KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

First Edition: January 18, 2013

Today's headlines include reports about the emerging dynamics in the current fiscal debate as well as the latest news from the health care marketplace. 

The New York Times: Difficult Choices On Debt If The U.S. Hits The Ceiling
The Treasury Department is undertaking "extraordinary measures," …  to leave it with more cash on hand. But such measures buy the country only so much time. … That day might be Feb. 15, for instance. According to a Bipartisan Policy Center analysis, the government expects about $9 billion in revenue to arrive in its coffers that day. But it has $52 billion in committed spending on that day: $30 billion in interest payments, $6.8 billion in tax refunds, $3.5 billion in federal salaries, $2.7 billion in military pay, $2.3 billion in Medicaid and Medicare payments … and a smattering of other commitments. The Treasury would be confronted with paying doctors but not soldiers (Lowrey, 1/17).

Los Angeles Times: House GOP Weighs Backing Off Default Threat
The threat of the coming March cuts – which both parties have said they hope to avoid – provide an opportunity for the GOP to try to force Obama and Senate Democrats to consider alternative reductions elsewhere. Republicans have long sought to spare the Pentagon from cuts and shift the burden to other domestic programs, including Medicare and safety net programs. But to get to that debate, Republicans must first dispatch with the need to raise the nation's debt limit, which could come as soon as mid-February (Mascaro, 1/17).

Politico: Mental Health Push Meets Politics
Here’s one thing President Barack Obama and Republicans actually agree on: Mental health has to be a big part of the gun violence debate in Obama’s second term — because people with serious mental illness shouldn’t have guns. Obama thinks he has the perfect solution: the mental health provisions in Obamacare (Nather, 1/17).

The Washington Post: New Regulations Shed Light On Looming Health-Care Reform Costs For Businesses
The ramifications of health care reform for business owners are coming into focus as regulators float new rules to govern employer-sponsored coverage. Lost in the political fervor over the fiscal cliff, the Internal Revenue Service recently proposed new regulations to govern what has been dubbed the "employer mandate" section of the Affordable Care Act. The provision, which takes effect next year, requires companies with 50 or more employees to either provide adequate and affordable coverage to their workers or pay tax penalties (Harrison, 1/17).

The Wall Street Journal: UnitedHealth Weighs In On New Exchange Option
UnitedHealth said it expected to participate in 10 to 25 or more of the marketplaces, out of what the insurer said could be as many as 100, with each state hosting exchanges for individual plans and for small businesses. However, the insurer also said it had "absolutely no firm commitment to that range," and its total will change based on the situation in each state (Mathews and Kamp, 1/17).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: UnitedHealth Says Participation In Overhaul Coverage Expansion Depends On Fairness, Viability
UnitedHealth CEO Stephen Hemsley said Thursday analysts shouldn't assume that the nation’s largest health insurer will participate widely in the health care overhaul's online insurance exchanges (1/17).

Reuters/The New York Times: Income At UnitedHealth Drops A Bit As Medical Costs Rise
The UnitedHealth Group, the nation's largest health insurer, reported a slight drop in its fourth-quarter net income on Thursday as medical costs rose, but its revenue increased more than 11 percent, helped by growth in its Medicare, care management, technology and international businesses (1/17).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: UnitedHealth 4th-Quarter Profit Down 1 Pct. As Costs Rise; Insurer Maintains 2013 Forecast
UnitedHealth Group Inc.'s fourth-quarter net income slipped 1 percent, as a rise in costs from medical claims and other expenses countered revenue gains for the nation's largest health insurer. The Minnetonka, Minn., company also said Thursday it was reaffirming a forecast for 2013 earnings it made in November (1/17).

Los Angeles Times: Whole Foods CEO Regrets Comparing 'Obamacare' To Fascism
Using "fascism" to describe President Obama's healthcare reform was "poor use of an emotionally charged word," according to John Mackey, co-chief executive and co-founder of Whole Foods Market. In a blog post Thursday, Mackey said he "definitely" regrets using the term, which "today stirs up too much negative emotion with its horrific associations in the 20th century" (Hsu, 1/17).

