KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

First Edition: February 22, 2012

In today's health policy headlines, the Supreme Court added 30 minutes to the time allocation for next month's health law arguments. Also in the news, the federal government announced funding awards yesterday to help launch consumer-governed health plans in eight states.

Kaiser Health News: Feds Jump Start Health Insurance Co-Ops With Loans
Reporting for Kaiser Health News, Harris Meyer writes: "Seven organizations will receive a total of $639 million in federal low-interest loans to launch new, consumer-governed health insurance plans in eight states, the federal government announced Tuesday" (Meyer, 2/21).

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Convenient Methods For Birth Control Aren't Always Easy To Pay For
Now on Kaiser Health News' blog, consumer columnist Michelle Andrews writes: "“Free contraception has sure been a hot topic lately. But there’s still one facet that hasn’t received much attention. Religious leaders and politicians have debated whether requiring employers to cover prescription birth control for employees gratis — as required under the health care overhaul — tramples on religious freedom. But what about over-the-counter methods like condoms, spermicides and contraceptive sponges?" (Andrews, 2/21). Check out what else is on the blog.

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Supreme Court Adds 30 Minutes to Next Month's Health Care Arguments, Up To 6 Hours Overall
The Supreme Court has added another 30 minutes to upcoming arguments over President Barack Obama's health care overhaul. The sessions now will span six hours over three days in late March. The justices on Tuesday set aside 30 more minutes, 90 minutes overall, for discussion of the effect on the health care case of a federal law intended to make tax collections run smoothly (2/21).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Obama Administration Loans $638M In Startup Money For Health Insurance Co-Ops In 8 States
Health care cooperatives that are being launched in eight states announced Tuesday they will receive a total of $638 million in loans from the Obama administration under the federal health insurance law. The administration said the new nonprofit health insurers will be run by their customers and will be designed to offer coverage to individuals and small businesses. Supporters say the co-ops will keep pressure on private insurance companies for both price and coverage (2/21).

The New York Times: In Tightening Race, Top GOP Candidates Race To Capture 2 Battleground States
In the brilliant sunshine of Arizona, Rick Santorum aggressively challenged Mitt Romney in a state where the Tea Party is strong and the politics of immigration are poised to take center stage at a debate on Wednesday night. Speaking to about 500 people at the Maricopa County Lincoln Day luncheon, Mr. Santorum tipped his hat to the Tea Party movement, many of whose members had packed into the large Shriners' hall to hear him speak. "We need to take everything from food stamps to Medicaid to housing programs to education training programs," he said. "We need to cut 'em, cap 'em, freeze 'em, send 'em to the states and say that there has to be a time limit and a work requirement," he said, the rest of his words drowned out by thunderous applause (Shear and Zeleny, 2/21).

Los Angeles Times: Ron Paul’s ‘Groovy’ New Ad Calls Santorum A Fake Conservative
If the enemy of my enemy is my friend, Mitt Romney and Ron Paul are best buds these days. As Romney fights to stave off a potentially debilitating loss in Michigan's Feb. 28 primary, Paul is taking to the airwaves there with an ad that reinforces Romney's message that Rick Santorum betrayed conservative principles on spending when he served in Congress. … It says Santorum voted to raise the debt ceiling, doubled the size of the Education Department, and "supported the biggest entitlement expansion since the '60s," referring to the Medicare prescription drug plan (Memoli, 2/21).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Gingrich Asks Oklahoma Lawmakers For Input On Getting 'Federal Government Out Of Your Hair'
The former House speaker said he'd focus most on regulations he thinks are hindering energy development and on giving states greater flexibility to implement Medicaid programs for the poor. Gingrich praised House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan's ideas for turning more Medicaid funds into block grants to states. Gingrich drew conservative blowback last May for suggesting Ryan's plan for Medicare for seniors constituted "right-wing social engineering" (2/21).

Politico: Dems: GOP Won't Let Us Televise Contraception Hearing
First, House Democrats couldn't get a woman onto the all-male panel at a contraception hearing last week. Now, they've invited her to testify at their own unofficial hearing — and they say the Republicans won't let them televise it (Haberkorn, 2/21).

Los Angeles Times: Health Plans Get Mixed Reviews In Annual California Report Card
California's annual report card on many of the state's HMOs and other health insurance plans gave most of those rated high marks for customer satisfaction but said they need to improve treatment for lung disease, attention-deficit disorder and throat infections in children. The state said more than a third of consumers expressed problems with how the companies resolved complaints. The report, released Wednesday from the state Office of the Patient Advocate, rated California's nine largest health maintenance organizations, six largest preferred provider organizations and 212 medical groups representing 16 million consumers with private health plans (Terhune, 2/22).

The Washington Post: Older Arlingtonians With Disabilities Find A Home
Twenty-five people with intellectual disabilities or mental illnesses are now living in the 52-unit center in the Fort Myer area of Arlington County. All are 55 or older, and that makes this new center unique in the nation (Sullivan, 2/21).

The Washington Post: Virginia Governor No Longer Fully Supports Ultrasounds Before Abortions
Gov. Robert F. McDonnell is backing off his unconditional support for a bill requiring women to have an ultrasound before an abortion, focusing new attention on one of the most controversial pieces of legislation in Virginia's General Assembly this year. Until this weekend, McDonnell (R) and his aides had said the governor would sign the measure if it made it to his desk. McDonnell, who strongly opposes abortion, will no longer make that commitment (Kumar, 2/21).

Chicago Tribune: Quinn To Call For Dozens Of Prison, Human Services Closures
Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn will deliver a bad-news budget Wednesday, suggesting that Illinois close numerous prisons, mental health centers and social service offices, cut health care for the poor and shut down popular tourist sites for two days a week at times during the year. The problem is the same as it's been for years at the Capitol -- there's not enough money coming in while costs are rising. The quick math: The state expects to take in about $700 million more during the financial year that starts July 1. State worker pension costs alone will rise by more than $1 billion (Long and Garcia, 2/21).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Md. Lt. Gov. To Speak To Senate, House Committees About Legislation To Implement Health Reform
Maryland's Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown is advocating for a program to provide more access to health care. Brown will testify Wednesday before a state Senate committee in favor of legislation that builds on the state's efforts to create a Health Benefit Exchange, which is intended to help individuals and small businesses buy health insurance. He will also testify in front of the House of Delegates Health and Government Operations Committee on Thursday (2/22).

NPR Shots Blog: The Big Squeeze: Calif. Weight Loss Clinics Under Investigation
A group of weight-loss clinics in Southern California is under fire for an aggressive advertising campaign and the death of five patients. The 1-800-GET-THIN marketing campaign and its affiliated surgical centers are being investigated by local, state and federal agencies, including Congress (Kahn, 2/21).

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