KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

First Edition: August 21, 2012

Today's headlines include reports from the campaign trail, where House candidates are turning up the Medicare debate; and from the health care marketkplace, where Aetna acquired Coventry Health, a Medicare and Medicaid insurer.

Kaiser Health News: Insuring Your Health: Health Law Prompts Review Of Some Medigap Plans; Defining Who Gets Dependent Status
Kaiser Health News consumer columnist Michelle Andrews occasionally answers reader questions about health insurance and how the health law affects them. Here are responses to two recent queries (Andrews, 8/20). Read the column.

Kaiser Health News: Health Law Gives Medicare Fraud Fighters New Weapons
Kaiser Health News' Sarah Varney, working in collaboration with NPR, reports: "Fighting health care fraud in the U.S. can seem like an endless game of whack-a-mole. When government fraud squads crack down on one scheme, another pops up close by" (Varney, 8/21). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Survey: Hospitals Name Their Least Favorite Insurers
Now on Kaiser Health News' blog, Jay Hancock reports: "It is a truth universally acknowledged that health insurance companies can be a pain for patients. What may be a surprise is that hospitals often complain, too. For the same reasons: Denied claims. Low reimbursement. Late reimbursement. Thickets of red tape" (Hancock, 8/20). Check out what else is on the blog.

The New York Times: As Romney Enjoys Ryan's Spark, Rivals Try To Fan It
But Mr. Ryan also brings a record in Congress that sets him apart from Mr. Romney, and on Monday his opposition to abortion, even in cases of rape and incest, offered a reminder of the political dangers that sometimes come from embracing a running mate and his record. Already, Mr. Ryan's proposals to change Medicare had drawn attacks from President Obama and his Democratic allies. The ticket was forced to address abortion after Representative Todd Akin, the Republican Senate candidate in Missouri, said in an interview on Sunday that women’s bodies had ways to block unwanted pregnancies (Shear and Gabriel, 8/20).

Los Angeles Times: Romney And Ryan Campaign Together In New Hampshire
Independent fact-checkers have been sent into overdrive during this presidential campaign. … Romney's running mate Paul Ryan demonstrated anew that for both campaigns, fact-checkers are merely annoyances to brush past. … What Ryan left out, as Romney does when he attacks Obama on Medicare, is that none of Obama's Medicare cuts affect the benefits received by elderly and disabled patients covered by the popular healthcare program. Instead, the savings come mainly from reducing the government reimbursement rates paid to hospitals and other care providers. On a day when Romney and his running mate stressed their pledge to balance the federal budget, Ryan also skirted the impact that restoration of the Medicare cuts would have on the Republican fiscal plan that he wrote, which the Republican-controlled House passed in April (Finnegan and Landsberg, 8/20).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: The Race: Romney And GOP Running Mate Ryan Criticize Obama On Medicare At New Hampshire Rally
Both criticized President Barack Obama's plan to trim payments to Medicare providers, even though part of that plan had previously been endorsed by Ryan as chairman of the House Budget Committee (8/20).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: House Candidates Seek An Edge In The Boisterous Debate Over Medicare
The issue has touched off a flurry of ads and accusations in the presidential race, shifting the focus from the fierce talk about President Barack Obama's record on jobs and the economy. Medicare now also stands at the forefront of congressional races as candidates seek an edge with 11 weeks to the Nov. 6 elections (8/20).

The Wall Street Journal: Ryan, Democrats Couldn't Seal Deals
In seeking solutions to America's yawning budget deficits, Rep. Paul Ryan has walked to the altar several times with Democrats, but always seems to stop before saying "I do." The talks, which have focused heavily on Medicare, the health-care program for seniors, advanced further with Mr. Ryan than many expected, according to interviews with Democrats and Republicans who worked with him. Mr. Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican and now vice-presidential candidate, crafted proposals that incorporated ideas from his more liberal colleagues. But each time, either the discussions fell apart before both sides could reach a final agreement (Paletta, 8/20).

NPR: Issue Of Abortion Back In Spotlight In Swing States
With women's issues front and center again in the presidential campaign, a bus tour through several swing states kicked off Monday in opposition to President Obama's views on abortion. At the same time, the Obama campaign launched a new TV ad — aimed at some of the same voters in some of the same key states — criticizing Republican Mitt Romney and his running mate, Paul Ryan, on the issue (McCammon, 8/20).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: GOP And Democratic Tickets Offer Voters Stark Choice On Gay Marriage And Abortion Rights
Voters in this presidential election may face the starkest choice ever on the hot-button social issues of same-sex marriage, abortion rights and access to birth control. Even as most voters tell pollsters the economy is their chief concern, advocacy groups on the left and right are in high gear — with bus tours, YouTube videos and fundraising — pointing out the sharp differences between the parties in the current phase of the culture wars (8/21).

USA Today: Health Care Enrollment Time Tries Workers
As the open-enrollment season for health benefits approaches, many workers will be making some bad choices, according to a new survey (Dugas, 8/20).

The Washington Post: Aetna To Buy Bethesda-Based Coventry For $7.3 Billion
Aetna announced Monday plans to acquire Bethesda-based Coventry Health Care in a deal valued at $5.7 billion, part of the managed-care giant's effort to beef up its Medicare and Medicaid programs. The purchase comes as insurance companies race to position themselves for a broad expansion of health-care coverage slated to take effect in 2014, following the Supreme Court's decision to uphold the comprehensive reforms supported by the Obama administration (Bhattarai, 8/20).

The New York Times: Aetna Shares Rise As Investors Applaud Coventry Deal
As it turns out, Aetna's shareholders appear to fully support the insurer's plan to take part in the consolidation sweeping its industry. Shares of Aetna jumped as much as 5 percent on Monday after the company announced its $5.7 billion planned takeover of Coventry Health Care, and in late morning trading they were still up 4 percent, at $39.56 (de la Merced, 8/20).

The Wall Street Journal: Aetna To Acquire Coventry Health
The transaction also will lift Hartford-based Aetna's commercial membership. Coventry—which has struggled recently with high costs in Kentucky's Medicaid market—has more than five million members overall, including people who get health coverage through their employers, through the Medicare program for the elderly and through the Medicaid plan for the poor (Kamp, 8/20).

Los Angeles Times: Healthcare Giant Aetna Acquires A Medicare And Medicaid Insurer
Health insurance giant Aetna Inc., trying to capitalize on growing enrollment in Medicare and Medicaid, has agreed to acquire Coventry Health Care Inc. for about $5.7 billion in cash and stock. The Hartford, Conn., company and nation's third-largest health insurer said the Coventry deal will allow it to add more than 5 million new members, many of them in faster-growing Medicare Advantage and Medicaid managed-care plans (Terhune, 8/20).

The Associated Press/Wall Street Journal: New Coupons Aim To Keep People Off Generic Drugs
If brand-name prescription medicines cost you as little as generic pills, which would you choose? A few drugmakers are betting Americans will stick with the name they know. They've begun offering U.S. patients coupons to reduce copayments on brand-name medicines and compete with new generic versions of the drugs. The medicines include staples in the American medicine cabinet — cholesterol fighter Lipitor, blood thinner Plavix and blood pressure drug Diovan — along with drugs for depression and breast cancer (8/20).

Los Angeles Times: As Circumcision Declines, Health Costs Will Go Up, Study Projects
Declining rates of circumcision among infants will translate into billions of dollars of unnecessary medical costs in the U.S. as these boys grow up and become sexually active men, researchers at Johns Hopkins University warned (Brown, 8/21).

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