KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

First Edition: January 29, 2014

Today's headlines include reports about how the health law played in last night's State-of-the-Union address by President Barack Obama. 

Kaiser Health News: Ex-Microsoft Exec Brings Lists And Whiteboard To Overhaul Of Obamacare Website
Kaiser Health News staff writer Daniela Hernandez, working in collaboration with Wired, reports: "Kurt DelBene’s office is on the sixth floor of the fortress-like Department of Health and Human Services, overlooking the Capitol reflecting pool. With little but a desk, a small laptop, and monitor, it looks barren, like someone just moved out. But DelBene, a longtime Microsoft executive, moved in six weeks ago. He came from the other Washington, after President Barack Obama named him’s new fix-it guy — the successor to 'tech-surge czar' Jeff Zients. DelBene is here to shore up the famously flawed Obamacare website, not decorate an office. The most telling evidence of his arrival is on the wall to the right of his workstation, where a large whiteboard is covered with scribbled notes about databases, security features, website capacity, and the like" (Hernandez, 1/29). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: More About Treating Clubfoot
Now on Kaiser Health News’ blog, Jenny Gold reports: "We’ve had a lot of response from readers and listeners to our story on NPR’s Morning Edition on Monday, The Clubfoot Correction: How Parents Pushed For Better Treatment. Readers wrote that they or their children had received casting and boots-and-bars treatment for clubfoot. Some happened many decades ago—some fairly recently. We thought some more explanation is in order" (Gold, 1/28). Check out what else is on the blog.

Politico: State Of The Union 2014: Obama Embraces Obamacare
President Barack Obama left no doubt Tuesday night what his Obamacare sales technique will be: loud voice, lots of confidence and no apologies. Don’t dwell on the scratches on the hood. Just tell the customer how good it will feel to rev the engine and drive the car off the lot (Nather, 1/28).

The Washington Post: In State Of The Union, Obama Vows To Expand Opportunity, With Or Without Congress
Instead, Obama also praised his health-care law, which is both the signature achievement of his administration and — because of the fraught rollout of last year — the centerpiece of Republicans’ case against him. Obama described the situation of an Arizona woman, Amanda Shelley, who he said had obtained coverage Jan. 1 because of the law. On Jan. 6, she had emergency surgery — which, Obama said, “would’ve meant bankruptcy” if she had not been covered. Then, after saying that the law had made changes for the better, Obama made a blunter argument aimed at congressional Republicans: No matter what they think of the law, they now have no choice but to live with it (Nakamura and Fahrenthold, 1/28).

Los Angeles Times: In State Of The Union, Obama Focuses On America’s Economic Divide
The speech represented an attempt at a political comeback for the president, whose approval rating was damaged by the disastrous rollout of his signature healthcare law and whose Democratic Party faces the prospect of losing control of the Senate in the November election. Obama mounted his most pointed recent defense of the healthcare law, and issued a challenge to Republican critics to put forward their own plans (Hennessey and Parsons, 1/28).

The Wall Street Journal’s Washington Wire: Obama Touts Health-Law Developments In Speech
There was plenty of speculation about whether President Barack Obama would address the health-care overhaul in his State of the Union address–his signature domestic initiative that took full effect 27 days ago with a problematic rollout. He answered that question right at the top, when he included the law among a list of American achievements during his administration: “A rural doctor gave a young child the first prescription to treat asthma that his mother could afford.” Eventually, he came back to it. For several years, administration officials have emphasized some of the earliest consumer provisions of the law to kick in, which happen to be the best known and most popular. That habit has stuck, since the first number the president touted on health care is that three million young adults have been able to stay on their parents’ plans until their 26th birthdays (Radnofsky, 1/28).

Los Angeles Times: Republicans Blame President Obama For Nation’s Economic Woes
Both Lee and McMorris Rodgers cited the troubled rollout of the Affordable Care Act.
Lee said Obamacare “all by itself is an inequality Godzilla that has robbed working families of their insurance, their doctors, their wages and their jobs. Many Americans are now seeing why some of us fought so hard to stop this train wreck over the last four years.” McMorris Rodgers said the nation “shouldn’t go back to the way things were,” but said the new healthcare law “is not working.“ “Republicans believe healthcare choices should be yours, not the government’s, and that whether you’re a boy with Down syndrome or a woman with breast cancer, you can find coverage and a doctor who will treat you” (Reston, 1/28).

Los Angeles Times: As The President Shifts Topics, The GOP Is Still Focused On Obamacare
In his State of the Union address, President Obama will touch on his healthcare law but keep the focus instead on his agenda to tackle income inequality: a push to increase the minimum wage, extend unemployment benefits and boost access to pre-kindergarten education. That was not the case across town Tuesday at the Republican National Committee, where the pre-buttal to the speech was all Obamacare, all the time. Though the administration has made progress by enrolling some 3 million people through the marketplaces created by the Affordable Care Act, Republicans show no signs of backing off their opposition as they hammer Democratic lawmakers over the problems created by the law. At RNC headquarters, Republican leaders handed the microphone to 10 constituents from eight states who were asked to share the problems they have faced — from premium increases to canceled plans — as a result of the healthcare law (Reston, 1/28).

The New York Times: In State Of The Union Address, Obama Vows To Act Alone On The Economy
Despite his vow to move ahead without Capitol Hill, Mr. Obama said he was not giving up on Congress altogether and recycled calls for many past legislative priorities, like extending unemployment insurance. “Let’s see where else we can make progress together,” he said. … And he offered a vigorous defense of his embattled health care program. “Let’s not have another 40-something votes to repeal a law that’s already helping Americans,” he said (Baker, 1/28).

