KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

First Edition: March 25, 2013

Today's headlines include reports about the continuing outlook for progress on the federal budget as well as a variety of stories related to the health law's implementation. 

Kaiser Health News: Connecticut Races To Reach Uninsured, Open Health Insurance Marketplace
Kaiser Health News staff writer Phil Galewitz, working in collaboration with The Boston Globe, reports: "In the nation's insurance capital, the hunt to find uninsured people and get them enrolled in the state's new online health insurance marketplace has already begun. Officials working for Access Health CT, created under the federal health law, have collected names of more than 1,300 people needing coverage at recent town-hall meetings across the state. This spring and summer, they plan to use booths at festivals and street fairs to gather thousands more. Come fall, they'll also pay community groups and small businesses, such as barbers and beauticians, in New Haven, Bridgeport and other cities with high uninsured rates to reach out to people and sign them up for coverage on the spot" (Galewitz, 3/25). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: IOM Panel Raises Concerns About Lowering Medicare Pay For High Spending Areas
Kaiser Health News staff writer Jordan Rau reports: "An Institute of Medicine panel on Friday panned an idea that has been raised in Congress to pay Medicare providers in some areas of the country less if their regions are heavy users of medical services" (Rau, 3/22). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Officials Unveil More Details Of Colo. Exchange Funding; Doctors Eager For Evidence About Integrated Health Systems
Now on Kaiser Health News' blog, Colorado Public Radio's Eric Whitney reports on developments related to how the state's exchange will be funded: "A week after approving a tax on health insurance policies, Colorado officials are offering more details of their plans to fund the state’s health insurance exchange after federal backing runs out in 2014" (Whitney, 3/22).

Also on the blog, Ankita Rao reports about doctors thoughts on integrated health systems: "Doctors say they are finding more opportunities in the integrated health systems that have been touted in the federal health law, such as accountable care organizations, which are groups of health providers and hospitals that work together to improve patient care and lower costs. But they are still hesitant to change their practices without more evidence that these systems will work" (Rao, 3/22). Check out  what else is on the blog.

Kaiser Health News also tracked weekend health policy headlines, including coverage related to the emerging lobbying strategies related to the health law as the measure turns three (3/24).

Los Angeles Times: Senate Narrowly Approves Democratic Budget
More than 600 amendments were filed on the bill, from the lofty to the parochial. They included proposals to de-fund new healthcare laws, to restrict potential surveillance by domestic drone aircraft, and to prevent a Western bird called the sage grouse from being listed as an endangered species. Like some members of the Senate, it is known for its strutting displays. … Senators dispatched with several key amendments. They tossed aside the House GOP budget drafted by Rep. Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, which calls for deep cuts to the social safety net, including Medicare, and in an effort to achieve balance in 10 years. Five GOP senators defected on their party's defining document (Mascaro, 3/23).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Analysis: Balance Is In The Eye Of The Congressional Beholder When It Comes To Budgets
Well before then, on April 8 in fact, Obama will present a budget of his own. It is long overdue, to the disappointment of Republicans who had hoped to make it an object of ridicule in the just-completed budget debates in the House and Senate. It gives Obama the chance to align himself entirely with his Democratic allies, or possibly to edge away when it comes to government benefit programs that have largely escaped cuts in earlier compromises. Republicans will watch to see what steps, if any, the White House is willing to recommend to slow the growth of Medicare or perhaps Social Security. Given Obama's recent series of meetings with Republicans, some GOP lawmakers say privately it would be a positive sign for him to include a proposal curtailing the rise in cost of living increases in benefit programs (3/25).

The Wall Street Journal: Congress Set To Alter Focus After Passing Two Budgets
After the Senate passed its budget this weekend, Congress is expected to pivot to issues such as immigration and guns before attempting a broader deal on taxes, spending and the national debt later this year. … Mr. Obama has indicated a willingness to support bigger changes in Medicare and other entitlement programs than the Democratic budget called for, but only as part of broader deficit-reduction deal with Republicans that includes tax increases. The president isn't likely to detail such entitlement cuts as part of his formal budget request (Hook, 3/24).

Politico: An Obamacare Rerun: Senators Target Health Law In 'Vote-A-Rama'
Proving that the Obamacare wars are far from over, the health reform law was one of the favorite targets of amendments during Friday night's "vote-a-rama" on the Senate floor. Dozens of amendments were filed to the budget resolution picking apart various elements of health care policy: whether employers should provide contraceptives in their insurance policies, whether a tax should be imposed on medical device-makers, whether Medicare can adjust payments based on the state (Haberkorn, 3/23).

Politico: Democrats Join Push To Dump Obamacare Tax
Thirty-four Senate Democrats joined Republicans on Thursday night in a nonbinding but overwhelming vote to repeal a key tax in President Barack Obama's health reform law. The Senate voted 79-20 to get rid of the law's 2.3 percent sales tax on medical device-makers (Haberkorn, 3/22).

