KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

First Edition: March 22, 2013

Today's headlines including stories marking the health law's third birthday and examining progress in regard to its implementation.  

Kaiser Health News: Video Roundtable: The ACA At Three
This Kaiser Health News webcast features a roundtable of reporters weighing in on what's changed since the ACA became law three years ago for consumers, businesses, state governments, and what's next for expanding Medicaid and launching exchanges (3/21). Watch the video or read the transcript.

Kaiser Health News also offers a view from state capitals. KHN checked in with reporters on the ground in Colorado, Florida and Minnesota to find out what they view as the most significant developments to happen in their states since the law’s passage and what future challenges they see ahead (3/22). Watch the skype interviews or read the transcripts.

Kaiser Health News: In The Emergency Department, Gunshot Fatalities Often 'Hard To Forget'
Colorado Public Radio's Eric Whitney, working in partnership with Kaiser Health News and NPR, reports: "In Colorado, where more people die from gunshots than car crashes, the victims have a profound effect on the physicians who treat them. For some of the doctors on the front lines, the experiences lead to a strong opposition to guns, questions about gun laws and even activism" (Whitney, 3/21). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Who Are The Uninsured? The Feds Parse The Numbers
Now on Kaiser Health News’ blog, Jenny Gold reports: "There are 48.4 million uninsured Americans — about 18 percent of the population — according to the last Census. But who are they? And what is the best way to get them signed up for new health insurance coverage options that roll out this fall? The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has just released a brief for those with a stake in getting people signed up, including insurers, consumer advocates and state officials. The analysis breaks the uninsured down by age, race, geography and 'lifestyle and psychographic segments'" (Gold, 3/22). Check out what else is on the blog.

The New York Times: House Passes Money Bill And Budget Blueprint
The House gave final approval on Thursday to legislation to keep government financed through September, and it also passed a Republican blueprint that enshrined the party’s vision of a balanced budget that would substantially shrink spending, privatize Medicare and rewrite the tax code to make it simpler (Weisman, 3/21).

Los Angeles Times: Republicans In Congress Shift Focus to Long Term
Sending President Obama a bill Thursday that averts a government shutdown, Congress proved that it can, in fact, function. Not long ago, this was considered an unlikely outcome. … Even as the House voted Thursday to fund the government for the next six months, Republicans also pushed through an austere budget plan that would balance revenue and spending in 10 years. Drafted by Rep. Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), the former vice presidential nominee, the proposal would overhaul Medicare and the social safety net, while dropping taxes for the wealthy and corporations. In the Senate, Democrats are expected to approve their own 10-year budget plan Friday that goes in the opposite direction (Mascaro and Memoli, 3/21).

The Wall Street Journal: Tired Of Fights, Congress Passes Funding Bill
It might not herald a lasting era of bipartisanship, as Congress now heads into another polarized period as the House and Senate are passing budgets for the coming 2014 fiscal year that draw starkly different visions of the future size and the role of government. On Thursday, the House passed, on a party-line vote of 221-207, a GOP budget that aims to eliminate the deficit in 10 years without raising taxes, and makes significant cuts in the growth of the Medicare health-care program for the elderly and other safety-net programs for low-income Americans. The Senate, meanwhile, was expected by this weekend to pass a dramatically different plan that raises nearly $1 trillion in new taxes, calls for only modest changes in Medicare and aims to reduce annual deficits, but not to balance the budget (Hook, 3/21).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Senate Democrats On Track To Pass Budget Protecting Safety Net And Raising Taxes
The nonbinding but politically symbolic measure would protect safety-net programs for the poor and popular domestic priorities like education, health research and federal law enforcement agencies from cuts sought by House Republicans, who adopted a far more austere plan on Thursday morning. … The dueling House and Senate budget plans are anchored on opposite ends of the ideological spectrum in Washington, appealing to core partisans in warring GOP and Democratic tribes long gridlocked over how to attack budget deficits. The GOP plan caters to tea party forces while Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray, D-Wash., crafted a measure designed to nail down support from liberal senators like Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who vehemently oppose cuts to safety net programs (3/22).

