KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

First Edition: March 9, 2012

Today's headlines include polling news and strategy developments regarding the health law, as well as reports from the GOP presidential primary campaign trail.

Kaiser Health News: Can The GOP Deliver On Its Promise To Preserve Traditional Medicare?
Kaiser Health News staff writer Marilyn Werber Serafini, working in partnership with the National Journal, reports: "House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan's promise to preserve traditional Medicare, which is likely to appear in his soon-to-be unveiled budget plan, could have big implications for Republican presidential and congressional candidates in November. That pledge -- to allow future beneficiaries to remain in the government-run program that allows them to choose their own doctors and pay a percentage of the costs -- was part of a proposal to overhaul Medicare that the Wisconsin Republican put forward in December with Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore." (Werber Serafini, 3/8).

Kaiser Health News: Oregon Emphasizes Choices At Life’s End
Oregon Public Broadcasting’s Kristian Foden-Vencil, working in partnership with Kaiser Health News and NPR, reports: "Oregon has been in the forefront of trying to make sure a person has as much control over the end of his or her life as possible. The state pioneered a form known as a POLST, for Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment, that has been adopted by 14 states and is being considered in 20 more. The form offers many more detailed options than a simple 'do not resuscitate' directive" (Foden-Vencil, 3/8).

Kaiser Health News: Forget The Robots: Venture Capitalists Change Their Health Care Investments
Sarah Varney, reporting as part of a partnership with Kaiser Health News, NPR and KQED, writes: "The share of venture dollars flowing to seed and early-stage investments in biotechnology and medical devices has plummeted since 2007, when investors pumped $3.6 billion into 332 deals in which a price was disclosed, according to data compiled for Kaiser Health News by FactSet Research Systems. Overall venture investing declined by nearly one-third as the economic recession set in" (Varney, 3/9).

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: N.Y. Governor Raps Insurers, Health Providers For 'Unacceptable Opaqueness' In Billing; New Insurer-Hospital ACO Touts Early Success; IPAB Status Check  
Now on Kaiser Health News' blog, Julie Appleby writes: "Too often patients who thought they had all the right approvals from their insurers get hit with surprise bills for out-of-network medical costs, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo says in a report that calls on insurers, doctors and hospitals to help craft reforms. Complaints about out-of-network costs were among the most common found in a state investigation of consumer complaints" (Appleby, 3/8). Also on Capsules, Jay Hancock reports on a new insurer-hospital ACO: "Illinois' largest hospital system and biggest health insurer agreed in late 2010 to form an accountable care organization, a network in which the organizations would cooperate to boost quality and restrain cost increases, sharing in any savings. Chicago-based Advocate Health Care gambled that its portion would compensate for the lost revenue from the resulting empty beds" (Hancock, 3/8).

Meanwhile, Mary Agnes Carey offered the following Capsules post on the IPAB repeal effort: "Later this month, just as the Supreme Court is hearing arguments on the 2010 health law, the House is expected to pass a measure that would repeal an advisory board created in the law to curb Medicare spending if it exceeds specific targets. But the debate is not shaping up like the usual House legislative fight over the law, where Republicans want to either strike a particular provision or repeal the whole thing and Democrats fight back to stop it" (Carey, 3/8). Check out what else is on the blog.

The New York Times: White House Works To Shape Debate Over Health Law
The White House has begun an aggressive campaign to use approaching Supreme Court arguments on the new health care law as a moment to build support for the measure seen as President Obama's signature legislative achievement, hoping to shape public opinion on an issue at the center of the battle for the White House and Congress (Pear, 3/9).

