KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

First Edition: March 20, 2014

Today's headlines include reports about how the GOP is challenging the Obama administration's authority regarding the health law on various fronts, including the employer mandate delay and the birth control coverage mandate.

Kaiser Health News: My Experience With Obamacare, By Jen Sorensen
In a comic strip for Kaiser Health News, cartoonist Jen Sorenson details her experience attempting to get new health insurance (3/20). Check out her work.

The Wall Street Journal: Republicans Challenge Administration's Authority
Republicans are pointing to statements by a top Treasury Department official as evidence that the Obama administration overstepped its authority in delaying the health-care law's requirement that employers offer coverage or pay a penalty. Mark Mazur, assistant Treasury secretary for tax policy, said in a January interview with staff from the GOP-led House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that he wasn't aware of any examination of the legal basis for the administration's authority to delay the employer mandate (Radnofsky, 3/19).

USA Today: Religious Challenge To Health Care Law Hits High Court
President Obama's health care law gets a return engagement at the Supreme Court next week in a case full of hot-button issues: religious freedom, corporate rights, federal regulation, abortion and contraception. Put another way, it's a case about God, money, power, sex — and Obamacare (Wolf, 3/19).

The New York Times: Administration Plays to Young In Health Push
Russian troops were rolling through Crimea when Denis R. McDonough, the White House chief of staff and a foreign policy expert, was deployed on a mission to do media outreach. But the focus of Mr. McDonough’s calls to local talk radio stations was not geopolitical tensions in Eastern Europe, it was health care. Mr. McDonough chatted with Andy Baskin and Jeff Phelps, hosts of a popular sports talk radio program on WKRK-FM (92.3) in Cleveland, about the coming N.F.L. draft, basketball at the White House and his days playing college football in Minnesota. Mr. McDonough then pitched a new website featuring games, videos and superstar athletes explaining the benefits of health insurance: a sports-themed portal to HealthCare.gov (Shear and Vega, 3/19).

NPR: In ACA March Madness, Obama's Bracket Is Just A Role Player
In an annual ritual, President Obama filled out his NCAA tournament bracket. Beyond his picks, though, he's got an ulterior motive — convincing young people to enroll in health care exchanges (Horsley, 3/19).

The Washington Post’s Wonkblog: Nebraska Rejects Compromise Effort To Expand Medicaid
Nebraska legislators spent the past year crafting a conservative version of Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion that they hoped would gain support in a pretty red state. But after a failed vote in the state legislature Wednesday, the Medicaid expansion is officially dead in Nebraska this year. So far, 25 states and Washington, DC.., have expanded their Medicaid programs in 2014, the first year of Obamacare coverage. With some exceptions, these are mostly blue states that joined the expansion, which was made optional by the Supreme Court’s 2012 decision on the health care law (Millman, 3/19).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: No Sign Of Movement On Medicaid Debate
There’s still no sign of any compromise between Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Republican leaders in the House of Delegates over whether Virginia should accept federal Medicaid funds in order to expand health insurance coverage to as many as 400,000 low-income residents. McAuliffe, who wants to expand Medicaid eligibility, and House Republican leaders, who don’t, said Wednesday that there had been no movement on the issue after meeting to discuss an upcoming special legislative session (3/19).

Los Angeles Times: Clinic Chain AltaMed Is Signing Up Latinos For Obamacare
Much of the activity is centered at its two enrollment offices in East L.A. and Santa Ana, where people often line up in the morning before the doors open at 8 a.m. Overall, AltaMed has nearly 120 enrollment counselors. Health plan sign-ups end March 31, and enrollment doesn't reopen until November. The clinic's roots go back 45 years, and it has become a trusted name in the communities it serves (Karlamangla and Terhune, 3/19).

The Wall Street Journal: Republican Strategists Split: Focus On 2014 Or 2016?
Some Republicans argue that with President Barack Obama's poll numbers sinking and his health-care law unpopular, the party is on course for big House and Senate gains this fall. The worst thing the party could do, they say, is to take up contentious matters such as an immigration overhaul or some social issues, which would divide the party and could prompt GOP voters to stay home. But others say the party has become too risk-averse. It needs to take steps now, they say, to reverse the party's losing record in the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections and start appealing to the more diverse electorate that will turn out for the 2016 election (Meckler and Reinhard, 3/19).

The Wall Street Journal: Republican Candidates Big And Small Slam Health Law In Ads
Republicans running for office this year are going to great efforts to show their opposition to the 2010 health-care overhaul. But many of these candidates aren't vying for the chance to change the law from a seat in Congress. Instead, they are running for state legislatures, attorney general jobs—and in the case of Mr. Beeker, for a slot on a state public utility commission (Meckler, 3/19).

USA Today: Reports, Experts Dispute Medicare Advantage Ads
Claims made in a recent series of TV ads by the trade group for American insurance companies are disputed by the chief federal Medicare watchdog organization and the companies' own corporate filings, a USA TODAY analysis shows (Kennedy, 3/19).

Propublica/NPR: Ad For Surgical Robot Violated University Of Illinois Policies
An internal review by the University of Illinois has found that an advertisement in which a university surgical team endorsed a pricey surgical robot violated school policies. Though the team acted "in good faith," the review concluded, the episode pointed to the need for clearer rules and stronger enforcement (Ornstein, 3/19).

The Washington Post: Md. Senate Chair Seeks Pay Raise For Workers Who Care For Developmentally Disabled
The chairman of a key Maryland Senate Committee said Wednesday that he does not plan to act on a bill to raise the minimum wage until a related issue is resolved involving the way the state reimburses workers who care for the developmentally disabled. Sen. Thomas M. Middleton (D-Charles) made his comment during the latest in a series of work sessions his committee has held as it attempts to craft its version of a minimum wage bill, which Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) has said is his top legislative priority this year (Wagner, 3/20).

The Associated Press/Wall Street Journal: NY Audit Faults Referrals For Veterans’ Benefits
New York auditors say poor coordination of health benefits for military veterans by local social services departments and the state health department has resulted in many veterans placed in the state's Medicaid program rather than federal programs (3/20). 

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