First Edition: June 5, 2014
Today's headlines include the latest developments regarding congressional action on the veterans' health care scandal as well as reports about the latest Medicaid enrollment figures in the context of the health law.
Kaiser Health News: Parents Of Mentally Ill Adult Children Frustrated By Privacy Law
Kaiser Health News staff writer Jenny Gold, working in collaboration with NPR, reports: “Among the many questions brought up by the horrifying killings in Isla Vista, Calif., last month were what could have parents have done to prevent the tragedy, if anything? And what did they actually know about their son’s mental illness? Among the many questions brought up by the horrifying killings in Isla Vista, Calif., last month were what could have parents have done to prevent the tragedy, if anything? And what did they actually know about their son’s mental illness? (Gold, 6/5). Read the story.
Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Medicaid Enrollment Surges By More Than 1 Million In April
Now on Kaiser Health News’ blog, Phil Galewitz reports: “Medicaid enrollment surged by more than 1 million people in April, bringing the total growth in the state-federal health insurance program for the poor since September to about 6 million, the Obama administration said Wednesday” (Galewitz, 6/4). Check out what else is on the blog.
The Wall Street Journal: Senate Moves Ahead On Burwell Confirmation Vote
The U.S. Senate voted 67 to 28 to end debate and proceed with the nomination of Sylvia Mathews Burwell for Health and Human Services secretary on Wednesday, bringing her to the final step of taking over the implementation of the health law, the operation of Medicare, and the federal government's food and drug regulation (Radnofsky, 6/4).
Reuters: Path Cleared For Senate Vote On New Health Secretary
The Senate cleared the way for lawmakers to decide on Thursday whether to confirm Sylvia Mathews Burwell as secretary of health and human services. Senators voted 67 to 28 on Wednesday to approve a procedural measure limiting debate on the nomination to no more than 30 hours, allowing a final vote on Thursday (6/4).
The New York Times: Boehner Calls For More Action On V.A. Scandal
Speaker John A. Boehner on Wednesday demanded that President Obama do more to fix what Mr. Boehner called “the abject failure” of the Department of Veterans Affairs to meet the needs of the country’s soldiers returning from battles abroad. In a letter signed by the Republican House leadership, Mr. Boehner called on the president to support legislation offered by his members that would provide the secretary of veterans affairs with more authority to fire people at the agency and give veterans who face delays in seeing doctors the ability to temporarily go elsewhere (Shear, 6/4).
The Wall Street Journal: House GOP Leaders Seek Veterans Agency Overhaul
Top House Republicans on Wednesday pressed the White House to overhaul the Department of Veterans Affairs, asking President Barack Obama whether he would be willing to rethink the entire system, given the continuing scandal over mismanagement and long waiting times for patients. House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) and other GOP leaders said in a letter to Mr. Obama that the resignation last week of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki doesn't address the fundamental problems facing the agency (Crittenden, 6/4).
The Associated Press: McCain, Sanders Push For VA Health Care Deal
half dozen key lawmakers were struggling Wednesday to quickly craft a compromise bill to help veterans facing long appointment waits at veterans hospitals and make it easier to fire administrators who covered up the delays. The goal is to address an uproar over veterans’ health care following allegations that veterans have died while waiting to see a Veterans Affairs doctor. Senators hope to pass the bill before Friday’s 70th anniversary of the Allied invasion of Europe in World War II. Up to a dozen senators are expected to attend the ceremonies in France (6/4).
Politico: Senators Seek Bipartisan VA Deal
Sanders and McCain met on Wednesday morning and held a second meeting in the afternoon — and though McCain said no breakthrough was imminent it was “worth a try” to keep talking. Sanders scrapped a planned Thursday hearing on his legislation that would create new Veterans Affairs Department medical centers, allow veterans to seek health care at community health clinics and increase the number of nurses and doctors in the VA. Instead Sanders is working with a group of Republicans who have offered an alternate proposal in the hopes that the Senate could vote on an immediate fix to health care access woes, perhaps as early as Thursday (Everett, 6/4).
Los Angeles Times: Veterans’ Wait Times At El Paso VA Are Latest to Come Under Scrutiny
Veterans have been forced to wait more than two months on average for mental health treatment at the El Paso VA facility, and more than a third never received it, according to a survey released Wednesday as lawmakers in Washington worked to bridge partisan differences on legislation to fix the larger mess within the Department of Veterans Affairs (Hennessy-Fiske and Simon, 6/4).
Politico: VA Scandal Spreads To West Texas
The scandal that has engulfed veteran’s health care has spread to West Texas, with a new report documenting wait times of as long as 71 days for some vets in El Paso that are “significantly different” from official statistics. The report, commissioned by Rep. Beto O’Rourke and released Wednesday, took an independent look at a hospital where the quality of care is evidently good, but access to it is not (Ewing, 6/4).
The Associated Press: Now Application ‘Inconsistencies’ Vex Health Law
A huge new paperwork headache for the government could also be jeopardizing coverage for some of the millions of people who just got health insurance under President Barack Obama's law. A government document provided to The Associated Press indicates that at least 2 million people enrolled for taxpayer-subsidized private health insurance have data discrepancies in their applications that, if unresolved, could affect what they pay for coverage, or even their legal right to benefits (Alonso-Zaldivar, 6/4).
Politico: 2 Million Obamacare Enrollees Asked For More Info
The officials emphasized that discrepancies in people’s application data are unlikely to affect their coverage or the level of subsidies they received. Rather, they’ll have to submit additional documentation to ensure that they’re getting the correct level of tax credits (Cheney, 6/4).
