First Edition: September 8, 2014
Today's headlines include stories about how companies are adjusting their health benefits in the current health care marketplace, as well as a range of state-level health policy developments.
Kaiser Health News: Rural Enrollment Presents Continuing Health Law Challenges
Kaiser Health News staff writer Shefali Luthra reports: “Americans living in rural areas will be a key target as states and nonprofit groups strategize how to enroll more people in health law insurance plans this fall. Though millions of people signed up for private insurance or Medicaid in the first year of the Affordable Care Act, millions of others did not. Many live in rural areas where people 'face more barriers,' said Laurie Martin, a RAND Corp. senior policy researcher. Brock Slabach, a senior vice president at the National Rural Health Association, said 'the feds are particularly concerned about this'" (Luthra, 9/8). Read the story.
The Wall Street Journal: The Outlook: Services Sector Gauge Finally Gets Its Due
A quarterly reading from the Commerce Department has quietly emerged as one of the most consequential government reports, with the power to roil estimates for U.S. economic growth and the impact of the Affordable Care Act. The Quarterly Services Survey, or QSS, measures revenue at service-providing companies including hospitals, day-care centers and law offices. It usually attracts little notice even as reports on freight-rail traffic and wholesale inventories get parsed for clues to the health of the U.S. economy. But Federal Reserve policy makers and private economists are taking a much closer look at the gauge. This summer, the QSS found health-care revenue declined in the first quarter, defying predictions that the health law's rollout would spark a surge in spending by newly insured Americans (Leubsdorf, 9/7).
The Associated Press: McAuliffe To Announce Health Care Plans Monday
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe is set to unveil his plan to increase health care coverage for the state’s poor. The Democratic governor will speak publicly Monday on his plans for health care expansion. The governor unsuccessfully tried to persuade Republican lawmakers to expand Medicaid during this year’s legislative session. The impasse led to a protracted stalemate over the state budget that ended with a GOP victory (9/6).
The Washington Post: Companies Race To Adjust Health-Care Benefits As Affordable Care Act Takes Hold
Large businesses expect to pay between 4 and 5 percent more for health-care benefits for their employees in 2015 after making adjustments to their plans, according to employer surveys conducted this summer. Few employers plan to stop providing benefits with the advent of federal health insurance mandates, as some once feared, but a third say they are considering cutting or reducing subsidies for employee family members, and the data suggest that employees are paying more each year in out-of-pocket health care expenses (Gregg, 9/7).
The Washington Post: Businesses Are Testing Employees’ Body Fat And Paying Them To Lose Weight
Wellness programs have slowly gained traction with large employers over the past decade, as businesses find that healthier employees are cheaper to insure. Initially, these programs had little impact on an employee’s finances: A company might sponsor a weight loss seminar or offer a $20 gift card for filling out a health questionnaire (Gregg, 9/7).
The Associated Press: US Senate Candidates Trade Jabs In First Debate
Health care and the partial government shutdown underscored the first debate Saturday between U.S. Democratic Sen. Mark Udall and Republican U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner, who are deadlocked in a pivotal Colorado contest that could determine control of the Senate. Gardner repeatedly tied Udall to the policies of President Barack Obama, frequently naming Udall and Obama in the same sentence, as well as referring to Udall’s support for the nation’s new health care law and his vote for the 2008 stimulus plan (9/7).
The Associated Press: Pence’s Pivot To The Middle Angers Far-Right Base
As a hard-charging conservative congressman, Pence was an early member of the House Tea Party Caucus. But since becoming governor, he has softened his approach to the point where many who were pushing for him to run for president in 2012 are wondering what happened. His efforts to pull Indiana from national Common Core education standards resulted in a new set of standards that one critic dubbed Common Core “warmed over.” And Pence’s decision to seek an alternative expansion of the state’s Medicaid program led many tea partyers to accuse him of abandoning them on one of their core issues (9/7).
The Wall Street Journal: A Fast-Growing Medical Lab Tests Anti-Kickback Law
A fast-growing Virginia laboratory has collected hundreds of millions of dollars from Medicare while using a strategy that is now under regulatory scrutiny: It paid doctors who sent it patients' blood for testing. Health Diagnostic Laboratory Inc. transformed itself from a startup incorporated in late 2008 into a major lab with $383 million in 2013 revenues, 41% of that from Medicare. It built that business selling tests to measure "biomarkers" that help doctors predict heart disease. HDL bundles together up to 28 tests it performs on a vial of blood, receiving Medicare payments of $1,000 or more for some bundles (Carreyrou and McGinty, 9/7).
NPR: Feds Hope Hitting Nursing Homes In The Wallet Will Cut Overmedication
A federal lawsuit against two Watsonville, Calif., nursing homes may offer a new approach to dealing with the persistent problem of such facilities overmedicating their residents. The lawsuit details multiple cases when the government says these drugs were inappropriately administered to patients (Jaffe, 9/5).
The Wall Street Journal: Activist Investor Scores A Win At Walgreen
Walgreen Co., facing mounting pressure from analysts and shareholders, said it is giving activist investor Jana Partners LLC two board seats, a relatively large say for a shareholder with a little more than 1% of the company's stock. The nation's largest pharmacy chain recently disappointed shareholders with its dreary financial projections and its decision not to cut its tax rate by relocating its corporate headquarters overseas. The Deerfield, Ill., company also abruptly replaced its chief financial officer in August, after its internal financial forecasts for pharmacy sales were slashed by $1.1 billion. The stock lost 15% during that month, though it has since gained some back (Benoit, 9/8).
The Texas Tribune/New York Times: Nursing Facilities Blast ‘Three Strikes’ Proposal
At a hearing in August to evaluate the state agency responsible for Texas’ elderly residents, State Senator Charles Schwertner singled out seven of the 1,200 nursing homes licensed by the Department of Aging and Disability Services. “These seven facilities are the worst of the worst,” said Mr. Schwertner, a Republican from Georgetown. At the hearing, he proposed a “three strikes” rule that would force the state to close nursing homes found to have the highest-level violations of federal quality standards on three separate days over 24 months (Walters, 9/6).
USA Today: Va. Lawmaker Stabbed By Son Urges Mental Health Reform
Virginia lawmaker, who said his world "changed forever" when his son stabbed him before committing suicide in November, called on Congress Thursday to repair the nation's crumbling mental health system to prevent more tragedies. "We cannot afford to wait for another crisis or tragedy," said Virginia state senator Creigh Deeds, who spoke to 1,700 mental health advocates at the annual meeting of the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Washington. "Too many lives have been lost, too many families changed forever" (Szabo, 9/5).
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