Los Angeles Times: Plaintiff Challenging Healthcare Law Went Bankrupt – With Unpaid Medical Bills
Mary Brown … became the lead plaintiff challenging President Obama's healthcare law because she was passionate about the issue. Brown "doesn't have insurance. She doesn't want to pay for it. And she doesn't want the government to tell her she has to have it," said Karen Harned, a lawyer for the National Federation of Independent Business. Brown is a plaintiff in the federation's case. … But court records reveal that Brown and her husband filed for bankruptcy last fall with $4,500 in unpaid medical bills. Those bills could change Brown from a symbol of proud independence into an example of exactly the problem the healthcare law was intended to address (Savage, 3/8).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Poll: Obama's Health Overhaul Still Unpopular, But Fewer Expect Own Care To Worsen
Attacked as a rationing scheme and praised as a lifesaver, President Barack Obama's health care law remains as divisive and confusing as ever. But a new poll finds Americans are less worried that the overhaul will undermine their own care. As the Supreme Court prepares to hear arguments on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, the Associated Press-GfK poll shows that Americans are less concerned their own personal health care will suffer as a result of it (3/8).

Politico: Medicare Cuts Hurt Smaller Providers
For Congress, the lessons are two-fold. First, there are the unintended consequences of policy decisions made without full knowledge of how they affect service providers. Second, is the heavy price all sides pay without some long-term resolution to the Medicare formula for paying physicians. Indeed, the 10-year savings will pay for only a 10-month truce before Congress has to again come up with new ways to keep physicians paid after the November elections. A permanent solution to the so-called doc fix would be simple enough if lawmakers could ever agree on a $300 billion package. But absent that, Washington resembles some Delta tenant farmer, never able to make himself whole and trapped in an endless cycle of rental payments (Rogers, 3/8).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Santorum Tells Alabama Republicans He's The True Conservative In The Presidential Race
The former Massachusetts governor is too moderate and too much like Obama, having enacted a state health care package that became the model for Obama's national overhaul, Santorum said. Rival Newt Gingrich also has backed health insurance mandates, he said (3/8).

The Wall Street Journal's Washington Wire: Pro-Santorum Ad Hits Both Rivals
The ad will air in Mississippi and Alabama because those states' primaries on March 13 are seen as a key battleground for the Santorum-Gingrich rivalry over which one is the strongest conservative alternative to Mr. Romney. The ad accuses both Messrs. Romney and Gingrich of supporting health care policies akin to the principles of Mr. Obama’s landmark law to expand health insurance coverage (Hook, 3/8).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Healthbeat: Birth Control Cost Varies Widely, Study Suggests More Women Choose IUD If Free
A major study of nearly 10,000 women that's under way in St. Louis provides a tantalizing clue about what might happen when that policy takes effect. Consider: Nearly half of the nation’s 6 million-plus pregnancies each year are unintended. Rates of unplanned pregnancies are far higher among low-income women than their wealthier counterparts. Among the reasons is that condoms can fail. So can birth control pills if the woman forgets to take them every day or can't afford a refill (3/8).

The New York Times: Perry Pledges To Finance Women's Health Program
Responding to intensifying criticism about the Texas government's decision to exclude Planned Parenthood from a health care program for low-income women — a move that the federal government considers illegal — Gov. Rick Perry said at a news conference on Thursday that the state would use its own money to operate the program if Washington stops financing it (Ramshaw and Belluck, 3/8).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Governor Tells Texas Agency To Find Way To Pay For Women's Health Program Without Feds
Texas Republican Gov. Rick Perry on Thursday directed state officials to begin looking for money to keep the Medicaid Women's Health Program, even if the Obama administration revokes federal funding amid a fight over clinics affiliated with abortion providers (3/8).

The Texas Tribune/New York Times: State Cuts Squeezing The Elderly Poor And Their Doctors
Despite his success, Dr. Saenz, 56, said he feels nothing like a hero these days. His practice, he said, is hanging by a thread. His troubles reflect a statewide problem for doctors who treat a disproportionately high number of the reported 320,000 low-income Texans who are dually eligible for Medicare, the federal insurer of the elderly, and Medicaid, the joint state-federal health care program for indigent children, disabled people and the very poor (Tan, 3/8).

Los Angeles Times: Hospital Did Business With Firms Tied To Its CEO, Board Members
A Monterey County public hospital district did $21 million in business over the last five years with firms in which its chief executive and board members held financial interests, according to a state audit released Thursday. The audit was launched in response to a series of articles in The Times last year that highlighted the huge supplemental pension and severance package, totaling nearly $5 million, that the hospital's former chief executive received (Allen and Becerra, 3/9).

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