KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

First Edition: June 24, 2014

Today's headlines include news about the latest report detailing problems at the VA.  

Kaiser Health News: Insuring Your Health: Advocates Worry Conn. Decision Could Undermine Autism Coverage
Kaiser Health News consumer columnist Michelle Andrews writes: “Today, many families with autistic children count on their insurance coverage to help pay for the often expensive, long-term treatment their kids need. But advocates and public policy experts say a recent bulletin issued by the Connecticut Insurance Department may undermine existing coverage protections and they're concerned that other states might follow suit” (Andrews, 6/24). Read the column.

Kaiser Health News: Drug Discount Program Has Drugmakers Crying Foul
Oregon Public Radio’s Kristian Foden-Vencil, working in partnership with Kaiser Health News and NPR, reports: “The law got bipartisan support and it was a boon for hospitals and the federal government. In the decades that followed, the drug discount program has grown in leaps and bounds. But this spring as the feds have been drawing up new rules for the program, a pitched battle has broken out between hospitals and drug manufacturers who say the program, known as 340B, is now bloated and badly regulated” (Foden-Vencil, 6/23). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: Ohio Amish Reconsider Vaccines Amid Measles Outbreak
WCPN’s Sarah Jane Tribble, working in partnership with Kaiser Health News and NPR, reports: “The Amish countryside in central Ohio looks like it has for a hundred years. There are picturesque pastures with cows and sheep, and big red barns dot the landscape. But something changed here,/TRIM COMMA/when, on an April afternoon, an Amish woman walked to a communal call box. She called the Knox County Health Department and told a county worker that she and a family next door had the measles” (Tribble, 6/24). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Employer Health Costs Forecast To Accelerate In 2015; Talking Medicare’s Hospital Fines For Too Many Patient Injuries
Now on Kaiser Health News’ blog, Jay Hancock reports on a forecast for employer health costs: “Health costs will accelerate next year, but changes in how people buy care will help keep them from attaining the speed of several years ago, PricewaterhouseCoopers says in a new report. The prediction, based on interviews and modeling, splits the difference between hopes that costs will stay tame and fears that they’re off to the races after having been slow since the 2008 financial crisis” (Hancock, 6/24). 

Also on Capsules, you can watch and listen to Jordan Rau’s Monday appearances on NPR and C-Span in which he talked about coming Medicare penalties for about a quarter of the nation’s hospitals as detailed in his recent KHN story about penalties for hospital-acquired conditions  (6/23). Check out what else is on the blog.

The Wall Street Journal’s CFO Journal: Retiree Medical Liabilities Fall
Companies may lose the savings they booked last year on retiree medical costs as Americans live longer and interest rates remain low. Among the Fortune 1,000 companies, the combined liabilities for retiree medical benefits totaled $285 billion at the end of last year, down nearly 16% from 2012, according to benefits adviser Towers Watson & Co. These obligations stem largely from long-ago promises to unionized employees. Most companies have shut their plans to new workers. In fact, only half of the companies studied continued to carry retiree medical liabilities on their balance sheets (Chasan, 6/24).

The Associated Press: Va. House Tosses Out Governor’s Vetoes
One veto Howell tossed out was of a Republican-backed amendment aimed at preventing him from expanding Medicaid without legislative approval. The House GOP majority blocked McAuliffe’s top legislative priority, leading to a protracted budget stalemate that threatened to shut down government (6/23).

The New York Times: Investigator Issues Sharp Criticism Of V.A. Response To Allegations About Care
In a blistering letter sent to President Obama on Monday, the head of the agency that investigates whistle-blower complaints in the federal government criticized the Department of Veterans Affairs for not digging deeper into widespread allegations made by its own employees of poor or severely delayed patient care for veterans (Oppel, 6/23).

Los Angeles Times: VA Fails To Acknowledge ‘Severity Of Problems,’ New Report Says
In another damning report on the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Office of Special Counsel on Monday assailed the VA for failing to acknowledge the “severity of systemic problems” that have put patients at risk. Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner said in a letter to President Obama that her office found a “troubling pattern of deficient patient care” and expressed concern about what she termed the department’s unwillingness to acknowledge the impact of its problems on the health and safety of veterans. Her office is investigating more than 50 cases brought by whistle-blowers (Simon, 6/23).

The Associated Press: VA Challenged On Handling Of Whistleblower Chargers
A top federal investigator has identified “a troubling pattern of deficient patient care” at Veterans Affairs facilities around the country that she says was pointed out by whistleblowers but downplayed by the department. The problems went far beyond the extraordinarily long wait time for some appointments — and the attempts to cover them up — that has put the department under intense scrutiny (6/23).

