KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

First Edition: July 16, 2014

Today's headlines include reports about the Congressional Budget Office's latest estimate on federal health care spending.

Kaiser Health News: Senate Democrats Launch Fight To Reverse Supreme Court, State Abortion Restrictions
Kaiser Health News staff writer Julie Rovner reports: “Most of the momentum in fights over birth control and abortion has been in the direction of opponents of late. But you wouldn’t know that by watching the U.S. Senate. Democrats who control the chamber have scheduled a vote for Wednesday on a bill that would effectively reverse the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling regarding contraceptive requirements in the Affordable Care Act. And on Tuesday the Judiciary Committee heard testimony on a separate, sweeping measure that would invalidate many state abortion restrictions” (Rovner, 7/15). Read the story

Kaiser Health News: California Releases Proposal For Clearing Medicaid Backlog
Reporting for Kaiser Health News, Helen Shen writes: “Responding to inquiries from federal officials, the California health department has released a plan it says will dramatically slash its backlog of Medi-Cal applications within six weeks. For months, the state has labored under the largest such pile-up in the country, with 900,000 pending cases reported in May—the combined result of unexpectedly high application numbers and bug-ridden computer systems” (Shen, 7/16). Read thestory

Kaiser Health News: A Small Business Owner Enters The Insurance Marketplace
Kaiser Health News staff writer Heidi de Marco reports: “Alongside one of this city’s canals, blocks from the beach, Sandra Lopez is finally living her idea of the American dream. In 1996, six years after crossing the border from Mexico without papers, she began working at Las Fajitas, a popular Mexican restaurant as a cashier and cook. With the help of her boss, she received a work visa in 2001. Eleven years after that, she bought the business – a bustling establishment where Lopez knows most customers by name. Mexican lanterns hang from the ceiling, and cheers from a soccer match on TV fill the room (de Marco, 7/15). Read the story and watch the accompanying video.

The New York Times: Budget Office Lowers Its Estimate on Federal Spending For Health Care
The growth of federal spending on health care will continue to decline as a proportion of the overall economy in the coming decades, in part because of cost controls mandated by President Obama’s health care law, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said on Tuesday. The budget office said in its annual 25-year forecast that federal spending on major health care programs would amount to 8 percent of gross domestic product by 2039, one-tenth of a percentage point lower than its previous projection (Joachim, 7/15).

The Washington Post: CBO: Slowing Health-Care Costs Yield Big Savings, But Not Enough To Bring Down Our Big Debt
The fastest-growing part of the federal budget -- spending on health-care programs -- has slowed sharply in recent years. And while no one knows quite why that's happening, the Congressional Budget Office is predicting substantial savings. For the 10-year period beginning in 2010, the estimated cost of Medicare and Medicaid -- the government health programs for the elderly and the poor -- has dropped by $1.23 trillion, according to revised CBO projections. In its latest look at the nation's long-term finances, released Tuesday, CBO predicts that the savings will grow by 2039 to 1.5 percent of the economy -- or, in today's dollars, roughly $250 billion a year (Montgomery, 7/15).

The Wall Street Journal: CBO Sees Medicare's Financial Picture Improving
The biggest Medicare program is expected to remain financially solvent through 2030, five years longer than previously expected, according to a government estimate released Tuesday that predicts the program's health-care costs will grow more slowly than they did before the recession. The report by the Congressional Budget Office said Medicare's financial picture had improved sharply since its February forecast, when the nonpartisan budget scorekeeper projected that the portion of the government-run health program that provides hospital coverage for seniors and the disabled would exhaust its reserves in 2025 (Paletta, 7/15).

Los Angeles Times: Obamacare: California Details Plan To Cut Medi-Cal Backlog To 350,000
California will reduce the number of Medi-Cal applications it has pending under Obamacare by nearly half within six weeks, state officials pledged Monday. In a letter to the federal government's Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the director of California's Department of Health Care Services, Toby Douglas, noted that the number of pending applications for the healthcare program for the poor had declined from 900,000 in March to 600,000 by the end of June -- and said that the state's continued efforts to push through the backlog would reduce the number to "approximately 350,000 within six weeks" (Brown, 7/15).

The Associated Press: Md. Officials Provide Update On Health Exchange
A computer glitch with Connecticut’s health exchange will be corrected in the version Maryland will be using as the state revamps its own troubled website with Connecticut’s technology, Maryland’s information technology secretary assured lawmakers Tuesday. As Maryland faces a tight timeline before the next enrollment period begins in four months, Isabel FitzGerald told a legislative oversight panel that the state is on schedule to have its own flawed website fixed with the new technology in time for the next open enrollment period in November (7/15).

