KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

First Edition: May 8, 2013

Today's headlines include reports about government data showing the wide variation in what hospitals charge Medicare patients for common inpatient procedures. 

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Harkin Withdraws Hold On Tavenner; Reid Says Timing For Vote Is Unclear; Study Models Three Big Changes To Medicare
Now on Kaiser Health News' blog, Mary Agnes Carey reports on movement on Capitol Hill regarding the nomination of Marilyn Tavenner to head Medicare: "Sen. Tom Harkin Tuesday removed the hold he had placed on the nomination of Marilyn Tavenner to head the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and said he would no longer stand in the way of a Senate vote despite actions by the Obama administration that he said violate 'both the letter and the spirit' of the 2010 health care law. But after Harkin announced his decision on the Senate floor, Majority Leader Harry Reid said it was unclear when the Senate would vote on the nomination" (Carey, 5/7).

Also on the blog, Ankita Rao reports on how three Medicare models could play out: "A study from the Rand Corporation, a nonprofit research organization, compared the impact of three proposals that have been discussed by Congress or the White House to  curb the costs of the government health care program for seniors and the disabled. The study is published in the May issue of Health Affairs" (Rao, 5/7). Check out what else is on the blog.

The New York Times: Hospital Billing Varies Wildly, Government Data Shows
Data being released for the first time by the government on Wednesday shows that hospitals charge Medicare wildly differing amounts — sometimes 10 to 20 times what Medicare typically reimburses — for the same procedure, raising questions about how hospitals determine prices and why they differ so widely. The data for 3,300 hospitals, released by the federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, shows wide variations not only regionally but among hospitals in the same area or city (Meier, McGinty and Creswell, 5/8).

The Washington Post: One Hospital Charges $8,000 — Another, $38,000
Consumers on Wednesday will finally get some answers about one of modern life’s most persistent mysteries: how much medical care actually costs. For the first time, the federal government will release the prices that hospitals charge for the 100 most common inpatient procedures. Until now, these charges have been closely held by facilities that see a competitive advantage in shielding their fees from competitors. What the numbers reveal is a health-care system with tremendous, seemingly random variation in the costs of services (Kliff and Keating, 5/8).

The Washington Post: As Red Ink Recedes, Pressure Fades For Budget Deal
In the meantime, Republicans face a listless summer, with little appetite for compromise but no leverage to shape an agreement. Without that leverage, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said Tuesday, there is no point in opening formal budget negotiations between the House and the Senate, because Democrats have no reason to consider the kind of far-reaching changes to Medicare and the U.S. tax code that Republicans see as fundamental building blocks of a deal (Montgomery and Goldfarb, 5/7).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: As Deficit Bargain Remains Elusive, Pessimism Abounds At Annual Fiscal ‘Summit’
But barely 100 days into President Barack Obama’s second term — supposedly a time of peak possibility in a divided capital city — a bipartisan squad of Washington’s budget big shots was decidedly downbeat on the chances of following up January’s big tax increase on the wealthy with a follow-up deal.  “A ‘grand bargain’ implies you’re going to fix the problem, but when you have the majority party in Washington unwilling to embrace the kinds of reforms that make Medicare solvent or make Social Security solvent ... I don’t see a grand bargain happening,” said House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., a frequent attendee at Peterson’s event (5/7).

The Wall Street Journal: Ryan Sees No 'Grand Bargain' On Budget
A top House Republican lawmaker said he didn't think that a "grand bargain" on a broad deficit-reduction agreement would be reached in the near term, casting new doubts on the chances for such a deal. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) said that he thought the parties were too far apart on the question of overhauling major entitlement programs like Medicare and Medicaid, saying this would prevent a major deal from being concluded (Boles, 5/7).

The New York Times' The Caucus: Judge Criticizes Obama Administration As It Appeals Contraception Decision
A federal judge on Tuesday angrily accused the Obama administration of hurting poor and minority women by seeking to restrict their access to morning-after contraceptive pills. Lawyers for the Justice Department appeared before Judge Edward R. Korman in an effort to delay his previous order that the drug be made available to girls of all ages without a prescription. The department announced last week that it planned to appeal the ruling (Shear, 5/7).

Politico: Missouri Lawmakers Torpedo Medicaid Expansion
Republican supermajorities have all but scuttled Medicaid expansion in Missouri, defeating — at least for this year — efforts supported by the Democratic governor to extend basic health coverage to an estimated 250,000 low-income state residents. State lawmakers are set to finalize their annual budget this week, and neither chamber included expansion in their blueprints. They’ve opted to create committees to study the issue for the rest of the year and to report on the impact of expansion in early 2014, delaying any decision until after the Jan. 1 start date (Cheney, 5/8).

USA Today: Hospitals Lose $8.3 Billion Using Old Technology
U.S. physicians and hospitals are in the digital dark ages when it comes to using the latest mobile devices and Internet services to deliver patient care. As a result, U.S. hospitals are absorbing an estimated $8.3 billion annual hit in lost productivity and increased patient discharge times, according to a Ponemon Institute survey of 577 health care professionals, released Tuesday to Cyber (Acohido, 5/7).

The New York Times: Otis R. Bowen, Health Secretary Under Reagan, Dies At 95
Otis R. Bowen, who served two terms as governor of Indiana and later became the first physician appointed as secretary of health and human services, serving under President Ronald Reagan amid the rising debate about AIDS, died on Saturday in Donaldson, Ind. He was 95 (Yardley, 5/7).

Los Angeles Times: California Senate Leader Proposes Mental Health Program Expansions
State Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) on Tuesday proposed a plan to significantly increase mental health services in California with the goal of reducing the number of people ending up in prison, jail and emergency rooms. Steinberg said the plan is in response to the Newtown, Conn., school massacre, in which a gunman killed 20 students and six adults, as well as a scandal involving a Nevada hospital dumping patients in other states, and the recent order by a federal court to further cut the number of inmates in California prisons (McGreevy, 5/7).

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