KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

First Edition: June 20, 2011

Today's headlines include reports about new trends in the health care marketplace, including efforts to help seniors live at home longer and why some consumers may face bigger bills for out-of-network care.

Kaiser Health News: 'Double' Chest Scans Increase Costs And Exposure To Radiation
Kaiser Health News staff writers Julie Appleby and Jordan Rau, working in collaboration with The Washington Post, report: "Hundreds of hospitals are routinely performing a type of chest scan that experts say should be used rarely, subjecting patients to double doses of radiation and driving up health care costs. … Nationwide, hospitals performed double scans on 5.4 percent of Medicare patients who received chest CTs in emergency rooms or hospital radiology units where they were referred by their doctor. Those scans totaled 76,781 in 2008. The overall number was certainly higher, as patients with private insurance, Medicaid or no coverage also get double scans, but no one tracks the number" (Appleby and Rau, 6/18).

Kaiser Health News: Health Law Expands Medicare To Montana Asbestos Patients
Kaiser Health News staff writer Phil Galewitz, working in collaboration with The Washington Post, reports: "But tremolite, a form of asbestos that was laced in the vermiculite ore, had been spread throughout the Libby area. Miners brought it home in heavy dust on their clothes helping to contaminate their families, residents took vermiculite to use for insulation and tailings were spread as ground filler around town, including at school and community sports fields. Federal officials in 2009 declared the area the first national public health emergency and have called it the nation's worst environmental disaster" (Galewitz, 6/18).

Kaiser Health News: Low –Income Families' Rx For Health Reform (Guest Opinion)
In this Kaiser Health News column, Peter Long and Ian Morrison write: "Since the passage of national health reform, politicians and pundits have dominated the debate. But for health reform to truly take root, we should take our cue from the millions of low-income Californians who have the most at stake -- and let their expectations inform implementation" (6/19).

The New York Times: Program Offering Waivers For Health Law Is Ending
The Obama administration said Friday that it was shutting down a program that had provided exemptions from the new health care law for many employers and labor unions offering bare-bones insurance coverage to workers (Pear, 6/17).

The Wall Street Journal: Out-Of-Network Rates
Consumers know they will have to pay out of their pockets if they use medical providers outside their insurers' networks. But because of a little-noticed change, they may find themselves with even bigger bills than they expect (Mathews, 6/19).

Los Angeles Times: Helping Seniors Live At Home Longer
Home-based care is increasingly seen as a legitimate and less costly alternative to nursing home care. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, signed into law by President Obama in March 2010, includes provisions to assist people who want to stay in their homes longer (Worth, 6/19).

The Washington Post: Hospitals Courting Primary-Care Doctors
In one of the first concrete steps to remake the way medical care is delivered, hospitals are competing to hire primary-care physicians, trying to lure them from their private practices to work as salaried employees alongside specialists (Sun, 6/19).

Los Angeles Times: Medical Bill Collection Accounts May Be Depressing Loan Applicants' Credit Scores
Are medical bill collection accounts buried away inside millions of consumers' credit files - even bills that were fully paid or settled years ago - functioning as a drag on the housing market? That sounds farfetched, yet some credit and mortgage industry experts say negative medical collection records are playing a little-recognized but significant role in depressing otherwise creditworthy loan applicants' scores. Lower scores, in turn, are disqualifying borrowers from getting mortgages in today's toughened underwriting climate or forcing them to pay higher interest rates, fees and down payments (Harney, 6/19).

The Associated Press: Casualties Mount In NJ  Employee Benefits Battle
The struggle to legislate higher pension and health benefits contributions for 500,000 public workers in New Jersey is shaking up the political status quo: Organized labor is attacking its traditional Democratic allies and pro-union Democrats are pitted against colleagues who plan to vote to limit collective bargaining (Santi, 6/19).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Emotional Debate Rises Over NJ Plans To Close Longtime Home For The Developmentally Disabled The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1999 that it's unconstitutional segregation to keep in institutions people who want to move out, who are determined by guardians and caregivers as able to do so. New Jersey has lagged behind most states at moving people out of institutions (6/19).

Kaiser Health News tracked health policy news developments over the weekend, including reports about the deadline for health law waivers, Medicare's plan to boost high-tech anti-fraud efforts and the latest on health care politics

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