KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

First Edition: December 5, 2011

In today's headlines, news reports examine the pivotal week ahead for Congress and the hurdle that challenges to the health law now will face. 

Kaiser Health News: Doing Things Right: Why Three Hospitals Didn't Harm My Wife
Writing for Kaiser Health News, Michael Millenson details his wife's recent experiences with the health system: "The anxiety when a loved one is injured is compounded when you know just how risky making things better can get. As a long-time advocate for patient safety, my interest in the topic has always been passionate, but never personal. Now, as Susan was being rushed into the emergency room, I wanted to keep it that way. 'Wife of patient safety expert is victim' was a headline I deeply hoped to avoid'" (Millenson, 12/4).

Kaiser Health News: Calif. Hospital Report Cards Likely To Go Away
KQED reporter Sara Varney filed the following story as part of a partnership that includes Kaiser Health News, NPR and KQED: "The project was considered a pioneering effort when it started in 2004, but Jan Emerson-Shea, a spokesperson for the California Hospital Association, says the report cards have outlived their usefulness. 'Today there are numerous places consumers can get information on the quality of care delivered by hospitals,' Emerson-Shea says. 'Public reporting has very much come of age at this point in time.' As a result, the California Hospital Association recently sent a letter to the California Hospital Assessment and Reporting Taskforce, which oversees the scorecards, announcing its intention to withdraw from the project" (Varney, 12/4).

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Houston Poaches Cancer Scientists From Boston; Final Medical Loss Ratio Rule Rebuffs Insurance Agents
Now on Kaiser Health News' blog, Houston Public Radio reporter Carrie Feibel, working as part of a partnership with Kaiser Health News, KUHF and NPR, writes: "MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston has lured 55 scientists away from Boston’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. The personnel grab will help the academic hospital jump quickly into the field of cancer drug development" (12/5).

Also on the blog, Julie Appleby reports: "The Obama administration issued a rule … that is sure to disappoint insurance agents: Fees paid to brokers and agents won’t count as medical care, under limits imposed on insurers in the 2010 federal health law" (12/2). Check out what else is on the blog.

Kaiser Health News also tracked weekend health policy news developments, including reports about how GOP candidates answered questions from state attorneys general regarding health care during a weekend campaign forum, about how the clock is ticking on the Medicare open enrollment season and Donald Berwick's CMS exit.

The Washington Post: Congress Faces Pivotal Week On Stimulus, Spending Measures
Monday begins a pivotal week in Congress, the last opportunity this year to pass some kind of economic stimulus package to boost the ailing economy. This will also be a decisive moment for legislation to keep the federal government running on a leaner budget for the rest of the fiscal year. … Reid and Boehner are probably headed for a final negotiation on the payroll tax that will initiate a two-track process for the legislation, which the leaders say must pass before Christmas. Along with the tax holiday, leaders are considering attaching an extension of unemployment insurance benefits and a measure to adjust Medicare payments to doctors — all of which, according to Boehner, will need accompanying spending cuts to make the package deficit-neutral (Kane, 12/4).

The Wall Street Journal: Hurdle For Health-Law Suit
The woman chosen to represent the legal challenge to the Obama administration's health-care overhaul filed for bankruptcy in September after her business failed, a move that could pose problems for the high-profile lawsuit. … The suit, brought by 26 states and joined by the National Federation of Independent Business, a small-business lobby group, is set to be heard by the Supreme Court next year. It relies in part on the story of Mary Brown, an auto-repair-shop owner who argued in court filings she would have had to divert funds from her business to comply with the law's requirement that, beginning in 2014, most Americans obtain coverage or pay a penalty. … Without owning a business, it could be harder for Ms. Brown to argue she is harmed by the legislation. Meanwhile, her recent financial woes suggest the possibility she would be exempt from penalties for noncompliance with the individual mandate. That raises questions about whether the suit can be based on her experience (Maltby, O'Connell and Bravin, 12/5).

The Wall Street Journal: Access To Doctors Varies Widely Across Neighborhoods
A new report that offers the most comprehensive snapshot of New Yorkers' access to primary-care services to date finds that the availability and use of medical services varies strikingly within neighborhoods across the five boroughs, particularly with primary care (Wang, 12/5).

The New York Times: Anti-Abortion Groups Are Split On Legal Tactics
A widening and emotional rift over legal tactics has split the anti-abortion movement, with its longtime leaders facing a Tea Party-like insurrection from many grass-roots activists who are impatient with the pace of change (Eckholm, 12/4).

NPR: Cutting Retiree Benefits A Sore Subject For Military
Bean counters at the Pentagon are working long hours to figure out how to cut close to a trillion dollars from the Department of Defense budget over the next 10 years. … Part of the defense budget usually protected from budget cuts is personnel costs: mainly health care and retirement benefits. While Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has said everything's on the table, cutting benefits for troops is not an easy sell (12/4).

Los Angeles Times: Extended U.S. Oversight Sought For 2 California Mental Hospitals
The U.S. Department of Justice has asked a judge to extend federal oversight of two state mental hospitals, saying the facilities have failed to comply with critical provisions of a sweeping consent judgment imposed 5 1/2 years ago (Romney and Hoeffel, 12/4).

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