KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

First Edition: August 15, 2013

Today's headlines include reports about a range of health law implementation issues as well as whether the battle over the overhaul is worth a government shutdown.  

Kaiser Health News: Talking Scales And Telemedicine: ACO Tools To Keep Patients Out Of The Hospital
MPR News' Elizabeth Stawicki, working in partnership with Kaiser Health News and NPR, reports: "When Bill Hill prepares to weigh himself each morning, a mechanical voice speaks to him from a small box on his nightstand that is connected to the scale on the floor.  … For Hill, who was diagnosed with heart failure more than seven years ago, the morning weigh-in has become as routine as putting on his shoes. Like countless other patients nationwide, he's becoming more involved in his healthcare. That's a major goal of the federal health care overhaul. Essentia Health has been taking care of patients like Hill with telehealth tools like the special scale since 1998. And now it is an Accountable Care Organization, or ACO. That means it takes responsibility for the health of a population of Medicare beneficiaries and can share any savings created by keeping people like Hill out of the hospital" (Stawicki, 8/15). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Report: Mass. Residents Paying More, Getting Less From Health Insurance
Now on Kaiser Health News' blog, WBUR's Martha Bebinger, working in partnership with KHN and NPR, reports on a new study regarding Massachusetts insurance cost and coverage: "If Massachusetts residents have the feeling they're getting less coverage from their health insurance even though it's costing more, there's now evidence that they're right. A state report says Bay State premiums rose 9.7 percent between 2009 and 2011, while the value of that coverage shrank 5.1 percent" (Bebinger, 8/14). Check out what else is on the blog.

The Wall Street Journal: Many Health Insurers To Limit Choices Of Doctors, Hospitals
Many of the plans will include relatively few choices of doctors and hospitals. In some cases, plans will layer on other limits, such as requirements that patients get referrals to see specialists, or obtain insurer authorization before pricey procedures. A McKinsey & Co. analysis of 955 consumer exchange-plan filings, from 13 states that were among the earliest to make them public, found that 47% were health-maintenance organizations or similarly designed plans. Such plans generally don't pay for care provided outside their networks. A number of other plans, though classed as preferred-provider organizations, or PPOs, will also have limited choices of doctors and hospitals in their networks (Matthews, 8/14).

The New York Times: The Challenge of Helping the Uninsured Find Coverage
Like many organizations across the country, Ms. Daily's agency, Northern Virginia Family Service, is hoping to win a federal grant to help uninsured people in the state sign up for coverage under President Obama's health care law. With the money, she hopes to hire at least a handful of "navigators" — a new category of worker created under the law to educate consumers about new health insurance options and, starting in October, to walk them through the enrollment process (Goodnough, 8/14).

NPR: GOP Debate: Is Obamacare Fight Worth A Government Shutdown?
Congressional Republicans agree that the new federal health care program should be ended. But they are finding themselves bitterly divided over how. They have tried dozens of times to repeal it. Now, some GOP lawmakers want to block all money for Obamacare in a stopgap spending bill that must be approved next month to prevent the government from shutting down on Oct. 1. But other Republicans say that won't work and may well backfire (Welna, 8/14).

Politico: Poll: Shutdown Blame Would Be Split
House members shouldn’t worry about losing their seats if they oppose spending bills that contain Obamacare funding, conservatives said Wednesday. The blame for a potential government shutdown when the current spending bill expires Sept. 30 over the issue of stripping out funding for the Affordable Care Act would be spread among congressional Republicans, Democrats and President Barack Obama, according to a poll by GOP-leaning Basswood Research commissioned by Heritage Action for America (Everett, 8/14).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Republican Officials Push Rising Stars Amid Calls For Solutions On Major Issues
While there is little sign of GOP unity on solutions for immigration, health care or a looming budget standoff, RNC officials are launching a program to highlight a new generation of Republican leaders — largely younger and more ethnically diverse — to help broaden the party’s appeal among women and minorities, groups that overwhelmingly supported President Barack Obama in the last election. The program supplements an ongoing effort to expand Republican outreach among minority communities across the country (8/15).

Politico: Newt Gingrich: No GOP Health Care Plan
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich on Wednesday told party chairs and operatives at the Republican National Committee summer meeting that the GOP has "zero" ideas for replacing Obamacare, according to a report. … Gingrich said the party has a "very deep problem" with a culture that promotes negativity (Kopan, 8/14).