The Wall Street Journal: Senate Votes Against Key Health-Law Tax
The Senate voted overwhelmingly Thursday night to repeal a tax on medical-device sales, despite the fact that the levy helps finance the health-care overhaul. The vote was largely symbolic, but the 79-20 tally signals strong opposition to the 2.3% tax on device sales that went into effect Jan. 1. Even though the levy is meant to help foot the bill for the signature legislative achievement of President Barack Obama's first term, 33 Democrats as well as independent Sen. Angus King of Maine joined Republican senators in voting to repeal the tax. The vote came as an amendment to the Senate Democrats' fiscal year 2014 budget, a partisan tax-and-spending blueprint that stands no chance of passing the GOP-controlled House (Peterson, 3/21). 

Politico: Will Americans Ever Love Obamacare?
Someday, the law's backers insisted, Obamacare will make the transition from a divisive idea to a widely popular one, from a program that many people still find confusing and scary to a familiar and comforting part of American life. This weekend, which marks the third anniversary of the law’s passage, one thing remains clear: Someday has not yet arrived, and may not for a long time (Millman and Norman, 3/22).

The New York Times: States Urged To Expand Medicaid With Private Insurance
The White House is encouraging skeptical state officials to expand Medicaid by subsidizing the purchase of private insurance for low-income people, even though that approach might be somewhat more expensive, federal and state officials say (Pear, 3/21).

USA Today: Sebelius: GOP Governors Will Eventually Expand Medicaid
Republican governors and GOP-controlled legislatures will eventually decide to expand Medicaid in their states because the financial benefits are too big to ignore, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in an interview Thursday with USA TODAY. … Sebelius … said governors are talking with hospital and patients groups within their states and beginning to understand the economic advantages of Medicaid expansion. Not only would more people have basic coverage, but the number of unpaid hospitalizations would be dramatically reduced, Sebelius said. She cited research that shows the average American pays an extra $1,000 a year in insurance premiums to cover costs of the uninsured at hospitals (Kennedy, 3/21).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Half The States Work Intensely On Health Care Rollout; Other Half Try To Ignore 'Obamacare'
Three years, two elections, and one Supreme Court decision after President Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act, its promise of health care for the uninsured may be delayed or undercut in much of the country because of entrenched opposition from many Republican state leaders. In half the states, mainly led by Democrats, officials are racing deadlines to connect uninsured residents to coverage now only months away. In others it’s as if "Obamacare" — signed Mar. 23, 2010 — had never passed (3/22).

The Wall Street Journal: Health Insurers Warn On Premiums
Health insurers are privately warning brokers that premiums for many individuals and small businesses could increase sharply next year because of the health-care overhaul law, with the nation's biggest firm projecting that rates could more than double for some consumers buying their own plans (Mathews and Radnofsky, 3/21).

The New York Times: Once Few, Women Hold More Power In Senate
But politics remain just beneath the surface. In a recent roundtable involving the women and ABC's Diane Sawyer, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, sharply disagreed with Ms. Collins on the efforts the women should devote to reproductive rights. After Ms. Collins described reproductive issues as "settled law" and said "I don't know why we would want to keep bringing those issues up," Ms. Warren shot back that "I don't think they are entirely settled" and that "we better speak out" when there are attempts, for example, to limit health insurance coverage for birth control (Steinhauer, 3/21).

The Wall Street Journal: Sen. Warner Sees Greater Odds For Big Budget Deal
Mr. Warner said one purpose of "new ideas"—both on taxes and on slowing Medicare spending—is "so people can get off their established positions" and agree to things without accepting proposals they have rejected in previous rounds of deficit talks. He also sketched out an approach to Medicare. He said a mechanism that sets a ceiling on Medicare spending as a percentage of gross domestic product would force Congress to change course if legislated changes to the program don't save as much money as forecast (Wessel, 3/21).

The Washington Post’s Federal Eye: Drug Costs Remain A Concern In Employee Health Program
The health insurance program covering federal employees in 2014 will continue to emphasize cost controls for prescription drugs, which account for about 30 percent of the premiums, the Office of Personnel Management announced Thursday (Yoder, 3/21).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Jindal Administration Cancels Medicaid Contract That Is Subject Of Federal Grand Jury Subpoena
Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration announced Thursday it is scrapping a lucrative state Medicaid contract that is the subject of a federal grand jury investigation. Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols issued a statement announcing the cancellation of the more than $185 million contract with Maryland-based CNSI, which was supposed to take over Medicaid claims processing next year (3/21).  

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