Politico: Behind The GOP Focus On Obamacare
There is no shortage of actions that House Republicans see as illegal overreach by President Barack Obama. They were furious when he bypassed Congress to swap Guantánamo Bay detainees for an American prisoner of war. They were angry when he tweaked immigration law without congressional approval. They considered taking him to court for both (Sherman and French, 7/15).

Politico: 5 Questions About John Boehner’s Lawsuit Against Barack Obama
The GOP-led House is set to take its first big step Wednesday toward launching a high-profile lawsuit charging President Barack Obama with failing to carry out his constitutional duty to enforce the law. Republicans have complained about Obama’s actions on issues ranging from immigration to welfare to the minimum wage, but the suit is expected to focus narrowly on the Affordable Care Act and the decision to defer for one to two years a requirement that employers provide health insurance starting in 2014 (Gerstein, 7/15).

Los Angeles Times: Senate Democrats Move To Prevent State Restrictions On Abortion
Democrats say the bill would prevent states from singling out abortions and protect women’s reproductive rights. The Women’s Health Protection Act comes in response to the recent push in some states to impose new limits on the practice. These restrictions include requiring that doctors who perform abortions have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, curtailing training for abortion services and limiting the remote prescription of drugs to end a pregnancy without a doctor’s visit (Levine, 7/15).

The Washington Post’s Wonkblog: How do You Pay For A Drug That Costs $84,000? 
There's a new $84,000 treatment for hepatitis C that's giving new hope to patients. But it's also giving a health-care system strained by limited resources a strong reality check. Since Gilead Sciences unveiled Sovaldi more than six months ago, its $84,000 price tag has ignited a conversation in the health policy world about how to make life-saving medicines more affordable without hurting drugmakers' incentives to develop the treatments in the first place (Millman, 7/15).

The Associated Press: Nemours Settles 2 United Health Lawsuits
The foundation that owns the Alfred I. du Pont Hospital for Children in Delaware and various pediatric practices in the region has settled lawsuits against two United Healthcare entities for unpaid bills. Federal court documents filed this week indicate that the Nemours Foundation has settled lawsuits against United Healthcare of the Mid-Atlantic and United Healthcare Community Plan of New Jersey. A third lawsuit against United Healthcare of Pennsylvania remains pending (7/15).

The New York Times: Medicaid Home Care Cuts Are Unjust, Lawsuit Says
A federal class action lawsuit filed late Tuesday accuses New York State health officials of denying or slashing Medicaid home care services to chronically ill and disabled people without proper notice, the chance to appeal or even an explanation, protections required by law (Bernstein, 7/15).

The New York Times: At NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, Its Ex-C.E.O. Finds Lucrative Work
When Dr. Herbert Pardes retired as president and chief executive of NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital in 2011, the institution honored him at its annual “Cabaret” fund-raiser. More than 1,000 guests dined on wild mushroom soup catered by the restaurateur Danny Meyer and listened to Kelli O’Hara, a star of “South Pacific,” serenade them with Rodgers and Hammerstein, Sondheim and Berlin (Hartocollis, 7/15).

The Wall Street Journal: Walgreen Weighs Riding Tax-Inversion Wave
Walgreen Co.'s first pharmacy opened 113 years ago inside a hotel on Chicago's South Side and this year, the chain will derive nearly all its sales and most of its profits from its 8,700 U.S. locations. But Walgreen is currently thinking about leaving American shores, as part a plan to buy the rest of Alliance Boots GmbH, which operates a U.K. drugstore chain and is based in Switzerland. The move could help Walgreen lower its U.S. tax bill saving the company hundreds of millions of dollars a year—money that wouldn't flow into the U.S. Treasury (Ziobro, 7/15).

Los Angeles Times: L.A. County To Expand Laura’s Law Mental-Illness Treatment Program
Los Angeles County leaders voted Tuesday to fully implement Laura's Law, a state statute that gives counties the option to pursue court-ordered outpatient treatment for people with serious mental illness. Praised by advocates who say it offers a new tool to family members of adults with severe untreated mental illness, the law was recently adopted by San Francisco and Orange counties (Sewell, 7/15).

The Wall Street Journal: Los Angeles County Approves Involuntary Mental-Health Care
The county's Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to adopt a law allowing court-ordered involuntary mental health treatment for people with serious mental illness and a history of evading treatment. Such laws, though divisive, have become more popular nationwide in the aftermath of recent mass shootings, when some have argued that mandated mental health treatment might have prevented them (Phillips, 7/15).

Los Angeles Times: D.A. Jackie Lacey Calls Jailing Of Mentally Ill A ‘Moral Question’
Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey told county supervisors Tuesday that gaps in services and communication breakdowns between agencies have resulted in more mentally ill people being sent to jail. Lacey, who is heading up a group of leaders from different agencies focused on expanding diversion programs, called the issue a "moral question" (Sewell, 7/15). 

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