KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

First Edition: August 16, 2013

Today's headlines include reports about the $67 million in grants awarded by the Department of Health and Human Services to help groups assist consumers in navigating the health law. 

Kaiser Health News: Feds Award $67 Million In Grants To Help Consumers Navigate The Health Law
Kaiser Health News staff writer Phil Galewitz reports: "Hospitals, universities, Indian tribes, patient advocacy groups and local food banks were among organizations awarded $67 million in federal grants Thursday to help people sign up for coverage in new online health insurance marketplaces that open for enrollment Oct. 1" (Galewitz, 8/15). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: Moving People Home After Nursing Home Stay Is Complicated
WBUR's Martha Bebinger, working in partnership with Kaiser Health News and NPR, reports: "Napierski, a case manager at WestMass Elder Care in Holyoke, Mass., drew up a plan for Holmes's transition. … Napierski says Holmes would not have gone home without this help, buoyed by money the federal government is giving states for a Medicaid program called Money Follows the Person. The program identifies patients, old and young, who've been in a nursing home for at least 90 days but don't really need to be there. Massachusetts is one of 45 states and the District of Columbia in the program, created by the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005" (Bebinger, 8/16). Read the story.

The New York Times: $67 Million Awarded to Groups Helping With Health Law
The administration had initially planned to spend less — $54 million — on navigators in the 34 states where the federal government will run all or part of new insurance markets created under the law. Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, an official with the Department of Health and Human Services, said the additional $13 million had come from a fund set up under the health law to pay for public health and preventive care initiatives (Goodnough, 8/15).

The Washington Post: HHS Awards $67 Million To Help Uninsured Sign Up For Health Coverage
Consumer outreach and assistance are considered keys to the success of the Affordable Care Act. Many uninsured Americans don’t know about the marketplaces or have little idea how they would work, polls show. Complicating the enrollment process are the huge gaps in resources and readiness between the 17 states and the District that are running their own marketplaces and the 34 states that resisted and are being run or partly run by the federal government (Sun, 8/15).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: White House Awards $67M To Community Groups To Hire, Train Navigators To Enroll Uninsured
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced the Navigator grant awards to 105 groups in states where the federal government will run online insurance marketplaces. Sebelius said consumers are "hungry for information" (8/15).

The Wall Street Journal: Groups Get $67 Million to Promote Health Exchanges
Republican opponents of the Affordable Care Act have raised various objections about the navigator program. On Wednesday, 13 Republican state attorneys general sent a letter to Ms. Sebelius raising privacy concerns. The Obama administration says that ensuring the confidentiality of personal information is a top focus and that navigators will get training in that area. In addition, some insurance brokers have questioned whether the navigators would effectively act as unlicensed brokers (Schatz, 8/15).

Politico: HHS Announces Obamacare 'Navigators'
And the navigators program could get caught up in yet more Obamacare politics. At least 19 of these states have enacted their own extra requirements for either more navigator training and licensure requirements beyond those required by Washington, according to a report from the Georgetown University Center on Health Insurance Reforms. That’s prompted concerns among Obamacare advocates of more legal skirmishes about state versus federal rules or implementation delays as the enrollment clock is ticking (Millman, 8/15).

USA Today: Sebelius: Focus On How To Make Health Care Law Work
The fight over the future of the 2010 health care law has moved from repeal, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Thursday, to how to make it work in time for the opening of health care exchanges Oct. 1. In an interview with USA TODAY, Sebelius said the navigators and HHS will protect the privacy of those who use the exchanges to buy insurance and to protect against fraud (Kennedy, 8/15).

Politico: FreedomWorks Makes Big Anti-Obamacare Push
Conservatives are plotting an aggressive push during the last two weeks of August to boost the controversial effort in Congress to oppose spending bills this fall that contain funding for Obamacare. FreedomWorks is working with local conservative activists to question senators at home-state events about their objections to a letter spearheaded by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) vowing to vote against bills with funding for the health care law (Everett, 8/15).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Lawmakers, Staff May Gain Access To Abortion Coverage Under Health Law, While Other Feds Won’t
It’s an issue lawmakers may not want to have to explain at town hall meetings back home: An attempt to fix a problem with the new health care law has created a situation in which members of Congress and their staffers could gain access to abortion coverage, something that currently is denied to federal employees who get health insurance through the government’s plan (8/16).

The Washington Post: Obama Administration Outlines Five Ways Health Care Law Benefits Small Businesses
The Obama administration is ramping up its efforts to sell the health care law to small business owners, with the start of enrollment now only six weeks away. In a new entry on the White House blog, Ari Matusiak, the administration’s director of private sector engagement, has outlined five ways the Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare, will “provides benefits and opportunities to small businesses that will help increase access to affordable coverage options” (Harrison, 8/15).

The New York Times: Washington Memo: Puzzle Awaits The Capital: How To Solve 3 Fiscal Rifts
The showdown encompasses three interlocking fiscal disputes that will challenge Mr. Obama and his Republican interlocutors to bridge seemingly irreconcilable goals. Perhaps easiest to resolve is the effort by some conservative Republicans to eliminate financing for the new health care law in return for keeping the government open beyond Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year. … A second challenge is determining the fate of the across-the-board budget cuts known as the sequester if Congress avoids a shutdown by extending government financing. … The third challenge may be the most worrisome. While the sequester pinches particular constituencies, and a government shutdown would inconvenience millions, economists warn that a default resulting from a failure to raise the government’s debt limit could tip the economy back into recession (Harwood, 8/15).

The Wall Street Journal: Penn State Employees Protest Wellness Effort
Pennsylvania State University employees are protesting a new wellness program that requires them to provide detailed health information or pay penalties that can total $1,200 a year, in an unusually public backlash against an increasingly common employer practice (Mathews and Martin, 8/15).

Los Angeles Times: Medi-Cal Cut Starts Next Month, State Says
A controversial cut to the California's healthcare program for the poor will begin next month, according to a bulletin distributed by state officials. Doctors and other healthcare providers who serve Medi-Cal patients will be reimbursed 10% less once the changes are fully phased in by next January. The first people to feel the pain will be dentists and medical transporters on Sept. 5. Next come providers of medical equipment and supplies on Oct. 24. The last to be affected are physicians, pharmacists and nursing facilities on Jan. 9 (Megerian, 8/15).

Los Angeles Times: Audit Finds Lack Of Oversight Of Mental Health Services Act Spending
Nearly a decade after California voters approved a multibillion-dollar tax increase to improve mental health services, the state has failed to provide proper oversight of county programs funded by the measure, a state audit concluded Thursday. State Auditor Elaine Howle looked at the last six years, during which almost $7.4 billion from the Mental Health Services Act was directed to counties for mental health programs (McGreevy, 8/15).

The Texas Tribune/New York Times: As Mental Health Concerns Grow, Veterans Help Veterans
Mr. Escobedo is now a full-time peer counselor and public relations manager at the Lone Star Veterans Association in Houston, as well as a volunteer coordinator with the Military Veteran Peer Network in Texas. He is one of the network’s 20 volunteer coordinators. The state-financed program works with about 1,000 veterans, including many from the Vietnam War, who donate their time reconnecting soldiers with people in their local communities as well as available government and nonprofit resources (Rocha, 8/15).

Los Angeles Times: 10 California Hospitals Fined A Total Of $675,000
Ten California hospitals, including Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center and Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center, were slapped with fines Thursday totaling $675,000 because they failed to follow certain licensing requirements that "caused, or was likely to cause, serious injury or death to patients." The fines ranged from $50,000 to $100,000, according to a news release from the California Department of Public Health (Bloomekatz, 8/15).

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