KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

First Edition: February 5, 2013

Today's headlines include reports on the health law's Medicaid expansion, including assurances from HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius that the plan is no "bait and switch," and news that Republican Ohio Gov. John Kasich backs the expansion.  

Kaiser Health News: Health Law Bars Opting Out Of Maternity Coverage; Long Term Care Insurance Is guaranteed If Company Goes Out Of Business
Kaiser Health News consumer columnist Michelle Andrews answers readers' questions about maternity coverage requirements in the new health insurance exchanges, long-term-care insurance and switching employer health plans (Andrews, 2/5). Read the column.

Los Angeles Times: As House Returns, GOP Strategies Reflect Soul-Searching
Republicans have little interest in Obama's desire to find more tax revenue to control deficits, and pledge they will fight for deeper spending cuts. Their promise of a 10-year balanced budget … is an ambitious undertaking. Even the budget from Rep. Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), with its overhaul of Medicare and other safety net programs, did not balance for almost 20 years. While many Republicans … are primed for this fight as they aim to slash spending to balance budgets, others would like to broaden the party's message. Obama is set to address Democrats in both the House and Senate at their private caucus retreats this week as they consider ways to extract more revenue by closing loopholes. The White House has given little insight into why the president again missed the February deadline for presenting his budget, and Press Secretary Jay Carney declined Monday to say when the blueprint would be ready (Mascaro, 2/4).

The Washington Post: For Insurance Exchanges, States Need 'Navigators' – And Hiring Them Is A Huge Task
Signing up an estimated 30 million uninsured Americans for coverage under the health-care law is shaping up to be, if not a bureaucratic nightmare, at the very least a daunting task. While some people will find registering for health insurance as easy as booking a flight online, vast numbers who are confused by the myriad choices will need to sit down with someone who can walk them through the process (Aizenman, 2/4).

Politico: Kathleen Sebelius: Medicaid Expansion's Not 'Bait And Switch'
In a message targeted at states undecided about expanding Medicaid under the health care law, Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius stressed Monday that the White House won't back away from its promise to fund the expansions, even amid mounting battles over the federal budget. Sebelius said states hesitant to sign up for the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act shouldn't fear that the federal funding commitment will disappear when states boost their Medicaid rolls (Millman, 2/5).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Ohio's Republican Governor Backs Medicaid Expansion Under Federal Law To Cover More Poor
Ohio's Republican governor announced Monday he will push for expanding Medicaid under the federal health care law, a move that would give many more poor people access to government care. It also sets up a potential fight among the governor and Republicans who control the state Legislature and are strongly against President Barack Obama's health care law (2/4).

Politico: Kasich's Obamacare Flip Burns Conservatives
Conservative groups wanted to stop the march of Obamacare expansion at ground zero: the states. But one of their best hopes just caved (Nather, 2/4).

The New York Times: Ohio: Governor Will Seek To Cover More Under Medicaid
Gov. John R. Kasich, a Republican, said he would seek to expand the Medicaid program in Ohio to cover several hundred thousand more adults with incomes up to 138 percent of the poverty level. Expanding the program is a central goal of President Obama's health care law, but the Supreme Court ruled last year that it was an option for states, not a requirement (Goodnough, 2/4).

The Wall Street Journal's Law Blog: No Reprieve For Nursing Home In Dispute With Labor Board
A major nursing home operator represented by former Solicitor General Paul Clement (right) asked the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday to intervene in a dispute with the National Labor Relations Board. It took just a few hours for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg — to whom the request was directed — to reply with an answer: No (Gershman, 2/4).

The New York Times' The New Old Age: Therapy Plateau No Longer Ends Coverage
Congress continued for another year a little-known process that allows exceptions to what Medicare pays for physical, occupational and speech therapy. The Medicare limits before the exceptions are $1,900 for physical and speech therapy this year, and $1,900 for occupational therapy. In addition, the settlement of a class-action lawsuit last month now means that Medicare is prohibited from denying patients coverage for skilled nursing care, home health services or outpatient therapy because they had reached a "plateau," and their conditions were not improving (Jaffe, 2/4).

