KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

First Edition: October 3, 2012

Today's headlines include presidential debate previews and reports on a new round of polling.  

Kaiser Health News: Medicare Revises Hospitals' Readmissions Penalties
Kaiser Health News staff writer Jordan Rau reports: "Medicare's new readmission penalties for hospitals just got a bit tougher. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has discovered errors in its initial calculations in August. As a result, 1,422 hospitals with comparatively high readmission rates will lose slightly more money than they were expecting, according to a Kaiser Health News analysis of the revised penalties. Fifty-five hospitals will lose less than were previously told" (Rau, 10/2). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: Hospitals Need Networks To Prevent Readmissions
Colorado Public Radio's Eric Whitney, working in partnership with Kaiser Health News and NPR, reports: "A paradox of American health care is that hospitals are sometimes rewarded for doing things badly. Patients who are discharged, for example, shouldn't have to come right back because their conditions get worse when they go home. But if they do come back, hospitals benefit, because they can fill an empty bed and bill for more care" (Whitney, 10/2). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Study: Newly Insured Patients Are Likely To Be Healthy; States Requiring Broader Drug Choices Than Federal; Medicaid Stars In New Obama Campaign Ad; Some 'Bingo' Fun For Debate Season
Now on Kaiser Health News' blog, Julie Applebly reports on a new study regarding the health law’s newly insured: "Good news for insurers: 88 percent of people new to health coverage after the health law fully goes into effect will be in relatively good health.  That means providers won’t be overwhelmed, at least initially, says a report out today by PricewaterhouseCoopers" (Appleby, 10/2).

Also on the blog, Phil Galewitz reports on how states are handling certain minimum benefit rules set by the federal government: "When the Obama administration set initial rules last December to determine what minimum benefits insurers must offer in plans sold to individuals and small groups starting in 2014, one provision stood out: Insurers selling small group and individual policies would have to provide at least one drug per class of drug. In other words, insurers could cover just one drug for cholesterol, one for high blood pressure or one drug for attention deficit disorder" (Galewitz, 10/2).

In addition, Galewitz reports on a new Obama campaign ad: "At last, Medicaid is getting some respect. Medicaid, not Medicare, is the subject a new television campaign advertisement for President Barack Obama.The 30-second ad is being broadcast in five election battleground states — Colorado, Virginia, Nevada, Iowa and Ohio. It accuses GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney of supporting the plan passed by the GOP-led House of Representatives that cuts $800 billion from Medicaid, the state-federal health insurance program for the poor and disabled, over the next 10 years" (Galewiz, 10/3).

And, in anticipation of tonight's presidential debate, Kaiser Health News offers a way enhance debate with a health policy version of BINGO: "Kaiser Health News feels your pain (so to speak).  And we're here to help.  Jim Lehrer, the moderator of the debate, has promised to devote a segment to health policy issues.  There's no better way to help you stay focused on the questions and answers than with a good, old fashioned game of BINGO.  Or in this case, DEBATE-O" (10/2). Check out what else is on the blog.

The Wall Street Journal: Race Tightens In 2 States As Ohio Gap Widens
The presidential race is tightening in the battleground states of Florida and Virginia, but one of the biggest prizes—Ohio—remains a difficult challenge for Republican Mitt Romney, new polls show. Biting into President Barack Obama's lead over the past three weeks, Mr. Romney trails the president by a single percentage point among likely voters in Florida and by two points in Virginia, the new Wall Street Journal/NBC News/Marist Poll surveys show. Both races are statistical dead heats, as Mr. Obama's leads fall within the surveys' margin of error (Murray, 10/3).

The New York Times: Claims Likely To Surface In Debate And Facts Behind Them
Both candidates agree that the health care program for older Americans, the single-biggest contributor to projected deficits, cannot continue growing at current rates. They disagree on how, and how much, to curb it. Mr. Romney favors shifting from the open-ended, fee-for-service Medicare program to one giving each beneficiary a fixed annual amount to buy private insurance or a Medicare option. He has not proposed what the amount of the voucherlike payments would be, so potential budget savings and impact on beneficiaries are impossible to judge. … Mr. Obama, who says Mr. Romney would "voucherize" the program, instead backs marginal changes, including lower payments to providers of health care like doctors and insurers (Calmes and Harwood, 10/2).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: For Obama, Romney, Debate Offers Moment Of High-Risk Theater Mixing Choreography, Spontaneity
The central role of the economy in this election is evident in the topics selected for the first three of the night's six debate segments: The Economy I, The Economy II and The Economy III. The last three segments will focus on health care, the role of government and governing (10/3).

