KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

First Edition: November 26, 2013

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

Kaiser Health News: Narrow Networks’ Trigger Push-Back From State Officials
Kaiser Health News staff writer Jay Hancock, working in collaboration with PoliticoPro, reports: "Officials in at least a half dozen states are pushing back against health plans in the new insurance markets that limit choice of doctors and hospitals in a bid to control medical costs. The plans don’t start offering coverage until January but they’re facing regulatory action, possible legislation, and in at least one case involving a high-profile children’s hospital, litigation. The pushback against 'narrow' provider networks recalls the backlash against managed care and health maintenance organizations  in the 1990s" (Hancock, 11/25).

Kaiser Health News: Insuring Your Health: Health Law May Offer Part-Time Workers Better Options
Kaiser Health News consumer columnist Michelle Andrews writes: "In January, part-time workers who have so-called 'mini-med' health insurance plans with very limited benefits and annual caps on payments will begin to lose that coverage, which under the health care overhaul generally can’t be renewed after the beginning of the year.  Many experts say it’s just as well, noting that part-timers likely will have better options in January" (Andrews, 11/26).

Kaiser Health News: In Wonky Version Of American Idol, Georgetown Researchers Vie For Grants Before Local Donors
Caroline E. Mayer, writing for Kaiser Health News in collaboration with The Washington Post, reports: "Call it a wonky version of 'American Idol' -- or, perhaps more aptly, 'Research for a Cause.' Four Georgetown University Medical Center scientists recently delivered 15-minute sales pitches about their work, hoping to win money from an unusual panel of judges: local residents who are not experts on science. ... To become a judge, each individual agreed to donate at least $1,000 to the medical center. In return, the donor received a chance to review a handful of proposals by Georgetown researchers and vote for a top choice. The two projects garnering the most support each got a grant of $35,000" (Mayer, 11/26).

Kaiser Health News: In California, Some Happy About Canceled Insurance Policies
KPCC's Stephanie O'Neill, working in partnership with Kaiser Health News and NPR, reports: "Barbara Neff of Santa Monica is one of the roughly 1 million Californians who recently got word that their health insurance coverage would be expiring soon. The canceled plans sparked a political firestorm as people realized President Barack Obama’s promise – 'If you like your plan, you can keep it' -- didn’t apply to everyone. But Neff, a 46-year-old self-employed writer, isn’t outraged. She’s relieved. Even though she makes too much money to receive a subsidy to buy insurance under the Affordable Care Act, the policy cancellation was good news for her. Neff says she's been stuck in a bad plan because treatment for a back problem years ago red-flagged her with a preexisting condition" (O'Neill, 11/26).

Kaiser Health News: Websites Step Up To Fill Federal Void
The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Robert Calandra, working in partnership with Kaiser Health News, reports: "Almost two months after its inglorious rollout, the website appears to be slowly recuperating. But even if it is 80 percent healed by November's end, as some public statements suggest, it likely won't be the promised seamless shopping experience where consumers can compare plans and prices and see if they qualify for premium and cost-sharing subsidies" (Calandra, 11/25).

Kaiser Health News: In Miami, Medicare Comes With White-Glove Treatment
The Miami Herald's Daniel Chang, working in collaboration with Kaiser Health News, reports: "The scene at Leon Medical Centers' Healthy Living Facility in Miami on a recent Thursday resembled a cross between a luxury hotel and a theme park. White-gloved doormen wearing porter uniforms ushered elderly patients from white vans into a gleaming lobby with colored terrazzo floors and a bubbling fountain. Greeters in green vests and ear bud radios welcomed the Medicare members and made sure their doctors knew that they'd arrived. Refreshments were proffered: Would they like a cafecito and pastelito for the wait? ... It’s a one-stop shopping approach for healthcare based on a level of customer service and attention that, members tell the federal government, sets Leon Medical Centers apart in the highly-lucrative and super-competitive world of South Florida’s privately managed Medicare plans, or Medicare Advantage (Chang, 11/26).

The New York Times: New Pitch For Health Initiative: Mind Your Mom. Get Insured.
As the Obama administration’s health overhaul sputters in its opening weeks, insurers and advocacy groups are pursuing a new strategy in the quest to get millions of young people to sign up for health insurance: They’re appealing to their mothers. ... Recruiting enough young people is a major goal of the Obama administration because insurers need healthy customers to offset the cost of caring for those with expensive medical needs (Thomas, 11/25).

Politico: All (Good) Obamacare News Is Local
President Barack Obama has bungled so badly that he’s told senior aides to not even try to win positive coverage from the national press. Instead, they’re going local. In the past month, Obama and his Cabinet have hit nine of the top 10 cities with the highest concentration of the uninsured, while senior administration officials have held almost daily reporter conference calls in nearly a dozen states to challenge Republican governors who refuse to expand Medicaid. Obama’s political arm, Organizing for Action, is taking a similar approach (Budoff Brown and Epstein, 11/26).

