First Edition: October 16, 2014
Today's headlines include reports about renewing health insurance on the federal health exchange as well as the latest news regarding the Ebola outbreak.
Kaiser Health News: Even With Insurance, Language Barriers Could Undermine Asian Americans’ Access To Care
Kaiser Health News staff writer Shefali Luthra reports: “Efforts to enroll Asian Americans in the health law’s marketplace plans have generally been touted as a success, but because coverage details are provided primarily in English or Spanish, those who depend on their native languages have encountered roadblocks as they try to use this new insurance” (Luthra, 10/16). Read the story.
Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Spike in ER, Hospitalization Use Short-Lived After Medicaid Expansion
KQED’s Lisa Aliferis, working in partnership with Kaiser Health News and NPR, reports: “While the Medicaid expansion may lead to a dramatic rise in emergency room use and hospitalizations for previously uninsured people, that increase is largely temporary and should not lead to a dramatic impact on state budgets, according to an analysis from the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research released Wednesday” (Aliferis, 10/15). Check out what else is on the blog.
The New York Times: U.S. Says Consumers Must Renew Health Insurance Policies
The Obama administration began notifying consumers on Wednesday that they should return to the federal health insurance marketplace to renew coverage for next year. In addition, the officials said, consumers should update information on their income and family size and should compare their current insurance with alternatives, which could offer better coverage at a lower cost (Pear, 10/15).
The Associated Press: 4 Questions To Ask Before Renewing Health Coverage
The health care overhaul makes renewing insurance so easy you don’t have to do a thing. However, there are many reasons to resist this temptation. More than 7 million people signed up for coverage through the overhaul’s public insurance exchanges after the first annual open enrollment window started last fall. Open enrollment returns starting Nov. 15, and experts say it brings with it the perfect chance to take stock in your insurance coverage, even if you like the plan you have this year. That coverage — or the cost of it — may change for 2015. Plus, new and better options also could be available in your market (10/15).
The Washington Post: Why The Debate Over Kentucky’s ‘Healthcare.Gov’ Site Matters
Kentucky's Republican senior senator, Mitch McConnell, is taking a bit of heat over a Web site. As part of his closely-watched race against Democrat Alison Grimes for that Senate seat, the Senate minority leader said Monday night that while he'd like to see Obamacare scrubbed from the face of the Earth, he's fine with the continued existence of Kynect, Kentucky's unfortunately named but nonetheless popular health insurance exchange site (Scola,10/15).
The Washington Post’s Fact Checker: Mitch McConnell’s Puzzling Claims On Insurance In Kentucky, Post-Obamacare
Many readers requested a fact check of McConnell’s Obamacare statements in his debate with the Democratic challenger, Alison Lundergan Grimes. It’s a very interesting set of statements, and we have puzzled over them till our puzzler was sore. McConnell has some difficulty with the Obamacare issue because the Kentucky version, known as Kynect, has been a huge success. About half a million Kentuckians signed up for health insurance, many receiving it for the first time. Fewer than 100,000 joined private insurance plans; that means the bulk of the population joined Medicaid, which was greatly expanded under the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare (Kessler, 10/16).
The Wall Street Journal: UnitedHealth Raises Outlook As Profit Tops Views
UnitedHealth Group Inc. raised its outlook for the year as it posted strong results in the most recent quarter. Earnings topped analysts’ expectations. The company said it now expects to post earnings of $5.60 to $5.65 a share for the year, up from its previous call of $5.50 to $5.60 a share. It had previously raised the bottom end of its guidance range because of strong results and improving trends (Calia, 10/16).
USA Today/Detroit Free Press: Medicare Enrollment Now Open — Are You Ready?
Medicare can be an alphabet soup of confusion. Have you signed up for Parts A and B? Does your Part C coverage cover drugs, or should you look into a Part D plan, too? If you're eyeballing a Medigap policy, which type — A through N — is best for you? Medicare's open enrollment started Wednesday and runs through Dec. 7 (Erb, 10/16).