The Wall Street Journal’s Washington Wire: Health Care Is Ticket For Some SOTU Guests
Health care isn’t expected to take a starring role in the State of the Union speech Tuesday night but that doesn’t mean it will be entirely absent. The White House has invited Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear to sit with First Lady Michelle Obama during the speech because his state’s health insurance exchange worked surprisingly smoothly when others stumbled, and has now signed up 182,000 residents, chiefly in Medicaid. Mr. Beshear, a Democrat in a red-leaning state, said in a December interview that the exchange was “succeeding beyond our wildest dreams at this point,” which he attributed to starting work early with a contractor that worked closely with state officials and took a no-frills approach to the site (Radnofsky, 1/28).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Health Care Call Center Lawsuit Alleges Unpaid OT
Customer service workers at a call center for insurance exchanges established under the federal health care overhaul have sued their employer in federal court, saying they were forced to work unpaid overtime. The nine workers at a Boise facility who brought the suit against Maximus Inc. say the case could potentially apply to thousands of employees, and they’re asking a judge to award damages exceeding $5 million (1/28).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Md. Health Exchange Bill Could Be Finalized Soon
A final vote is near on a measure to help people who could not enroll in a private health plan on Maryland’s health exchange website due to computer problems last year. The Senate, which already approved a version of the bill, could take up final passage as soon as Wednesday on the bill that has some changes made by the House of Delegates (1/29).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Answers Sought On Families’ Medicaid Problems 
A congresswoman from New Hampshire asked the U.S. government Tuesday to clarify how families can obtain coverage under the federal health insurance law when children are eligible for Medicaid but their parents are not. Parents in New Hampshire, California and Florida have been surprised to learn that children who qualify for Medicaid can’t be covered under subsidized family plans purchased through the federal online markets, The Associated Press reported this week. Some children are going without coverage temporarily while their eligibility is determined. Others are stuck with no options because they applied for Medicaid and were rejected, but can’t be added to their parents’ plans (1/28).

The Wall Street Journal’s Law Blog: Notre Dame Revives Bid For Injunction Over Contraception
The University of Notre Dame is trying again to get a court injunction so it can stop covering contraception for its employees, following a favorable Supreme Court order in a similar case. Notre Dame struck out once at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit last year. Then the Supreme Court last week blocked the federal government from enforcing the contraception requirement against the Little Sisters of the Poor, a Roman Catholic nonprofit that operates homes for the elderly poor. On Tuesday, Notre Dame filed a new request to the Seventh Circuit, saying the Supreme Court’s order suggests the university is also entitled to a stay while litigation continues (Radnofsky, 1/28).

Politico: 20014 Dems Plot Obamacare Strategy
One of President Barack Obama’s rowdiest standing ovations Tuesday night came when he demanded Republicans drop their endless crusade to repeal his signature health care law. But there’s a more critical bloc of lawmakers he needs to implement Obamacare: vulnerable Democratic senators facing reelection in 2014 (Raju, 1/29).

The New York Times: House Votes to Restrict Payment For Abortions
The House of Representatives voted on Tuesday to impose tighter restrictions on federal payments for abortions, thrusting the issue of a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy into the polarizing politics of an election year. The bill stands no chance of being passed by the Democratic-controlled Senate (Peters, 1/28).

Politico: House Bans Obamacare Subsidies For Abortion Coverage
The House has passed a bill banning abortion coverage in federally subsidized Obamacare plans, amid a renewed GOP push to keep abortion a front-and-center issue in the midterm elections. The measure, passed Tuesday afternoon by a 227-188 vote, would make it illegal for individuals to use the law’s subsidies to buy plans through the new health exchanges that would cover abortion services. Half the states have already passed legislation limiting abortion coverage in exchange plans, but this measure would apply nationwide and possibly discourage insurers on the exchanges from offering abortion coverage at all (Winfield Cunningham, 1/28).

The Washington Post: Did Sen. Coburn Lose His Cancer doctor Because Of Obamacare? 
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) has long been politically opposed to the Affordable Care Act. As recently as Monday, he offered a major repeal-and-replace plan. Now, he has a more personal grievance against Obamacare: Coburn, who is undergoing treatment for prostate cancer, says he lost coverage for his oncologist when he purchased a plan on the new health exchange. “I’m doing well from a health standpoint, got great docs,” Coburn said Tuesday morning in an interview on MSNBC. “Fortunately, even though my new coverage won’t cover my specialist, I’m going to have great care, and I have a great prognosis” (Kliff, 1/28).

Politico: Obamacare: Tom Coburn Loses Cancer Doctor
Cancer-stricken Sen. Tom Coburn revealed Tuesday that his health insurance under Obamacare doesn’t cover his oncologist, but said he still is receiving excellent care. “I’m doing well from a health standpoint, got great docs,” Coburn said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Tuesday when asked about his health. “Fortunately — even though my new coverage won’t cover my specialist — I’m going to have great care, and I have a great prognosis” (Kopan, 1/28).

Los Angeles Times: Report Criticizes California Health Plans For Treatment Of Chronic Ailments
Most California health plans make it hard for patients to get care easily and do a poor job of controlling chronic conditions such as asthma and diabetes, a new state report shows. The findings were published Tuesday in the state's annual report card on California's 10 largest HMOs, six biggest preferred-provider organization plans and more than 200 medical groups. The scores on clinical performance and patient satisfaction reflect care for about 16 million Californians with private health insurance (Terhune, 1/28).

NPR: In Vermont, A Network Of Help For Opiate-Addicted Mothers
While it may not fit Vermont's bucolic image, the state's addiction problem has long been acknowledged. And as the state has expanded treatment, it's also been coming to grips with one of the most difficult and emotional aspects of the issue: addicted mothers (Zind, 1/28). 

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