The Wall Street Journal: An Ohio Prescription For GOP: Lower Taxes, More Aid For Poor
On the one hand, he tamed a deficit by slashing funding to local governments and overhauling the state's Medicaid rules, among things. He has eliminated the state's estate tax and wants to phase out all state income taxes, a step aimed at stimulating growth. A budget he signed in June included a range of new abortion restrictions that drew sharp criticism from Democrats. At the same time, Mr. Kasich has stirred strong opposition from tea-party leaders—and won surprised approval from liberals—by pushing to expand Medicaid coverage to nearly 300,000 additional Ohioans, adopting a provision of the Obama health-care overhaul that he has taken to defending with an openly religious fervor (King, 8/14).

The Wall Street Journal: Health Ads Stream In
The television industry is anticipating an advertising bonanza related to the rollout of the federal health overhaul, with as much as $1 billion expected to be spent on ads by insurers alone, according to TV executives and a broadcasters' trade group (Sharma, 8/14).

Politico: OFA Releases New Obamacare Ad
A new ad promoting Obamacare was released Thursday, promoting insurance rebates families receive under the new health care law, according to reports. The ad by Organizing for Action will run on national cable channels, specifically Bravo and Lifetime, and is the third spot in support of the health care law running this summer, an OFA official told CNN (Gold, 8/15).

The Washington Post: Medicare Changes, Not FDA Warning, Seem To Have Curtailed Use Of Dialysis Drugs, Study Finds
In March 2007, the Food and Drug Administration issued a stern "black box" warning regarding the anemia drugs commonly prescribed to dialysis patients: The popular drugs, known as ESAs, could increase the risk of heart attacks, stroke, blood clots and death. But according to a new paper by researchers who studied the use of the drugs for months before and after the warning, the FDA's black box "did not appear to influence ESA prescribing among the overall dialysis population." Instead, the use of the drugs continued a slow, steady decline rather than taking a sharp drop, according to the paper (Whoriskey, 8/14).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Small Businesses Consider Limiting Growth, Cutting Services To Cure Health Care Cost Surge
A year ago, Teresa Hartnett was on the verge of expanding her small business. The company had hit $1 million in sales, and requests from clients were flowing in. She planned to transition from nearly 30 freelancers to a full-time staff of 60 by 2014. Then the reality of the Affordable Health Care Act hit. Hartnett realized she might not be able to afford to carry out her plan. … The expected surge in health insurance costs under the ACA has many small business owners changing the way they operate. For many like Hartnett, hiring and expanding is going on the back burner. Others expect to cut back on some of the services their companies provide, raise prices or cut employees' hours and bonuses (8/14).

The New York Times: Gay Spouses Of Members Of Military Get Benefits
Under the plan, spousal and family benefits — including health care coverage, housing allowances and survivor benefits — will be available to all legally married military spouses. The same-sex spouses of service members and civilian Defense Department employees can claim the entitlements retroactively, starting with the date of the decision (Huetteman, 8/14).

Politico: DOD: Benefits For Same-Sex Couples Available By Sept. 3
Enrollments in DoD's health care coverage, as well as requests for housing benefits or separation allowances, are retroactive to the Supreme Court’s June ruling that struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act, the announcement said. "For those members married after June 26, 2013, entitlements begin at the date of marriage" (Ewing, 8/14).

The Wall Street Journal: Nurse Practitioners Seek Right To Treat Patients On Their Own
Nurse practitioners in five states are fighting for the right to treat patients without oversight from doctors, as they can in many parts of the country. The battle is particularly pitched in California, where a bill that would let some nurse practitioners do their work independently passed a key legislative committee this week. California doctors strenuously oppose the idea, arguing that it could jeopardize patient safety (Beck, 8/14).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: 2 Southwest Va. Prosecutor Offices Receive $1.3M From National Medicaid Fraud Settlement
The money comes from the $1.5 billion Abbott Laboratories agreed to pay to settle allegations that it promoted the drug Depakote for uses not approved by the Food and Drug Administration. The federal, state and local law enforcement agencies that participated in the investigation shared $200 million in forfeited funds (8/14). 

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