First Edition: October 8, 2014
Today's headlines include a story about how healthcare.gov will face "confidential" check-ups by insurers and news that Walmart will trim health benefits for some part-time workers.
Kaiser Health News: Many Medicare Outpatients Pay More At Rural Hospitals, Federal Report Says
Kaiser Health News staff writer Jordan Rau reports: “Many Medicare beneficiaries treated at primarily rural “critical access” hospitals end up paying between two and six times more for outpatient services than do patients at other hospitals, according to a report released Wednesday by the inspector general at the Department of Health and Human Services” (Rau, 10/8). Read the story, which also ran in the Chicago Tribune.
Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Study: Robotic Surgery More Costly For Ovarian Problems; How One U.S. Hospital Braces For Ebola
Now on Kaiser Health News’ blog, Daniela Hernandez reports on a study examining the costs of some robot-assisted surgeries: “A study published today in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology suggests that robot-assisted surgeries to remove ovaries or ovarian cysts were more expensive and had more complications than traditional minimally invasive surgeries” (Hernandez, 10/7).
Also on the blog, WNPR’s Jeff Cohen reports on one hospital’s plans to contain Ebola: “In Connecticut, the idea of taking care of an Ebola patient is still just theoretical. However, one of the reasons that public health officials in the U.S. are confident that American hospitals could contain an outbreak is because they can accommodate the isolation and sanitation needed to keep the virus from spreading” (Cohen, 10/8). Check out what else is on the blog.
The Wall Street Journal: Healthcare.gov Testing To Be Confidential
The new HealthCare.gov is set to open for broad testing by insurers on Tuesday, but they’re not going to be publicly talking—or tweeting—about it. On Monday, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services emailed insurers that it would require “all testers to acknowledge the confidentiality of this process to access the testing environment,” according to a copy reviewed by The Wall Street Journal (Wilde Mathews, 10/7).
The New York Times: Health Law Drug Plans Are Given A Check-Up
When the new health insurance exchanges opened for business one year ago, whether they would succeed was a matter of fervent debate. Who would sign up? Would they know how to use their insurance? And would a flood of seriously ill patients overwhelm insurers, sending premiums skyrocketing and dooming the new law? Two new studies are beginning to answer some of these questions by looking at prescription drugs, one of the most common ways that people use their health insurance (Thomas, 10/7).
The Associated Press: Health Law Waivers: Too Complicated To Claim?
Millions of Americans may qualify for waivers from the most unpopular part of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul. But getting that exemption could be an ordeal. Community groups are concerned about a convoluted process for waivers from the law’s tax penalty on people who remain uninsured. Not everyone is complaining, however: Tax preparation companies are flagging it as a business opportunity (10/7).
The Wall Street Journal: Wellness Programs Get A Health Check
Companies are trying to figure out just how far they can go to keep their workers fit and healthy. Employer wellness programs, designed to motivate employees to get in shape and address medical and lifestyle issues, have proliferated in recent years as bosses look for new ways to manage health-care costs. Nearly every major employer has some sort of initiative, many of which reward workers for their participation with discounts on insurance premiums or extra cash in their reimbursement accounts. Those are the carrots. Sticks—adding a surcharge to premiums for those who don’t complete certain requirements, for example—are being applied as well. That’s due in part to the Affordable Care Act, which encouraged the growth of wellness programs by increasing both the maximum incentives and the maximum penalties employers may use (Weber, 10/7).
The New York Times: Minimum Wage And Overtime Protections Are Delayed For Home-Care Workers
With numerous states pushing for a delay, the Obama administration announced Tuesday that it would put off enforcement of its plan to extend minimum-wage and overtime protections to the nation’s nearly two million home-care workers (Greenhouse, 10/7).
The Wall Street Journal: Labor Department Upholds Home Health-Care Pay Rule, Delays Enforcement
Business groups and Republicans lost their bid to get the Labor Department to suspend a rule that will extend minimum-wage and overtime pay to home health-care workers, but the agency said it won’t enforce the measure for the first six months after the Jan. 1 effective date. Some worker-advocacy groups and Democrats applauded the department’s decision to move forward with the rule, calling it a balanced approach. Congressional Republicans and others who wanted a suspension said the department’s solution is unworkable (Trottman, 10/7).
