KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

First Edition: February 18, 2014

Today's early morning highlights from the major news organizations.

Kaiser Health News: Tips For New Obamacare Coverage: Stay In Network, Avoid Out-Of-Pocket Costs
Kaiser Health News staff writer Jay Hancock, working in collaboration with USA Today, reports: "Congratulations. You bought insurance through one of the online Affordable Care Act exchanges, possibly after days or weeks of trying to get the site to work. Don't relax. Joining the plan is only the first challenge. Now you have to understand it. Policies sold through the online portals -- to more than 3 million people so far -- cover essential benefits and put a cap on your out-of-pocket medical costs. But you need to follow the rules" (Hancock, 2/17). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: Some Plans Refuse To Cover Medical Costs Related To Suicide Despite Federal Rules
Kaiser Health News' consumer columnist Michelle Andrews writes: "Dealing with the aftermath of a suicide or attempted suicide is stressful enough. But some health plans make a harrowing experience worse by refusing to cover medical costs for injuries that are related to suicide—even though experts say that in many cases such exclusions aren't permitted under federal law. Yet patients or their loved ones often don't realize that" (Andrews, 2/18). Read the column.

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: California Bill Would Extend Health Coverage To All Residents
Now on Kaiser Health News’ blog, Anna Gorman writes: "In a push to cover immigrants excluded from the nation’s health reform law, a California state senator has proposed legislation that would offer health insurance for all Californians, including those living here illegally. The bill would extend state-funded Medi-Cal to low-income immigrants who, because they are in the country without permission, are now eligible only for emergency and pregnancy coverage. It would also create a marketplace similar to Covered California to offer insurance policies to higher income immigrants who lack legal status" (Gorman, 2/18). Check out what else is on the blog.

Kaiser Health News also tracked weekend health policy headlines, including reports about Democrat’s health law strategies and Repubicans’ attacks (2/17).

Politico: Dems' New 2014 Plan: Neutralize Obamacare 
Democrats know their biggest problem in this year’s midterm election is Obamacare. So top party operatives have settled on a strategy to try blunting the GOP’s advantage: Tell voters Republicans would make the problem worse — raising prescription drug prices, empowering insurance companies and even endangering domestic violence victims. The battle plan, details of which were in a memo obtained by POLITICO, recognizes the unpopularity of the Affordable Care Act. But it also banks on voter fatigue with the GOP’s relentless demands for repeal and counts on poll-backed data that show many Americans would rather fix Obamacare’s problems than scrap it altogether (Hohmann, 2/16).

The New York Times: On Health Act, Democrats Run To Mend What G.O.P. Aims To End
As Democrats approach the 2014 midterm elections, they are grappling with an awkward reality: Their president’s health care law — passed almost entirely by Democrats — remains a political liability in many states, threatening their ability to hold on to seats in the Senate and the House. As a result, party leaders have decided on an aggressive new strategy to address the widespread unease with the health care law, urging Democratic candidates to talk openly about the law’s problems while also offering their own prescriptions to fix them (Parker, 2/16).

The New York Times: In The Debate Over Health Care, ‘Real People’ Become Human Volleyballs
The “real people” political prop is a durable ingredient in politics, first popularized at the State of the Union address when Ronald Reagan invited Lenny Skutnik, who had dived into the icy Potomac River to rescue victims of a plane crash, to serve as an example of Everyman heroism. It is a trope that every president since has used. But with the continuing fight over the Affordable Care Act, it has become a blood sport for both parties. Every real face is fact-checked, every perceived distortion attacked. And real people have been caught in the crossfire (Weisman, 2/15).

Politico: Barack Obama: You Can Call It ‘Obamacare’
It may not be polling well, but President Barack Obama isn’t too worried about the Affordable Care Act’s nickname, Obamacare, or the health care law’s impact on his legacy. “I like it. I don’t mind,” the president told former NBA star Charles Barkley in an interview that aired Sunday about the term Obamacare (Delreal, 2/17). 

Los Angeles Times: California Health Exchange Faulted For Not Reaching Out More To Latinos 
Some California politicians are turning up the heat on the state's health insurance exchange to boost Latino enrollment in Obamacare before a March deadline. U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Santa Ana) held a sign-up event Thursday in Orange County and prodded the Covered California exchange to do more to reach the area's large population of uninsured. Statewide, about 1.2 million, or 46%, of the 2.6 million Californians eligible for federal premium subsidies under the healthcare law are Latino. But Covered California said only 20% of enrollees through December described themselves as Latino on their application (Karlamangla and Terhune, 2/14).

The Wall Street Journal’s Washington Wire: Some Signups Face Weekend Delay
Supporters of the health law have made a Valentine’s Day-themed push to get people signed up on for coverage taking effect at the start of next month. But the drive could hit a hard stop on Saturday afternoon, when the website won’t be able to process applications for three days (Radnofsky, 2/15). 

The Washington Post: Va. Senate Panel Proposes Alternative To Medicaid Expansion
Senate budget leaders said Sunday that they were rejecting Medicaid expansion as they approved a state spending plan that would nevertheless tap $2 billion a year in federal Medicaid funding to extend health insurance to low-income and disabled Virginians. Instead of expanding Medicaid as it has traditionally operated, the Senate Finance Committee proposed helping up to 400,000 Virginians buy private insurance through a program that would be known as “Marketplace Virginia” (Vozzella, 2/16).