The Wall Street Journal: Hospitals Try House Calls To Cut Costs, Admissions
To keep patients out of the hospital, health-care providers are bringing back revamped versions of a time-honored practice: the house call. In addition to a growing number of doctors treating frail patients at home, insurers and health systems are sending teams of doctors, nurses, physician assistants and pharmacists into homes to monitor patients, administer treatments, ensure medications are being taken properly and assess risks for everything from falling in the shower to family care-giver burnout (Landro, 2/4).

NPR: Aging Poorly: Another Act Of Baby Boomer Rebellion
Baby boomers have a reputation for being addicted to exercise and obsessed with eating well. But that story didn't jibe with what physician Dana E. King and his colleagues see walking through the door of their family practice every day in Morgantown, W.Va. (Stein, 2/4).

NPR: FMLA Not Really Working For Many Employees
Twenty years after President Bill Clinton signed the Family and Medical Leave Act, workers' rights groups say many employees still must choose between their family or their job. They're marking the anniversary with calls to expand the law, and for Congress to pass a new one that would provide paid leave (Ludden, 2/5).

Los Angeles Times: Army Secretary Calls For Mental Health 'Resilience' Training
With suicides in the Army reaching another record in 2012, Army Secretary John McHugh said Monday he is reviewing recommendations from a study of soldier behavioral health evaluations and intends to adopt mental health "resilience" training for all soldiers (Murphy, 2/4).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Army Secretary Visits Joint Base Lewis-McChord To review Behavioral Health Evaluations
Army leadership is looking to improve coordination among its mental health programs and other soldier-resilience efforts, acknowledging Monday that a patchwork system of tools is often confusing for both commanders and soldiers. Army Secretary John McHugh said he has asked Army officials to finish a plan for an overhaul in the next couple weeks (2/4).

The Washington Post: New Technology Helps Doctors Link A Patient's Location To Illness And Treatment
Epidemiologist David Van Sickle spent years studying asthma, but like many researchers of the chronic disease, he was frustrated by the obstacles to determining precise triggers of an individual attack. That frustration gave him an idea for a rescue inhaler topped with a GPS sensor. The invention would map the user’s location every time he took a puff and send that information back to his doctor. Such a device, Van Sickle thought, would give doctors data about when and where attacks occurred, helping them figure out possible environmental causes and allowing them to plan treatment accordingly (MacDonald, 2/4).

The Associated Press/New York Times: A Bad Flu Season Lowers Humana's Profits
The health insurer Humana reported a 3.5 percent drop in its fourth-quarter net income on Monday as it absorbed higher claims payments driven by the flu outbreak, which offset continued growth in its lucrative Medicare Advantage membership (2/4).

The Wall Street Journal: Humana's Profit Slips On Higher Coverage
Humana's profits have declined in recent quarters partly due to high costs for both new and existing customers on Medicare plans. The company—which is one of the biggest providers of privately run Medicare Advantage health plans for seniors in the U.S.—has been buying stakes in doctor practices in an effort to push further into providing health services, and not just paying for them (Warner, 2/4).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Delaware Small Business Advisory Panel Discusses Workers Comp, Health reform, Loan Programs
Workers compensation insurance and health care reform are among the issues being looked at by a panel aimed at helping small businesses in Delaware. The state small business advisory committee was scheduled to meet Tuesday, with a review of a new workers compensation task force topping the agenda (2/5).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: By Arguing Fetuses Are Not Legally Persons, Catholic Hospital Wades Into Charged Debate
It was a startling assertion that seemed an about-face from church doctrine: A Catholic hospital arguing in a Colorado court that twin fetuses that died in its care were not, under state law, human beings. When the two-year-old court filing (2/4).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Arkansas House Approves Ban On Abortions After 20 Weeks, With No Exceptions For Rape, Incest
The Arkansas House voted Monday to ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy with no exceptions for rape or incest, sending the proposal to a state Senate that approved more stringent restrictions last week (2/4). 

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