KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

First Edition: April 2, 2013

Today's early morning highlights from the major news organizations, including news that the administration is delaying a health law provision aimed at small business and also opting to increase payments to Medicare Advantage programs:

Kaiser Health News: Insuring Your Health: Despite Fears Of ‘Sticker Shock,’ Young Adults Should Have Reasonable Plan Options On Exchanges
Kaiser Health News consumer columnist Michelle Andrews answers readers' questions about the new marketplaces where consumers can buy 2014 health policies as part of the federal health law. (Andrews, 4/2). 

Kaiser Health News: New Med School Aims To Train Primary Care Docs
WNPR's Jeffrey Cohen, working in partnership with Kaiser Health News and NPR, reports: "Michael Ellison has a tough assignment. He's the associate dean of admissions choosing the first class of a brand new medical school, the Frank H. Netter MD School of Medicine at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut. It’s a school with a very specific mission: minting new doctors who want to go into primary care practice" (Cohen, 4/2).

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: No Rate Shock Seen In Proposed 2014 Premiums In Vermont
Now on Kaiser Health News’ blog, Phil Galewitz reports on a premium rate announcement: "After years of anticipation, Vermont became the first state Monday to publish proposed 2014 individual health insurance rates under the federal health law. Despite Republican and insurers’ predictions, there was no 'rate shock' in the new premiums, according to the Vermont governor’s office and insurance representatives" (Galewitz, 4/1).

The New York Times: Small Firms’ Offer Of Plan Choices Under Health Law Delayed
Unable to meet tight deadlines in the new health care law, the Obama administration is delaying parts of a program intended to provide affordable health insurance to small businesses and their employees — a major selling point for the health care legislation. The law calls for a new insurance marketplace specifically for small businesses, starting next year. But in most states, employers will not be able to get what Congress intended: the option to provide workers with a choice of health plans. They will instead be limited to a single plan (Pear, 4/1).

The Wall Street Journal: Small-Business Insurance-Shopping Feature Is Delayed
The Obama administration plans to delay a piece of the federal health law designed to help small businesses shop for insurance policies, citing the need for additional time to prepare. The Small Business Health Options Program, or SHOP, is supposed to provide small employers with an insurance marketplace, or exchange, that offers multiple plan options starting in 2014. But the Department of Health and Human Services has proposed that for the first year, businesses that use the 33 state exchanges run fully or in part by the U.S. will be able to offer only one plan to their workers, rather than pick from a range of options. Washington officials said the 17 states running their own exchanges under the law could choose to enact a similar delay for 2014 (Needleman and Radnofsky, 4/1).

USA Today: Feds Delay Small Business Health Care Program
Small businesses may not have an insurance market set up specifically for them when the state and federal health exchanges begin in January, government officials said Monday. Instead, the federal government announced that the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) will be delayed until 2015. Small business employees will still be able to get insurance, but the states have the option to limit that to one choice, rather than a variety of plans, for the first year (Kennedy, 4/1).

The Wall Street Journal: Medicare Advantage Insurers Win Round
Health insurers stand to get significantly more money for running Medicare Advantage plans next year than they had feared, according to new government rates announced late Monday. The final announcement appeared to significantly improve on a mid-February proposal that featured unexpectedly sharp cuts and prompted a busy lobbying effort from health insurers. Companies that sell the plans, such as Humana Inc., warned that cutting funding too much would hurt benefits for seniors while driving plans out of some markets. The warnings and the lobbying push drew substantial support in Congress, where at least 160 lawmakers signed letters to regulators urging industry-friendly changes (Kamp, 4/1).

The Washington Post: U.S. To Boost Rather Than Cut Payments To Health Insurers
The Obama administration reversed itself Monday, scrapping plans to cut by 2.2 percent the rates paid to health insurers that take part in the Medicare Advantage program. The insurance industry and more than 100 members of Congress had objected to the cut in the per capita growth rate, which was proposed in February. They argued that the administration was using faulty methodology. The insurers mounted a vigorous campaign, using television ads and phone banks, to persuade lawmakers to oppose the reduction (Somashekhar, 4/1).

