KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

First Edition: February 27, 2014

Today's headlines include a number of stories about Obama past and present administration officials -- notably, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden -- who are stepping up to "sell" people on enrolling in new health law insurance coverage.  

Kaiser Health News: Mass. Patients Can 'Shop' For Health Care -- At Least In Theory
WBUR’s Martha Bebinger, working in partnership with Kaiser Health News and NPR, reports: "Here’s an essential question: Is it possible to actually list prices for childbirth, MRIs, stress tests and other medical procedures? And will patients, armed with health care prices, begin to shop around for where (and when) they ‘buy’ care? Massachusetts is trying to find out with a new requirement that hospitals and doctors tell patients how much things cost, if they ask" (Bebinger, 2/26). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: Co-Ops Report Early Enrollment Successes And Expansion Plans; Integrating Yoga Into Medical Practice – It’s More Than ‘Just Relaxation Response’
Now on Kaiser Health News’ blog, Jay Hancock offers a status report on health care co-ops: "The Affordable Care Act’s nonprofit co-op health plans, which see themselves as the rebel alliance battling established insurers, have signed close to 300,000 members and are set to expand into three new states next year, officials say" (Hancock, 2/27). 

Also on the Capsules, Ankita Rao reports on an effort to integrate yoga into medical practice: "Rajan Narayanan isn’t your average yoga instructor. During his classes, he uses words like ‘neuroplasticity,’ avoids Sanskrit terms and sometimes shows up to teach in a suit and tie. And often, like on this particular Monday at a Maryland conference center, most of his students are physicians and nurses. Stretched out on orange and green yoga mats for a weekend-long workshop, the 30 students learned breathing techniques, lifestyle suggestions and the research that supports the health benefits of yoga" (Rao, 2/26). Check out what else is on the blog.

The Washington Post: Signing Up For Obamacare Could Someday Take As Little As 10 Minutes
With five weeks to go until the end of open enrollment, the White House still has a lot of work ahead if it wants to meet the Congressional Budget Office's initial target of 7 million Obamacare signups. … To further boost adoption, the administration is now turning directly to some of the private entrepreneurs who responded to Healthcare.gov's botched rollout with solutions of their own. And in some cases that's meant a much smoother and less time-consuming enrollment experience. While enrollees have largely signed up for health care plans through the federal marketplace or one of the state-based exchanges, they are about to be able to choose from a number of third-party registration services that plug right into the government's data hub (Fung, 2/26).

Politico: In Final Stretch, Obamacare Equation Is Numbers, Days And Attitudes
But the administration wants to boost those numbers to around 6 million before open enrollment season ends March 31. A strong March finish helps the White House put that rocky October rollout firmly behind it, give the health plans the customers needed to make the new insurance markets work and head toward the November midterms with some stories of success (Kenen, 2/26).

The New York Times: Health Law’s Small Co-ops Have Mixed Success So Far
The co-ops were a late addition to the Affordable Care Act, proposed as an alternative to the so-called public option, a plan that would have been offered directly by the federal government and that was met with political resistance. The idea was to offer consumers more choice in areas then dominated by just one or two insurers. The co-ops received federal loans, and must be largely governed by their members (Abelson, Thomas and McGinty, 2/26).

Los Angeles Times: Obamacare Draws Younger Consumers Online As Deadline Nears, Report Says
The average premium paid for Obamacare coverage on a leading insurance website has dropped by nearly $100 a month since October as more young people sign up, a new industry report shows. The average age of people buying coverage at online broker EHealthInsurance.com dropped from 44 mid-October to 36 in late February, according to the company (Terhune, 2/26).

The Washington Post: Report: Almost 4 Million With Mental Illness Won’t Be Covered In States That Don’t Expand Medicaid
States that decide not to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act will leave more than 3.7 million Americans with mental illness without health-care coverage, according to a new report from an organization that represents mental health professionals (Wilson, 2/27). 

