First Edition: August 27, 2014
Today's headlines include reports about Kevin Counihan, the person who take on the challenge of running healthcare.gov.
Kaiser Health News: New Head Of Healthcare.gov Is Connecticut's Counihan
Reporting for Kaiser Health News, in partnership with NPR, WNPR’s Jeff Cohen and KHN’s Diane Webber write: “Kevin Counihan, the head of Connecticut's health insurance marketplace, will be the new CEO of healthcare.gov, the website that 36 states use to sell insurance under the Affordable Care Act, the administration announced Tuesday. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell tapped Counihan to lead the site as part of a revamped management structure that aims to have the second year of Obamacare run more smoothly than the first” (Cohen and Webber, 8/26). Read the story.
Kaiser Health News: Operator? Business, Insurer Take On End-of-Life Issues By Phone
WHYY’s Elana Gordon, working in partnership with Kaiser Health News and NPR, reports: “Imagine you're at home. Maybe that's in Florida, Wisconsin, Rhode Island, wherever. You have cancer. You just had another round of chemo, and the phone rings. ‘My name is Kate. I'm a health care counselor,’ the gentle voice says from her cubicle in Cherry Hill, N.J.. This is no telemarketing call … it’s about the end of your life. Kate Schleicher, 27, is a licensed clinical social worker, who knows almost as little about you as you do about her. Except she’s got your phone number, your insurance provider and that you are pretty sick” (Gordon, 8/27). Read the story.
Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Report: Health Law Ups Taxes On Insurers With Big Pay Packages
Now on Kaiser Health News’ blog, Julie Appleby reports: “While average compensation for top health insurance executives hit $5.4 million each last year, a little-noticed provision in the federal health law sharply reduced insurers’ ability to shield much of that pay from corporate taxes, says a report out today” (Appleby, 8/27). Read the story.
The New York Times: Leader Of Connecticut’s Health Marketplace Is Named To Run Federal Program
Mr. Counihan will start on Sept. 8, a little more than two months before the next sign-up period for health insurance begins on Nov. 15. Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the secretary of Health and Human Services, hired Mr. Counihan for the new position of chief executive as part of an effort to improve management of the federal marketplace and to avoid the technological failures that paralyzed its website, HealthCare.gov, last fall (Goodnough, 8/26).
The Wall Street Journal: Connecticut Exchange CEO To Run HealthCare.gov
The health law called for the setting up of online exchanges where consumers can compare insurance plans and apply for tax credits toward the cost of coverage. HealthCare.gov is the platform the federal government uses to run exchanges on behalf of more than 30 states unable or unwilling to run their own. … HHS said Tuesday that as well as being in charge of the federally run exchanges, Mr. Counihan's responsibilities would include working with the states that run their own exchanges, and running the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight, the unit in charge of regulating health plans under the 2010 health law (Radnofsky, 8/26).
The Washington Post’s Wonkblog: There’s Finally Someone In Charge Of Healthcare.Gov
The idea of a single point person to oversee the law's implementation originally generated interest among some of the law's advocates in early 2010 and top administration officials. More talk resurfaced after the failed launch of HealthCare.gov last year, when it became clear there was a management problem at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the agency overseeing the law's implementation. It's easy to see why CMS saw Counihan as the right person to run the enrollment Web site serving 36 states (Millman, 8/26).
The Associated Press: CEO Named For Healthcare.Gov
Kevin Counihan leads Access Health CT, a health insurance marketplace seen as a national model. As CEO of the federal exchange, Counihan’s challenge will be far bigger. Connecticut enrolled about 80,000 people, while more than 5 million signed up in the 36 states served by the federal marketplace (8/26).
Politico: Connecticut Exchange Leader Named CEO Of Healthcare.Gov
HHS is still looking for a permanent chief technology officer for HealthCare.gov, but the agency announced Tuesday that Tim Hughey of Accenture will effectively fill that role in the interim. Accenture is the lead contractor on the federal exchange now, having replaced CGI, which was fired in January. Hughey will provide technology support to CMS through the next open enrollment season, which kicks off Nov. 15, federal health officials said (Wheaton, 8/26).