The Wall Street Journal: Metal Hip Implants Face Tighter Controls
The Food and Drug Administration is studying whether several medical devices already on the market, such as electroconvulsive therapy devices for depression and emergency defibrillators, require additional evidence to prove they're safe. As part of that re-evaluation, the federal agency on Thursday proposed that companies making so-called metal-on-metal artificial hip joints produce medical evidence demonstrating their safety in order to stay on the market (Burton, 1/17).

NPR: It’s Legal For Some Insurers To Discriminate Based On Genes
There's a federal law that's supposed to protect people from having their own genes used against them, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, or GINA. Under GINA, it's illegal for an employer to fire someone based on his genes, and it's illegal for health insurers to raise rates or to deny coverage because of someone's genetic code. But the law has a loophole: It only applies to health insurance. It doesn't say anything about companies that sell life insurance, disability insurance or long-term-care insurance (Schultz, 1/17).

NPR: Anonymity In Genetic Research Can Be Fleeting
People who volunteer for medical research usually expect to remain anonymous. That includes people who donate their DNA for use in genetic studies. But now researchers have shown that in some cases, they can trace research subjects' DNA back to them with ease. And they say the risk of being identified from genetic information will only increase (LaCapra, 1/17).

USA Today: 'Crowdfunding' Sites Pay Medical Bills, Raise Medical Hopes
Nothing, that is, except try fundraising. More and more people are turning to crowdfunding sites such as the Human Tribe Project (humantribeproject.com), FundRazr (fundrazr.com), GoFundMe (gofundme.com), GiveForward (giveforward.com) and others to ask friends, and friends of friends, to consider making a donation, or, in the case of Human Tribe Project, purchasing a necklace or key chain, where the item's cost includes a donation. These can include situations such as fundraising for a loved one's cancer diagnosis, aftercare following an accident, fertility treatments or even replacing a pair of eyeglasses held together with duct tape (Alkon, 1/17).

Los Angeles Times: State's Health Exchange Gets $674-Million Federal Grant
Federal officials awarded California's new health insurance exchange a $674-million grant, providing money for a crucial marketing campaign aimed at millions of uninsured consumers (Terhune, 1/18).

Los Angeles Times: Alameda County Launches Nearly Nude Campaign For Healthcare
To help implement President Obama's healthcare overhaul in California, officials around the state are rushing to raise awareness and enroll hundreds of thousands of Californians in Medi-Cal, the state’s public insurance program. For its part, Alameda County has settled on a decidedly stripped-down message, launching an ad campaign this week that features scantily clad families holding strategically placed signs that read: "Cover Your Family" (Mishak, 1/17).

The New York Times: Audit, Citing Mismanagement Finds SUNY Downstate In Dire Fiscal Straits
As SUNY Downstate Medical Center bled money over the past few years, 15 of the hospital’s top administrators were paid taxpayer-financed salaries over $200,000, while nearly 500 lower-paid employees were sent layoff notices, according to a state comptroller’s audit released on Thursday (Hartocollis, 1/17).

Los Angeles Times: California Ranks Low In Providing Special-Needs Care To Children
California children with special healthcare needs receive worse care than those in most other states, according to an analysis by the Lucile Packard Foundation for Children's Health. The foundation ranked California 46th in effective coordination of medical care and 50th for referrals to specialty care (Gorman, 1/17).

The Washington Post: Va. Republicans Block Ultrasound Repeal
Senate Republicans on Thursday thwarted an effort by Democrats to repeal a law to require women to undergo an ultrasound before getting an abortion. Republicans also rejected legislation that would have rolled back new regulations requiring abortion clinics to meet hospital-style building standards (Vozzella, 1/17).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Panel Thwarts Bid To Prevent State-Funded Abortions Of Doomed Fetuses, Keeps Ultrasound Law
A Virginia Senate Committee killed a bid to prevent Medicaid patients from having abortions whedoctors determine the fetus has profound deformities that make survival unlikely. The Republican-run Education and Health Committee voted 8-7 against banning state-funded abortions for women with fatally flawed fetuses. Virginia Beach Republican Sen. Harry Blevins joined the panel’s seven Democrats (1/17).

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