The Wall Street Journal: Veterans Affairs Watchdog Downplayed Medical Care Problems, Probe Finds
A Department of Veterans Affairs internal watchdog created to safeguard the medical care provided to former service members instead routinely played down the effect of treatment errors and appointment delays, a federal special counsel alleged Monday. … The strongly worded critique adds a new layer to the veterans-care scandal that has rocked the VA and the Obama administration in recent months (Phillips and Kesling, 6/23).

Politico: Report: VA Overlooked Whistleblowers
The Department of Veterans Affairs has put patients at risk by overlooking reports from whistleblowers detailing dirty medical equipment and illegal narcotic prescriptions, an independent federal investigator said on Monday (French, 6/23).

USA Today: VA Employee: I Kept A Secret Phoenix VA List
scheduling employee for the Phoenix VA Health Care System disclosed Monday that she was the keeper of a "secret list" of veterans who waited months for medical care. She also accused others of altering records after the scandal broke to try to hide the deaths of at least seven veterans awaiting care. Pauline DeWenter went public as a whistle-blower Monday, saying she has spoken to investigators in the Department of Veterans Affairs' Office of Inspector General about the waiting list and her suspicions of an orchestrated cover-up (Wagner, 6/24). 

The Wall Street Journal: U.S. House Sought Immunity For Aide
Lawyers for the U.S. House sought a deal with the Securities and Exchange Commission to shield from prosecution a congressional aide who has become a key figure in an insider-trading investigation. The SEC rejected the offer and instead went to court Friday to force the House to turn over documents and evidence in the matter (Mullins and Ackerman, 6/23).

The New York Times’ DealBook: House Resists S.E.C.’s Insider Trading Inquiry
Members of Congress certainly like to talk the talk, but when it comes to insider trading there seems to be little interest in walking the walk by cooperating with an investigation into a possible leak of confidential information that allowed for lucrative trading (Henning, 6/23).

The Associated Press: Md. Primary Could Play A Role In O’Malley’s Future
Brown is undoubtedly the choice of the state’s Democratic establishment, having won widespread endorsement from state, local and federal officials in Maryland. He’s favored in Tuesday’s primary, with recent polls showing him as a clear front-runner against Del. Heather Mizeur and state Attorney General Doug Gansler. Gansler’s campaign provides an example of some of the headaches O’Malley might face while spending time in New Hampshire and Iowa, where he was the keynote speaker this past weekend at the Democratic state convention, should Brown not be seated in his old office in Annapolis. While Brown led the state’s efforts around health care reform and adoption of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul, it was O’Malley who took the lead in providing updates on the status of Maryland’s badly troubled health care exchange website, which crashed shortly after it debuted Oct. 1 (6/23). .

The New York Times: Mississippi Race Points To Appeal Of Partisanship
For decades, powerful figures like Senators Trent Lott, John C. Stennis and Thad Cochran, the six-term incumbent, and Representatives Sonny Montgomery and Jamie L. Whitten made serving the parochial needs of Mississippi their No. 1 priority, often dismissing the baser aspects of politics with an aw-shucks shrug. But comity may no longer get the job done in the Tea Party era. Chris McDaniel, the Tea Party-backed challenger to Mr. Cochran, has built his campaign on a promise to voters that he will add his voice to the national political fights against the health care law, big government and meddling bureaucrats — something Mr. Cochran seems temperamentally incapable of doing (Weisman and Schleifer, 6/23).

The Wall Street Journal’s Pharmalot: What Impact Will Hepatitis C Drugs Have on Medical Costs? Look Here
Just what impact will hepatitis C treatments have on medical spending over the next few years? The answer to this question has been the subject of heated debate thanks to the Sovaldi treatment sold by Gilead Sciences. The medication can cure 90 percent of the patients who have the most common form of the affliction, and costs $1,000 a day for a 12-week course, or $84,000 for one patient (Silverman, 6/24).

The New York Times: At Acute Care Hospitals, Recovery Is Rare, But Comfort Is Not
The man, who asked not to be identified to protect his privacy, was a patient at the Hospital for Special Care here, one of 400 long-term acute care hospitals in the United States. These are no ordinary hospitals: Critically ill patients, sometimes unresponsive or in comas, may live here for months, even years, sustained by respirators and feeding tubes. Some, especially those recovering from accidents, eventually will leave. Others will be here for the rest of their lives (Kolata, 6/23).

Los Angeles Times: Automated Defibrillators Not Required In Big-Box Stores, Justices Rule
Large stores in California need not keep automated external defibrillators for customers who suffer heart attacks, the California Supreme Court decided. In a unanimous ruling Monday, the state's highest court said California law requires only that fitness centers have such potentially life-saving devices and encourages most public buildings to keep them (Dolan, 6/23). 

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