KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

First Edition: May 5, 2014

Today's headlines include reports about how President Barack Obama poked fun at the health law during his White House Correspondents' Dinner speech.

Kaiser Health News: Who Should Get Pricey Hepatitis C Drugs?
Kaiser Health News staff writer Julie Appleby, working in collaboration with The Washington Post, reports: “Simple math illustrates the challenge facing U.S. taxpayers, consumers and insurers following the launch late last year of two expensive new drugs to treat hepatitis C. If all 3 million people estimated to be infected with the virus in America are treated at an average cost of $100,000 each, the amount the U.S. spends on prescription drugs would double, from about $300 billion in one year to more than $600 billion” (Appleby, 5/5). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: Even With Obamacare, Many Latinos Still Seek Treatment In Mexico
Kaiser Health News staff writer Anna Gorman, working in collaboration with USA Today, reports: “Irma Montalvo signed up for a health plan through California's new insurance exchange last month, getting coverage for the first time in eight years. But when she needed treatment for a painful skin rash, Montalvo didn't go to a doctor near her home in Chula Vista. Instead she drove to Mexico, about 16 miles south. Her doctor, Cecilia Espinoza, diagnosed her with shingles and prescribed medication to relieve pain and head off complications” (Gorman, 5/5). Read the story

The Wall Street Journal: Employers Must Notify Laid-Off Workers Of Health-Care Options, New Rule Says
Employers must inform laid-off employees that they are eligible to buy health-care coverage through new online insurance exchanges as an alternative to paying full premiums for their old employer policies, the Obama administration said Friday. Under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985, or Cobra, workers who lose their jobs have long had the option of staying on their company insurance as long as they pay their share of the premium, as well as the share their employer had been paying for them. Since employers often pay the majority of workers' premiums, the cost of continuing coverage often came as a shock to people, although some elected to bear the expense anyway because they needed to continue receiving care (Radnofsky, 5/2).

Los Angeles Times: College Graduates Should Consider Options For Health Insurance 
Devyn Bisson is a 22-year-old Orange resident about to graduate from Chapman University with a degree in film. She knows she'll need to think about health insurance after graduation, but not just yet. "It's the last thing I'm looking at," she says. "I'm way more preoccupied with how I'm going to make money." With graduation looming, college students have many big issues to face in the coming months. They may include signing up for health insurance, and facing deadlines and even fines for laggards (Zamosky, 5/4).

The Wall Street Journal: FBI Scrutinizing Health Law Implementation Flaws in Oregon
The Federal Bureau of Investigation is looking into problems that plagued Oregon's implementation of the Affordable Care Act, after the state was forced to scrap its problematic health insurance exchange that was never fully functional, according to people familiar with the investigation (Paletta and Barrett, 5/4). 

The Washington Post: As Md. Rebuilds Its Health Insurance Exchange, Lots Of Pressure And Little Room For Missteps
Maryland is sprinting to rebuild its malfunctioning online health insurance system on a time schedule that leaves no room for error, without the endorsement of the federal government or a clear plan for funding the project. The state has adopted software from Connecticut and hired new consultants. But many of the decision makers who led the first, flawed effort remain in place and — despite criticism — continue to operate largely behind closed doors (Johnson and Flaherty, 5/3).

The Wall Street Journal: Head Of HHS Office Of Health Reform To Retire 
Michael Hash, a top Department Health and Human Services official overseeing the rollout of the Affordable Care Act, will be retiring, agency staff confirmed on Friday. Mr. Hash, 70 years old, joins a long list of health-care officials leaving the administration in the aftermath of the rollout of the law (Radnofsky, 5/2).

The New York Times: Comedian In Chief’s New Punch Line: Obamacare
Five and a half years into President Obama’s time in office, the jokes are getting a bit stale: Fox News is a “shadowy right-wing organization.” The 47 percent “called Mitt Romney to apologize.” The whole “Kenyan president” bit. Thank goodness for HealthCare.gov. Mr. Obama started his annual remarks at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner Saturday night with the recognition that the rollout of his health care website could have gone better, admitting that “in 2008, my slogan was ‘Yes, we can!’ In 2013, my slogan was ‘Control-Alt-Delete’” (Shear, 5/3).

The Wall Street Journal: Obama Cracks Jokes At White House Correspondents Dinner 
At the White House Correspondents Dinner on Saturday, President Barack Obama poked fun at the clumsy rollout of his health-care reform plan, relations with Congress and Vice President Joe Biden’s presidential aspirations (Williamson, 5/3).

