KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

First Edition: November 21, 2012

Today's early morning highlights from the major news organizations, including articles about regulations for the health law released by the administration Tuesday and the road ahead on implementing the law.

Kaiser Health News: Administration Releases New Health Law Rules For Insurers, Employers
Kaiser Health News staff writers Julie Appleby, Jay Hancock and Mary Agnes Carey report: "Long-awaited details on how insurers can structure health benefits and premiums for policies that will cover tens of millions of Americans starting in 2014 were released by the Obama administration Tuesday. The three proposed rules reaffirm key elements of the 2010 federal health law, including its requirement that insurers accept all applicants, even those with health conditions, and not charge higher rates based on health, gender or occupation" (Appleby, Hancock and Carey, 11/20).

Kaiser Health News: Obama Administration Gives Smokers A Way Out Of Higher Insurance Premiums
Kaiser Health News staff writer Phil Galewitz reports: "The Obama administration on Tuesday effectively nullified a provision of the federal health law that would have allowed insurers in the small group market to charge smokers up to 50 percent more than nonsmokers. Under the proposed regulation, employees who use tobacco can avoid paying those higher premiums if they participate in a program to quit (Galewitz, 11/20).

Kaiser Health News: Online Access To Docs Increases Office Visits, Study Finds
Colorado Public Radio's Eric Whitney, working in partnership with Kaiser Health News and NPR, reports: "Uncle Sam wants you to e-mail your doctor. A federal law passed in 2009 says that physicians have to start offering their patients online communication, or Medicare will start docking how much it pays them in the future. Some patients hope that having online access to their doctors will mean they can cut down on how often they have to go to the doctor's office. But new research suggests that patients with online access actually schedule more office visits" (Whitney, 11/21).

The New York Times: Administration Defines Benefits That Must Be Offered Under The Health Law
The Obama administration took a big step on Tuesday to carry out the new health care law by defining “essential health benefits” that must be offered to most Americans and by allowing employers to offer much bigger financial rewards to employees who quit smoking or adopt other healthy behaviors. The proposed rules, issued more than two and a half years after President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act, had been delayed as the administration tried to avoid stirring criticism from lobbyists and interest groups in the final weeks of the presidential campaign (Pear, 11/20).

Los Angeles Times: Administration Affirms Key Mandates Of Healthcare Law
The Obama administration reaffirmed key requirements of the new healthcare law Tuesday, setting out how insurance companies will cover nearly all Americans, even if they are already ill, and provide plans with minimum benefits. Consumer advocates, insurers and business groups were looking for signs the administration might try to modify some of the law's requirements as the federal government races to implement the legislation by the end of next year. But the proposed rules issued Tuesday hew closely to the Affordable Care Act that President Obama signed in 2010 (Levey, 11/20).

The Wall Street Journal: States Get A Say In Health Law
The Obama administration Tuesday issued new rules to implement several key provisions of the health-care-overhaul law, giving states some additional discretion over plans sold within their borders. The long-awaited rules underscore that the millions of customers who get new insurance through the law will see their plans vary from state to state. For example, the administration said it would let states choose whether to ban insurers from taking into account consumers' tobacco use when setting prices for their policies (Radnofsky, 11/20).

USA Today: Administration Unveils Health Care Regulations
The Obama administration released new health care regulations Tuesday that preclude insurers from adjusting premiums based on pre-existing or chronic health conditions, tell states what benefits must be included in health exchange plans, and allow employers to reward employees who work to remain healthy (Kennedy, 11/20).

NPR: Administration Lays Down Rules For Future Health Insurance
Now that the Supreme Court has found the Affordable Care Act constitutional and the president's re-election made clear that big chunks of the law will take effect Jan. 1, 2014, the administration is finally releasing rules of the road that states and insurance companies have been clamoring for. The big one makes clear how companies will have to comply with anti-discrimination requirements starting in 2014. The law requires that health insurance be made available to everyone regardless of health status and that people with pre-existing conditions not be charged higher premiums (Rovner, 11/20).

