KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

First Edition: May 1, 2012

Today's health policy headlines include reports from the presidential campaign trail and from states on issues ranging from Massachusetts' payment reform to Idaho's scope-of-practices issues.   

Kaiser Health News: $18 For A Baby Aspirin? Hospitals Hike Costs For Everyday Drugs For Some Patients
Reporting for Kaiser Health News, in collaboration with USA Today, Susan Jaffe writes: "Sudden chest pains landed Diane Zachor in a Duluth, Minn., hospital overnight, but weeks later she had another shock – a $442 bill for the same everyday drugs she also takes at home, including more than a half dozen common medicines to control diabetes, heart problems and high cholesterol. … Even though her health plan covers medical and drug expenses, her policy did not pay the hospital drug bill because St. Luke's never formally admitted her. Instead, billed the visit as observation care, which is considered an outpatient service" (Jaffe, 4/30). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: Insuring Your Health: Some Insurers Deny ER Coverage To People Who Have Been Drinking
In her latest Kaiser Health News consumer column, Michelle Andrews writes: “Up to half of the people who are treated at hospital emergency departments and trauma centers are under the influence of alcohol, experts say. That may be a sobering statistic, yet a recent study found that emergency departments can capitalize on this "teachable moment" to discourage problem drinking in the future. But laws in more than half the states permit insurers to deny payment for medical services related to alcohol or drug use and that can derail hospitals' best intentions, experts say” (Andrews, 4/30). Read the column.

The Associated Press/Washington Post: On Taxes, Health Care And Government’s Role, Obama And Romney Offer Distinct Choices To Voters
Those differences surely exist. Obama and his Republican challenger are offering voters a distinct choice on taxes, a sharp disagreement over health care and a classic ideological divide on social issues that neither candidate seems eager to talk about (5/1).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Santorum Wants Assurances From Romney Before He Publicly Backs One-Time Bitter Rival
Both Santorum and Gingrich have fervent followings among conservatives who make up the base of the party and who generally view Romney skeptically because of his positions on a host of issues. Romney has changed his position on bedrock issues such as abortion and gay rights. He supported the 2008 Wall Street bailout that angered conservatives and paved the way for the rise of the tea party. And he signed a health care overhaul as governor that provided the groundwork for Democrats’ national law that requires all Americans to buy insurance or face a fine. Romney’s health care overhaul in Massachusetts required health care coverage (5/1).

Politico: GOPers Split Over How To Reform Health Care
Ask each of the 242 House Republicans what kind of health policy they’d like to enact instead of President Barack Obama’s health care reform law and you might get 242 different answers. Even after three years of railing against Obama’s plan, Republicans have coalesced around only a few basic tenets of health policy — let alone a full replacement plan (Haberkorn, 4/30).

Politico: House GOP Targets Nonprofit Health Co-Ops
The CO-OP faithful are vowing to plow ahead despite the friction they've been getting from the House lately, as Energy and Commerce Committee Republicans attack the initiative on two fronts — investigating its loans while trying to defund the entire program (Norman, 4/30).

The Washington Post: Massachusetts Payment-Reform Bill Would Overhaul How Health-Care Providers Are Paid
In the next few months, Massachusetts is expected to take up legislation that would overhaul how doctors, hospitals and other providers are paid. The forthcoming payment-reform bill is expected to include many incentives for hospitals to accept "global payments," or a flat fee for all the care delivered for a specific person or group of people (Kliff, 4/30).

Los Angeles Times: Insurance Rate-Hike Initiative Gains High-Profile Backers
Several high-profile business names, such as San Francisco hedge-fund manager Thomas Steyer and agribusiness magnate Stewart Resnick, have contributed to a proposed ballot measure seeking tighter regulation of health insurance rates, according to campaign finance records (Terhune, 5/1).

