KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

First Edition: July 8, 2010

Today's headlines reflect the continued coverage of President Obama's recess appointment of Dr. Donald Berwick to head CMS as well as other developments related to Medicaid, the health insurance industry and state challenges to the health reform law.

High-Risk Pools: A Rare Opportunity For Bipartisanship
In his latest Kaiser Health News column, Harold Pollack writes: "This month a key program created by the new health overhaul law, the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan, becomes operational in many states. Over the next 40 months, this high-risk insurance pool will provide $5 billion to cover Americans who face the dual challenges of chronic illness and uninsurance. (The government's new web portal healthcare.gov provides specific information for people wishing to apply for coverage.) The high-risk pools are a temporary measure that will operate between now and 2014, when health insurance exchanges, affordability credits and the other pillars of health reform become operative" (Kaiser Health News).

Some States Say They're Not Receiving The Medicaid Services They're Paying For
The day after the House passed the landmark health-care bill in March, St. Louis-based insurer Centene saw its stock jump 11 percent. That was perhaps the first signal that the major changes ahead would be a boon to one subset of the health-care industry: companies that manage Medicaid for the states (The Washington Post).

Graphic: The Coming Medicaid Expansion
Under the new healthcare law, Medicaid will expand by at least 16 million people as eligibility is raised in 2014 to a new nationwide standard of 133 percent of the poverty level. The surge in enrollment will be highest in states in the South and West, where eligibility standards have been stringent (The Washington Post).

Blue Shield Of California Is Accused Of Overcharging For Safety-Net Insurance
A Los Angeles woman sued Blue Shield of California on Wednesday, accusing the nonprofit health plan of overcharging thousands of policyholders who bought safety-net insurance for people who were sick or jobless (Los Angeles Times). 

President's Recess Appointment Has Reignited The Debate Over Healthcare
President Barack Obama's recess appointment of Donald Berwick to lead Medicare was intended to avoid another high-profile congressional fight over healthcare reform. Instead, it's renewed - at least temporarily - the well-worn partisan debate over the government's role in medicine (The Hill). 

Obama Bypasses Senate By Appointing Medicare Chief
Obama used a recess appointment to name Berwick, a 63-year-old pediatrician, Harvard University professor and head of a nonprofit health-care institute, to the post that oversees the $800 billion-a-year program that provides health care to the nation's elderly, poor and disabled. He was nominated in April, but no confirmation hearing was scheduled. The appointment during a congressional recess allows him to serve through 2011 without Senate confirmation (The Washington Post).

GOP Irked By Berwick – And Recess Appointment As Medicare Chief
Donald Berwick's job running Medicare and Medicare was always going to be tough. Getting named as a recess appointee may only make it more difficult (The Wall Street Journal's Washington Wire).

Obama And Recess Appointments: He's Not The Only One To Make Them Often
President Obama's decision Wednesday to bypass the gridlocked Senate to fill key administration posts follows a pattern of rising use of recess appointments by recent US chief executives. … The increased presidential use of recess appointments bears a direct correlation to political polarization in Congress – and willingness of the minority party to filibuster to delay or deny confirmations, says Thomas Mann, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute. He expects that trend to continue (The Christian Science Monitor). 

Mo. Lt. Gov. Sues To Block Federal Health Care Law
Missouri Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder filed a lawsuit Wednesday over the federal health care overhaul, accusing Congress of overstepping its authority, trampling on state sovereignty and attempting to interfere with consumers' health decisions (The Associated Press).

Health Law May Pose Challenges For IRS, Taxpayers
The new federal health-care law may pose compliance challenges for taxpayers and the Internal Revenue Service, an IRS ombudsman reported Wednesday (The Washington Post).

Veterans Affairs To Ease Claim Process For Disability
The government is preparing to issue new rules that will make it substantially easier for veterans who have been found to have post-traumatic stress disorder to receive disability benefits, a change that could affect hundreds of thousands of veterans from the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam (The New York Times). 

AIDS Waiting Lists Grow Amidst Economic Woes
It's a veritable pileup - a convergence of factors that's led to a long line of HIV/AIDS patients waiting for assistance to pay for the medicines that have helped them live longer and healthier lives (NPR).

Mass. Outpatient Care Ranked High
Massachusetts hospitals as a whole outperform hospitals across the country on the quality of outpatient care, including providing fast treatment to emergency room patients with chest pain and protecting surgery patients from infections, according to new federal data (The Boston Globe). 

Legalization Could Slash The Price Of Pot 80%
California's cash crop could become dirt cheap if the state legalizes marijuana. Researchers associated with the Rand Corp.'s Drug Policy Research Center said Wednesday that not much is certain about the potential impact of Proposition 19 except that the price of California's choicest weed could plunge more than 80%, down from $300 to $450 per ounce to about $38 (Los Angeles Times).

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