The Washington Post: What Would Health-Care Expansion In Virginia Mean For Mental-Health-Care Access?
Democratic Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe and lawmakers in the Republican-dominated House of Delegates are flirting with a government shutdown, having reached an impasse over whether to expand health insurance coverage for the poor. That stalemate contrasts sharply with strong bipartisan and bicameral consensus over reforming the state’s mental-health-care system, following the tragic death of Austin “Gus” Deeds, son of Sen. Creigh Deeds (D-Bath) in November (Shin, 2/26).

The Washington Post: Republicans Too Focused On Health-Care Law, Some In GOP Warn
Will the Affordable Care Act be the Republicans’ golden ticket in this year’s midterm election? Some worry that the GOP may be placing too big a bet on it. Nearly every advertising dollar being spent against Democratic congressional candidates is going toward pounding them on the new health-care law (Tumulty, 2/26). 

Los Angeles Times: Harry Reid Calls Koch Brothers ‘Un-American’ Over Obamacare Ads
Majority Leader Harry Reid, angered by a new round of anti-Obamacare ads he called "lies," condemned the Koch brothers as "un-American" on the Senate floor Wednesday. Reid's remarks attacking the billionaire Republican contributors Charles and David Koch reflect Democrats' increasing concern that the spending by outside groups like Americans for Prosperity against Democratic candidates could cost the party its Senate majority (Memoli, 2/26).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Top Senate Dem: Koch Brothers Are Un-American
The Senate’s top Democrat criticized a pair of billionaire brothers in unusually harsh terms Wednesday, accusing the conservative duo of being “un-American,” spreading lies about President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul and lacking a conscience. In a pair of appearances on the Senate floor, Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., became the latest Democrat this election year to denunciate Charles and David Koch — pronounced “Coke” (2/26). 

Politico: Harry Reid Tempers Koch Criticism
AFP has flooded money into states like North Carolina and Louisiana where the GOP is targeting vulnerable incumbent Democrats. The group also began attacking Rep. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) — a Senate candidate — this week for his support of Obamacare, which the ad alleges knocked a leukemia patient off of her insurance plan (Everett, 2/27). 

The New York Times: Gardner To Oppose Udall, Complicating Democrats’ Senate Hopes
With the president’s low approval ratings and the troubles plaguing his health care law, Colorado has joined New Hampshire, Michigan and Iowa as states where Republicans believe they will have competitive races (Peters, 2/26).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Gardner In And Buck Out In Colorado’s Senate Race
Republicans believe Gardner is a superior candidate to Buck because he does not have Buck’s history of gaffes and is younger than Buck, 55. But Democrats immediately moved to link the two men, who have a lengthy political history in Colorado’s rural northeastern corner. Matt Canter of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee said Gardner “wants to decimate Medicare, slash education and even make common forms of birth control illegal.” Colorado Democratic Party Chairman Rick Palacios released a statement calling Gardner “simply a Ken Buck radical who is neck deep in Washington sleaze” (2/27). 

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Biden Stepping Up Role In Promoting Health Law
Vice President Joe Biden is stepping up his role in promoting enrollment in new health care exchanges as the end of the open-enrollment period nears. The vice president’s office says Biden will hold a number of conference calls this week to reach out to groups that are spreading the word about the health care law. Those groups include Latinos, African-Americans, women and young Americans (2/26).

Politico: Hillary Clinton Defends Obamacare
Hillary Clinton offered a defense of Obamacare – but struck a note of concern for small business owners who’ve complained about mandates required by the law – in a twin set of speeches in Florida on Wednesday (Haberman, 2/26).

The New York Times’ The Caucus: Clinton Addresses A Key Constituency At The University Of Miami
On the domestic front, Mrs. Clinton defended the Affordable Care Act, warning that young people who think they are invincible need health insurance. If all Americans are covered, she added, insurance costs would come down (Chozick, 2/26). 