The New York Times: In Fight Over Obama Health Law, A Front In Minnesota
With zeal, excitement and a meticulous attention to detail, the administration of Gov. Mark Dayton is trying to expand health insurance coverage and remake Minnesota's insurance market along the lines envisioned by President Obama (Pear, 4/30).

Los Angeles Times: Federal Judge Blocks Texas Funding Cuts To Planned Parenthood
A federal judge on Monday stopped Texas from removing Planned Parenthood clinics from a state women's health program because the organization provides abortions. In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel in Austin cited evidence that the state rule banning Planned Parenthood from the program was unconstitutional. He imposed an injunction against enforcing the law until he can hear arguments in the case. The state immediately appealed (Hennessy-Fiske, 4/30).

The New York Times: Texas: Judge Prevents Ban On Funds To Planned Parenthood
A federal judge in Austin on Monday prevented Texas from enforcing a rule that would have banned Planned Parenthood from participating in a health care program for low-income women (Fernandez, 5/1).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Federal Judge Stops Texas From Banning Planned Parenthood From Receiving State Funds
The law passed last year by the Republican-controlled Legislature forbids state agencies from providing funds to an organization affiliated with abortion providers. Texas law already required that groups receiving federal or state funding be legally and financially separate from clinics that perform abortions (4/30).

Los Angeles Times: California Agency Ripped Over Disparities In Autism Spending
California lawmakers and advocates for children with autism assailed the state Department of Developmental Services during a hearing Monday over the deep racial and ethnic disparities in how it spends money on the disorder (Zarembo, 5/1).

Chicago Tribune: Wisconsin's Walker Raises $13 Million For Recall Election
Walker enraged Democrats and unions representing government workers such as teachers when he pushed through the legislature last spring a measure drastically reducing their powers. The law forced them to pay a portion of the cost of health insurance and pensions, capped wage increases, and required unions to be recertified every year. … The first-term governor, who faces the expensive special election in June, raised that amount between January 17 and April 23, according to a finance report filed with the state (O'Brien, 4/30).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Case Of Suspended Idaho Midwives Show Ongoing Tension Between Home-Birth Industry, Hospitals
Midwives and doctors are longtime rivals in the politics governing where women should give birth: Home or hospital. But that tension, typically played out privately between pregnant women and their health care providers, was laid bare this month in the case of two Idaho midwives suspended by the state after three babies died during a 14-month period between 2010 and 2011 (5/1).

NPR: Discovering The True Cost Of At-Home Caregiving
Few people want to turn over a loved one to institutional care. No matter how good the nursing home, it may seem cold and impersonal — and very expensive. But making the choice to provide care yourself is fraught with financial risks and personal sacrifices (Geewax, 5/1).

The New York Times: ER Doctors Face Quandary On Painkillers
Dental patients — mostly uninsured or indigent — are not unusual in emergency rooms. Poor patients may forgo preventive care and delay treatment until they face a medical crisis. In many states, adult dental benefits under Medicaid, the government insurance program for the poor, have been scaled back or eliminated. And dentists often don’t accept Medicaid patients. But emergency physicians like Dr. Lobitz cannot know whether someone who claims to be in agony from dental issues is telling the truth — or simply plans, he said, to “go to the next emergency room, next town over, and get another 30 Vicodin” (Saint Louis, 4/30).

NPR: Studies Reignite Mammography Debate For Middle-Aged Women
Should women in their 40s routinely get mammograms to detect breast cancer? Two studies released Monday aim to help resolve that question, which is one of the most intense debates in women's health. The studies identify which women in their 40s are most likely to benefit from routine mammograms (Stein, 4/30).

The Wall Street Journal: Eye Drugs Roughly Equal, Study Says
The results of a closely watched study funded by the U.S. government show that the drugs Avastin and Lucentis are roughly equal at preserving vision in elderly people with a common eye disease, a finding that could potentially save Medicare and other insurers millions of dollars a year because Avastin is far less expensive than Lucentis (Whalen, 4/30). 

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