KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

First Edition: June 17, 2014

Today's headlines include developments related to the health care marketplace and state health policy.  

Kaiser Health News: Insuring Your Health: Readers Ask: Are Insurance Premiums Capped? Do Doctors Have To Accept Medicare?
Kaiser Health News consumer columnist Michelle Andrews answers questions about premiums and benefits for plans sold on the health insurance marketplaces as well as concerns about physician participation in the Medicare program (6/17). Read her responses.

Kaiser Health News:Capsules: High Court Rules Anti-Abortion Group Can Sue Over Election ‘Truth-Telling’ Law
Now on Kaiser Health News’ blog, Julie Rovner writes: “A group challenging an Ohio election law that makes it a crime to make ‘false statements’ about a candidate’s record during a campaign has standing to challenge the constitutionality of that law, according to today’s unanimous Supreme Court decision” (Rovner, 6/16). Check out what else is on Capsules.

USA Today: Health Survey Ranks U.S. Last Among Rich Peers
The U.S. ranking reflects poor scores on measures of healthy lives — "mortality amenable to medical care," infant mortality and healthy life expectancy at age 60. The highest U.S. score was a 3, for "effective care." The USA also outranked its peers on preventive care and on speedy access to specialists. But the nation fares poorly on "access to needed services" and on getting prompt attention from primary care physicians. … What do the healthier cousins have that the United States does not? Universal health care, the Commonwealth Fund points out. Nonetheless, Canada limped just ahead of its southern neighbor in the survey. … Though the Affordable Care Act "is increasing the number of Americans with coverage and improving access to care," the latest survey relied on data from before the law was implemented fully. Still, the ACA "will further encourage the efficient organization and delivery of health care, as well as investment in important preventive and population health measures" (Winter, 6/14).

The Washington Post’s Wonkblog: Obamacare Struggles, Even When It’s Succeeding
One of the early ironies that emerged from Obamacare's first year of expanded coverage is how much some of the states most enthusiastic about the law failed miserably. Washington state, which was one of the first to embrace a state-run exchange, isn't one of those states — but it's experienced its share of frustrations putting the Affordable Care Act into place (Millman, 6/16).

The Wall Street Journal: New Heart-Valve Procedure Sparks Doctors' Concern
The apparent overuse of TAVR is due in part to patients who are requesting the less-invasive catheter valve, even though they may be healthy enough for surgery, Dr. Feldman says. Cardiologists might be eager to perform a procedure that is associated with cutting-edge technology. And hospital administrators may feel pressure to offer the procedure to gain market share against competing health facilities, he says. Sanford Health, a hospital system with centers in Fargo, N.D., and Sioux Falls, S.D., ran an ad campaign last year touting catheter valves as "the medical equivalent to landing a man on the moon." The ads attracted interest from patients and referring physicians (Walker, 6/16).

The Wall Street Journal’s CIO Journal: How Google Glass Automates Patient Documentation For Dignity Health
The doctor will see you now — through Google Glass. Physicians at California health care-provider Dignity Health are using Google Inc.’s Glass to double the amount of time they spend seeing patients daily. The wearable computer is outfitted with software that automatically enters data generated during exams into electronic medical records. Physicians say the technology reduces by more than two-thirds the time spent documenting patient visits (Boulton, 6/16).

The Wall Street Journal: Supreme Court Ruling Revives Challenge To Ban On False Political Speech
The Supreme Court on Monday unanimously held that two conservative groups can continue their challenge to an Ohio campaign law making it illegal to lie about political candidates. … the justices sent the case back to the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati. Lawyers in the case said they expected it would proceed to trial in a federal district court later this year. "It's the first step toward a true victory for the First Amendment," said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List. … The case originated after the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010. Susan B. Anthony List planned to run a billboard accusing Rep. Steve Driehaus, a Cincinnati Democrat who supported the health-care overhaul, of voting for "taxpayer-funded abortion." Mr. Driehaus, who was running for re-election, said the claims were false because both the health law and a related presidential order prohibit federal abortion funding (Bravin, 6/16).

The New York Times: Supreme Court Rules Against ‘Straw’ Purchases of Guns
The Supreme Court on Monday allowed a challenge to an Ohio law banning lies in political campaigns to move forward, turned back a challenge to a law concerning gun purchases and refused to hear a case about holding high school graduations in churches. … The case was brought by Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion group, and Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes. … Mr. Driehaus filed a complaint against the anti-abortion group with the Ohio Elections Commission, which makes preliminary determinations and can recommend criminal prosecutions. It issued a finding of probable cause that the group had violated the law (Liptak, 6/16).

The Wall Street Journal: Accounting Changes Proposed For State, City Retiree-Benefit Plans
States and cities could be forced to report at least half a trillion dollars of additional costs on their books under proposed rules that would shine a harsher light on the growing expense of retired workers' health insurance and other benefits. The proposals, unveiled Monday by an accounting-standards group, would require state and local governments to add retiree-benefit promises to their balance sheets, making governments' overall financial position appear worse. In addition, many governments would have to change the way they calculate their benefit obligations in a way that could make their shortfalls appear bigger than they do now (Rapoport, 6/16).

Los Angeles Times: California Expands Parole For Elderly, Medically Frail
California parole officials Monday said the state is ready to begin the early release of elderly and frail prisoners who meet new criteria for parole. The program's details were released publicly for the first time at a meeting of the Board of Parole Hearings. They were ordered by a panel of federal judges earlier this year, as part of required steps the state must take to reduce prison crowding to acceptable levels (St. John, 6/16).

Los Angeles Times: Bills Targeting Sugary Sodas, Plastic Bags, Grease Theft Survive
at do sugar-laden soft drinks, flimsy plastic shopping bags and used kitchen grease have in common? They are the focus of controversial legislation in Sacramento. So far, they've survived a gauntlet of lobbying and multiple committee and floor votes to make it out of the Senate or Assembly, where they got started months ago — along with thousands of other proposals. In all, lawmakers in the current session have introduced 2,766 bills in the Assembly and 1,467 in the Senate (Lifsher, 6/15).

Los Angeles Times: Mental Health Care Found Wanting At North Carolina VA Hospital
Andrew Danecki, a Marine Corps veteran who served two tours in Afghanistan, suffers from sleep apnea that left him nodding off on the sofa and behind the wheel of his car. He said he waited eight months to get a sleep study performed at the Durham VA Medical Center. Dennis Hunter, a Vietnam-era Army veteran, waited several months for an orthopedic appointment for knee and back injuries that require him to use a wheelchair. The Durham VA Medical Center had the longest average wait time for new patient mental health appointments — 104 days — in a nationwide audit of veterans' healthcare facilities released this month. The hospital also had the nation's seventh worst average wait times for new patient specialist care appointments: 69 days (Zucchino, 6/16).

The Washington Post: New Free Clinic In Chantilly Serves Patients In Loudoun, Fairfax
People with low incomes who lack health insurance can get medical services at a new free clinic in Chantilly. The Adams Compassionate Healthcare Network, a nonprofit arm of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society, formally opened the clinic June 8 with an inaugural ceremony at the ADAMS Sully Center. An interfaith team of volunteer doctors and other medical professionals donate their services Saturdays at the clinic, which ADAMS officials describe as “the first Muslim-organized initiative in Virginia that seeks to meet the comprehensive health-care needs of all qualifying, low-income individuals (Barnes, 6/16). 

Check out all of Kaiser Health News' e-mail options including First Edition and Breaking News alerts on our Subscriptions page.

This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.