KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

First Edition: October 4, 2011

Today's news highlights include reports that the Supreme Court kicked off its new term by hearing a key Medicaid case that tests whether providers and patients can go to court to challenge decisions by cash-strapped states to reduce Medicaid payments.

Kaiser Health News: HCA May Face Big Revenue Hit If Feds Approve Texas Medicaid Plan
Kaiser Health News staff writer Christopher Weaver reports: "Private Texas hospitals, including at least 21 facilities owned by the publicly traded Hospital Corporation of America, could see a plunge in supplemental Medicaid payments if a state proposal to revamp its health care program for the poor is approved by the federal government. HCA, the nation's largest for-profit hospital chain, drew $657 million in supplemental Medicaid payments from Texas in 2010, making it especially vulnerable" (Weaver, 10/3).

Kaiser Health News: Insuring Your Health: Memphis Hospital Teams Up With Churches To Deliver Care
In her latest Kaiser Health News consumer column, Michelle Andrews writes: "Two mainstays of the Memphis community -- the Methodist Le Bonheur hospital system and nearly 400 local churches -- have teamed up for an innovative program that helps keep church members healthy while reducing health-care costs. If not actually made in heaven, it's a match that has significantly benefited all parties. Other health-care systems are taking note" (10/4).

Los Angeles Times: High Court Hears Key Medicaid Case
The Supreme Court justices opened their new term Monday by hearing a major healthcare case that tests whether judges can stop California and other cash-strapped states from cutting their payments to doctors and hospitals who serve low-income patients. The case heard Monday will probably affect how much money is available to pay for medical care for more than 50 million Americans, about half of them children, who depend on Medicaid (Savage, 10/3).

The New York Times: For Justices' First Day Back, A Knotty Case Involving Medicaid Cutbacks
The justices were not focused on the ultimate question of whether state officials were entitled to address the budget crisis there by lowering payments to medical providers. Rather, they considered the threshold question of whether the providers and Medicaid recipients were entitled to sue over the move (Liptak, 10/3).

The Washington Post: Supreme Court Opens Term With Medicaid Cut Case
The Supreme Court began its new term Monday with a complicated case about whether those who provide care and receive benefits under the Medicaid program for the poor can go to court when a state tries to cut spending on the program. California, which for budget reasons reduced its reimbursement rate for the program by 10 percent, and the Obama administration say individuals do not have a right to go to court (Barnes, 10/3).

USA Today: Supreme Court Weighs Right To Object To Medicaid Cuts
The California dispute started in 2008 when the state Legislature began cutting Medicaid reimbursement rates by up to 10% to try to solve the state's budget crisis. Medicaid patients and health care providers sued California, arguing that the cuts violated federal law requiring payments sufficient to assure access to and quality of care. A U.S. appeals court blocked the rate cuts (Biskupic, 10/3).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: With Obama's Health Care Overhaul Looming, New Supreme Court Term Begins With Medicaid Case
The Supreme Court began its new term Monday by weighing who gets to object when a state makes Medicaid cuts — and soon is likely to plunge into a far bigger health dispute. That's the challenge to President Barack Obama's historic health care overhaul. For now, patients and providers are squaring off against California and the Obama administration to argue they should have the right to sue in federal court when a state cuts its payment rates in the Medicaid program for poor Americans (10/3).

Reuters/Chicago Tribune: Health Consumers Make Deficit Fight Personal
The message is in a 14-page electronic brochure titled "Medicaid's Impact in Texas," sent to Hensarling and other Texas lawmakers by the health consumer advocacy group Families USA, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Diabetes Association and American Lung Association. The aim is to remind Congress of the potential human toll from tens of billions of dollars in federal Medicaid spending cuts that the groups expect Hensarling and his fellow "super committee" members to consider in the coming weeks (Morgan, 10/4).

The New York Times: Fight For Social Programs Looms Anew In The House
House Republicans are laying the groundwork for another battle with President Obama over spending and domestic policy with a bill that would cut some of his favorite health and education programs, tie the hands of the National Labor Relations Board and eliminate federal grants for Planned Parenthood clinics (Pear, 10/3).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Govt. Probe Uncovers Drug Abusers 'Doctor Shopping' To Score Large Quantities Of Painkillers
Drug abusers are exploiting Medicare prescription’s benefit to score large quantities of painkillers, and taxpayers have to foot most of the bill, congressional investigators say in a report. About 170,000 Medicare recipients received prescriptions from multiple doctors for 14 frequently abused medications in 2008, the Government Accountability Office found in an investigation for the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee (10/3).

The New York Times: Report On Medicare Cites Prescription Drug Abuse
Medicare is subsidizing drug abuse by thousands of beneficiaries who shop around for doctors and fill prescriptions for huge quantities of painkillers and other narcotics far exceeding what any patient could safely use, Congressional investigators say in a new report (Pear, 10/3).

USA Today: Senate Committee Accuses Companies Of 'Gaming Of Medicare'
Three home health care companies manipulated the Medicare system by charging for unnecessary services, according to an investigation released Monday by the Senate Finance Committee. … Investigators cited internal memos showing that three of the nation's largest home health care companies told employees to increase the number of therapy sessions a patient received in a 60-day period (Kennedy, 10/3).

Politico: Gray Market Threatens Drug Supply
Shortages in critical drugs have tripled in the past five years, killing some patients, delaying surgeries and disrupting chemotherapy treatments at hospitals around the country. There are several causes, and they're all complicated: The Food and Drug Administration doesn’t have enough resources to enforce strict regulations; there are manufacturing disruptions in aging facilities; and slim profit margins may discourage production in the first place (Norman, 10/3).

The Washington Post: VA Lacks Resources To Deal With Mental Health, Survey Finds
A survey of social workers, nurses and doctors working for the Department of Veterans Affairs finds that more than 70 percent of respondents think the department lacks the staff and space to meet the needs of growing numbers of veterans seeking mental health care. More than 37 percent of the 272 respondents say they cannot schedule an appointment in their clinics for a new patient within the 14-day standard mandated by the department, according to the survey, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post (Vogel, 10/3).

The Wall Street Journal: Aetna, CVS To Offer Co-Branded Drug Plan
Aetna Inc. and CVS Caremark Corp.'s retail division said they are teaming up to co-brand a new Medicare prescription drug plan, following in the footsteps of other health insurers that have partnered with big drugstores. The Aetna CVS/pharmacy Prescription Drug Plan will be available in 43 states and Washington, D.C., for those using the federal health insurance for seniors. The program's cost will be a $26 monthly plan premium, with no deductible, for generic drugs. The companies said the plan would help lower copayments for its users (Rubin, 10/3).

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