The Associated Press: CMS Softens Medicare Advantage Funding Changes
Medicare Advantage customers may not see the drastic benefit cuts or premium hikes next year that insurers have been warning about after all. Health insurers had predicted big, painful changes for many of their Medicare Advantage customers after the federal government said in February that the amount it pays per person for the popular coverage could fall more than 2 percent in 2014. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services then changed course on Monday and said it now expects that the cost per person to climb more than 3 percent (Murphy, 4/1).

The Wall Street Journal: First Peek At Health-Law Cost
Two health-insurance carriers in Vermont are proposing to keep their rates about flat next year when the Obama health-law overhaul takes full effect, a development that experts say is unlikely to be matched in other states where premiums could surge. Vermont on Monday became the first state to signal how much insurers are seeking to charge when the federal law kicks in (Radnofsky and Mathews, 4/1).

The Wall Street Journal: Image Sharing Seeks to Reduce Repeat Scans
When 5-year-old Piper Gibson was hospitalized in Oklahoma City last summer with frightening strokelike symptoms, her father, Chris, got a same-day second opinion on her brain scan from another neurologist—in Boston. Mr. Gibson was able to get the second opinion with unusual efficiency by taking advantage of a secure electronic network that can transfer medical images in minutes. It is one of a growing number of image-exchange services that eliminate many of the hassles patients encounter in transferring CT-scans, MRIs, X-rays and ultrasounds whenever they seek a second opinion, consult a specialist or start seeing a new doctor (Landro, 4/1).

The Wall Street Journal: Lawmakers Back Fight to Maintain Miners' Benefits
West Virginia's top lawmakers pledged at a rally Monday to ramp up pressure on Patriot Coal Corp. to continue providing health benefits to 23,000 retired coal miners and their dependents who could lose much of their coverage in bankruptcy court. U.S. Sens. Joe Manchin and Jay Rockefeller, and Rep. Nick Rahall, all Democrats, told several thousand gathered in the Charleston Civic Center that the retirees were entitled to keep receiving benefits, and that the company is breaking a contractual promise negotiated with the United Mine Workers of America to maintain benefits for life (Maher, 4/1).

The New York Times: Obama To Unveil Initiative To Map The Human Brain
President Obama on Tuesday will announce a broad new research initiative, starting with $100 million in 2014, to invent and refine new technologies to understand the human brain, senior administration officials said Monday. A senior administration scientist compared the new initiative to the Human Genome Project, in that it is directed at a problem that has seemed insoluble up to now: the recording and mapping of brain circuits in action in an effort to “show how millions of brain cells interact.” It is different, however, in that it has, as yet, no clearly defined goals or endpoint. Coming up with those goals will be up to the scientists involved and may take more than year (Markoff and Gorman, 4/2).

The New York Times: In Washington, Abortion Debate Counters Trend
The legality or availability of abortion is under challenge from North Dakota to Arkansas this spring as conservative state legislatures throw down roadblocks. But here (in Washington state) in this corner of the Far West, winds may blow the other way. Washington already was the only state ever to have legalized abortion through a popular vote — in 1970, three years before the United States Supreme Court defined the national legal terrain on the issue in Roe v. Wade — and is now debating a law that would require health insurers to pay for an elective abortion (Johnson, 4/1).

The New York Times: Low-Cost Drugs in Poor Nations Get a Lift in Indian Court
People in developing countries worldwide will continue to have access to low-cost copycat versions of drugs for diseases like H.I.V. and cancer, at least for a while. Production of the generic drugs in India, the world’s biggest provider of cheap medicines, was ensured on Monday in a ruling by the Indian Supreme Court (Harris and Thomas, 4/1).

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