KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

First Edition: May 30, 2013

Today's early morning highlights from the major news organizations include stories about a new study on immigrants' financial impact on the Medicare program and a new federal regulation on wellness programs.

Kaiser Health News: Immigrants Contribute More To Medicare Than They Take Out
As Congress mulls changing America’s border and naturalization rules, a study finds that immigrant workers are helping buttress Medicare’s finances, because they contribute tens of billions a year more than immigrant retirees use in medical services" (Rau, 5/29).

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Final Rule Upholds Increased Rewards, Penalties For Wellness Participation; Study Finds Law Protected Young Adults From High Bills
Now on Kaiser Health News blog, Julie Appleby reports on new health law regulations for wellness programs: "Employers will be able to increase rewards to workers who participate in wellness programs under final rules released Wednesday by the Obama administration. The final rules, similar to those proposed in November as part of the Affordable Care Act, have raised concerns among advocates who represent people with chronic or severe illnesses, as well as among some employers. They allow employers to increase workers’ financial stakes from 20 percent of the cost of their health premiums to 30 percent, starting next year" (Appleby, 5/29).

In addition, Sarah Varney reports on a new analysis of the effect of a health law provision on young adults: "Researchers at the RAND Corporation set out to find some hard data on one aspect of the health law: Does having medical insurance protect young adults from the financial ruin that often comes with a major injury or illness? The quick answer: Yes, it does" (Varney, 5/29). Check out what else is on the blog.

The Washington Post: Trouble For Obamacare In New Hampshire
If a health insurance marketplace launches in the woods with exactly one insurance carrier, does it count as a marketplace at all? This is not an odd health policy riddle (although that sounds fun as well!). It is actually the situation in New Hampshire, where its increasingly looking like just one health insurer, Anthem BlueCross BlueShield, will compete on the exchange – if that counts as competing at all (Kliff, 5/29).

The Associated Press: Like Your Health Care Policy? You May Be Losing It
Many people who buy their own health insurance could get surprises in the mail this fall: cancellation notices because their current policies aren't up to the basic standards of President Barack Obama's health care law. They, and some small businesses, will have to find replacement plans — and that has some state insurance officials worried about consumer confusion (Alonso-Zaldivar, 5/29).

The Wall Street Journal: How 3 Small Firms Are Coping With Health Law
Small employers across the U.S. are struggling to get a handle on their health-care costs under the Affordable Care Act. ... Owners with between 50 and 200 full-time employees are in a particularly tough spot. These businesses are big enough to meet the government's threshold for penalties, but they lack the purchasing power to negotiate the best rates with insurers. ... Here's a look at how three small employers are bracing for the change (Maltby and Needleman, 5/29).

The Wall Street Journal: Insurance Bills Could Fall For Some Firms
Many small employers worry their costs may rise sharply under the health law next year. But for some—particularly those with older workers or employees who have been very sick—costs may in fact come down, business owners and insurance brokers say. Under a provision of the Affordable Care Act, which goes into force in January, insurers will be barred from setting rates for health-care coverage based on how healthy—or unhealthy—employers or their workers are at businesses with fewer than 50 or 100 workers, depending on the state (Loten, 5/29).

The New York Times: For Medicare, Immigrants Offer Surplus, Study Finds
 Immigrants have contributed billions of dollars more to Medicare in recent years than the program has paid out on their behalf, according to a new study, a pattern that goes against the notion that immigrants are a drain on federal health care spending. The study, led by researchers at Harvard Medical School, measured immigrants’ contributions to the part of Medicare that pays for hospital care, a trust fund that accounts for nearly half of the federal program’s revenue. It found that immigrants generated surpluses totaling $115 billion from 2002 to 2009. In comparison, the American-born population incurred a deficit of $28 billion over the same period (Tavernise, 5/29).

The Wall Street Journal: Study: Immigrants Boost Medicare Hospital Fund
America’s immigrants have been a boon for the Medicare trust fund, a new study shows. In 2009 alone, immigrants made 14.7% of contributions to the Medicare Hospital Insurance Trust Fund, but they were responsible for just 7.9% of its expenditures, according to a study by professors from Harvard Medical School and the City University of New York (Murray, 5/29).

USA Today: Immigrants Subsidize Medicare Recipients, Study Says
Immigrants contributed about $115 billion more from their paychecks to the Medicare Trust Fund than they took out over a seven-year period in the past decade, according to researchers at Harvard Medical School. As the Senate debates a new immigration bill and House Republicans work toward a bill that restricts access to government services for unauthorized immigrants who become legal citizens, the researchers concluded in a study released Wednesday that restricting immigration could deplete the fund (Kennedy, 5/29).

Los Angeles Times: Immigrants Help Medicare Stay Solvent
Immigrants in the United States both legally and illegally are helping sustain Medicare, contributing about $14 billion more a year to the federal health program for the elderly than they use in medical services, a new study indicates. The surplus generated by immigrants contrasts sharply with deficits caused by native-born Americans, as medical care for elderly beneficiaries depletes Medicare’s reserves more quickly than working-age U.S. natives can refill them (Levey, 5/29).

The New York Times: Employers Get Leeway On Health Incentives
The Obama administration issued a final rule on Wednesday that gives employers greater leeway to use employee wellness programs, with financial rewards and penalties for workers worth up to 50 percent of the premium as an incentive to exercise, quit smoking, lose weight, eat more healthful food and lower cholesterol and blood pressure. Tens of millions of workers could be affected (Pear, 5/29).

The Wall Street Journal: Employers Get OK To Boost Wellness Incentives
Employers who offer wellness programs aimed at helping people lose weight or quit smoking will be able to boost financial incentives starting next year under rules issued Wednesday by the Obama administration. The rules apply in particular to a growing category of employer programs tied to specific health goals like quitting smoking or improving health measures such as body mass index, cholesterol or blood pressure. Some employers reward employees who meet certain goals and penalize others—such as smokers who don't try to quit—with higher health-insurance premiums (Dooren, 5/29).

The Washington Post: New Federal Rules Prevent Firms From Discriminating Through Wellness Programs
The Obama administration issued final regulations Wednesday designed to prevent companies from discriminating against sick employees through corporate wellness programs. The programs, which have gained in popularity in recent years, provide incentives for employees to improve their health. Some give medical insurance discounts to workers who meet specific metrics for blood pressure and body-mass index (Somashekhar, 5/29).

The New York Times: Hospital Caring For An Heiress Pressed Her To Give Lavishly
For the last 20 years of her life, Huguette Clark, a wealthy and reclusive copper heiress, lived in a Manhattan hospital room, shades drawn, door closed. She played with dolls, watched cartoons and followed the Bush v. Gore hanging chad debacle. ... as relatives see it, (the hospital) coerced a woman who did not need constant medical care to give it a piece of her large fortune (Hartocolis, 5/29).

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