three months — or calendar quarter— of 2013 (3/10). 

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Tool To Compare Health Plans Tested With Consumers 
A website that offers Illinois consumers more information about insurance costs could help address widespread confusion about choosing a plan on the government sites that are a cornerstone of President Barack Obama’s health care law. It can be frustrating now to try to compare health plans on the government online marketplaces. For instance, the federal website that serves Illinois and 35 other states has no central directory to easily show which plans include which doctors in their networks (3/7). 

The Wall Street Journal: Health-Care Penalty Will Surprise Many
For many households, the penalty for not having health insurance under the Affordable Care Act will "almost always" run more than the $95 figure often cited in news reports. That's according to the Tax Policy Center, which recently rolled its ACA Tax Penalty Calculator. It helps people figure out how large their tax penalty will be if they don't get required coverage by March 31 (Radnofsky, 3/8). 

Politico: The Obamacare Money Under The Couch
The Obama administration is dropping some new hints about how it has moved money around to fund Obamacare without Congress — but not nearly enough to put the controversy to rest. Forced to reveal more details under a provision tucked in this year’s bipartisan budget deal, the Department of Health and Human Services declared Friday how it used Secretary Kathleen Sebelius’s authority to move about $1.6 billion in departmental funds around last year — the Cabinet secretary’s version of looking for change under the couch cushions and hitting the jackpot (Norman and Nather, 3/8).

Politico: Politico: Calling All Moms: It’s Obamacare
Open enrollment ends March 31, and President Barack Obama, first lady Michelle Obama and top administration officials all have events this week that aim to reach America’s moms, who typically drive health care decisions for their families — including the young adult children who are a key demographic for the new insurance exchanges. ... The pace of enrollment has picked up this winter as improved. More than 4 million people have chosen plans, although not all have begun paying their premiums. But the White House and its allies have a lot of work to do to hit the 6 million enrollment target by the end of the month. That mark was revised from 7 million after the website’s botched launch dampened sign-ups in the fall (Kenen, 3/9).

The New York Times: Little-Known Health Act Fact: Prison Inmates Are Signing Up
In a little-noticed outcome of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, jails and prisons around the country are beginning to sign up inmates for health insurance under the law, taking advantage of the expansion of Medicaid that allows states to extend coverage to single and childless adults — a major part of the prison population (Goode, 3/9). 

The Wall Street Journal: Government Extends Contract For Verizon's Terremark
The Department of Health and Human Services extended its contract with Verizon Communications Inc.'s Terremark subsidiary as the web-hosting provider for the federal health-insurance marketplace, The extension means that the government won't attempt to move the website to its new hosting provider, Hewlett-Packard Co. , while the insurance enrollment period under the Affordable Care Act is still open through the end of March (White, 3/7). 

The Washington Post’s Wonkblog: CMS Awarded $58M To Healthcare.Gov Firm It Already Fired
The Obama administration has awarded a contract extension to a vendor, months after federal health officials had selected another firm to replace it. According to a posting on the main federal contracting Web site Thursday, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and Verizon Terremark signed a contract extension in late January for cloud computing services, even though the federal agency overseeing had already selected HP Enterprise Services last July to take over the work (Millman, 3/7). 

USA Today: 5 Things To Know For March 31 Health Exchange Deadline
Americans have until March 31 to sign up for health insurance or face a penalty when they file their 2014 taxes next April. Millions of uninsured people qualify for subsidies to pay for their insurance, but there are still — even after months of advertising, community meetings, door-to-door information sessions and even speeches by the president — many who don't know about the exchanges, don't know they're eligible for financial help, or who don't know the Affordable Care Act still stands. Others simply haven't gotten around to enrolling yet (Kennedy, 3/8).

The Washington Post: Maryland Online Exchange Problems Cloud Doctor's Vision For Health Care 
[Dr. Peter] Beilenson, a physician who has spent his career improving public health in Baltimore City and Howard County, used federal loans set aside for nonprofit insurance providers to launch Evergreen Health Co-op, a hybrid creation that provides insurance coverage and health centers. In the past, such a start-up could never have competed with industry giants such as Maryland-based CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield. Now, the online marketplaces mandated by the health-care law are supposed to make it easier for customers to browse plans and pick what best fits their needs. Evergreen’s business plan called for at least 10,000 enrollees its first year. But it has signed up only 650 since October (Johnson, 3/7).

Los Angeles Times: California Drafts Labor Icon Huerta To Woo Latinos To Obamacare
With time running short to sign up for Obamacare, California officials have recruited labor activist Dolores Huerta to urge Latinos to get health insurance. The state's move comes amid struggles at enrolling Latinos, who represent about 60% of the state's uninsured population. Open enrollment under the Affordable Care Act ends March 31 (Karlamangla, 3/7).