The Washington Post: Federal Auditors Sought Documents Related To Troubled Md. Health Exchange Launch
Noridian Healthcare Solutions, the company fired by Maryland officials after the disastrous launch of the state’s health insurance exchange, received a request from federal auditors last month to turn over documents related to the troubled project, chief executive Tom McGraw said Tuesday. McGraw said in a statement that Noridian was “cooperating fully” with the July 30 request by the inspector general’s office for the Department of Health and Human Services, which has been auditing the use of federal funds in creating the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange (Johnson and Flaherty, 8/26).
The New York Times: Nonprofit Hospitals’ 2013 Revenue Lowest Since Recession, Report Says
Nonprofit hospitals last year had their worst financial performance since the Great Recession, according to a report released on Wednesday. The poor operating performance of many hospitals underscored some of the changes in the health care system as the federal government and private health plans became less willing to pay for hospital care and changed the way they paid hospitals in an effort to reduce costs (Abelson, 8/27).
The Wall Street Journal: Nonprofit Hospitals' Earnings Fall As Costs Outrun Revenue
Nonprofit hospitals' income declined for a second straight year in 2013 and their median rate of revenue growth fell to an all-time low, Moody's Investors Service said, a trend the credit rater's analysts say likely will continue this year. The nonprofit hospitals' performance contrasts with the rising profits and patient volumes reported by publicly traded hospital operators in recent weeks (Weaver, 8/27).
The New York Times: Arizona Treasurer Wins G.O.P. Primary For Governor
With 83 percent of the precincts reporting, Mr. Ducey was ahead with 37.3 percent of the vote, or about 59,000 more votes than his closest rival, Scott Smith, who had 22.4 percent. Mr. Smith, the former mayor of Mesa, was considered the most moderate among the Republicans running for governor. He focused his campaign less on border security, a prime theme for his opponents, and more on the economy, which is still suffering from the aftereffects of the recession. Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican, lent him her endorsement and financial support, in part because he backed her decision to expand Medicaid coverage, a move opposed by most Republicans in the state because of its perceived connection to President Obama’s health care overhaul (Santos, 8/26).
The Wall Street Journal: Charlie Crist Wins Democratic Primary In Florida Governor's Race
Former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist won his first race as a Democrat Tuesday night, securing the party's nomination to challenge current Republican Gov. Rick Scott in what will be one of the nation's premier gubernatorial contests this fall. … In Arizona, Republican Doug Ducey won his party's primary and will face Democrat Fred DuVal this fall in the race to succeed Republican Gov. Jan Brewer, who isn't seeking a third term. Mr. Ducey, Arizona's state treasurer, was endorsed by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who called his plan for addressing illegal immigration "the most serious and credible plan to address the border crisis." … The former CEO of ice-cream chain Cold Stone Creamery, Mr. Ducey has … pledged to rein in the costs of Medicaid expansion—a law signed by Ms. Brewer that has proved controversial among Republican state legislators and has been a hallmark of her tenure. Ms. Brewer had endorsed another candidate, former Mesa, Ariz., Mayor Scott Smith, in the race (Ballhaus, 8/27).
NPR: VA Deputy Secretary On Wait Times: 'We Owe The American People An Apology'
Melissa Block talks with Sloan Gibson, the deputy secretary of the Veterans Affairs Department, about the results of a recent probe into wait times at VA facilities (8/26).
The New York Times: Obama Tells Veterans He Will Fix Health System, As New Report Lists Lapses
President Obama on Tuesday promised several thousand military veterans that he would fulfill his “sacred trust” to those returning from America’s wars by overhauling a dysfunctional health care system, even as a new report documented “unacceptable and troubling lapses” in medical treatment (Baker and Philipps, 8/26).
Los Angeles Times: Obama Tells American Legion He's Working To Regain Veterans' Trust
The list included seemingly straightforward changes, such as making it easier for veterans to earn commercial driver's licenses, and new funding for complex research. The Pentagon and the National Institutes of Health have launched a study on early detection of suicide risk, post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain disorder, while the VA will invest $34.4 million in a national clinical trial on suicide prevention involving 1,800 veterans at 29 hospitals, the White House said (Hennessey, 8/26).
