KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

First Edition: October 11, 2010

Today's early morning highlights include articles on new options for open season, concerns among retirees about the provisions of the federal health law and the latest campaign arguments over that new overhaul.

Health Care Interests Push To Make ACOs Pay Off For Them 
Kaiser Health News staff writers Phil Galewitz and Jenny Gold write about increasing interest in the accountable care organizations that may come out of the new health overhaul. "A new model of care encouraged by the health law – accountable care organizations – has set off a feeding frenzy among industry groups intent on getting a slice of the action, or protecting their own financial interests" (Kaiser Health News).

The Insurance Straw Man 
In this Kaiser Health News column, James C. Capretta of the Ethics and Public Policy Center criticizes Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius for some of her tough tactics with insurance companies. "Sebelius has taken exception to a Wall Street Journal editorial that attacked her recent actions as secretary. ... The Journal took her to task for abusing the power of her office for political purposes. And they were absolutely right to do so" (Kaiser Health News).

What's Happening To Your Health Plan? 
It's open-enrollment season, the annual rite of fall when health-care costs hit home for most people. Companies typically allow employees to elect their benefit packages once a year. Making this season especially tricky: the health-care overhaul, which is leading to confusion-and sticker shock-for many employers and workers alike (The Wall Street Journal).

Adding Predictability To Benefits 
Pharmacy-benefit manager Express Scripts Inc. is unveiling a new program that aims to contact people who fail to take their prescription drugs-before they actually stop. The company Monday will announce an initiative intended to predict in advance who's most likely to discontinue a medication regimen, and keep those people on their drugs with interventions such as letters or phone calls (The Wall Street Journal).

Finding Support For Children With Disabilities 
Parents of children with severe disabilities have many challenges and concerns. One big worry is who will care for their children after the parents are gone (NPR).

Millions Of Young Adults Will Gain Coverage Under Reform Law, Study Says 
When the healthcare reform law's provisions kick in more fully in 2014, up to 81% of the 14.9 million adults ages 19 to 29 who were uninsured in 2009 could be expected to have gained coverage, according to a new report from the Commonwealth Fund (Modern Healthcare).

Government Helps to Insure Children, Even Above The Poverty Line 
Government health insurance for children is no longer available only for the poorest households. Now middle-class families ... struggling through the recession, can benefit as well (The New York Times).

Despite Army Efforts, Soldier Suicides Continue
Nearly 20 months after the Army began strengthening its suicide prevention program and working to remove the stigma attached to seeking psychological counseling, the suicide rate among active service members remains high and shows little sign of improvement. Through August, at least 125 active members of the Army had ended their own lives, exceeding the morbid pace of last year, when there were a record 162 suicides (The New York Times).

Health Overhaul Overlooks Retirees 
Thanks to a little-noticed clause in a 1996 law, retiree-only health plans are exempt from the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that went into effect last month. ... That means the rule requiring health plans to extend dependent coverage to age 26, regardless of financial dependency, student status, employment or marital status, doesn't apply to millions of retirees' health benefits (The Wall Street Journal).

Urgent Care Clinics Carve Out A Key Health Care Niche 
In a growing trend, consumers are increasingly turning to walk-in clinics and urgent care centers for treatment of minor ailments and injuries instead of trying to squeeze in an appointment with a primary care provider or waiting at a crowded emergency room (USA Today/Florida Today).

The Prescription Is Privacy; Washington Area's Hospitals Converting To Private Rooms 
Private hospital rooms were once considered the realm of the rich, the powerful and the well-connected. The more common experience involved a cramped space with only a flimsy curtain separating two or more patients. Now patients are saying goodbye to their awkward hospital roommates and enjoying golden solitude (The Washington Post).

No Boost For Social Security Checks In 2011 
As if voters don't have enough to be angry about this election year, the government is expected to announce this week that more than 58 million Social Security recipients will go through another year without an increase in their monthly benefits. ... "I do think there's going to be political fallout," Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said. "Many seniors who are spending a lot of money on health care and prescription drugs really are going to find it hard to believe that there has been no inflationary costs to their purchasing needs" (The Associated Press).

Feingold Takes Risk On Health Care 
Trailing in the polls and facing an irate electorate, Sen. Russ Feingold has begun to campaign on an issue that has swamped fellow Democratic incumbents nationwide: his vote for President Barack Obama's health overhaul. Despite polls showing that voters remain skeptical of the law, Sen. Feingold two weeks ago started running television ads that boast of his support of it. In the late effort, health care is being pitched to Democrats as a way to help consumers, not the government takeover portrayed by Republicans. (The Wall Street Journal).

Peters Defends Health Care Reform Law 
U.S. Rep. Gary Peters took heat from all sides Sunday at the final debate scheduled for Oakland County's 9th Congressional District race. The Bloomfield Township Democrat was the target of politicians to the left and right of him, as well as people in the crowd unhappy with his vote for health care reform. ... But Peters defended his vote, saying he still feels it's critical to provide affordable, accessible health care for all Americans (Detroit Free Press).

Paul: Wealthy Should Pay More For Medicare Plan 
Republican Senate candidate Rand Paul raised the idea Sunday that wealthier people like his opponent, the co-owner of a Kentucky Derby horse, should pay more for Medicare coverage (The Associated Press).

Beyond The Tea Party: What Americans Really Think Of Government 
If there is an overarching theme of election 2010, it is the question of how big the government should be and how far it should reach into people's lives. Americans have a more negative view of government today than they did a decade ago, or even a few years ago. ... [But] a new study by The Washington Post, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard University shows that most Americans who say they want more limited government also call Social Security and Medicare "very important." They want Washington to be involved in schools and to help reduce poverty. Nearly half want the government to maintain a role in regulating health care (The Washington Post).

Pro/Con: The Effects Of Long Work Hours On Medical Residents 
In the 18th century, physicians-in-training literally lived in the hospitals where they worked. Although today's "residents" are no longer supposed to be sleeping on the job, so to speak, their 30-hour work shifts mean that it's not uncommon to find them battling shut-eye in the emergency room. (Los Angeles Times).

In Mammogram Debate, Differences Aren't So Big 
When a federally funded task force announced last November that mammograms should be optional for women under 50, the reaction was explosive. ... Mammography studies are still all over the place. And among both patients and experts, opinions seem polarized. (NPR).

Grown-Up, But Still Irresponsible 
They have sex with friends, acquaintances and people they're casually dating. Many have never been tested for H.I.V. or any other sexually transmitted disease, but they rarely use condoms. Who are they? The irresponsible scoundrels are not teenagers but 50-something singles, according to the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior, one of the most comprehensive national sex studies in almost 20 years, carried out at the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at Indiana University (The New York Times).

Sign up to receive this list of First Edition headlines via e-mail. Check out all of Kaiser Health News' e-mail options including First Edition and Breaking News alerts on our Subscriptions page.

This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.