KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

First Edition: May 29, 2013

Today's early morning highlights from the major news organizations include a look at California's effort to expand health care and reports on the Supreme Court's announcement that stops Indiana from barring Planned Parenthood from Medicaid funding. 

Kaiser Health News: Medicare Spending Variations Mostly Due To Health Differences, Study Concludes
The idea that uneven Medicare health care spending around the country is due to wasteful practices and overtreatment—a concept that influenced the federal health law -- takes another hit in a study published Tuesday. The paper concludes that health differences around the country explain between 75 percent and 85 percent of the cost variations (Rau, 5/28).

Kaiser Health News: Minnesota Ranked Best State For Seniors
Hoping to jump-start a discussion about the well-being of America’s rapidly-growing aging population, the United Health Foundation on Wednesday published the first comprehensive state-by-state analysis of senior health across the nation. Minnesota won the top spot on the list of healthiest states for seniors to live, followed by Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Iowa.  Bringing up the rear, Mississippi was found to be the unhealthiest state for older adults, with Oklahoma, Louisiana, West Virginia and Arkansas following, in that order (Graham, 5/29).

The Wall Street Journal: A Second Chance At Insuring The Masses
Years ago, Peter V. Lee presided over a failed effort to help California small businesses buy health insurance by pooling their purchasing power. Now he is getting another shot at expanding health-care access as executive director of Covered California, the largest state exchange spawned by the 2010 federal health-care law. ... The stakes are high, not only for 54-year-old Mr. Lee but for the Obama administration, which hopes the state will be a showcase for its efforts to remake the U.S. health-care system. California, where one in seven uninsured people live, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, is a strong proponent of the law and has spent more time and money than any other state building an exchange (Vara, 5/28).

The Wall Street Journal: A Business Owner Decides Health Coverage
Larger employers face penalties starting in 2014 if they don't make affordable health-care coverage available to their employees under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Follow the decision-making process of one business owner as he explores his options (5/28).

Los Angeles Times: Supreme Court Rejects Ban On Funding Planned Parenthood
The Supreme Court refused Tuesday to allow Indiana to block Medicaid funding of Planned Parenthood clinics because they perform abortions. Without comment, the high court let stand decisions by a federal judge in Indiana and the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago that prevented the measure from taking effect. The 2011 law would have banned Medicaid funds from going to an organization such as Planned Parenthood whose work includes performing abortions (Savage, 5/28).

USA Today: Supreme Court Declines To Hear Abortion Case
The Supreme Court refused Tuesday to wade back into one of its most controversial subjects: abortion. The court refused to consider Indiana's appeal of a lower court decision striking down its denial of Medicaid funds to health care providers that perform abortions. The law was challenged by Planned Parenthood (Wolf, 5/29).

NPR: Supreme Court Declines Review Of Planned Parenthood Case
In the first Planned Parenthood defunding case to reach the U.S. Supreme Court, the justices have refused to disturb a lower court decision that barred Indiana from stripping Medicaid payments to the organization. More than a dozen states have enacted or considered laws that bar Planned Parenthood from receiving any Medicaid payments for treating poor women. The laws target the organization because it also provides privately funded abortion services in about 3 percent of its cases (Totenberg, 5/28).

The New York Times: Health Care Is Spread Thin On Alaskan Frontier
(Dr. Ellen Hodges) oversees health care for a population of 28,000, mostly Alaska Natives, here in the state’s far west end, spread out over an area the size of Oregon that has almost no roads. People can travel by boat or snow machine at certain times of the year, but not right now: the Kuskokwim River, which wends through Bethel to the Bering Sea, is choked with unstable melting ice in late May, magnifying the isolation that defines everything in what may be America’s emptiest corner. ... The complex machinery of health care is being reimagined everywhere in the nation through the combined prism of new regulations and shifting economics, even here on the continent’s frosted fringe (Johnson, 5/28).

NPR: For Ailing Vets In Rural Areas, Tele-Medicine Can Be The Cure
"Travel is a big burden on a veteran who may be older, not feeling well," says Susan Yeager, who directs the VA health care system for (Alaska),  "and just the sheer expense of travel. That can be a barrier to care and that's part of what tele-medecine's about." "Tele-medicine" happens over a secure computer connection between the big VA hospital in Anchorage and hundreds of small clinics across Alaska. Each clinic has a cart -- picture your old desktop computer with retractable cables that connect it to everything in a doctor's little black bag -- a stethoscope, an otoscope to look in ears, high-resolution cameras and an ultra-sound (Lawrence, 5/29).

The New York Times: With Money At Risk, Hospitals Push Staff To Wash Hands
At North Shore University Hospital on Long Island, motion sensors, like those used for burglar alarms, go off every time someone enters an intensive care room. The sensor triggers a video camera, which transmits its images halfway around the world to India, where workers are checking to see if doctors and nurses are performing a critical procedure: washing their hands (Hartocollis, 5/28).

Los Angeles Times: California Assembly, Senate Outline Divergent Budget Plans
Now that Gov. Jerry Brown has rolled out his revised budget proposal, both houses of the Legislature are outlining their own ideas for how the state's money should be spent in the next year. The Senate wants more funding for mental health programs, dental care for poor adults and career training for high school students. The Assembly wants to increase welfare grants, expand child-care programs and reduce university costs (Megerian, 5/28).

USA Today: Senior Health Care Crisis Looms; Report Ranks States
An aging nation that's living longer but with growing rates of obesity, diabetes and other chronic diseases points to an emerging health care crisis, says a report out Tuesday that analyzes seniors' health status state-by-state. ... The report focuses on 34 measures of senior health, including physical inactivity, obesity, self-reported health status, poverty, drug coverage, hospital re-admission rates and flu vaccinations. The data analyzed is from more than a dozen government agencies and private research groups (Healy, 5/29).

USA Today: Long-Term Care: Investigate Your Options Early
Americans now put health problems it at the top of their retirement worries, says a recent Bank of America's Merrill Lynch Retirement Study. And yet it's not a subject that people spend much time thinking about. ... Although long-term care insurance could help protect their retirement nest eggs, it is typically more expensive than the middle class can afford. And they will not be qualified for Medicaid unless they impoverish themselves. And even if they qualify for Medicaid, they can't always count on it (Dugas, 5/28).

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