The New York Times: ID Verification Lagging On Health Care Website
Just days before the Obama administration’s self-imposed deadline to fix the troubled federal health insurance website, officials said Monday that they were aware of another problem that has prevented thousands of people who were unable to verify their identity from shopping for health plans. Many users of the website have had their applications cast into limbo after they uploaded copies of documents like driver’s licenses, Social Security cards and voter registration cards, or sent them to the office of the federal insurance marketplace in London, Ky. (Pear, 11/25).

NPR: Health Exchanges Brace For A December Deluge
December could see a surge in demand for health insurance. "There is an avalanche coming," says Bryce Williams, managing director for exchange solutions at the benefits consulting firm Towers Watson. Williams says the firm knows from years of experience with open enrollment for Medicare patients, that the Monday after Thanksgiving is always the single busiest day for business (Rovner, 11/25).

Politico: It's Not Obamacare, It's Business
Insurance companies are ready to unleash an expensive PR blitz to get 7 million new customers once is fixed. ... Big insurers and the stock analysts that track them say that once the White House is sure its enrollment website is working, the companies will barrage the airwaves with messages encouraging people to join new health insurance exchanges, either by signing up directly with insurers or by giving the website another shot (Cheney and Winfield Cunningham, 11/25).

The Washington Post: Obamacare Update: Consumers See Progress But Insurers Smell Trouble
As the Obama administration closes in on its self-imposed deadline to fix the troubled online health insurance marketplace, consumer advocates say it is becoming easier for people to sign up for coverage but insurers warn that critical flaws continue to hinder participating health plans (Somashekhar and Goldstein, 11/25).

Los Angeles Times: Anthem Blue Cross Posts Social Security, Tax Numbers Of 24,500 Doctors
In a departure from most medical privacy cases, Anthem Blue Cross said it accidentally posted online Social Security or tax identification numbers for about 24,500 California doctors. ... Anthem, a unit of insurance giant WellPoint Inc., said the private information was mistakenly included with its online provider directory for about 24 hours late last month. The state's largest for-profit health insurer said once it identified the error, it removed the information from its website. Anthem said this breach didn't involve any patient data (Terhune, 11/25).

Los Angeles Times: President Obama Hits Beverly Hills For Twin Democratic Fundraisers
In the embrace of loyal supporters at twin Beverly Hills fundraisers, President Obama on Monday night defended his troubled healthcare plan and cast his administration as one that has defended “those ideas that built this country.” “When I talk about the Affordable Care Act, all the fighting that we’ve been having to do, it’s not just a matter of dollars and cents and why it’s good for the economy to make sure that people aren’t going to the emergency rooms because that’s the most expensive care, and why the only way we’re going to lower healthcare costs over the long term is if we start delivering healthcare smarter,” Obama said at a reception at the home of former Lakers star and entrepreneur Magic Johnson and his wife, Cookie. “It’s also a values question" (Linthicum and Decker, 11/25).

NBCNews: Large Employers Cite Obamacare ‘Cadillac’ Tax In Reducing Benefits
For 75 million Americans who get their insurance through large companies, the Affordable Care Act is a mixed bag.  Experts tell NBC News the new healthcare law is only slightly increasing premiums next year, but causing some companies with the most generous plans to reduce their employees’ benefits. ... The 40 percent excise tax—often called the “Cadillac tax”— is part of Obamacare and is levied on the most generous health plans. It’s designed to bring down overall health costs by making companies and workers more cost-conscious (Reynolds and Myers, 11/25).

The Associated Press: Supreme Court Weighs New Health Law Dispute
President Barack Obama's health care law is headed for a new Supreme Court showdown over companies' religious objections to the law's birth-control mandate. Amid the troubled rollout of the health law, and 17 months after the justices upheld it, the Obama administration is defending a provision that requires most employers that offer health insurance to their workers to provide a range of preventive health benefits, including contraception. ... The high court could announce its decision whether to take up the topic as early as Tuesday, following its closed-door meeting (Sherman, 11/26).

Politico: Rick Scott’s Medicaid Push Stalled In Florida
Gov. Rick Scott stuck his political neck out earlier this year to champion covering more of his state’s poor residents under Obamacare. But now talk of Medicaid expansion in Florida can, at best, be described as a hushed whisper. ... In most of the states that did not embrace the federally funded expansion for 2014, debate will rage on about whether to join for the next year. But in Florida, expectations are almost nonexistent even though the state has the country’s second-highest uninsured rate, and there’s a federal pool of $51 billion waiting if the state expands Medicaid to cover about 850,000 low-income Floridians over the next decade (Millman, 11/25).

Politico: Oregon’s Obamacare Sign-Up Is An ‘Epic Failure’
Oregon once led the country in implementing Obamacare. Now it’s just about dead last. Not one person has yet enrolled in the Cover Oregon insurance exchange — a major embarrassment to state policymakers who early on had wholeheartedly embraced the Affordable Care Act even as other states tried their best to hinder it (Winfield Cunningham, 11/26).