The Washington Post: Obama Pledges Better Mental Health Services, Other Initiatives For Military, Vets
Heralding a new "culture of accountability" at the Department of Veterans Affairs, President Obama Tuesday announced a number of executive actions to help active-duty military members, their families and veterans, ranging from strengthening access to mental health care to making it easier for troops to reduce mortgage payments. Speaking at the American Legion’s annual convention in the wake of a scandal involving falsified records and long wait times at VA facilities, Obama reaffirmed his support for America's veterans and said his administration will do all it can to ensure current and former members of the military receive the full benefits they deserve (Zezima, 8/26).
The Associated Press: Obama Defends Handling Of Veterans Affairs Issues
His standing with veterans damaged by scandal, President Barack Obama on Tuesday defended his administration’s response to Veterans Affairs lapses that delayed health care for thousands of former service members, but conceded more needed to be done to regain their trust. His appearance also had deep political overtones in a state where the Democratic senator, Kay Hagan, is facing a difficult re-election and has sought to distance herself from Obama’s policies, declaring as recently as Friday that his administration had not “done enough to earn the lasting trust of our veterans” (8/26).
Los Angeles Times: VA Inquiry Stops Short Of Linking Deaths To Delays In Care In Phoenix
On the same day President Obama pledged to regain veterans’ trust, Department of Veterans Affairs investigators reported that they had been unable to prove that delays in medical care caused any deaths at the VA medical center in Phoenix, epicenter of a national scandal over mismanagement in the veterans healthcare system. In a report released Tuesday, however, the VA’s Office of Inspector General criticized the Phoenix VA for “troubling lapses in follow-up, coordination, quality and continuity of care” (Carcamo and Hennessey, 8/26).
The Washington Post: VA Watchdog Confirms Patients Died After Receiving Poor Care
The Department of Veterans Affairs’ watchdog confirmed Tuesday that numerous veterans died after receiving poor care in a VA hospital in Phoenix, Ariz., but stopped short of substantiating widely reported allegations that at least 40 veterans died while awaiting care. The VA inspector general’s office said in a report that it reviewed the records of 3,409 veterans and found 45 cases where patients experienced “unacceptable and troubling lapses” in care. Of those, 28 experienced long delays in care, and six died, the report said. Seventeen other patients experienced care that “deviated from the expected standard independent of delays,” and 14 of them died, the IG found (Lamonthe, 8/26).
The Associated Press: IG: Shoddy Care By VA Didn’t Cause Phoenix Deaths
Investigators uncovered large-scale improprieties in the way VA hospitals and clinics across the nation have been scheduling veterans for appointments, according to a report released Tuesday by the VA’s Office of Inspector General. The report said workers falsified waitlists while their supervisors looked the other way or even directed it, resulting in chronic delays for veterans seeking care (8/26).
Politico: VA report: Deaths Not Linked To Wait Times
The final report aligns with previous investigations from the watchdog office, which helped launch a scandal that cost former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki his post. The inspector general said in May it found evidence that employees, including senior level managers, manipulated wait times to hide the delays faced by veterans seeking medical treatment (French, 8/26).
The Wall Street Journal’s Pharmalot: Pharma Tells The Federal Government: Transparency Works Both Ways
File this under ‘how ironic.’ Drug makers are asking for more transparency from the government agency that is requiring them to be more transparent about how much they pay doctors. The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, or PhRMA, is calling on the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to further explain why the agency has removed one-third of the payment information from an online database that is due to be made public by Sept. 30 (Loftus, 8/26).
The Wall Street Journal: Minnesota Home-Care Workers Say Yes To Union
The Service Employees International Union scored a victory Tuesday as home health-care workers in Minnesota voted to be represented by the labor group, even as it faces a legal challenge from opponents who say the 27,000 workers involved shouldn't be forced to join a union. The SEIU is slated to represent Minnesota home health-care workers who are paid through Medicaid. Many of them care for their own relatives (Maher, 8/26).
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