KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

First Edition: April 4, 2013

Today's headlines include reports about emerging dynamics in the ongoing federal budget debate.  

Kaiser Health News: Walgreens Becomes 1st Retail Chain To Diagnose, Treat Chronic Conditions
Kaiser Health News staff writer Julie Appleby, working in collaboration with USA Today, reports: "It's not just sore throats and flu shots anymore. Walgreens today became the first retail store chain to expand its health care services to include diagnosing and treating patients for chronic conditions such as asthma, diabetes and high cholesterol. The move is the retail industry's boldest push yet into an area long controlled by physicians, and comes amid continuing concerns about health care costs and a potential shortage of primary care doctors" (Appleby, 4/4). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Texas Legislature Weighing 5 Key Proposals To Limit Abortions; GOP Members Call For Increased Spending To Cover Pre-Existing Conditions; Despite Federal Delay, Minn. Vows To Have Small Business Options On New Health Exchange
Now on Kaiser Health News' blog, KUHF’s Carrie Feibel, working in partnership with KHN and NPR, reports on abortion news from Texas: "Anti-abortion rights forces in Texas achieved a major triumph in 2011, the last time the state legislature convened. They passed laws requiring a 24-hour waiting period and requiring all women seeking an abortion to undergo a fetal ultrasound. The idea was to force down abortion rates by changing women’s minds. A follow-up study indicated that abortions did decline by 10-15 percent, but probably because the waiting period created logistical and financial hurdles for many women, not because women’s minds were changed" (Feibel, 4/4).

In addition, Phil Galewitz reports on a Capitol Hill hearing focusing on funding for coverage of pre-existing conditions: "Republicans who have spent the past three years blasting the health care overhaul as an overreach by the federal government said Wednesday the law didn't allocate nearly enough money for a temporary program offering insurance coverage to those with pre-existing conditions" (Galewitz, 4/3).

Also on Capsules, Minnesota Public Radio's Elizabeth Stawicki, working in partnership with KHN NPR, reports on her state's small business insurance exchange: "Workers at small businesses that buy health insurance on MNSURE — Minnesota's new online marketplace — will have access to features that will be delayed in many other states" (Stawicki, 4/3). Check out what else is on the blog.

The New York Times: Misperceptions Of Benefits Make Trimming Harder
President Obama had Senate Republicans nodding in agreement during a recent ice-breaking dinner as he described a basic problem for the nation’s fiscal future: For each dollar that Americans pay for Medicare, they ultimately draw about $3 in benefits. What’s more, he added, most people do not understand that. … [T]he president was referring to the widespread and incorrect view, especially among older Americans, that Medicare recipients get only what they have paid for through taxes, premiums and medical co-payments. Now that misperception is making it all the harder for politicians to consider trimming those benefits or raising out-of-pocket expenses as they seek to restrain Medicare spending that is rising unsustainably while baby boomers age and medical prices increase  (Calmes, 4/3).

Politico: Medicare Buy-In A Budget Solution?
To get to a budget deal, could Washington buy in to a Medicare buy-in? That's the question left hanging by a recent Urban Institute paper which maps out one path to bridge the partisan divide over Republican demands that the eligibility age for Medicare be adjusted upward from 65 to 67 so as to conform with Social Security (Rogers, 4/3).

The Wall Street Journal: Tip On Policy Shift Jolted Health Shares
Alerted by a private message about a potential coming change in government health-care policy, certain investors earlier this week sparked a frenzy of trading in some of the industry's largest companies. The last-minute action, which drove the shares sharply higher before the close of trading, is throwing a spotlight on the controversial "political intelligence" industry, the subject of a report due Thursday by the investigative arm of Congress (Mullins and McGinty, 4/3).

