Today’s Headlines – July 31, 2012

Today’s early morning highlights from the major news organizations, including forward-looking reports about what the Medicaid expansion might look like if the GOP controls Congress and the White House, as well as how insurers are planning to use an expected tax reform effort to nix fees their industry will otherwise face under the health law.

Los Angeles Times: Medicaid Could Be Scaled Back Sharply Under GOP Plans
Nearly half a century after President Lyndon Johnson signed Medicaid into law, conservative critics of the massive government health insurance program for the poor are readying a new push to dramatically scale it back if Republicans control the White House and Congress next year (Levey, 7/30).

The New York Times: Insurance Rebates Seen As Selling Point For Health Law
The law requires insurers to give out annual rebates by Aug. 1, starting this year, if less than 80 percent of the premium dollars they collect go toward medical care. For insurers covering large employers, the threshold is 85 percent. As a result, insurers will pay out $1.1 billion this year, according to the Department of Health and Human Services, although most of it will not go to individuals. The average rebate will be $151 per household, with the highest in Vermont ($807 per family), Alaska ($622) and Alabama ($518). No rebates will be issued in New Mexico or Rhode Island, because insurers there met the 80/20 requirement (Goodnough, 7/30).

For more headlines …

Los Angeles Times: In-Store Clinics Look To Be A Remedy For Healthcare Law Influx
If you thought it was hard getting a doctor’s appointment now, just wait until 30 million more Americans join the line. Nearly 3 in 4 California counties already lack a sufficient number of family physicians, and by 2020 the U.S. faces an estimated shortage of 40,000 primary-care doctors with no way to remedy that in just a few years (Terhune, 7/30).

Politico: Insurers Eye Tax Reform To Nix Fees
With GOP repeal efforts stalled out this year, health insurers are eyeing an expected effort to overhaul the nation’s Tax Code next year as their best shot to get rid of a tax they’ll have to pay under President Barack Obama’s health care law. Lobbyists for the health insurance industry are calling on lawmakers to make repeal of the “health insurance tax” a priority during those discussions, arguing that a rewrite of the Tax Code is the best time to re-examine the tax that is expected to help pay for health care reform (DoBias, 7/30).

The New York Times: Medical Debt Collector To Settle Suit For $2.5 Million
Accretive Health, one of the nation’s largest collectors of medical debt, has agreed to pay $2.5 million to the Minnesota state attorney general’s office to settle accusations that it violated a federal law requiring hospitals to provide emergency care, even if patients cannot afford to pay (Silver-Greenberg, 7/30).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Minn. Settles Lawsuit Over Hospital Debt Collections; Accretive To Stop Operations In State
Attorney General Lori Swanson announced a legal settlement Monday that will bar a Chicago medical revenue company from doing business in Minnesota for six years after she accused Accretive Health Inc. of intrusive efforts to collect money from patients in several hospitals (7/30).

Minnesota Public Radio: Accretive To Pay $2.5M In Settlement
Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson today announced a $2.5 million settlement under which Chicago-based bill collector Accretive Health has agreed to stop operations in the state. The state’s federal lawsuit drew national attention because of allegations that Accretive used abusive collection practices such as approaching patients for payment in emergency rooms. The company also allegedly lost 23,000 patient medical files when an employee’s laptop was stolen from a rental car (Stawicki, 7/30).

The New York Times: Caustic Crusader At Center Of FDA Scandal
This month, F.D.A. officials came under fire from Congress after disclosures that they had begun a surveillance operation monitoring the e-mail of Dr. Smith and four other employees as they wrote to their lawyers, lawmakers and even President Obama. Dr. Smith’s scorched-earth tactics had so unnerved managers that they, too, resorted to extreme measures, and the monitors ended up producing a sort of enemies list of 21 agency critics, including Congressional officials, academics and journalists (Lichtblau and Shane, 7/30).

The New York Times: Psychologist Who Wrote Of Abuse Is Punished
A federal health services psychologist who told superiors that an American Indian tribe was ignoring widespread child abuse on a North Dakota reservation has been reprimanded and reassigned, according to federal officials and documents (Williams, 7/30).

The Wall Street Journal: Massachusetts Set For Health-Care Vote
Massachusetts lawmakers are expected to vote Tuesday on long-awaited legislation to rein in health-care costs. The effort, which would put the state again at the forefront of health policy, will be watched by other states looking to control spiraling costs. After months of debate, House and Senate leaders filed a bipartisan compromise bill of more than 350 pages Monday night that would seek to contain health-care costs by setting a target at which overall state health spending should rise (Levitz, 7/30).

WBUR: Mass. Aims To Set First-In-Nation Health Care Spending Target
Massachusetts leads the nation once again, this time with Phase II of health reform. A 350-page bill filed five minutes before a legislative deadline for the year sets the first statewide target for health care spending in the U.S. Massachusetts would aim to hold health care cost increases to same rate as the state’s economy through 2017. Specifically, health care costs could not rise faster than the Gross State Product from 2013 to 2017 (Bebinger, 7/30).

The Wall Street Journal: Judge Benefit Fight Moves To Ballot Box
The state Legislature endorsed a constitutional amendment Monday requiring judges to contribute more to their government benefits, sending to voters an issue that some consider a linchpin of judicial independence. In a rare midsummer voting session, lawmakers responded quickly and almost unanimously to a state Supreme Court decision last week that said judges can’t be forced to pay more for pension and health benefits, as other government workers were in a historic 2011 law (Haddon, 7/30).