KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

First Edition: July 31, 2013

Today's headlines include reports that Medicare premiums will remain stable in 2014 and coverage of a new Congressional Budget Office estimate regarding the cost of delaying the health law's employer mandate. 

Kaiser Health News: What To Say When Mom Or Dad Has Cancer
KUHF's Carrie Feibel, working in partnership with Kaiser Health News and NPR, reports: "At any one time, an estimated 2.9 million children have a parent who has, or has had, cancer. Dozens of studies show that many of these children experience worry and stress, but that good communication can ease their fears and isolation, even up to the point of a parent’s death. Still, figuring out what to tell the kids – and when – is not an easy decision, and many parents who have cancer get little to no advice from their doctors about how to handle it" (Feibel, 7/30). Read the story.

Los Angeles Times: Obama Offers New 'Grand Bargain' Of Corporate Tax Cuts And Jobs
President Obama on Tuesday offered what he billed as a new "grand bargain" proposal that would combine a cut in corporate tax rates sought by many Republicans with a jobs-creating program that would spend more money on roads and bridges around the country. … White House officials, however, have suggested they think the new idea might appeal to at least some moderate Republicans in the Senate, although they have less hope in the Republican-controlled House. In unveiling the new strategy at an Amazon distribution center, Obama tacitly acknowledged what lawmakers had assumed for months — that the old "grand bargain" talks were dead. Those negotiations, aimed at reducing the long-term deficit by combining lower spending on Medicare and Social Security with tax increases, dragged on for months but failed to produce a plan both sides could support (Parsons, 7/30).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Gov't.: Average Monthly Premium For Medicare Drug Plans Will Rise By $1 For 2012, To $31
The Obama administration says the average monthly premium for Medicare prescription drug plans will inch up by $1 next year, to $31. The increase comes after three stable years in which the average premium hovered around $30 a month (7/30).

USA Today: Medicare Premiums To Remain Stable In 2014
Medicare Part D premiums will average about $31 in 2014 — up from $30 for the past three years. The Part D deductible will fall from $325 to $310 in 2014. "There is continued very strong competition within the Part D plan," said Jonathan Blum, deputy administrator and director for the Center of Medicare. When the coverage gap program began, "there was lots of concern that filling in the doughnut hole would cause Part D costs to go up" (Kennedy, 7/30).

The Wall Street Journal: Delay In Employer Health Mandate Estimated To Cost $12 Billion
The Obama administration's move to delay a mandate on businesses to provide health coverage will mean $12 billion in lost tax revenue and additional costs, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The nonpartisan CBO said one million fewer people will get employer coverage in 2014 as a result of the postponement, and half of those will turn to new government health-insurance exchanges or Medicaid for coverage (Dooren, 7/30).

The Washington Post’s Wonk Blog: Obamacare Mandate Delay Costs $12 Billion, Cuts Insurance Coverage
Obamacare’s price tag has just gone up by $12 billion, due to the White House's decision to delay the employer mandate until 2015. The vast majority of that increase ($10 billion) reflects a reduction in the penalties that the government would have collected from employers who did not comply with the requirement to provide health insurance. The Congressional Budget Office, which released the new estimate Tuesday, also expects more Americans to access federal subsidies purchasing coverage on the new marketplaces (Kliff, 7/30).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: CBO: Obama Administration Delay Of Health Law's Employer Requirement Will Cost $10B
The Obama administration's surprise decision to delay a key requirement of the health care law for employers will cost the government $10 billion, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said Tuesday. While that's a big number, the report from the official budget scorekeeper for Congress put the administration's recent move within a wider perspective: It adds up to an increase of less than 1 percent in the 10-year cost of the law (7/30).

The Wall Street Journal: Tea Party Pushes To Defund Obama's Health-Care Law
A drive to cut off funding for President Barack Obama's health-care law is gathering momentum among tea-party activists and their allies on Capitol Hill, but Republicans in Congress are divided over how hard to push the issue. House GOP leaders are planning to make opposition to the health-care law a centerpiece of the party's message when they return to their districts for the August recess (Hook and King, 7/30).

Politico: John Boehner On Shutdown: Don't Go There
Speaker John Boehner will use a private party meeting Wednesday to lay out a new strategy to chip away at Obamacare, brushing back at House and Senate conservatives who have urged a government shutdown if the law is funded. Boehner (R-Ohio) will give a presentation saying that the House Republican leadership supports continuous votes to build "on the successful, targeted strikes against the law that took place in the House this month and resulted in significant Democratic defections, chipping away at the legislative coalition that keeps the president's health care law on the books," a GOP leadership aide said on Tuesday evening (Sherman, 7/30).

Politico: Ted Cruz Taunts Fellow Republicans In Obamacare Fight
Ted Cruz is taking his hardball tactics to a whole new level. The Texas freshman senator and his senior aides are unleashing a barrage of attacks on their fellow Republicans for refusing to support their plan to choke off Obamacare as a condition for funding the government. Cruz's chief of staff is lambasting fellow conservatives like Oklahoma’s Tom Coburn for serving in the "surrender caucus." His top political strategist has compared Mitch McConnell to Barack Obama. And the senator himself has said many Republicans are "scared" to wage this fight (Raju and Everett, 7/31).

