KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

First Edition: October 16, 2012

NOTE TO READERS: Check out KHN's VIDEO WEBCAST:  Health Policy And The 2012 Election; Wed., Oct. 17 at 6:00 p.m.
Join Kaiser Health News for two discussions on the upcoming election:  First KHN's Mary Agnes Carey and Karen Tumulty of the Washington Post will talk to Sen. Tom Daschle and Avik Roy to explore the Obama and Romney plans. Then Carey and Tumulty will be joined by Politico's Jonathan Allen and KHN's Sarah Varney for a reporter roundtable on the politics of health care in the presidential and congressional races.

Today's early morning highlights from the major news organizations, including reports about a study regarding the possible impact of premium support on Medicare premiums:

Kaiser Health News: Study Finds Premium Support Plan could Raise Medicare Premiums In Many Parts Of Country
Kaiser Health News staff writer Jordan Rau reports: "The type of proposal championed by Republicans to overhaul Medicare by giving beneficiaries a fixed amount of money to purchase insurance could lead to significant increases in premium costs in some parts of the country, according to a new study" (Rau, 10/15). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: Insuring Your Health: As More Employers Drop Coverage, Retirees Turn To Specialized Insurance Exchanges
Kaiser Health News consumer columnist Michelle Andrews writes: "In the past 20 years, the number of companies that provide retiree health coverage has dropped dramatically, leaving seniors with the difficult task of choosing among a variety of plans to supplement their Medicare benefits. It is a choice that can be confusing and has large financial implications" (Andrews, 10/15). Read the column.

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Idaho, Texas: Best Places For Physicians To Practices;
When A Rock Star Tweets About The Uninsured
Now on Kaiser Health News' blog, Ankita Rao reports on the locations that might be best for physicians to practice medicine: "From the lakes of Minnesota, to the … clinics of Tennessee? The best places to practice medicine may surprise you. According to a report prepared annually by Physicians Practice, an online media and resource tool for doctors, Idaho, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas rank highest on the this year's list, based on metrics like malpractice frequency, reimbursement and overhead costs" (Rao, 10/15).

Also on Capsules, Shefali S. Kulkarni reports on how a musician entered into the nation's debate about health insurance coverage: "Yesterday Palmer tweeted about her struggles with insurance coverage after reading a New York Times column by Nicholas Kristof. Kristof wrote about his college roommate who is now uninsured and struggling with Stage 4 prostate cancer, and the issue hit close to home for the rock star. When she was 21, her older stepbrother died from Lou Gehrig's disease. Because he lacked health insurance, his medical bills put a big strain on the family's budget. ... On Twitter, Palmer wanted to know if there were others out there who struggled with insurance coverage. So on Sunday night she asked her more than 690,000 Twitter followers to reply" (Kulkarni, 10/16). Check out what else is on the blog.

The New York Times: Political Memo: Debt Impasse Shadow Race For Presidency
Substantively, any agreement in Congress, which opens a week after the election, could define the terms for how Mr. Obama and lawmakers move next year on efforts to contain the long-term costs of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, the programs that are driving forecasts of unsustainable debt. And it would determine how much money is available to address Mr. Obama’s priorities like education, energy and health care through his term (Calmes, 10/15).

Los Angeles Times: In Second Presidential Debate, Style Is Likely To Trump Facts
Those who have followed the campaign even somewhat closely learned little from the first two debates that they didn't know already. Obama wants to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans, protect his sweeping healthcare bill passed in 2010 and says his policies — including bailing out the auto industry — have produced a steady, if frustratingly slow, economic recovery. Romney opposes the tax hikes for the wealthy, wants to repeal "Obamacare," as he calls it, and says the president squandered billions of taxpayers' dollars on programs that did nothing to help the economy while exploding the national debt (Barabak, 10/15).