The Wall Street Journal: HCA Raises 2014 Outlook, Buoyed By Better Quarterly Estimates
HCA Holdings Inc. raised its 2014 outlook as the hospital operator also projected third-quarter results that topped analysts’ estimates. Shares rose 5% to $68.10 in recent after-hours trading. For the year, the company raised its per-share earnings estimate to between $4.40 and $4.60 with revenue at $36.5 billion to $37 billion, from its previous estimate for per-share profit of $4 to $4.25 and revenue of $36 billion to $36.5 billion. For the current quarter, the company forecast per-share earnings of $1.16, including asset-sale losses of two cents a share, and revenue of $9.22 billion. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters expected per-share profit of 97 cents and revenue of $9.04 billion (Stynes, 10/15).
The New York Times: C.D.C. Director Becomes Face Of Nation’s Worry And Flawed Response
Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, the nation’s top public health official, has always overcome obstacles. He stopped outbreaks of tuberculosis in New York City and made headway against the disease in India. He banned public smoking in New York when he was the city’s health commissioner. And at 49, he ascended to his dream job — director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. … Now, Dr. Frieden, 53, has been pitched into the biggest test of his career. He has become the face of the Obama administration’s flawed response to Ebola in the United States, and on Thursday he is likely to face withering questions about his record during a congressional hearing. On his watch, two health workers in Dallas who were caring for a Liberian man with Ebola have become infected with the disease. And on Wednesday, health officials said the second worker had taken a flight shortly before she tested positive for Ebola, leaving officials scrambling to identify dozens of passengers (Tavernise, 10/15).
NPR: House Panel Hearing To Examine Public Health Response To Ebola Outbreak
On Capitol Hill today, the oversight subcommitttee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, scheduled a hearing on Ebola. Panel members are expected to hear from Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Daniel Varga, chief clinical officer and senior executive vice president at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institutes of Health. In prepared testimony, Fauci said Duncan's death and the infections of the two Dallas nurses and a nurse in Spain "intensify our concerns about this global health threat." He said two Ebola vaccine candidates were undergoing a first phase of human clinical testing this fall. But he cautioned that scientists were still in the early stages of understanding how Ebola infection can be treated and prevented (McCallister, 10/16).
The Wall Street Journal: Federal Health Agency Reviews Nurses’ Allegations Of Mishandled Ebola Case
A federal health-care agency said Wednesday it was reviewing allegations raised by a nurses union that the Dallas hospital grappling with Ebola mishandled its first case, putting patients and health-care workers at risk. David Wright, deputy regional administrator for the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in Dallas, said it was “closely evaluating and reviewing” the allegations made by National Nurses United on behalf of what it said were an unnamed number of nurses at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas (Frosch, 10/15).
USA Today: Ebola Raises Concerns Over Hospitals' Infection Controls
As public health authorities race to assess the U.S. medical system's ability to contain Ebola, the track record of the nation's hospitals in controlling other infections suggests a lot of them aren't prepared. From small, rural hospitals to sprawling urban medical centers, infection control has been a persistent and vexing problem in U.S. health care for decades (Eisler and Hoyer, 10/16).
Los Angeles Times: Obama Tells CDC He Wants Ebola 'SWAT Team' Ready To Go Anywhere
President Obama said Wednesday evening that he directed the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to create a “SWAT team” to be ready to deploy anywhere in the country to help local healthcare systems respond to any Ebola cases. … At the same time, Obama assured Americans once again that the risk of a widespread Ebola outbreak in the U.S. remains very low and that the best way to prevent its spread is to control the outbreak in West Africa (Hennessey and Levey, 10/15).
The New York Times: Downfall For Hospital Where The Virus Spread
Some nurses donned layer after layer of protective garb but unknowingly raised their risk of exposure to the Ebola virus when taking the gear off. Some wore gowns that left their necks uncovered and haphazardly applied surgical tape to the bare spots. And it was two days after the Ebola victim Thomas Eric Duncan was admitted before personnel began wearing biohazard suits (Sack, 10/15).
Los Angeles Times: As Second Nurse Is Infected With Ebola, Her Air Travel Heightens Fears
After weeks of assertions that U.S. hospitals were well-prepared for Ebola, the latest developments illuminated lapses on several fronts: at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, where two nurses contracted Ebola while treating Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian who died of the disease; at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, which says it could have reacted more aggressively to Duncan's case; and with a public health system that has no way of preventing potentially contagious people from boarding public transportation, even if they know they may have been exposed to Ebola (Hennessy-Fiske, Mohan and Susman, 10/15).
