KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

First Edition: March 1, 2011

Today's headlines offer details about President Barack Obama's announcement yesterday that he will offer governors some flexibility with state health law mandates.

Kaiser Health News: Helping Patients Understand Their Medical Treatment
Reporting for Kaiser Health News, in collaboration with The Washington Post, Sandra Boodman writes: "A 2006 study by the U.S. Department of Education found that 36 percent of adults have only basic or below-basic skills for dealing with health material. This means that 90 million Americans can understand discharge instructions written only at a fifth-grade level or lower. About 52 percent had intermediate skills: They could figure out what time a medication should be taken if the label says "take two hours after eating," while the remaining 12 percent were deemed proficient because they could search a complex document and find the information necessary to define a medical term" (Boodman, 3/1).

Kaiser Health News: Insuring Your Health -  Insurance Trade-Off: Reducing Premiums By Eliminating Expensive Doctors, Hospitals
In her latest Kaiser Health News consumer column, Michelle Andrews writes: "When consumers and employers pick health plans, some increasingly are being offered a trade-off these days: They can get a hefty break on their premiums if they agree to pay more out-of-pocket when they use certain high-cost providers in their network or if they cut those providers out of their network altogether" (Andrews, 3/1).

NPR: Obama To Governors: Opt Out Of Health Law If You Can Do Better
President Obama is moving to quell a rebellion among the ranks of the nation's governors, who want more of a say in how billions of dollars in shared health care dollars are spent (Rovner, 2/28).

The New York Times: Obama Backs Easing State Health Law Mandates
President Obama, who has stood by his landmark health care law through court attacks and legislative efforts to repeal it, told the nation's governors on Monday that he was willing to amend the measure to give states the ability to opt out of its most controversial requirements right from the start, including the mandate that most people buy insurance (Stolberg and Sack, 2/28).

Los Angeles Times: Obama Offers Governors Some Flexibility On Healthcare Law
Offering increased flexibility to the nation's governors, President Obama announced Monday that he supported changing the 2010 healthcare law to allow states to move sooner to develop their own alternative plans to expand coverage (Levey, 2/28).

The Washington Post: Obama Offers States More Flexibility In Health-Care Law
President Obama sought to defuse criticism of the new health-care overhaul Monday by saying he is willing to give states an earlier opportunity to opt out of certain key requirements - but only if they can find their own ways to accomplish the law's goals (Goldstein and Balz, 3/1).

The Wall Street Journal: Obama Offers Skeptical Governors Bigger Role Under The Health Law
President Barack Obama on Monday backed a bill in Congress to let states design their own ways to expand insurance coverage sooner under the health-care overhaul, in a nod to governors' complaints that federal rules are too rigid (Adamy, 3/1).

USA Today: Obama Backs Giving States Leeway On Health Care
President Obama's willingness to let states design their own health care systems while meeting key federal goals as early as 2014 represents a challenge to Republican governors and lawmakers opposed to the federal law (Wolf and Jackson, 2/28).

Los Angeles Times: Blue Shield Calls Pending Rate Hikes Reasonable
Blue Shield of California, assailed by consumers and state regulators for seeking to hike insurance rates as much as 59% in recent months, declared after a review that its proposed rates are reasonable (Helfand, 3/1).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Obama Admin Defends Health Care Reform In Court
President Barack Obama's administration said in court papers Monday that a federal judge in Virginia erred in striking down the centerpiece of its health care reform law (O'Dell, 2/28).

The Wall Street Journal: Demand For Senior Care Spurs Deals
Ventas Inc. agreed to acquire rival Nationwide Health Properties Inc. for $5.8 billion, the biggest deal yet in a string of acquisitions by publicly traded health-care real-estate companies in recent months. The deal comes at a time when some investors expect demand for medical-office space to rise as hospitals shift more services to outpatient facilities. The government's health-care overhaul is also boosting the number of people with health insurance, and the ranks of the elderly are growing (Pruitt and Troianovski, 3/1).

The Washington Post: Doctor-Owned Centers Spark Criticism, Scrutiny
When Kenneth Baker found out he had prostate cancer, his urologist detailed his options: The 84-year-old was too old for surgery, but he could pick from two forms of radiation or simply wait to see if he really needed treatment (Stein, 2/28).

The New York Times: Bronx-Lebanon obstetricians Face Malpractice Insurance Cutoff
A malpractice insurance group has warned obstetricians at a South Bronx hospital that it is considering cutting off their insurance, which could force surrounding hospitals to absorb hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of baby deliveries a year (Hartocollis, 2/28).

Los Angeles Times: Inspectors Find Hazards At UCI Dialysis Center
Regulators found blood-spotted chairs and walls, nurses who failed to change gloves or wash their hands and equipment that was rusted or held together by tape in a surprise November inspection of UC Irvine's dialysis center according to letters and reports obtained by The Times on Monday. The findings, federal regulators have warned, could jeopardize Medicare funding for the facility that serves about 120 patients (Hennessy-Fiske, 2/28).

USA Today: VA Boosts Medical Care For Female Veterans
The number of female veterans in the USA has doubled since the end of the Vietnam War and is projected to double again in the next five to 10 years, says Patricia Hayes, chief consultant for female veterans health at the VA (Ostendorff and Bompey, 2/28).

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