NPR: Rep. Issa Takes Anti-Obamacare Campaign To The States
On Monday, Republicans held the second of at least four planned hearings that Rep. Darrell Issa of California, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, has said will focus on health insurance price increases he blames on the Affordable Care Act. The first hearing was in North Carolina on Friday, in the Charlotte suburb of Gastonia. ... Issa also called for a bipartisan approach to fixing the law, but this event was anything but bipartisan, starting with its title: ObamaCare Implementation: Sticker Shock of Increased Premiums for Healthcare Coverage. Issa was joined by two Republican congressmen from North Carolina. There was also a list of five approved witnesses; all were critical of not just the rollout but the law itself (Gonyea, 11/25).

The Associated Press: Prospects Brighten For Small-Scale Budget Deal
Despite the poisonous environment in Congress, chances are improving for a small-scale budget deal next month that would ease automatic spending decreases that threaten to cut more deeply into domestic programs and military priorities in 2014. Neither party will get its biggest priority — for Democrats, higher taxes; for Republicans, slowing the exploding cost of retirement programs. ... Democrats have taken curbs in Social Security cost-of-living increases and higher Medicare premiums on upper-income beneficiaries off the table (Taylor, 11/25).

The New York Times: Bumps In The Road To New Cholesterol Guidelines
It was supposed to be a moment of triumph. An august committee had for the first time relied only on the most rigorous scientific evidence to formulate guidelines to prevent heart attacks and strokes, which kill one out of every three Americans. The group had worked for five years, unpaid, to develop them. Then, at the annual meeting of the American Heart Association, it all went horribly awry. Many leading cardiologists now say the credibility of the guidelines, released Nov. 14, is shattered. And the troubled effort to devise them has raised broader questions about what kind of evidence should be used to direct medical practice, how changes should be introduced and even which guidelines to believe (Kolata, 11/25).

The New York Times: Frustration From A Deal On Flawed Hip Implants
Patients injured by a flawed hip implant sold by Johnson & Johnson have directed their anger at myriad places over the years. The regulatory system that allowed the product’s sale. The company that repeatedly denied problems with the device. Even the doctors who implanted the hips. Now, some patients have found a new target for their ire: the legal system and the lawyers they hired to sue Johnson & Johnson (Meier, 11/25).

The Washington Post: FDA Warns Maker Of Genetic-Testing Kit
The Food and Drug Administration has ordered the maker of a popular genetic-testing kit to halt sales of its heavily marketed product, saying the mail-order tests haven’t been proven effective and could dangerously mislead people about their health. The move came in a sharply worded letter to 23andMe, a California start-up backed by Google. The company says that its Personal Genome Service can detect more than 240 genetic conditions and traits, flagging a person’s vulnerability to heart disease, breast cancer and other illnesses (Dennis, 11/25).

The New York Times: F.D.A. Demands A Halt To A DNA Test Kit’s Marketing
In a crackdown on genetic testing offered directly to consumers, the Food and Drug Administration is demanding that the Google-backed company 23andMe immediately cease marketing its main DNA service until it receives marketing clearance from the agency (Pollack, 11/25).

The Wall Street Journal: Genetic Test Service 23andMe Ordered To Halt Marketing By FDA
U.S. regulators ordered genetic-testing company 23andMe Inc. to stop marketing its $99 mail-order kit, citing the risk that false results could cause consumers to undergo unnecessary health procedures such as breast-cancer surgery. The warning to the  Google Inc.-backed company from the Food and Drug Administration follows a debate that has grown as hundreds of thousands of people have turned to direct-to-consumer genetic tests for clues about disease risk and ancestry (Loftus, 11/25).

Politico: Creigh Deeds: 'I Am Alive For A Reason'
Virginia State Sen. Creigh Deeds says he’s “alive for a reason” in his first comments to the media following an altercation at his residence last week where he suffered multiple stab wounds to the head and torso and his son killed himself with a rifle. “I am alive for a reason, and I will work for change. I owe that to my precious son,” Deeds said in an interview with a Virginia newspaper, The Recorder, published online Monday (McCalmont, 11/25).

The Washington Post: Report: Deeds Expresses Anger At State Agency That Failed Son, Vows Fight For Change
Virginia state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds, who is recuperating at home after his son attacked him with a knife before taking his own life last week, blamed a local mental-health agency for the tragedy in an interview with a Bath County newspaper Monday. Deeds told the Recorder newspaper that the Rockbridge Area Community Services Board, which administers mental-health and substance-abuse services, is “responsible” for Austin Deeds’s death. The senator, who was the 2009 Democratic nominee for governor, said it was too soon to talk in detail about his son’s death but vowed to help other families in crisis receive the help they need, the Recorder reported (Kunkle, 11/25).

NPR: Emergency Contraceptive Pill Might Be Ineffective For Obese
The Food and Drug Administration says it is reviewing whether the maker of the most widely used emergency contraceptive pill needs to change its label in light of new evidence that it doesn't work to prevent pregnancy in overweight or obese women (Rovner, 11/25).

The Wall Street Journal: Hospitals Take On Post-ICU Syndrome, Helping Patients Recover
Hospitals are doing more to help the growing number of patients who receive treatment for serious illness in the intensive-care unit—only to find their release is the start of a whole new set of problems. With medical advances, even the sickest patients now often survive potentially life-threatening conditions after a stay in intensive care. Many experience aftereffects, not only of the illness but also of the very medical care that may have saved their lives (Landro, 11/25).

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