KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

First Edition: August 29, 2013

Today's headlines include reports about ongoing fiscal fights surrounding efforts to raise the nation's debt limit and to defund the health law. Also, the White House enlists former President Bill Clinton to help spread the word about the overhaul. 

Kaiser Health News: Don Berwick's Newest Phase: Candidate, But Still Dr. Quality
WBUR’s Martha Bebinger, working in partnership with Kaiser Health News and NPR, reports: "Dr. Donald Berwick might be running for Governor of Massachusetts, but he's still got a foothold in his former life. Berwick, most recently known as the acting chief of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, had a long record as the leading authority on health care quality, including being founder and CEO of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement. And it was more in that capacity that the British Prime Minister David Cameron asked Berwick for his recommendations for improving safety and restoring confidence after higher-than-expected death rates at one hospital rocked the country" (Bebinger, 8/29). Read the interview.

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: AMA President Optimistic About A Fix For Medicare's Doctor Payment Formula
Now on Kaiser Health News' blog, Mary Agnes Carey reports: "Debated and despised, the Medicare physician payment formula may finally be on the way out – at least that’s what AMA President Ardis Hoven believes" (Carey, 8/29). Check out what else is on the blog.

The New York Times: Deficit Talks Resuming, But Few Sound Hopeful
The two sides had said they would meet during the August recess, but the gathering will be the first in that time and is intended to take stock before Congress reconvenes in September. Neither side expressed optimism in interviews, with talks snagged on the same issues that killed past bipartisan efforts: Republicans' demands for deeper Medicare cuts and President Obama's insistence that they, in return, agree to higher taxes on the wealthy and some corporations (Calmes, 8/28).

The Washington Post: The House GOP Is Bracing For Debt-Limit Battle And Likely To Target Obamacare First
Boehner (R-Ohio) has proposed a short-term budget bill to keep the government open into the new fiscal year with relatively little fuss. But during a speech in Boise, Idaho, on Monday, he said House Republicans will draw a line in the sand over lifting the federal debt limit, demanding spending "cuts and reforms that are greater than the increase in the debt limit." … What kind of change? Senior Republican aides say it is becoming clear that Boehner will have to launch a concerted assault on the Affordable Care Act, President Obama’s signature health-insurance initiative. The Heritage Foundation, the Club for Growth and other conservative groups are demanding a full-on attempt to defund the law, and at least 80 House Republicans have signed on (Montgomery, 8/28).

The Washington Post: How Organizing For Action Spent The August Recess, By The Numbers
For many, August is a time for rest and relaxation. For members of Organizing for Action, it is a time for more than 2,000 rallies. That’s according to a new memo by the group’s executive director Jon Carson, which members will receive Wednesday morning. According to the missive, titled, "The Undeniable Success of 'Action August,'" the group pressed its case for issues including health care, immigration reform, climate change and gun control in a myriad of communities across the country (Eilperin, 8/29).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: White House Enlists Bill Clinton’s Help As Key Phase Of Health Care Nears
The White House is enlisting former President Bill Clinton's help in explaining President Barack Obama’s health care law as a key phase of the reform nears. Clinton will speak about the law on Sept. 4 at his presidential library in Little Rock, Ark. His remarks come less than one month before the public can start signing up for the health care exchanges, which will be crucial to the law's success or failure (8/28).

The Wall Street Journal’s Washington Wire: White House Enlists Bill Clinton To Sell Obamacare
President Barack Obama has tapped former President Bill Clinton to raise awareness about the nation’s health care law as the White House grapples with how to explain the new complex regulations to the public. Mr. Clinton will speak from his presidential library in Little Rock, Ark., about the health-care law on Sept. 4—just one month before insurance marketplaces created under the Affordable Care Act take effect, the Clinton Foundation said in a press release (Favole, 8/28).

The Washington Post: States Find New Ways To Resist Health Law
Several Republican-led states at the forefront of the campaign to undermine President Obama’s health-care law have come up with new ways to try to thwart it, refusing to enforce consumer protections, for example, and restricting federally funded workers hired to help people enroll in coverage. And in at least one state, Missouri, local officials have been barred from doing anything to help put the law into place (Somashekhar, 8/28).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: GOP Governors On 2014 Ballot In Swing States Are Accepting Political Reality Of Health Law
Despite unrelenting pressure by congressional Republicans to repeal President Barack Obama's health care overhaul, GOP governors in swing-voting states are grudgingly bowing to the reality that "Obamacare” is the law of the land and almost certainly here to stay. The governors’ reluctant acceptance is based on what they call financial prudence and what appears to be political necessity (8/28).