Politico: Obama Jokes ‘Stellar 2013’ At White House Correspondents' Dinner
Taking the stage, Obama deadpanned that while the launch of Healthcare.gov “could’ve gone better,” it was made into one of the year’s biggest movies - before showing a title screen for the film “Frozen.” At the end of his 20-minute remarks to the crowd of 2,600 in the Hilton ballroom, Obama even brought out former Health and Human Service Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to “fix” a technical problem that he was supposedly having with a video the president pretended he wanted to play for those in attendance at the Hilton (McCalmont, 5/3).

Los Angeles Times: Obama Slings Jokes, Jabs At White House Correspondents' Dinner 
Joel McHale, who stars on NBC's “Community” and hosts “The Soup,” followed Obama with his own roast of the president, 2016 hopefuls and gridlock in Washington. ... McHale's best jokes: ... On Obamacare: “Over 8 million people have signed up for Obamacare, which is impressive, until you realize that Ashley Tisdale has 12 million Twitter followers” (Rothberg, 5/4).

The New York Times: Democratic Group To Return Donations
The Democratic National Committee, faced with the possibility that it had accepted illegal campaign contributions from straw donors, decided Thursday to return sizable donations made last fall in the names of the children of a Florida cardiologist whose lucrative medical practice has caught the attention of Medicare regulators. The doctor, Asad U. Qamar, 50, is a prolific campaign donor who found himself politically sidelined last year once word got out that he had asked his contacts in Congress for help with a federal review of his Medicare payments (Robiles, 5/2).

The Wall Street Journal: Thom Tillis Faces Test In North Carolina Primary
Republicans have criticized Ms. Hagan, who was elected on President Barack Obama's strong coattails in 2008, for consistently supporting Democratic priorities, particularly the Affordable Care Act. Conservative groups already have spent millions attacking her in ads. Mr. Tillis has the support of most party leaders, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.), House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) and the head of the Republican campaign arm in the Senate (O’Connor, 5/4). 

USA Today: Health Care Spending Surges In First Quarter
Health care spending rose at the fastest pace since 1980 in the first quarter as the new health insurance law prompted many more Americans to visit doctors and hospitals. But analysts say the sharp increase also reflects other trends that should continue to drive up both medical spending and costs in 2014 after years of slow growth (Davidson, 5/3).

The Wall Street Journal: Medical Code Delay Costing Hospitals Big Bucks
A delay in the implementation of ICD-10, a new health-care coding system, will cost some hospitals hundreds of thousands of dollars, increase complexity for an already-complex system, and increase the risk that something will go wrong when the new coding system eventually kicks in (Boulton, 5/2).

The Wall Street Journal: The Move From Tricare To Medicare
The rules on military service and Social Security are complex because they've changed three times in the past 30 years and could change again. What's important, however, is that you can get both Social Security and military retirement benefits because you paid Social Security and Medicare taxes, just like civilians have (Waters, 5/4).

The Washington Post: Terminal Neglect? How Some Hospices Decline To Treat The Dying
For more than a million patients every year, the burgeoning U.S. hospice industry offers the possibility of a peaceful death, typically at home. But that promise depends upon patients getting the medical attention they need in a crisis, and hundreds of hospices provide very little care to such patients, a Washington Post investigation has found (Whoriskey and Keating, 5/3).

The Associated Press: Louisiana: Hospital Plan Rejected
Federal officials have rejected financing plans by Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration for privatization deals involving six state-run hospitals. The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services told the state on Friday that the deals do not meet federal Medicaid guidelines (5/2).

The Wall Street Journal: SEIU, California Hospitals In Talks On Cooperative Deal
The nation's biggest health-care union and the California hospital industry are in talks on a deal that could allow the union to boost its ranks by thousands with the cooperation of management, according to documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal (Trotter and Maher, 5/2).

USA Today: VA Treatment Records Falsified, Probe Finds
A VA investigation of one of its outpatient clinics in Colorado reveals how ingrained delays in medical care may be for an agency struggling to rapidly treat nearly 9 million veterans a year amid allegations that dozens have died because of delays. Clerks at the Department of Veterans Affairs clinic in Fort Collins were instructed last year how to falsify appointment records so it appeared the small staff of doctors was seeing patients within the agency's goal of 14 days, according to the investigation (Zoroya, 5/4).

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