KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

First Edition: May 7, 2012

Today's health policy highlights include reports detailing what's ahead this week on Capitol Hill as well as state-level developments.  

Kaiser Health News: Insurers Embrace 'Virtual' Doctor Visits
Kaiser Health News staff writer Phil Galewitz, working in collaboration with USA Today, reports: "Insurers such as UnitedHealthcare, Aetna and Cigna, and large employers such as General Electric and Delta Air Lines are getting on board, pushing telemedicine as a way to make doctor 'visits' cheaper and more easily available. Proponents also see it as an answer to a worsening doctor shortage. But some physician and consumer groups worry about the trend" (Galewitz, 5/7). Read the story or watch a related video.

Kaiser Health News: War On Smoking Offers Some Lessons For Obesity Fight
Reporting for Kaiser Health News, in collaboration with USA Today, Judith Graham reports: "The similarities between the two public health challenges are compelling. Tobacco use is the nation's No. 1 cause of preventable deaths in the U.S., killing 467,000 people in 2005, according to a landmark study by Harvard University researchers. Being obese or overweight caused an estimated 216,000 deaths from heart disease, diabetes and other conditions, researchers estimated, while another 191,000 deaths resulted from being physically inactive – another key contributor to expanding waistlines" (Graham, 5/5). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News also tracked the weekend's health policy headlines, including reports about how President Barack Obama touted the health law in his campaign kick-off speech (5/6), state-level news regarding abortion and contraception policies (5/5), and details of Massachusetts' plan to curb health costs (5/5).

The Associated Press/Chicago Tribune: House GOP Plan Cuts Social Programs To Stave Off Pentagon Cuts
Fully one-fourth of the House GOP spending cuts come from programs directly benefiting the poor, such as Medicaid, food stamps, the Social Services Block Grant, and a child tax credit claimed by working immigrants. Federal workers would have to contribute an additional 5 percent of their salaries toward their pensions, while people whose incomes rise after receiving coverage subsidies under the new health care law would lose some or all of their benefits (Taylor, 5/7).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Senate Turning To Fight Over Student Loans; Both Parties Still Deadlocked Over Paying For It
With Congress returning from a weeklong spring recess, the Senate plans to vote Tuesday on whether to start debating a Democratic plan to keep college loan interest rates for 7.4 million students from doubling on July 1. The $6 billion measure would be paid for by collecting more Social Security and Medicare payroll taxes from high-earning owners of some privately held corporations. Republicans want a vote on their own bill. … It would be financed by eliminating a preventive health program established by President Barack Obama's health care overhaul (5/7).

Politico: User Fee Bill Appears Safe From GOP Poison Pills
A major Food and Drug Administration user fee bill is so "must-pass" that it's unlikely to get entangled in more GOP efforts to defund or repeal the 2010 health law, according to congressional staffers and industry sources pushing hard to get the bill through (Norman, 5/6).

USA Today: Health Care Costs Worry Workers Nearing Retirement
Health care costs are a top retirement fear, and that's even though many older workers vastly underestimate how much they'll have to pay. … Nearly half of affluent Americans, who have at least $250,000 in household assets, say they are scared that rising health care costs will deplete their retirement savings, according to a Harris Poll released today by Nationwide Financial (Dugas, 5/6).

Chicago Tribune: Clinton Plugs Emanuel, Obama Initiatives
Clinton defended the Affordable Care Act that Obama signed into law in 2010, which is now the subject of debate among U.S. Supreme Court justices who are weighing the constitutionality of the legislation's requirement that all people have health insurance (Meyer, 5/6).

Los Angeles Times: Fractious Florida Weighs Heavily On Presidential Campaigns
Romney is also trying to cut Obama's support among Jewish voters, about 5% of the electorate, by highlighting the administration's rocky relations with Israel. Obama, in turn, is wooing independents, including suburban women turned off by Romney's attacks on Planned Parenthood and his decision to side with conservatives in the debate over healthcare coverage for contraceptive services (West, 5/7).

The New York Times: Independent Senate Run In Maine Puts Parties In A Pinch
His opponents will have fodder: Mr. King left the state with a budget deficit before he headed off with his wife in an R.V., accepted a $102 million loan guarantee financed by a federal stimulus program to pay for a wind-power project and supports President Obama's health care law, in addition to not saying which party he would support to lead the Senate (Weisman, 5/6).

Los Angeles Times: Hospital Violated Patient Confidentiality, State Says
State regulators determined that a Redding hospital owned by Prime Healthcare Services Inc. violated patient confidentiality by sharing a woman's medical files with journalists and sending an email about her treatment to 785 hospital workers (Terhune, 5/5).

Los Angeles Times: Near Melrose, A National Healthcare Predicament Plays Out
Neighbors were already concerned about the growing number of group homes for the elderly and recovering addicts in the area, many of them for profit. A Times analysis found 24 licensed facilities offering residential care for the elderly within a mile of the proposed project and three more waiting for state approval. It is one of several such clusters that have emerged in Los Angeles County — including parts of the San Fernando Valley and South Bay — where families can afford fees that run into thousands of dollars per month. Large swaths of the county's less affluent areas have no such facilities (Zavis, 5/7).

The New York Times: Cuomo Seeking New Agency To Police Care Of Disabled
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, seeking to strengthen the state’s chronically weak response to abuse of disabled people who live in publicly financed homes, plans this week to propose creating an agency dedicated to investigating problems with the care of nearly one million vulnerable New Yorkers (Hakim, 5/6).

The Wall Street Journal: Same State, New Stab At Health Care
Massachusetts is laying the groundwork for an ambitious new effort to rein in health spending that would be closely watched nationally in a state that's become a health-policy bellwether. Key state legislative leaders unveiled a bill Friday that proposes setting a target for the rate at which overall health spending should rise—a step that would once again put the state in the forefront of efforts to remake the American health-care system (Levitz and Mathews, 5/4).

Los Angeles Times: Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer Bans Public Funding Of Planned Parenthood
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer has put an end to tax dollars going to Planned Parenthood by signing a bill that she says closes loopholes for funding abortions. The bill, known as the "Whole Woman's Health Funding Priority Act," tightens existing state regulations and prevents any government entity -- city, county or state -- from giving money to an organization that offers family planning that may indirectly fund abortions (Castellanos, 5/5).

Los Angeles Times: Federal Judges Lift Texas Stay On Planned Parenthood Funding
A panel of federal appeals court judges ruled Friday that Texas cannot ban Planned Parenthood from receiving state funds while a federal lawsuit over funding is pending. The lawsuit, filed last month, concerns a law Texas legislators passed last year that would have eliminated funding to 49 Planned Parenthood clinics Tuesday. On Monday, before that could happen, a federal judge in Austin granted an injunction barring the state from enforcing the law until the federal case is resolved (Hennessy-Fiske, 5/4).

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