The Washington Post: Obama Administration Officials Propose Altered Rules For Health Insurers
The Obama administration proposed new rules Tuesday that would loosen some of the 2010 health-care law’s mandates on insurers while tightening others. Certain health plans, for instance, would be able to charge customers higher deductibles than originally allowed under the legislation. But all plans would be required to cover a larger selection of drugs than under an earlier approach outlined by the administration (Aizenman, 11/20).

The Washington Post: Many Americans Unaware Of Health-Care Law Changes
After surviving a Supreme Court decision and a presidential election, the Obama administration’s health-care law faces another challenge: a public largely unaware of major changes that will roll out in the coming months. States are rushing to decide whether to build their own health exchanges and the administration is readying final regulations, but a growing body of research suggests that most low-income Americans who will become eligible for subsidized insurance have no idea what is coming (Kliff, 11/20).

Politico: Next Up For Obamacare: Launching The Exchanges In 2014
Now that the elections saved the health care law from the threat of repeal, the Obama administration and its backers are turning their attention toward getting the law right — before the next elections come around in 2014. All eyes are on January 2014, when the health insurance exchanges — online portals where individuals and small businesses can get their health coverage — are slated to start covering millions of people. Consumers will have access to tax subsidies, if they qualify, to help them buy coverage, and almost everyone will be subject to the mandate to have insurance. Each step holds the potential to reinforce — or change — public perception (Haberkorn, 11/20).

Politico: HHS Looks To Step Up Role In Health Exchanges
The last thing the Obama administration wanted to do was come into a bunch of states and start running health insurance exchanges. But when the new insurance marketplaces open for business late next year, it’s clear that the Department of Health and Human Services will have a much bigger job than it wanted (Millman, 11/20).

Politico: Rough Start For Fiscal Cliff Talks
The opening round of negotiations this week between White House and senior GOP congressional staffers left both sides pessimistic about their ability to reach a quick deal on averting the fiscal cliff, according to sources familiar with the talks. Hill Democrats say Republicans aren’t serious about crafting a deal that President Barack Obama can accept. The GOP’s opening offer, the sources said, would freeze the Bush-era tax rates, change the inflation calculator for entitlement programs, keep the estate tax at 2012 levels and authorize a major overhaul of the Tax Code — although they did not provide a revenue target. ... For their part, Republicans remain unconvinced that Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will make the kind of significant concessions on entitlement programs like Medicare and Medicaid that would make them agree to tax rate hikes (Sherman, Bresnahan and Budoff Brown, 11/20).

Politico: Medicare Cuts Give Health Providers Jitters
The $716 billion in Medicare “cuts” that got so much attention in the presidential election have already begun sinking their teeth into health care providers. And there are widespread jitters that any further cuts as part of a year-end deal to stave off sequestration or strike a “grand bargain” for a long-term fiscal deal would deeply gouge some providers, if not put them out of business (Norman, 11/20).

Los Angeles Times: Union Ads Take New Tack: Praising GOP Members
Labor unions seeking a fiscal solution that protects entitlement programs and raises taxes on the rich are trying the carrot approach before taking the stick to lawmakers. A new six-figure ad campaign backed by three major unions includes radio spots praising four Republican House members as “leaders willing to put people ahead of partisan politics.” ... Union officials said the four GOP House members were selected because they were among those who signed a bipartisan letter this summer calling for a balanced budget deal that considers both cuts and new forms of revenue. ... The commercials call on the lawmakers “to stand up for us by investing in job creation, extending the middle class tax cuts, and protecting Medicare, Medicaid and education from cuts.” The labor unions also released a poll showing that voters overwhelmingly oppose cuts to Social Security or Medicare (Gold, 11/20).

The Wall Street Journal: U.S. Fake-Drug Probe Puts Spotlight On Role Of Doctors
A Tennessee cancer doctor has pleaded guilty to purchasing illegal foreign drugs, as part of a long-running investigation into overseas distributors that sold fake versions of the cancer drug Avastin and other unapproved medicines to U.S. clinics. The physician, William Kincaid of Johnson City, Tenn., who signed a plea agreement last week, is among the first to face charges in the probe. Dozens of doctors were warned by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that they may have purchased the fake Avastin from distributors owned by Canada Drugs, a Winnipeg Internet pharmacy company (Weaver, 11/20).

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