The Washington Post: Medicaid Debate In Va. Government Echoes Among Residents
At a strip-mall laundromat halfway between Washington and Richmond last week, the question in Virginia’s fierce struggle over expanding Medicaid was whether the government-backed health program should extend to the asthmatic in the black hoodie or remain reserved for the pregnant mom with a smiling frog on her sweatshirt. The two Virginians loading laundry to blaring reruns of “Gilligan’s Island” and “Taxi” are at the heart of the fiscal and philosophical quandary that forced the General Assembly to adjourn without a state budget Saturday and now threatens weeks of uncertainty (Laris, 3/8). 

The Washington Post: Va. General Assembly Adjourns Without Budget Or Medicaid Expansion
Virginia’s General Assembly wrapped up its 60-day session Saturday without passing a budget or expanding Medicaid, leaving Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s biggest priority in limbo and raising the specter of a protracted standoff that could shutter state government. McAuliffe (D) called on the House and Senate to return to the Capitol in two weeks to continue work on a two-year, $96 billion budget to fund schools, universities, local governments and other state services. But there was little optimism that the special session would lead to a quick resolution of the budget stalemate, which turns on whether to expand Medicaid under the federal health-care law known informally as Obamacare (Vozzella, Laris and Weiner, 3/8).

The Washington Post: McAuliffe Tells Virginia Legislators He Will Call Special Session To Resolve Budget Impasse
Virginia’s House and Senate expect to adjourn the General Assembly session Saturday without a state budget, their standoff on Medicaid expansion forcing legislators to return for a special session later this month. House Republican leaders firmly opposed to lengthening the state’s Medicaid rolls met Friday with Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), who has made expansion of the health-care program for the poor and disabled his chief priority. McAuliffe told them that he would call a special session March 24, allowing for a break that will give both sides an opportunity to hear from constituents (Vozzella and Weiner, 3/7). 

The Washington Post: New Hampshire Clears Major Medicaid Expansion Hurdle
After months of negotiations, the New Hampshire Senate on Thursday voted to expand Medicaid to cover as many as 50,000 low-income residents using tens of millions of dollars in federal aid. About 12,000 residents who would qualify for coverage would be given subsidies to pay for insurance through their employers. Thousands more would receive subsidies to buy private insurance through the state’s health-care exchange (Wilson, 3/7). 

Politico: More Obamacare Bills Next Week, But Fewer Fireworks 
House Republican leaders are planning to bring up three changes to Obamacare next week — but unlike dozens of prior bills, these are more minor measures that are not expected to be controversial. All three bills essentially fix drafting errors, perceived oversights or unintended consequences in the president’s Affordable Care Act. They have bipartisan support and are scheduled to be considered under a suspension of the rules, which limits debate and requires support from two-thirds of House members — a signal that leaders of both parties do not expect any heated debate (Haberkorn, 3/7).

The New York Times: Is There A Doctor In The House? Yes, 17. And 3 In The Senate. 
First thing on a recent Monday, Monica Wehby could be found in the operating room performing brain surgery on a child. But the Saturday before, she was shooting guns, because sometimes that’s what you do when you’re running for office. ... The politicking is all new for Dr. Wehby, 51, who wants to unseat Senator Jeff Merkley, a first-term Democrat. And when people find out that she wants to leave one of the most highly specialized and well-compensated fields in medicine for Washington, they often react with disbelief. Yet she is hardly alone among her physician peers (Peters, 3/7).

Los Angeles Times: Prices Of New Hepatitis C Drugs Are Tough To Swallow For Insurers
A pair of new drugs to treat hepatitis C offer a cure for millions of Americans afflicted with the disease — but at a potentially staggering cost to taxpayers and health plans. Until now, therapies for hepatitis C helped only about half of patients and posed numerous side effects, such as flu-like symptoms, anemia or depression. In comparison, clinical trials of Sovaldi and Olysio have shown cure rates of 80% to 90% with far fewer complications (Terhune and Brown, 3/9). 

Los Angeles Times: What Makes A Community Healthy?
Patients begin lining up outside Capitol City Family Health Center before the doors open at 7:30 a.m. The clinic, on a ragged stretch of the boulevard that separates the black and white sections of town, is a refuge for thousands of this old southern capital's poorest and sickest residents. ... Twelve hundred miles up the Mississippi River, in the shadow of a public housing tower in St. Paul, Minn., the waiting room at the Open Cities Health Center also fills daily with the city's poorest. But the patients in Minnesota receive a very different kind of care, which leads to very different outcomes. They are more likely to get recommended checkups and cancer screenings. If very ill, they can usually see specialists. Their doctors rely on sophisticated data to track results (Levey, 3/9).

The Washington Post: Mental-Health Advocates Fear Fundamental Problems In Virginia Have Been Left To Fester
After the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007, Virginia lawmakers injected tens of millions of dollars into the state’s mental-health system, including local mental-health agencies that are the first stop for people in crisis. But last November, when Austin “Gus” Deeds needed a local agency to find him a psychiatric bed, the staff was smaller, its wait list for psychiatric services had tripled and a long-planned online registry of beds that could have speeded the search was not ready (Shin, 3/9). 

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