The Washington Post’s WonkBlog: Cancer Clinics Are Turning Away Thousands Of Medicare Patients. Blame The Sequester.
Cancer clinics across the country have begun turning away thousands of Medicare patients, blaming the sequester budget cuts. Oncologists say the reduced funding, which took effect for Medicare on April 1, makes it impossible to administer expensive chemotherapy drugs while staying afloat financially. Patients at these clinics would need to seek treatment elsewhere, such as at hospitals that might not have the capacity to accommodate them (Kliff, 4/3).

USA Today: Civilian Doctors Wary Of Accepting Military's Tricare
An estimated 620,000 Pentagon health care recipients -- a group that includes military retirees, National Guard members and reservists and the children of some active-duty troops -- struggle to find private doctors who will accept them as patients, according to a new government study. Many doctors reported that they turn away these patients because they are unfamiliar with the Pentagon health care program known as Tricare. Others say they did not like how little they are compensated or how long it takes Tricare to reimburse them (Zoroya, 4/3).

The Wall Street Journal: Dementia's Cost To Nation Piles Up
Dementia is one of the country's most expensive medical conditions, costing the U.S. between $157 billion and $215 billion a year in medical care and other costs, such as lost wages for caregivers, according to a new study (Wang, 4/3).

The Washington Post: Va. General Assembly Reconvenes To Vote On McDonnell’s Amendments
But the bipartisan spirit that coalesced around the historic compromise on transportation soon evaporated as the legislature voted to adopt an amendment by McDonnell that would forbid insurers in federally managed exchanges under President Obama’s health-care plan from covering most abortions (Whack and Kunkle, 4/3).

NPR: Lawyers Join Doctors To Ease Patients' Legal Anxieties
Two professions that have traditionally had a rocky relationship — doctors and lawyers — are finding some common ground in clinics and hospitals across the country. In Akron, Ohio, for instance, doctors are studying how adding a lawyer to the health care team can help improve a patient's health (St. Clair, 4/4).

The New York Times: Alabama Legislature Passes New Limits On Abortion Clinics
The Alabama Legislature late Tuesday adopted stringent new regulations for abortion clinics that supporters called a step to protect women but that others called medically unnecessary and a disguised effort to force the closing of the state's five abortion clinics (Eckholm, 4/3).

The Wall Street Journal: Abortion Clinics Face State Curbs
The measure comes on the heels of controversial laws passed recently in Arkansas, which prohibited most abortions after 12 weeks of pregnancy, and North Dakota, which banned the procedure as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. Legal analysts don't expect those laws to survive legal challenges under the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade ruling (Campo-Flores, 4/3).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Alabama Legislature Passes Bill Setting Stricter Standards For Abortion Clinics
The bill requires abortion clinics to use doctors who have approval to admit patients to hospitals in the same city. Some clinics now use doctors from other cities that don’t have local hospital privileges. A similar law in Mississippi is threatening to close that state’s only abortion clinic, which is challenging the law in court. The bill also sets stricter building requirements, including wider halls and doors and better fire suppression systems (4/3).

Los Angeles Times: Closure Of Three Southland Hospitals May Be Part Of A Trend
Hospital owner Pacific Health Corp. said it will close its three remaining Southern California hospitals, citing the fallout from a federal fraud case last year in which the company admitted paying to recruit homeless people off skid row in Los Angeles and billing the government for unnecessary care (Terhune, 4/3).

USA Today/The Tennessean: Many Meningitis Victims Owe Tens Of Thousands In Bills
Deol is one of dozens of Tennessee residents who face continuing health problems and mounting expenses from a fungal meningitis outbreak more than six months after it began. While some victims say they no longer need to take powerful antifungal medications, others, like Deol, are still ailing. All say they don't know when, if ever, they will be completely free of any aftereffects. More than a dozen have filed lawsuits, but most have been put on hold because the supplier of the tainted drugs filed for bankruptcy late last year. Billing statements reviewed by The Tennessean for three patients show the amounts charged for treatment and hospitalization ranged from Deol's $66,000 partial bill to nearly $200,000 (Roche Jr., 4/3).

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