KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

First Edition: August 8, 2014

Today's headlines include reports that President Barack Obama signed into law the $16.3 billion measure to overhaul the veterans' health system.

Kaiser Health News: FAQ: The Next Abortion Battle: The Courts And Hospital Admitting-Privilege Laws
Kaiser Health News staff writer Julie Rovner reports: “Even if you’re trying, it’s tough to keep score on what’s happening with various lawsuits challenging some state abortion laws. States led by anti-abortion governors and legislatures have been passing a broad array of measures over the past few years aimed at making the procedure more difficult for women to obtain. About two dozen states enacted 70 such measures in 2013” (Rovner, 8/8). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: Short-Term Health Plans Might Offer Some Relief But They Have Significant Gaps
Kaiser Health News consumer columnist Michelle Andrews writes: “Consumers who missed open enrollment on the state health insurance marketplaces this spring or who are waiting for employer coverage to start don’t have to "go bare." Short-term policies that last from 30 days up to a year can help bridge the gap and offer some protection from unexpected medical expenses. But these plans provide far from comprehensive coverage, and buyers need to understand their limitations” (Andrews, 8/8). Read the article.

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Exchange Assisters Want More Training To Help Consumers — Even After They Enroll
Now on Kaiser Health News’ blog, Shefali Luthra reports: “With the Nov. 15 kick-off for this year’s health law enrollment season fast approaching, the need for more training for the people who help consumers navigate the health insurance marketplace is growing increasingly clear” (Luthra, 8/7). Check out what else is on the blog.

The New York Times: In Ambitious Bid, Walmart Seeks Foothold In Primary Care Services
Welcome to Walmart. The nurse will be right with you. Walmart, the nation’s largest retailer, has spent years trying to turn some of its millions of customers into patients, offering a simple menu of medical services that consumers can buy along with everything from a bag of chips to a lawn mower. Now, the store is making an aggressive push to become a one-stop shopping destination for medical care (Abrams, 8/7).

The New York Times: Obama Signs Bill Aimed At Fixing V.A. Shortfalls
Promising a major change in the “way the V.A. does business,” President Obama traveled to this Army base outside Washington on Thursday to sign a bill that will expand access to health care for veterans and strengthen the powers of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ new leader to clean up abuses in its troubled network of hospitals (Landler, 8/7).

Los Angeles Times: Obama Signs $16.3-Billion VA Bill, Calls Mismanagement 'Outrageous'
The new law represent an unusually rapid response, and a rare increase in spending, from a Congress bitterly divided by most issues and bogged down in budget fights. It took a scandal to shake lawmakers into trying to reform the long troubled VA, which has faced growing stresses after more than a decade of American wars overseas (Hennessey, 8/7).

The Associated Press: Boost For Vets’ Health: Obama Signs New Law
Tens of thousands of military veterans who have been enduring long waits for medical care should be able to turn to private doctors almost immediately under a law signed Thursday by President Barack Obama. Other changes will take longer under the $16.3 billion law, which is the government’s most sweeping response to the problems that have rocked the Veterans Affairs Department and led to the ouster of Eric Shinseki as VA secretary (8/7).

The Wall Street Journal: Obama Signs VA Overhaul Bill
Congress passed the bill following months of turmoil at the VA, including the resignation of Secretary Eric Shinseki in late May. The agency's widespread problems included manipulation of official records to hide the fact that veterans had to wait months to receive proper care. The VA has since taken steps to correct the worst deficiencies, the White House said, including reaching out to more than 217,000 veterans to get them off wait lists and into clinics. The agency also has added more clinic hours, recruited additional staff and deployed mobile medical units. The new law gives the VA secretary more power to fire underperforming executives in the department (Sparshott and Kesling, 8/7).

USA Today: Obama Signs Veterans Health Care Bill
The $16.3 billion plan enables the VA to hire more doctors and nurses at nearly 1,000 hospitals and other medical facilities across the country. It also makes it easier to dismiss poorly performing VA officials, and protects the rights of whistle blowers who point out the system's shortcomings. The legislation arose after reports of long wait times and sub-standard care at VA hospitals, and efforts by officials to cover up the problems. The job of improving veterans' health care does not end with a bill signing, Obama said (Jackson, 8/7).

Politico: Obama Signs Veterans Bill Into Law
Some veterans groups hailed the legislation, arguing that it marks an important step in fixing the VA. John Stroud, national commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, said in a statement that the law will help McDonald “fix what’s broken, hold people accountable and restore the faith that veterans must have in their VA.” Still, some cautioned that there remains more work ahead. Paul Rieckhoff, chief executive and founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said in a statement that the legislation represents a “good first step toward healing the VA,” but it’s not a “silver bullet” (Wright, 8/7).

The Wall Street Journal: Disability Payments To Veterans More Than Doubled Since 2000
Disability payments to veterans ballooned to $54 billion in 2013 from $20 billion in 2000, according to a report released Thursday by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. Overall, disability compensation accounted for 70% of the Veterans Benefits Administration's total mandatory spending in 2013 (Phillips, 8/7).

The Washington Post’s Wonkblog: Electronic Health Records Were Supposed To Be Everywhere This Year. They’re Not — But It’s Okay.
We were all supposed to have our health records online by now — the past two presidents told us as much. Why that hasn't happened yet isn't a surprise, but the country has made some good progress toward that goal, a new report finds. Ten years ago, then-President George W. Bush set a goal for most Americans to have an electronic health record by 2014. Five years later, President-elect Obama doubled down on that just before he took office, calling for all Americans to have a digital health record by this year (Millman, 8/7).

The Associated Press: Arizona Governor Makes Key Endorsement In Primary
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer weighed in on the crowded Republican primary race to replace her Thursday, throwing her support behind a relatively moderate Republican who has backed her positions on border security, Medicaid expansion and school standards. The endorsement of former Mesa Mayor Scott Smith could transform the race and give a big boost to his candidacy, given the conservative governor’s popularity among GOP primary voters and the large number of undecided voters in the race (8/7).

Politico: What John Boehner's Not Saying On The Road
In the opening days of the tour, Boehner only once talked about President Barack Obama’s health care law, and it was an offhand remark. He said entitlement programs need “tweaks,” not the massive overhaul Republicans have voted for. There was no explicit mention of suing Obama — just a brief nod to trying to “stop the president’s overreach” (Sherman, 8/6).

NPR: House Calls Keep People Out Of Nursing Homes And Save Money
In a study conducted by MedStar Washington Hospital Center in Washington, D.C., 722 such patients were provided with home-based health care delivered by a team: a physician, a nurse practitioner, licensed practical nurses and social workers. The visits were frequent, and there was someone on call for urgent situations 24/7 (Jaffe, 8/7).

The Wall Street Journal: FICO Recalibrates Its Credit Scores
A change in how the most widely used credit score in the U.S. is tallied will likely make it easier for tens of millions of Americans to get loans. Fair Isaac Corp. said Thursday that it will stop including in its FICO credit-score calculations any record of a consumer failing to pay a bill if the bill has been paid or settled with a collection agency. The San Jose, Calif., company also will give less weight to unpaid medical bills that are with a collection agency (Andriotis, 8/7).

The Associated Press: NY Awards $21.5 Million Toward Health Overhaul
New York's health department has awarded more than $21.5 million in grants to 43 hospitals, medical centers and health systems to explore redesigning their approaches to patient care to reduce avoidable hospital use and costs (8/7). 

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