The Associated Press: Wal-Mart Cuts Some Part-Time Health Benefits
Starting Jan. 1, Wal-Mart told The Associated Press that it will no longer offer health insurance to employees who work less than an average of 30 hours a week. The move, which would affect 30,000 employees, follows similar decisions by Target, Home Depot and others to eliminate health insurance benefits for part-time employees. … Wellborn says the company will use a third-party organization to help part-time workers find insurance alternatives: "We are trying to balance the needs of (workers) as well as the costs of (workers) as well as the cost to Wal-Mart" (D’Innocenzio, 10/7).
The New York Times: 30,000 Lose Health Care Coverage At Walmart
Walmart Stores, the world’s largest retailer and the nation’s largest private employer, said on Tuesday that it would terminate health insurance coverage for about 30,000 part-time workers, joining a string of retailers that have rolled back benefits in response to the Affordable Care Act (Tabuchi, 10/7).
Los Angeles Times: Wal-Mart To End Healthcare Coverage For 30,000 Part-Timers
Retail giant Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is cutting healthcare benefits for roughly 30,000 part-time employees, citing rising costs. Wal-Mart said Tuesday that it will end coverage for employees who work fewer than 30 hours a week. The decision affects 2% of the retailer's U.S. workforce of 1.4 million. For those losing coverage come Jan. 1, the Bentonville, Ark., firm said it will work with an outside company to help workers find “the right, affordable health care” (Khouri, 10/7).
The Wall Street Journal: Wal-Mart To End Health Insurance For Some Part-Time Employees
Autumn is typically when U.S. companies unveil changes to employee insurance plans. This is the first such enrollment period since employers could assess the full financial impact of the federal health-care overhaul, and it is a key moment as companies work to lower their spending ahead of looming taxes on the most generous plans. Many businesses are continuing to shift more costs to workers. Phoenix-based technology distributor Avnet Inc., for example, is paring back its traditional plans in favor of high-deductible options. Other companies are reducing coverage for spouses, according to consultants at Towers Watson & Co. (Banjo, Wilde Mathews and Francis, 10/7).
The New York Times: Officials Question The Rising Costs Of Generic Drugs
The price of some generic drugs have soared more than 1,000 percent in the last year, and federal officials are demanding that generic drug makers explain the reasons for the increases or potentially face new regulation (Rosenthal, 10/7).
Los Angeles Times: Obama Pulled 2 Ways In Responding To Ebola
President Obama talked up his administration's response to Ebola and the procedures standing as a line of defense against the spread of the virus in the U.S. while flanked by military and civilian advisors. After several minutes of this show of force, he ended with an unscripted message: the desperate circumstances and need for help fighting Ebola in West Africa. "Let's keep in mind that, as we speak, there are children on the streets dying of this disease — thousands of them," Obama told reporters Monday. "Obviously my first job is to make sure that we're taking care of the American people, but we have a larger role than that." The moment revealed a tension in the president's response to the deadly disease that's devastating parts of West Africa and causing fear in the United State (Hennessey, 10/7).
Politico: U.S. To Announce Tighter Ebola Screening This Week
Passengers flying into the U.S. from Ebola hotspots will soon have to go through additional screening steps — including temperature checks and health questionnaires — when they arrive in the country. Federal officials said they will announce the additional screening guidelines this week in a move that will serve as a safety precaution to calm nervous travelers — and a way to silence the growing chorus of lawmakers and outsiders calling for more administrative intervention (Caygle, 10/7).
Los Angeles Times: Supreme Court Is Asked Again To Block Texas Law On Abortion Clinics
Because of the law, critics say more than 900,000 Texas women of reproductive age now live more than 150 miles from a licensed abortion facility. The impact is most severe among low-income women who find it hardest to travel, they said. … More than 20 years ago, the Supreme Court said states may regulate abortion to protect the health of women, but they may not put an "undue burden" on those who seek to end an early pregnancy. Justices have not yet defined what amounts to an "undue burden" on these women (Savage, 10/7).
The Washington Post: Connecticut Health Department Gets Power To Quarantine Possible Ebola Victims
Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy (D) signed an order Tuesday allowing the state health commissioner to order quarantines for individuals who may have been exposed to the Ebola virus, a step he said would help fight any possible outbreak. The order [pdf] gives Jewel Mullen, commissioner of the state Department of Public Health, authority to order isolation or quarantine for anyone believed to be exposed to or infected with the deadly virus (Wilson, 10/7).
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