First Edition: September 23, 2014
Today's headlines include reports about work being done on healthcare.gov in anticipation of the next open enrollment period, which begins in mid-November.
Kaiser Health News: Insurers Hesitant To Cover Many Proton Beam Therapy Treatments
Kaiser Health News consumer columnist Michelle Andrews writes: “Everyone seems to agree that proton beam therapy--a type of radiation that can attack cancerous tumors while generally sparing the surrounding tissue--is an exciting technology with a lot of potential. But some insurers and disease experts say that, until there’s better evidence that proton therapy is more effective at treating various cancers than traditional types of less expensive radiation, coverage shouldn’t be routine” (Andrews, 9/23). Read the column.
Kaiser Health News: Capsules: How To Fix Medicare? Ask The People
Now on Kaiser Health News’ blog, Mary Agnes Carey reports: “Washington is full of ideas to overhaul Medicare. Some would increase the program’s eligibility age, others would charge higher-income beneficiaries more for their coverage. There’s movement to link payment to the quality — rather than the quantity — of care delivered. Marge Ginsburg decided to ask ordinary Americans how they would change the federal entitlement program” (Carey, 9/23). Check out what else is on the blog.
The New York Times: Healthcare.gov Is Given An Overhaul
The Obama administration is redesigning HealthCare.gov and says that 70 percent of consumers will be able to use a shorter, simpler online application form to buy health insurance when the second annual open enrollment period begins in mid-November. Federal health officials said Monday that the shorter application had fewer pages and questions, fewer screens to navigate, and would allow people to sign up with fewer clicks of a computer mouse (Pear, 9/22).
The Associated Press: Government Hackers Try To Crack Healthcare.Gov
The government’s own watchdogs tried to hack into HealthCare.gov earlier this year and found what they termed a critical vulnerability — but also came away with respect for some of the health insurance site’s security features. Those are among the conclusions of a report being released Tuesday by the Health and Human Services Department inspector general, who focuses on health care fraud (9/23).
Politico: Court Tosses Obamacare Mandate Lawsuit Brought By Doctors
A federal appeals court has summarily tossed a lawsuit challenging the Obama administration’s delay of Obamacare’s employer mandate — a case that is similar to the one that House Republicans plan to file against the president. This suit was filed by the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, which argued that the delay could hurt doctors financially. But the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago on Friday said the plaintiffs don’t have a right to sue (Haberkorn, 9/22).
The Associated Press: Spin Meter: Those Changing Health Law Numbers
The Obama administration has had to revise and refine some initial enrollment numbers for health insurance sign-ups after they turned out to be too optimistic. At other times, metrics less favorable to the president’s overhaul leaked out after officials claimed not to have such data. Parsing the numbers is a new pursuit for administration officials from President Barack Obama on down, to lawmakers of both parties and a gaggle of outside analysts (9/22).
Los Angeles Times: 30,000 Californians Face Obamacare Enrollment Delays, Dropped Coverage
California's health insurance exchange is vowing to fix enrollment delays and dropped coverage for about 30,000 consumers before the next sign-up period this fall. Covered California said it failed to promptly send insurance applications for 20,000 people to health plans recently, causing delays and confusion over their coverage. Another group of up to 10,000 people have had their insurance coverage canceled prematurely because they were deemed eligible for Medi-Cal based on a check of their income, officials said (Terhune, 9/22).
The Wall Street Journal: Hospitals Cut Costs By Getting Doctors To Stick To Guidelines
A hospital group in Delaware was concerned it was spending too much on cardiac monitoring for patients outside of intensive care who didn't need it. So it changed its computer system to encourage doctors to follow American Heart Association guidelines for using the monitors. The number of patients using the monitors, and the group's daily costs for such monitoring, fell by 70% without any harm to patient care, researchers from Wilmington, Del.-based Christiana Care Health System report in a study in JAMA Internal Medicine (Whalen, 9/22).
NPR: Avoid The Rush! Some ERs Are Taking Appointments
Hospitals around the country are competing for newly-insured patients, and one way to increase patient satisfaction, they figure, might be to reduce the frustratingly long wait times in the ER. To that end, Northridge and its parent company Dignity Health started offering online appointments last summer; since then, more than 22,000 patients have reserved spots at emergency rooms in California, Arizona and Nevada (Gorman, 9/23). Read the Kaiser Health News' earlier, related story The Latest In Medical Convenience: ER Appointments (Gorman and Colliver, 7/3).
The Wall Street Journal’s Pharmalot: Did Someone say Kickbacks? HHS Warns About Medicare Part D Coupons
Brand-name drug makers regularly use coupons to woo consumers and boost sales. But inducing Medicare Part D beneficiaries to use coupons is illegal. So drug makers are supposed to use safeguards to ensure these consumers do not use coupons to obtain prescription medicines (Silverman, 9/22).
NPR: As Run-Ins Rise, Police Take Crash Courses On Handling Mentally Ill
A number of high-profile police shootings, including that of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., last month, have led to increased scrutiny of police interactions with civilians. One group that is disproportionately subject to police uses of force is people with mental illness. Many local departments hold special sessions to train officers about mental illness and how to help the people they interact with. Walking up and down the aisle of a police academy classroom in downtown St. Louis, Lt. Perri Johnson tells the officers here that responding to calls where a person is in mental distress is never easy (Bouscaren, 9/23).
The Wall Street Journal: Medicaid Bankruptcy Ruling Could Bolster Health-Care Facility Turnarounds
A federal judge's recent ruling blocking Medicaid officials from cutting off a struggling nursing home could help troubled health-care facilities survive using bankruptcy, according to restructuring professionals. U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Michael Williamson told Medicaid officials that bankruptcy's protective powers meant they must continue paying for patients at the Rehabilitation Center of St. Petersburg while the Florida facility's bankruptcy lawyers work through problems. The nursing home's Medicaid funding was at risk after health inspectors found "rampant, serious problems" at the 159-bed facility earlier this year. After the inspections, Medicaid threatened to terminate the facility's provider agreement (Stech, 9/22).
Politico: Scott Brown Splits With New Hampshire GOP On Abortion
Republican Scott Brown has something to run against besides Democrat Jeanne Shaheen: His state GOP’s abortion stance. The New Hampshire Republican Party adopted Saturday a socially conservative party platform that supports “the pre-born child’s fundamental right to life and personhood under the Fourteenth Amendment” as well as the “Life at Conception Act.” Those policies are at odds with the New Hampshire GOP’s Senate nominee’s stances on abortion, and Brown’s Democratic opponent Shaheen attacked him on Monday for the “disturbing” message sent by the New Hampshire Republicans (Everett, 9/23).
The Washington Post: Southern States Are Now Epicenter Of HIV/AIDS In The U.S.
Southern states now have the highest rates of new HIV diagnoses, the largest percentage of people living with the disease and the most people dying from it, according to Rainey Campbell, executive director of the Southern AIDS Coalition, a nonprofit serving 16 Southern states and the District. Fifty percent of all new HIV cases are in the South. And the HIV infection rate among African American and Latina women in the South now rivals that of sub-Saharan Africa. In some Southern states, blacks account for more than 80 percent of new HIV diagnoses among women (Wiltz, 9/22).
The Associated Press: Citing Joan Rivers, Texas’ Perry Backs Clinic Law
Republican Texas Gov. Rick Perry on Sunday invoked comedian Joan Rivers’ death at a surgical clinic while defending a law he signed that would close the majority of abortion facilities in the nation’s second-most populous state (9/21).
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