The Associated Press: House GOP Conflicted On Health Law Alternative
House Republicans are united as ever in their election-year opposition to “Obamacare,” but they’re increasingly divided over their promise to vote this year on an alternative to it. The disagreement comes amid a shifting political calculus around President Barack Obama’s health care law. Millions are enrolled for medical insurance through the law’s exchanges, and an all-out repeal has become less practical and popular. Some Democrats have begun promoting the measure in campaign commercials, and some Republicans are treading more carefully in belittling the program (6/4).
The Wall Street Journal’s Washington Wire: How Many People Got Medicaid from Obamacare? It’s Complicated
There were 65 million people in Medicaid by the end of April, six million more than there had been on the eve of the launch of the health law, the Obama administration said Wednesday. The success of the Affordable Care Act in growing Medicaid – a key aim of the 2010 law – is a main point of political debate. But figuring out how many actually signed up for the program for low-income Americans because of the law is complicated (Radnofsky, 6/4).
Politico: Medicaid Rolls Surge, But Not Everywhere
Medicaid enrollment is surging, but states shunning Obamacare’s huge Medicaid expansion are getting left behind, according to data released Wednesday by HHS. About 65 million people were enrolled in Medicaid and the closely related Children’s Health Insurance Program at the end of April, 6 million more than had been enrolled in the months leading up to Obamacare’s Oct. 1 launch. The numbers reflect a big spike in April, when 1.1 million additional people were enrolled in Medicaid compared to March (Cheney, 6/4).
The Associated Press: Indiana Governor Offers Support To Virginia GOP
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence is offering moral support to Virginia House Republicans as they oppose expanding Medicaid coverage. Pence sent a letter to House Speaker William J. Howell last week saying he supports the House GOP’s position to separate a debate on Medicaid from the state budget (6/3).
The New York Times: Risking A Health Insurance Strategy The I.R.S. May Not Approve
When it came time to renew his company’s health plan last fall, Jerry Eledge found himself in a bind that many small-business owners know all too well. On one hand, “it’s kind of a moral obligation” to offer insurance, said Mr. Eledge, who runs Community Quick Care, a growing chain of primary health care clinics in the Nashville area. And yet, premiums for his existing plan were going up 20 percent, while other group plans promised as much as a 50 percent increase, even as deductibles and co-pays were becoming less generous. “We found no really good alternatives for 2014 at all,” he said. “Before Gary came along, we weren’t sure what we were going to do” (Mandelbaum, 6/4).
The Wall Street Journal: Drug Treatment Swept Up In Push For Medical-Records Sharing
Federal officials are proposing to ease 40-year-old restrictions on the release of information about patients' drug- and alcohol-abuse treatment, so their electronic medical records can be more easily used and shared (Beck, 6/4).
The Wall Street Journal: UnitedHealth Group Raises Dividend By 34%
UnitedHealth raised the quarterly payout to shareholders to 37.5 cents, an increase of 9.5 cents from the 28-cent dividend the company has paid since the second quarter of 2013. … UnitedHealth in April said its first-quarter earnings fell 7.8%, hurt by government cuts to Medicare Advantage programs and new taxes. The period was the first to reflect the Affordable Care Act. Planned reductions in government funding for Medicare Advantage and other provisions of the health law are expected to affect the managed-care provider's performance this year (Prior, 6/4).
The Associated Press: Insurer UnitedHealth Raises Dividend By 34 Pct
UnitedHealth is once again hiking the quarterly dividend it gives shareholders by more than 30 percent, with the latest increase tripling the initial value of a payout the nation’s largest health insurer debuted in 2010 (6/4).
NPR: Doctors Hesitate To Ask Heart Patients About End-Of-Life Plans
Of the 5 million Americans with failing hearts, about half of them will die within five years of getting diagnosed. Given the odds, it seems that people with heart failure should start thinking about how they want to die. But doctors don't routinely talk to those patients about end-of-life planning (Bichell, 6/4).
Los Angeles Times: Dave Jones, Ted Gaines Head To Runoff In Insurance Commissioner Race
With bigger battles to fight in November, first-term Democratic incumbent Dave Jones comfortably placed first in Tuesday's, low-key primary election for state insurance commissioner. Republican Ted Gaines, an insurance broker and state senator, came in second, and the two former lawmakers automatically qualified for a November rematch under California's new "top-two" election system (Lifsher, 6/4).
The Associated Press: Schumer: More Physician Training In Upstate NY
U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer wants the federal government to boost the number of physician residency slots in areas facing declines in their number of doctors. Schumer's legislation would boost the number of residency positions funded by Medicare by 15,000 over five years, and direct that hospitals in areas with the greatest doctor shortages get priority for the positions (6/4).
The New York Times: New York City Soda Fight, In Court, Tests Agency’s Power
New York City’s battle over sugary drinks is entering its endgame. But much more than soda is at stake. A plan to limit the sale of large, high-calorie beverages, championed by former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg as a novel way to fight obesity, went before the State Court of Appeals here on Wednesday, the city’s final recourse after a lower court judge struck down the proposal last year (Grynbaum, 6/4).
The Wall Street Journal: New York City Soda-Ban Fate Weighed
The arguments before the Court of Appeals in Albany mark the most significant step Mr. de Blasio has taken to advance a policy that supporters say would fight obesity and opponents call a government over-reach. The city's Board of Health, a panel appointed by Mr. Bloomberg, approved the ban in September 2012, but two lower courts have since blocked it, saying the mayor should have sought City Council approval (Saul, 6/4).
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