NPR: More U.S. Companies Switch To High Deductible Health Plans
Over-all health care cost increases have slowed dramatically, but consumers may not notice it. Many face higher deductibles, co-pays and out-of-pocket maximums as employers' insurance plans try to encourage them to pay more attention to health care costs. One big problem is health care price information is often not available (Ydstie, 2/18).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Older Americans Are Early Winners Under Health Law
For many older Americans who lost jobs during the recession, the quest for health care has been one obstacle after another. They’re unwanted by employers, rejected by insurers, struggling to cover rising medical costs and praying to reach Medicare age before a health crisis. These luckless people, most in their 50s and 60s, have emerged this month as early winners under the nation’s new health insurance system. Along with their peers who are self-employed or whose jobs do not offer insurance, they have been signing up for coverage in large numbers, submitting new-patient forms at doctor’s offices and filling prescriptions at pharmacies 92/17).

NPR: Finessing Health Coverage: When To Buy Insurance For A New Baby
We're heading into the home stretch to sign up for insurance under the Affordable Care Act this year. The open enrollment period ends March 31 for most people. But there are exceptions. And they are the subject of many of our questions this month. For example, Diane Jennings of Hickory, N.C., has a question about her young adult daughter, who's currently covered on her father's health insurance. "When she ages out of the program this year at 26, in October," Jennings asks, "she'll have to get her own insurance through the exchange. But as she [will have] missed the deadline of March 2014, will she have to pay a penalty?" (Rovner, 2/17).

The Washington Post: Congressional Republicans Are Focused On Calming Their Divided Ranks
After a tumultuous week of party infighting and leadership stumbles, congressional Republicans are focused on calming their divided ranks in the months ahead, mostly by touting proposals that have wide backing within the GOP and shelving any big-ticket legislation for the rest of the year. Comprehensive immigration reform, tax reform, tweaks to the federal health-care law — bipartisan deals on each are probably dead in the water for the rest of this Congress (Costa, 2/17). 

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Issa Rails Against Obama’s ‘Imperial Presidency’
As chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Issa is probing some of the Obama administration’s most provocative controversies: the troubled rollout of the health care website, the Internal Revenue Service’s scrutiny of politically active groups, the National Security Agency’s mass collection of Americans’ phone records and the 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, that killed three Americans (2/18).

The Associated Press/Los Angeles Times: Starr Leads Purchase Of Healthcare Services Firm MultiPlan
A group led by Starr Investment Holdings said Monday that it is buying MultiPlan Inc., which helps manage claims for large health insurers. The price was $4.4 billion, according to a person close to the deal, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the companies did not disclose terms (2/17).

The New York Times’ DealBook: C.V. Starr And Partner Buy Health Care Concern In A $4.4 Billion Deal
MultiPlan was purchased by the private equity firms BC Partners and Silver Lake Partners in 2010 for about $3 billion, with the private equity firms each investing about $600 million. Founded in 1980, MultiPlan manages the claims process for insurers, corporate self-funded health plans and health maintenance organizations. The company processes about 40 million insurance claims annually (Bray and De La Merced, 2/17).

Los Angeles Times: Generic Drug Makers Fight Rule On Health Risk Warnings 
Companies that make generic drugs, the medications most Americans buy, are fighting to kill a proposed federal regulation that would require them for the first time to warn patients of all the known health risks of each drug they sell. The proposed rule change by the Food and Drug Administration "would be nothing short of catastrophic," said Ralph G. Neas, president of the Generic Pharmaceutical Assn., an industry trade group. It could raise healthcare costs and "create dangerous confusion" for doctors and patients, he said (Savage, 2/16).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Style, Stances Of Ohio’s GOP Governor Evolving
Kasich stirred up opponents of tax increases by pushing hikes on oil and gas drillers whose companies are fueling an economic boom in eastern Ohio’s shale country. He has riled Republicans opposed to President Barack Obama’s federal health care overhaul by first advocating a Medicaid expansion allowed under the law, then forcing the program change through a legislative panel against GOP lawmakers’ wishes (2/16).

Politico: Push Continues For 20-Week Abortion Bans
New attempts to ban abortion after 20 weeks are gaining traction in the South, where Republican-led Legislatures have repeatedly adopted restrictions in recent years. Such bans, which supporters often call “fetal pain” laws, are already advancing in South Carolina and Mississippi. And a bill to prohibit abortion at a pregnancy’s midpoint is about to be introduced in Florida. It’s a repeat effort from a 2011 package of regulations in Tallahassee, and proponents say the measure has an improved chance of passage (Cunningham, 2/14).

The New York Times: Writers Guild Plans Forum On Affordable Care Act
On Tuesday night, an expected crowd of 100 or so screenwriters and others will gather in Lower Manhattan at the headquarters of the Writers Guild of America East to hear thoughts about the Affordable Care Act and its place in comedy and drama. But whether any movie and television scripts that happen to be affected will have audiences laughing or crying about Obamacare still is not clear (Cieply, 2/16).

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