The Wall Street Journal: Prepaid Debit Cards Allowed As Health-Insurance Payment
The Obama administration said Wednesday it would require insurers to let uninsured Americans pay for health coverage this fall with prepaid debit cards rather than limit them to bank-account transfers, though it won't require insurers to accept automatic monthly payments from credit or debit cards. Allowing prepaid cards is aimed at ensuring millions of lower-income Americans can sign up for coverage even if they don't have checking accounts  (Radnofsky, 8/28).

The Courier-Journal/USA Today: Study: Obamacare Rate Concerns 'Overblown'
With Affordable Care Act set to begin in earnest next year, fears are mounting that insurance premiums will skyrocket when American workers re-enroll for health benefits through their jobs. But experts and a newly released study say those fears appear largely unfounded (Ungar, 8/29).

Los Angeles Times: Americans Oppose Withholding Funds For Health Law, Poll Shows
While Americans remain deeply divided over President Obama’s healthcare law, a clear majority opposes withholding funding to implement the 2010 law, a new national survey indicates. Fifty-seven percent of Americans say they disapprove of cutting off funding for the Affordable Care Act, while just 36% say they would approve such a move, according to the most recent poll from the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation (Levey, 8/28).

The Wall Street Journal’s Washington Wire: Consumers Remain Baffled By Health Law, Poll Shows
Two big numbers to think about today: There are 33 days until open-enrollment season for insurance coverage under the new health law begins, and 51% of Americans say they don’t understand how it will affect them or their family, according to the latest tracking poll from the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation. That proportion is higher among the uninsured, the mid-August poll found. Some 62% of the uninsured say they don’t have enough information about the health law, which aims to extend coverage to millions of them through new insurance marketplaces and subsidies towards the cost of premiums (Radnofsky, 8/28).

The New York Times: In Congress, A Bid To Undo Dialysis Cuts
Eight months ago, Congress ordered the Obama administration to eliminate a stark example of federal government waste: more than $500 million a year in excessive drug payments being sent to dialysis clinics nationwide. But in a demonstration of just how hard it is to curb spending in Washington, more than 100 of the same members of Congress who voted in January to impose the cut are now trying to push the Obama administration to reverse it or water it down (Lipton, 8/28).

The Washington Post: As Rates Soar, Small Business Owners Pass Along More Health Care Costs To Employees
Health insurance costs for small business owners have been rising for more than a decade, and some are concerned the health care law will drive their premiums higher at an even faster clip. Many appear to be coping by passing some of the costs along to their employees (Harrison, 8/28).

The Wall Street Journal: Prostate-Cancer Therapy Comes Under Attack
At least three major insurers have recently decided to stop covering proton beam therapy for early stage prostate cancer or are reviewing their policy, saying that while it is an effective treatment, it is much less cost-effective when compared to the price of comparable treatments. The moves come amid ongoing concern about U.S. health-care costs and a land-rush atmosphere among leading medical centers to acquire proton beam technology (Winslow and Martin, 8/28).

Los Angeles Times: Blue Shield Of California To Curb Coverage Of Pricey Cancer Therapy
As hospitals race to offer the latest in high-tech care, a major California health insurer is pushing back and refusing to pay for some of the more expensive and controversial cancer treatments. Blue Shield of California is taking on this high-cost radiation treatment just as Scripps Health in San Diego prepares to open a gleaming, $230-million proton beam therapy center this fall, only the second one in California and the 12th nationwide (Terhune, 8/28).

Los Angeles Times: State Senate Democrats Propose Alternative To Brown’s Prison Plan
Democratic leaders of the state Senate on Wednesday proposed an extra $200 million annually for rehabilitation, drug and mental health treatment as an alternative to Gov. Jerry Brown's plan for reducing prison crowding (McGreevy, 8/28).

The Associated Press/Wall Street Journal: NY Taking Steps To Curb Rising Medical Costs
With medical expenses among the nation's highest, New York has begun cutting Medicaid costs by replacing pay-as-you go services with managed care for prescription drugs. And plans are in the works to extend that approach to acute care, long-term care, addiction services and mental health services. Nearly half the $53.5 billion health care budget for 5.3 million low-income New Yorkers goes for fewer than 700,000 chronically ill, elderly patients (8/28).

The Associated Press/Wall Street Journal: Federal Authorities Settle MRI Case For $3.57 M
Federal prosecutors say they've settled allegations of false reimbursement claims for radiology scans against a company's ex-owners and radiologist for $3.57 million. They say New York-based Imagimed LLC, its former owners, William B. Wolf III and Dr. Timothy J. Greenan, and former chief radiologist Dr. Steven Winter agreed to the civil settlement (8/29). 

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