The Washington Post: First 2 Debates Reveal 2 Campaigns, Stripped To Core Arguments
On Tuesday night, President Obama and Mitt Romney will take the stage again, in a town-hall style debate at Hofstra University in New York. This meeting may have a different tone from their first — Obama, in particular, is under pressure to be more aggressive. But both candidates seem likely to return to the same basic sales pitch. … Romney and his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.), have focused largely on their policy agenda, which was dominated by things they wanted to roll back — the health-care law, the Dodd-Frank financial regulations, income-tax rates. The Democrats tend to cast the election less as a choice between ideas and more as a choice between people (Fahrenthold, 10/15).

USA Today: Swing States Poll: Women Push Romney Into Lead
The battle for women, which was apparent in the speakers spotlighted at both political conventions this summer, is likely to help define messages the candidates deliver at the presidential debate Tuesday night and in the TV ads they air during the final 21 days of the campaign. As a group, women tend to start paying attention to election contests later and remain more open to persuasion by the candidates and their ads (Page, 10/15).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Study: Privatized Medicare Would Hike Premiums For Most; Rise In Florida Could Exceed $200
Nearly six in 10 Medicare recipients would pay higher premiums under a hypothetical privatized system along the lines of what Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has proposed, according to a study released Monday. The report by the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation also found striking regional differences that could lead to big premium hikes in some states and counties. That finding instantly made it ammunition in the presidential campaign (10/15).

Politico: Kaiser Study: Medicare Costs Could Rise For Many With Premium Support
A Kaiser Family Foundation study found that if a premium support plan had been put in place in 2010, more than half of Medicare beneficiaries would face a rise in premiums if they stayed with their current plan — including traditional Medicare. The study, released Monday, doesn’t examine a specific proposal — and it posits 2010 as a start date, even though most of the plans being debated wouldn’t start for a number of years (Smith, 10/15).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Insurer UnitedHealth's 3rd-Quarter Profit Jumps 23 Percent, 2012 Outlook Climbs
UnitedHealth Group says its third-quarter earnings jumped 23 percent, thanks in part to growth in Medicare and Medicaid business for the nation’s largest health insurer. The Minnetonka, Minn., company also raised its 2012 earnings forecast. It now expects earnings of $5.20 to $5.25 per share, up from a previous forecast for $4.90 to $5 per share. Analysts expect $5.13 per share (10/16).

The Associated Press/Los Angeles Times: CVS Unit To Pay $5.25 Million To Settle Drug Pricing Allegations
The Justice Department said Monday that a unit of CVS Caremark Corp. has agreed to pay $5.25 million to settle allegations that it reported false information on prescription drug prices to the government's Medicare program. Federal investigators said CVS' RxAmerica subsidiary reported false information about the prices of generic prescription drugs in 2007 and 2008. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services used this information in a website called Plan Finder, which seniors could use to estimate their out-of-pocket drug expenses. But Justice Department officials said the actual drug prices offered by the company were "in some cases significantly higher" than those submitted for use on the website (10/15).

The Washington Post: D.C. Won't Renew Chartered Health Plan Contract, Officials Confirm
The District is moving to end its relationship with the health-care company owned by embattled campaign financier Jeffrey E. Thompson after auditors discovered significant financial irregularities in its books. Multiple senior officials confirmed that Chartered Health Plan will not have its contract renewed to manage care for low-income city residents, its only significant source of business, and that insurance regulators are considering a move to place the company in government receivership (DeBonis, 10/15).

The New York Times: FDA Warns Of Further Risk From Tainted Drugs
Health officials are warning that more people may be at risk from contaminated drugs made by a Massachusetts company linked to a growing meningitis outbreak (Grady and Tavernise, 10/15).

The Wall Street Journal: New Drugs Tied To Meningitis Outbreak
The Food and Drug Administration said Monday that two additional drugs may be linked to the multistate fungal meningitis outbreak stemming from steroid injections made by a compounding pharmacy in Massachusetts. The FDA said that a cooling solution made by NECC called cardioplegia, used in heart surgery, and a second injected steroid called triamcinolone acetonide now may be involved in the outbreak (Burton, Martin and Rockoff, 10/15). 

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