The Washington Post's The Fact Checker: A Misleading 'Obamacare' Poll, Courtesy Of The Chamber Of Commerce And Harris Interactive
We have long warned readers about the perils of relying on data from opt-in Internet polls, especially those that make broad claims about estimating population values. We have given Pinocchios both to President Obama, for relying on an opt-in poll when he claimed that a majority of millionaires support the Buffett rule, and the National Rifle Association, for asserting that an opt-in poll reflected the views of the nation’s police. This is a yet another case, but with a wrinkle. Here, the polling company, Harris Interactive, and the sponsor, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, presented the data in a highly misleading way — and then made false claims about the type of poll that had been conducted (Kessler, 7/31).

Politico: Joel Benenson: Weak Support For Obamacare Repeal
Republican efforts to repeal Obamacare have middling public support at best, including among GOPers and in states carried last year by Mitt Romney, a new Democratic polling memo states. The "interested parties" memo by President Barack Obama's pollster Joel Benenson, obtained by POLITICO, asserts that GOP efforts to repeal the president’s signature health care law barely have majority support of their own voters and that Republicans are embracing a political loser by continuing to fight implementation (Haberman, 7/30).

The New York Times: Community Health Agrees To Buy H.M.A. For $3.6 Billion
Community Health Systems agreed on Tuesday to buy Health Management Associates for about $3.6 billion in cash and stock, in a long-expected union of two for-profit hospital systems. Under the terms of the deal, Community Health will pay $10.50 a share in cash and 0.06942 of a share for each share of H.M.A. That values the takeover bid at about $13.78 a share, based on Monday's closing stock prices (De La Merced, 7/30).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Community Health Plans To Buy Fellow Hospital Operator Health Management Associates For $3.9B
The board members of both companies have approved the deal, but HMA stockholders still have to clear it. The health care overhaul is expected to help hospitals as it expands insurance coverage to millions of people over the next few years (7/30).

The Wall Street Journal: Community Health Strikes Deal To Merge 206 Hospitals
The acquisition announced Tuesday could hinge on the response of shareholders including hedge fund Glenview Capital Management, the biggest owner of both companies' shares, which has been pushing to replace Health Management's board. The two hospital companies said the price—$10.50 in cash and 0.06942 Community share for each Health Management share—values Health Management at $13.78 a share, a 7.6% discount to Monday's closing price of $14.92. But analysts said the price is well above where Health Management's shares would have been trading absent months of deal speculation and the proxy fight (Mathews, 7/30).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Health Insurer Aetna's 2nd-Quarter Profits Rises 17 Percent, Helped by Coventry Acquisition
Aetna Inc.’s second-quarter earnings jumped 17 percent, and the health insurer raised its 2013 forecast as it reaped revenue and enrollment gains from its acquisition of fellow insurer Coventry Health Care. The Hartford, Conn., company said Tuesday that it earned $536 million, or $1.49 per share, in the three months that ended June 30. That’s up from $457.6 million, or $1.32 per share, a year ago (7/30).

The Wall Street Journal: Aetna Earnings: Membership Keeps Growing
In May, Aetna acquired the managed-health-care company Coventry Health Care Inc. to bolster its presence in government-financed health care. The cash and stock deal, worth $5.7 billion when announced in August, added about 3.7 million medical members and 1.5 million Medicare Part D members. While Aetna's revenue has improved over the past year, its profit came under pressure as consumers started to return to former health-care usage patterns amid an improving U.S. economy (Warner, 7/30).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Judge Ends Indiana’s Failed Battle To Deny Medicaid Funds To Planned Parenthood Over Abortions
A judge on Tuesday made permanent her order barring Indiana from denying Medicaid funds to Planned Parenthood clinics, ending the state’s two-year legal fight. U.S. District Judge Tanya Walton Pratt issued his permanent injunction after the U.S. Supreme Court in May refused to hear Indiana’s appeal in the case. Days later, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services issued an administrative ruling siding with Planned Parenthood (7/30).

The Wall Street Journal: Bloomberg Loses in Sugary Drinks Fight
A state appellate court on Tuesday unanimously affirmed an earlier decision to block New York City from banning the sale of large sugary drinks in restaurants and other venues, a blow to a public-health initiative that has been among the hallmarks of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's tenure at City Hall (Saul, 7/30).

Los Angeles Times: Appeals Court Rules NYC Ban On Large Sugary Drinks Is Unconstitutional
Dealing yet another blow to Mayor Michael Bloomberg's efforts to reduce obesity in New York City, a state appeals court upheld an March decision by a lower court that Bloomberg's sugary drink ban is unconstitutional. The court wrote that the city's Board of Health "failed to act within the bounds of its lawfully delegated authority," and as a result, the so-called soda ban is unlawful (Lopez, 7/30).

Los Angeles Times: Court Experts Cite 'Serious' Healthcare Risks At Corcoran Prison
Medical experts reporting to a federal court monitor say healthcare at the California state prison at Corcoran poses "an ongoing serious risk of harm to patients" that results in preventable deaths. The report, filed in federal court Monday, finds "serious patient care issues" within the general hospital at the prison, including life-threatening infections caused by unsanitary conditions, nurses who did not check vitals and doctors who repeatedly "cut and paste" the same patient notes (St. John, 7/30). 

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