KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

First Edition: May 31, 2013

Today's early morning highlights from the major news organizations, including reports from the administration about the number of insurers that will be offering policies on the new online marketplaces.

Kaiser Health News: Proton Beam Therapy Heats Up Hospital Arms Race
Despite efforts to get health care spending under control, hospitals are still racing to build expensive new technology -- even when the devices don’t necessarily work better than the cheaper kind. Case in point: proton beam therapy, a high-tech radiation treatment for cancer. Washington, D.C., is on the verge of approving two proton treatment facilities at a total cost of $153 million. They would be built and owned by the two dominant hospital systems in the region: Johns Hopkins Medicine and MedStar Health. At the same time, the Maryland Proton Treatment Center is already under construction in Baltimore, 40 miles away (Gold, 5/31).

Kaiser Health News: Letters To The Editor: Regarding Health Care's 'Dirty Secret'; Nurse Roles In California; Patient Satisfaction Measures
This periodic Kaiser Health News feature offers a variety of reader comments on recent stories (5/2).

The New York Times: Health Law Is Fostering Competition, U.S. Says
The new health care law is injecting more competition into health insurance markets nationwide, drawing additional insurance companies into states long dominated by a few carriers, Obama administration officials said Thursday. Such competition offers the prospect of more choices for millions of consumers who will be shopping for insurance this fall. Companies entering the market could also put downward pressure on prices, partly offsetting factors that tend to increase premiums (Pear, 5/30).

Politico: White House Sees Consumer Choices In Insurance Exchanges
About 90 percent of people who enter the health reform law’s exchanges next year will have at least five different insurance company options to choose from, according to new data released by the Obama administration on Thursday. That degree of consumer choice is going to be a key selling point that the White House and its allies plan to use in a six-month campaign to encourage Americans to enroll this fall in Obamacare’s exchanges, or online portals to buy insurance (Haberkorn, 5/30).

NPR: Administration Touts Competition In Insurance Exchanges
The Obama administration is countering criticism that the new health insurance exchanges will be lacking in competition, though it's doing so a bit quietly. At a White House briefing Thursday for health reporters, in which senior administration health officials spoke on the condition that they not be named, and in a memo, the administration insisted that in most states at least, competition will be far greater than it is today — with 120 companies having applied to offer insurance (Rovner, 5/30).

The Washington Post: Are Obamacare’s Exchanges Competitive? Here’s What The Experts Say
One of the first tests of President Obama’s health-care overhaul is whether enough companies sign up to create competition and deliver lower prices on government-run insurance marketplaces. On Thursday, the administration said that more than 120 health-care plans had applied to sell in the 19 state insurance exchanges that the government will run. The White House claimed victory, arguing that the turnout ensures there will be robust competition to hold down costs. Health policy experts were more cautious, though  (Kliff, 5/30).

The Wall Street Journal: New Health-Exchange Choices To Vary By State
Many but not all uninsured Americans looking to buy health coverage will be able to choose between five or more carriers when new insurance exchanges open on Oct. 1, the Obama administration said Thursday. Administration officials said in a memorandum that they expected around 90% of the seven million people expected to sign up for their own coverage through the insurance marketplaces next year would be in states with products available from at least five different insurance companies (Radnofsky and Mathews, 5/30).

USA Today: Analysts: Medicare Costs May Keep Declining
Innovations adopted and accelerated by the 2010 health care law will continue to force down overall Medicare costs, according to industry analysts and studies, even as the economy continues to improve. Those changes include new payment plans, improved efficiency and a move toward consumer-driven insurance plans that started before the law's passage. They influenced the $618 billion drop in projected Medicare and Medicaid spending over the next decade that was reported May 15 by the Congressional Budget Office. That report showed that costs for the two programs in 2012 were 5% less than projected in early 2010, and the CBO data are expected to foreshadow the spending projections in the annual Medicare trustees report scheduled to be released this week (Kennedy, 5/30).

The Associated Press: Social Security, Medicare Still Face Big Challenge
As the U.S. recovery slowly gathers steam, federal deficits are finally coming down from their nosebleed $1 trillion-plus heights. That will postpone until fall a new budget showdown between Congress and the White House — and also will probably delay the days of reckoning, feared by millions of aging Americans, when Social Security and Medicare could become insolvent. Why does it matter? If those programs' money dries up, benefits must be reduced. Some answers on future financial prospects should come Friday when trustees overseeing the two popular programs issue their annual report (Raum, 5/31).

The Associated Press: State Gives $1M Aid To Health Overhaul Call Center
(Mississippi) Gov. Phil Bryant rarely misses a chance to bash the federal healthcare overhaul as an unaffordable intrusion. But Thursday, he announced the state is giving $1 million to a federal contractor that will hire 1,000 Mississippians to help implement it. The Mississippi Development Authority is giving that amount as economic development incentive to General Dynamics Corp. to help it build a call center in Hattiesburg to field questions, at least in part, about federal health insurance exchanges. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services confirmed to The Associated Press on Thursday that employees would answer questions about subsidized health insurance purchased through the Health Insurance Marketplace (Amy, 5/31).

The Wall Street Journal: Dispute Flares Inside FDA Over Safety of Popular Blood-Pressure Drugs
The top-selling class of blood-pressure drugs is under attack from an unusual source: a senior regulator at the Food and Drug Administration. Bucking his bosses, Thomas A. Marciniak is seeking stronger warnings about the drugs known as angiotensin receptor blockers, or ARBs, according to internal documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. The drugs, which are taken by millions of people and generated $7.6 billion in U.S. sales in 2012, may be linked to higher cancer rates, Dr. Marciniak argues, a view shared by some outside doctors. Top FDA officials say evidence doesn't support a link (Burton, 5/30). 

The New York Times: Doctor’s Doubts Imperil Lucrative Diabetes Drugs
Dr. Peter C. Butler initially declined a request by the drug maker Merck to test whether its new diabetes drug, Januvia, could help stave off the disease in rats. ... Merck no doubt now wishes it had. When Dr. Butler finally agreed to do the study, he found worrisome changes in the pancreases of the rats that could lead to pancreatic cancer. The discovery, in early 2008, turned Dr. Butler into a crusader whose follow-up studies now threaten the future of not only Januvia but all the drugs in its class, which have sales of more than $9 billion annually and are used by hundreds of thousands of people with Type 2 diabetes (Pollack, 5/30).

The New York Times: Policy Lesson From Texas (Video)
Evan Smith, editor in chief of The Texas Tribune, on how the 83rd Texas legislative session may inform the national debate on Medicaid expansion, immigration policy and the Tea Party (Gerdau and Dehn, 5/30).

The Washington Post: Man Accused Of Diverting Nearly $17 Million From D.C. Tax-Funded Health Plan
Businessman Jeffrey E. Thompson illicitly siphoned nearly $17 million from his taxpayer-funded health plan serving low-income District residents, the plan’s city-appointed receiver asserted in a lawsuit filed Thursday. The court action is the latest development in the collapse of D.C. Chartered Health Plan, which served more than 100,000 people receiving Medicaid and other government assistance before ending its business with the city this month. It is estimated that Chartered owes city health providers more than $60 million, and its current assets are likely to cover only a fraction of that (DeBonis, 5/30).

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