The Washington Post: Health-Care Worker With Ebola Was Allowed To Fly Despite Slight Fever
The experts had warned that fighting Ebola is hard, and Wednesday’s drumbeat of bad news proved them correct. The day began with a bulletin about another health-care worker stricken with the deadly disease, and the news got worse with the revelation that she had flown with a slightly elevated temperature from Cleveland to Dallas on a crowded airliner barely 24 hours before her diagnosis (Berman, Sun and Achenbach, 10/15).
The Wall Street Journal: In Ebola Cases, New Focus On Power To Control Travel
The revelation that a second Texas health-care worker diagnosed with the Ebola virus flew from Dallas to Cleveland and back has raised a looming question: Why wasn’t she quarantined before boarding a plane? The answer lies in a layered health-care system that relies on close coordination between state, local and federal authorities to be effective in stopping disease, health-law experts said (Palazzolo, 10/15).
Politico: Ebola Gaffes Fuel Quarantine Questions
The startling news Wednesday that an Ebola-infected nurse flew from Cleveland to Dallas earlier this week unleashed a new round of fears about the virus’s spread in the U.S. and whether the government’s legal authority to contain the illness by limiting travel is up to the task. For nearly a decade, officials have been warning that the country’s quarantine regulations are woefully outdated and badly need revising. The George W. Bush administration proposed “critical updates” to enhance the government’s authority to detain passengers, but never pushed the changes through before the effort was abandoned under the Obama administration (Gerstein, 10/16).
Politico: Obama, Ebola And Optics
Optics, which Obama and his staff dismiss as never being much on their minds, always means a lot to this White House. Aides in the past have pointed out that any abrupt changes to Obama’s schedule have the potential to convey more of a crisis than may exist. But facing the risk of embarrassing juxtapositions of dying health care workers while Obama was out campaigning, that’s exactly what they did (Dovere, 10/15).
The Washington Post’s Fact Checker: The Absurd Claim That Only Republicans Are To Blame For Cuts To Ebola Research
This ad is simply a more extreme version of a new Democratic talking point — that GOP budget cuts have harmed the nation’s ability to handle the Ebola outbreak. It mixes statistics — the budget for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) “cut” $585 million (the ad offers no date range) — with disturbing images of the outbreak and various Republican leaders saying variations of the word “cut.” A slightly more nuanced version of this theme was launched by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which in online advertising began to equate a congressional budget vote in 2011 with a vote for the House GOP budget in 2014 that supposedly protected special interests (Kessler, 10/15).
The New York Times: Texas Abortion Clinics To Reopen Despite A Future In Legal Limbo
A day after the Supreme Court blocked a Texas law that had forced abortion clinics to close, some of the shuttered facilities prepared to reopen, pleased at the reprieve but mindful that the legal fight was far from over (Eckholm, 10/15).
Los Angeles Times: Kaiser Leads HMOs In Providing Recommended Care In State
Kaiser Permanente was the only HMO to earn a top four-star rating for providing recommended care, according to California's latest report card on insurers and medical groups. The scores issued Wednesday focus on California's 10 largest HMOs, the six biggest preferred-provider organization plans and more than 200 physician groups covering 16 million consumers. Anthem Blue Cross, the state's largest for-profit insurer, and Cigna Corp. led the way among PPO plans with three-star ratings. The data is drawn from claims data and patient surveys in 2013 (Terhune, 10/15).
Los Angeles Times: Mission Hospital Halts Elective Surgeries After Patient Infections
One of Orange County's largest hospitals has halted all elective surgeries after its accreditation came under review following an outbreak of surgical infections. Mission Hospital performs about 7,000 surgeries a year, of which nearly 70% are elective (Jennings, 10/15).
The Wall Street Journal: Panel Backs Requiring Arkansas To Provide Drug
An advisory board recommended Wednesday that Arkansas’s Medicaid program eliminate restrictions on the use of an expensive cystic fibrosis drug made by Vertex Pharmaceuticals Inc. that are the subject of a legal battle in federal court. Members of the state’s Drug Utilization Review Board, which is made up of Arkansas doctors and pharmacists, recommended that the state adopt a revised set of criteria for prescribing the drug, called Kalydeco, that wouldn’t require that patients seeking the drug first prove their health worsened after taking two older, less-costly treatments (Walker, 10/15).
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