The Wall Street Journal: Medical-Device Tax Repeal Faces Uphill Climb In Senate
The push to repeal the 2010 federal health-care law's tax on medical devices got a boost in the Senate this week, but the search to replace the nearly $30 billion the levy provided to fund other parts of the law will impede efforts to unwind it. Intense lobbying from the medical-device industry helped nudge the Senate to vote 79-20 Thursday night to repeal the 2.3% tax on sales of pacemakers, surgical tools and a swath of other devices. Strikingly, 34 lawmakers who caucus with the Democrats signed onto the repeal, including many who created the tax by voting for the 2010 Affordable Care Act (Peterson and Weaver, 3/22).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Republicans' Firm 'No' On Medicaid Expansion Is Shifting Toward "Let's Make A Deal"
A new "no, but ..." approach is spreading among GOP states in which officials are still publicly condemning the Democratic president's Medicaid expansion yet floating alternatives that could provide health coverage to millions of low-income adults while potentially tapping into billions of federal dollars that are to start flowing in 2014 (3/24).

The Wall Street Journal: Medicaid-Expansion Puzzle
Deciding whether to expand Tennessee's Medicaid program as part of the federal health-care law should be easy for Republican Gov. Bill Haslam and the GOP leaders of the state legislature. All of them oppose the health law. They watched the state significantly extend eligibility in the 1990s for its Medicaid program, TennCare, only to see costs eat into the state budget and prompt lawmakers a decade later to kick several hundred thousand people off the rolls (Radnofsky, 3/24).

The New York Times: Tennessee Race for Medicaid: Dial Fast and Try, Try Again
Two nights a year, Tennessee holds a health care lottery of sorts, giving the medically desperate a chance to get help. State residents who have high medical bills but would not normally qualify for Medicaid, the government health care program for the poor, can call a state phone line and request an application. But the window is tight — the line shuts down after 2,500 calls, typically within an hour — and the demand is so high that it is difficult to get through (Goodnough, 3/24). 

Los Angeles Times: Outreach Effort Aims To Get Uninsured Enrolled In Healthcare
The goal is to hold ongoing enrollment events throughout the county in the lead up to the healthcare overhaul, which begins Jan. 1. … The county Department of Health Services has partnered with OneLA, an organization of churches, synagogues and nonprofit groups, to conduct the enrollment sessions. Volunteers are identifying people through the church parishes and doing pre-screening so the enrollment can occur on the spot. Some of the people are eligible for Medi-Cal, and others are being enrolled in Healthy Way LA, a temporary coverage program until the Medi-Cal expansion takes place in 2014 (Gorman, 3/25).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Maryland House Advances Measure To Pay For Health Care Exchange
The House of Delegates has advanced a measure to expand Medicaid eligibility and create a funding stream for Maryland’s health benefit exchange as part of the federal health care overhaul. The House gave the bill initial approval on Saturday. A vote is expected early next week (3/23).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Wash., An Abortion Rights Trailblazer, Weighs Passing Nation's 1st Abortion Insurance Mandate
With 21 states having adopted bans or severe restrictions on insurance companies from paying for abortions, Washington is alone in seriously considering legislation mandating the opposite (3/23).

The Wall Street Journal: State Weighs Mandate On Abortion Insurance
Washington state may be on the verge of passing the nation's first mandatory abortion-insurance law, which would require all insurers to reimburse women for abortion procedures as part of their maternity-care coverage. Legislation known as the Reproductive Parity Act has passed in the state House of Representatives but still must clear the Senate (Millman, 3/24).

The New York Times: Justices To Look At Deals By Generic And Branded Drug Makers
Just about anyone who has gone to a pharmacy and paid for a prescription knows that a generic copy costs much less than the brand-name drug. The makers of those two versions of a drug, therefore, usually compete fiercely for market share and profits. But at the Supreme Court on Monday, the generic and the brand-name drug companies will be on the same side, arguing against the federal government in the legal equivalent of a heavyweight title bout (Wyatt, 3/24).

NPR: Supreme Court Hears 'Pay-To-Delay' Pharmaceutical Case
The U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments on Monday in a case worth billions of dollars to pharmaceutical companies and American consumers. The issue is whether brand name drug manufacturers may pay generic drug manufacturers to keep generics off the market. These payments — a form of settlement in patent litigation — began to blossom about a decade ago when the courts, for the first time, appeared to bless them (Totenberg, 3/25).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: High Court Weights Drug Companies' Payments To Delay Release Of Cheaper Generic Drugs
The Obama administration, backed by consumer groups and the American Medical Association, says these so-called “pay for delay” deals profit the drug companies but harm consumers by adding 3.5 billion annually to their drug bills (3/25).

The Washington Post: Nurses Can Practice Without Physician Supervision In Many States
For years, nurses have been subordinate to doctors — both in the exam room and the political arena. But aided by new allies ranging from AARP to social workers to health-policy experts, nursing groups are pressing ahead in a controversial bid to persuade state lawmakers to shift the balance of power (Aizenman, 3/24).

The Associated Press/Wall Street Journal: NY Town Eyes Hospital Reopening Months After Sandy
Of the more than half-dozen hospitals in the New York area forced to close because of damage from Superstorm Sandy, only one has yet to reopen, idling hundreds of workers for months and forcing thousands of residents to travel farther for emergency health care (3/23).

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