The Washington Post: Hillary Clinton Makes Case For ‘Full Participation’ And Equality
Clinton, who served under President Obama as secretary of state and championed health-care reform in the 1990s, delivered a strong defense of Obama’s Affordable Care Act and urged young people in the audience to sign up for health coverage. … Earlier Wednesday, Clinton endorsed efforts to change some provisions that have become problematic, such as the employee coverage requirement that has led some small businesses to move employees from full-time work to part-time work to avoid paying for their health care, according to CNN (Rucker, 2/26).

The Wall Street Journal: Medicare Urged To Rethink Revamp Of Part D Drug Plan 
Lawmakers from both parties asked the White House Wednesday to scrap a plan that would limit the types of antidepressants and other drugs available to seniors through Medicare. The plan, aimed at reducing drug costs, is part of a broad set of proposed changes to the Medicare Part D prescription-drug program that covers medicines for about 39 million beneficiaries. In January, the agency proposed ending the practice of covering essentially any type of antidepressant, antipsychotic or immunosuppressant drug for consumers in the program (Corbett Dooren, 2/26). 

The Wall Street Journal’s Washington Wire: House Republicans Start Drafting Alternative To Obamacare
A group of House Republicans will kick off an effort Wednesday afternoon to coalesce around a GOP alternative to the president’s health-care overhaul, lawmakers said. The “House Obamacare Accountability Project,” a group of about 30 Republicans who have been meeting since May, will start tackling how to winnow the bevy of GOP health-care bills into a Republican counterproposal to the Affordable Care Act, the 2010 health law (Peterson, 2/26). 

The Washington Post: Rand Paul Adds Hurdle For Surgeon General Confirmation
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) on Thursday signaled he would try to block President Obama’s pick for surgeon general, Vivek Murthy, because of the nominee’s political advocacy work. But new filibuster rules should allow the Senate to take a confirmation vote regardless (Hicks, 2/26). 

The Washington Post: Nutrition Labels To Get First Makeover In 20 Years With New Emphasis On Calories, Sugar
The ubiquitous nutrition label on food packages is about to get its first overhaul in 20 years, a change that is likely to have a dramatic effect on what people choose to eat and drink and what products sell on supermarket shelves. Obama administration officials say the update, scheduled to be formally unveiled Thursday at a White House event, is necessary to keep pace with the science of nutrition and to reduce confusion about what qualifies as healthy food (Cha, 2/26). 

USA Today: Obama Budget Will Seek Record Funding For New Doctors
President Obama will propose boosting the National Health Services Corps from 8,900 people a year to 15,000 a year over the next five years, as well as spending $5.23 billion to train 13,000 primary care residents over the next 10 years, in his budget next week, administration officials told USA TODAY. The budget, which Obama will reveal Tuesday, marks the first time Medicare funds will be used to increase the number of medical residents, and it's the largest-ever proposed increase of the corps, officials said (Kennedy, 2/27). 

The Associated Press/Wall Street Journal: NY Advocates Urge Funding To Prevent Lung Cancer
With survival rates for prostate, skin and breast cancer now topping 90 percent, New York health advocates lobbied Wednesday to restore state funding against far deadlier lung cancer and tobacco smoke carcinogens. The national five-year survival rate for lung cancer has risen only from 12 percent to 17 percent over nearly three decades, according to the American Cancer Society. That compares with survival increases from 75 to 90 percent for breast cancer, 68 to 100 percent for prostate cancer and from 82 to 93 percent for melanoma, the most serious of three common skin cancers (2/26). 

Politico: Planned Parenthood Reveals Big 2014 Game Plan
The political arm of Planned Parenthood is preparing to launch its largest campaign offensive ever, targeting more than a dozen states and some of the cycle’s top Senate and gubernatorial races to raise the alarm about the stakes of the 2014 midterm elections for women’s health care and abortion rights (Burns, 2/27).

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