NPR: Democrats And Republicans Differ On Medicaid Fix
Medicaid is already the nation's largest health insurance program in terms of number of people covered: It serves nearly 1 in 5 Americans. Yet at the same time it's putting increasing strain on the budgets of states, which pay about 40 percent of its costs (Rovner, 10/2).

Politico: Red-State Counties Back Off Medicaid Expansion Talk
Texas counties made waves this summer after reports surfaced that they were interested in moving forward on their own with a Medicaid expansion at the local level — without Gov. Rick Perry's signoff. But now, they’re backing off (Smith, 10/3).

The New York Times: Obama Outspending Romney On TV Ads
In Florida, the disparity was greater. The number of pro-Obama ads outnumbered pro-Romney ads by almost 50 percent — some 13,000 of them accusing Mr. Romney of outsourcing jobs to China, trying to gut Medicare and hiding his tax returns from the public. The story was the same in most of most of the other battlegrounds. In Ohio and in Iowa, in Norfolk, Va., and on the Boston stations that feed New Hampshire, Mr. Obama out-advertised his rival after the parties' nominating conventions, according to data compiled by the political advertising monitoring firm Kantar Media/CMAG (Rutenberg and Peters, 10/2).

Politico: Gang Of 8 Plots Secret Retreat
The group came together in the summer of 2011 to try to hammer out a deal to solve the debt ceiling crisis but failed to reach an agreement in the end. Yet it’s jumped into the latest debate over the fiscal cliff — the expiration of the Bush tax cuts and a dramatic cut to federal spending, including for the Pentagon — to see try to see if the bipartisan fever catches widely (Bresnahan and Sherman, 10/2).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Report: Overhaul Offers Multi-Billion Dollar Growth Opportunity For Health Insurers
The health care overhaul's insurance exchanges may help as many as 12 million people find coverage in 2014, according to health care consultant PwC. That equals $55 billion in premiums for insurers. Those totals may rise to 29 million people and $205 billion in premiums by 2021 (10/2).

The New York Times: GOP Aims To Remake Florida Supreme Court
In Florida, the issue is not same-sex marriage but another politically divisive matter: President Obama's health care law. In a 2010 ruling, the Florida Supreme Court removed from the ballot a nonbinding amendment allowing Floridians to refuse to buy mandatory health insurance. The justices ruled that the required ballot summary contained "misleading and ambiguous language" and asked the Legislature to fix it. Lawmakers did, and it is back on the ballot this year (Alverez, 10/2).

The Wall Street Journal: Nurses Seek Expanded Role
A federal agency is weighing whether to reimburse a specialized type of nurse for giving chronic-pain treatments, a move opposed by some doctors and one that critics say could complicate the battle against prescription painkiller abuse. By Nov. 1, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is expected to decide whether nurse anesthetists should be directly reimbursed by Medicare for evaluating, diagnosing and treating pain with epidural injections or prescription painkillers called opioids. Medicare is the federal health program for the elderly and disabled (Martin, 10/2).

Los Angeles Times: LA Billionaire Teams With Insurer On Personalized Medicine
Los Angeles billionaire and healthcare entrepreneur Patrick Soon-Shiong reached an agreement with insurer Blue Shield of California aimed at accelerating medical breakthroughs to doctors and patients to improve care and reduce costs. Soon-Shiong, a former UCLA surgeon and drug-company executive, announced the deal Tuesday between his NantHealth company and Blue Shield, a nonprofit insurer with 3.3 million customers in California (Terhune, 10/2).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Federal Court In Va. Approved $1.5B Abbott Laboratories Settlement Over Depakote
A federal court in Virginia on Tuesday approved a settlement in which Abbott Laboratories agreed to pay $1.5 billion over allegations that it promoted the anti-seizure drug Depakote for uses that were not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (10/2).

The Wall Street Journal: Court Sentences Abbott For Off-Label Promotion Of Antiseizure Drug
Abbott was ordered to pay a criminal fine of $500 million, forfeit another $198.5 million, and pay $1.5 million to the Virginia Medicaid Fraud Control Unit for marketing the drug for patients with dementia and schizophrenia. The drug manufacturer will also be subject to a five-year term of probation (Jones, 10/2).

The Associated Press/Wall Street Journal: NY Picks Oxford Plan As Exchange Benchmark
New York's Health Department has selected a health care plan offered by Oxford as the benchmark for the state's health insurance exchange, which is intended to help extend coverage to the uninsured and reduce costs for individuals, small businesses and local governments. The New York Health Benefit Exchange Gov. Andrew Cuomo established by executive order is a federally required and subsidized marketplace scheduled to start in 2014 (10/2).

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