KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

First Edition: March 18, 2013

Today's headlines include reports that Capitol Hill dynamics related to budget and entitlement-program issues may be changing. 

Kaiser Health News: Hospital Ratings Are In The Eye Of The Beholder
Kaiser Health News staff writer Jordan Rau reports: "Evaluations of hospitals are proliferating, giving patients unprecedented insight into institutions where variations in quality can determine whether they live or die. Many have similar names, such as 'Best Hospitals Honor Roll,' 'America's Best Hospitals' and '100 Top Hospitals.' Illinois, Florida and other states have created their own report cards. In some places, such as California, there are more than a dozen organizations offering assessments on hospital quality (Rau, 3/18). Read the story and check out the list of hospital ratings websites.

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: 29 States Get 'F' For Price Transparency Laws; Matchmaker, Er, Match Week, Make Me A Doc
Now on Kaiser Health News' blog, Russ Mitchell reports on state health care cost transparency laws: "Wonder why you can't get a straight answer on how much a health care procedure will cost you? One big reason: State laws which allow hospitals and other providers to keep costs hidden until they send you the bill. A report card on price transparency released today gives 29 states an 'F' and seven states a 'D' for policies that keep patients and their families in the dark on prices. The failing grade went to those with practically no transparency requirements (Mitchell, 3/18).

Also, Ankita Rao reports on medical students and their hope to find a perfect match: "Fourth-year medical students have been talking a lot about their perfect match these days:  first impressions, the one who called right after they met, some that were too far away. For many, 'match week' – this week — is what they've been working toward over the past four years. It's the week that decides if, and where, they will complete the next step of their training and become a full-fledged doctor" (Rao, 3/15). Check out what else is on the blog.

Kaiser Health News also tracked weekend news coverage, including reports from the Sunday talk shows about budget issues and politics (3/17).

The New York Times: Republicans Act With Air, If Not A Vote, Of Confidence
In Congress, Republicans are pushing an agenda that is almost identical to the one that their party lost with in November, with no regrets and few efforts to reframe it even rhetorically. The House will vote this week on the third iteration of Mr. Ryan's budget, which would again try to turn Medicare into a subsidy for private insurance purchases, slash the top income tax rate and cut deeply into programs the president campaigned to protect (Weisman, 3/17).

The Wall Street Journal's Washington Wire: Corker: Deal Possible On Taxes, Entitlements
A Republican senator said Sunday that his party would be open to raising tax revenue as part of a broader deal that makes changes to Social Security and Medicare, a sign that President Barack Obama and at least some GOP lawmakers have a pathway to starting talks on a sweeping deficit-reduction package (Nicholas, 3/17).

Politico: Durbin Hits Ryan Budget, Eyes Medicare Reform
While suggesting Democrats were open to reforming Medicare and other entitlements, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin also took some shots Sunday at Rep. Paul Ryan's budget, saying it would eliminate Medicare. Appearing on "Fox News Sunday," Durbin said that once the Senate passes the budget resolution fashioned by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), "we're going to move to the next stage, and that is the grand bargain stage" (Kopan, 3/17).

Politico: Will Health Premiums Jump Or Not?
One major question remains at the center of the health care overhaul’s ultimate success or failure — and Democrats and Republicans have spent the past three years each swearing they know the answer. Will the law cause insurance premiums to skyrocket, as Republicans vow, or will it slow costs down, as Democrats predict? (Cunningham, 3/18).

Los Angeles Times: Call For Screening Of Healthcare Enrollers Meets Resistance
State officials say they need 20,000 people for the job of signing up millions of Californians for health insurance in the coming months, but a battle is brewing over whether these workers should undergo background checks and fingerprinting (Terhune, 3/15).

The Wall Street Journal: To Save, Workers Take On Health-Cost Risk
Last fall, two big employers embarked on a radical new approach to employee health benefits, offering workers a sum of money and allowing them to choose their health plans on an online marketplace. Now, the first results are in: Many workers were willing to choose lower-priced plans that required them to pay more out of their pockets for health care (Mathews, 3/17).

The Wall Street Journal: Retired Coal Miners Fight To Retain Health Benefits
Chief Executive Bennett Hatfield reiterated that the company's bankruptcy filing last July stemmed from weak coal markets "coupled with increased costs and unsustainable legacy liabilities." He argued that Patriot's "labor and retiree benefit costs have risen to levels that simply cannot be sustained" amid shrinking demand for coal. Instead, Patriot would like to create a trust with a maximum of $300 million from future profit-sharing to fund some level of retiree health benefits, far below its current retiree health liability of $1.6 billion. Some industry experts say Patriot also needs to shed retiree coverage because the health plans make its overall labor costs far higher than those of its nonunion competitors (Maher, 3/17).

Politico: Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford: No Medicaid Expansion
Florida GOP House Speaker Will Weatherford declared in an interview that the prospect of Medicaid expansion in his state is "dead" – regardless of any additional lobbying from Gov. Rick Scott (Martin, 3/16).

Politico: North Dakota Passes Restrictive Abortion Law
The North Dakota Legislature has approved a bill that would ban abortions at approximately six weeks. That would be the earliest abortion ban in the nation and likely set up a clash with the Supreme Court's long-established Roe v. Wade precedent. The bill, passed by the state Senate on Friday after passage in the House last month, is one of a half-dozen strict anti-abortion bills the Legislature is considering this session. It would ban most abortions after a heartbeat is detected — which is typically six weeks to seven weeks into a pregnancy — with an exception for the health or the life of the mother (Smith, 3/18).

Los Angeles Times: L.A. County Backs Bills On Outpatient Mental Health Treatment
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has thrown its weight behind Laura's Law — which allows counties to create court-ordered outpatient mental health treatment for the severely ill who have cycled through hospitals or jails and refused voluntary care — saying in a resolution that such programs have been shown to "significantly reduce" homelessness, hospitalization and arrest (Romney, 3/18).

Los Angeles Times: Addressing Girls' Health Needs At Juvenile Detention Centers
Now 18, she is in Los Angeles County's juvenile justice system because she violated probation. Latrice says she has been locked up more than 20 times in four years. Petite and talkative, she has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and takes antidepressants. Her health issues — and those of about 9,400 girls in juvenile detention centers around the nation — are serious and complex. Many of the girls don't have regular doctors, so their physical and emotional problems often go undiagnosed and untreated. That continues when they enter a system that was designed for boys and has been slow to adapt to girls (Gorman, 3/16).

The Washington Post: Future Of D.C.'s United Medical Center Still Uncertain
In the fractious universe of D.C. politics, there is one thing upon which virtually every elected city official agrees: There must be a full-service hospital east of the Anacostia River. But nearly three years after the city seized control of United Medical Center, the fate of the 354-bed facility on Southern Avenue SE remains uncertain (DeBonis, 3/17).

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