KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

First Edition: April 10, 2013

Today's headlines include more details and analysis regarding President Barack Obama's budget plan and how it handles Medicare and other entitlement programs.  

Kaiser Health News: Consumer Groups Fear Patients Could Be Hit With Large Out-Of-Pocket Costs
Kaiser Health News staff writer Julie Appleby reports: "Consumer groups are warning that insurers and employers may be able to keep offering health plans next year that include out-of-pocket caps for individuals of $12,500 or more -- double the amount allowed under the federal health law. The Obama administration has decided not to enforce that section of the law for some plans for another year, say 10 consumer groups which Monday wrote federal officials asking that the move be reconsidered" (Appleby, 4/9). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: $54M In Grants Will Help Enroll Uninsured In 33 States
Kaiser Health News staff writers Phil Galewitz and Jenny Gold report: "The Obama administration on Tuesday said it will award $54 million to community groups in 33 states to help people sign up for insurance in the new online health insurance marketplaces that open for enrollment Oct. 1" (Galewitz and Gold, 4/9). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: Health On The Hill: 'Remarkably Friendly' Hearing For Acting Medicare Chief
Kaiser Health News staff writer Mary Agnes Carey talks with Jackie Judd about a hearing Tuesday regarding the nomination of Marilyn Tavenner, the acting head of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, to keep the CMS top job, and when the Senate could vote on the confirmation (4/9). Listen to their conversation or read the transcript. You can also watch video highlights from the hearing.

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Medicare Effort To Cut Readmissions Isn't Counting Patients Who Come Back To ER; Colorado's Pitch For New Business: Healthy, Lean Workers Cost Less
Now on Kaiser Health News' blog, Jordan Rau reports on a study examining a Medicare effort to cut readmissions: "A study published Tuesday says Medicare may be missing factors that lead to post-hospital health problems because it isn’t counting many discharged patients who come back to the emergency room but aren’t admitted" (Rau, 4/9).

Also on Capsules, Colorado Public Radio's Eric Whitney, working in partnership with KHN and NPR, reports on his state’s health-oriented new business pitch: "The cost of doing business may be lower in areas where there's a 'culture of health.'  And that's put Colorado, which has lowest rates of obesity in the nation, on the map for companies looking to relocate or expand. Kelly Brough is proud of this.  She runs the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, and she's creative about luring businesses to relocate in Colorado.  For instance, she runs a 'Colorado loves California' campaign” (Whitney, 4/10). Check out what else is on the blog.

The Washington Post: Obama To Unveil $3.77 Trillion Spending Plan
President Obama plans Wednesday to unveil a $3.77 trillion spending plan that proposes modest new investments in infrastructure and education, major new taxes for the wealthy and significant reforms aimed at reducing the cost of Social Security and Medicare. As Washington barrels toward another potential showdown over the federal debt limit later this summer, administration officials said the blueprint lays down the president’s bottom-line offer for getting federal borrowing under control (Montgomery, 4/10).

Los Angeles Times: Obama To Unveil Budget Proposal, Latest Offer In Deficit Talks
Obama’s budget cuts $200 billion from domestic programs, including trims to farm subsidies and reductions in some federal retirement benefits. The proposal counts $400 billion in health savings and Medicare changes. It includes another $200 billion in savings from defense and non-defense programs (Hennessey, 4/10).

The Wall Street Journal: Obama Reaches For Middle Ground With New Budget Plan
Mr. Obama's budget proposal will call for $3.77 trillion in spending for the fiscal year that begins in October, a senior administration official said, up 6% from projected spending levels in the current fiscal year. The higher spending would come from a combination of canceling the across-the-board spending cuts, known as the sequester, that began in March and pumping more money into education, infrastructure and mental-health treatment, among other things. … The deficit would fall more sharply later in the decade under the president's plan, senior administration officials said, as a number of changes would kick in, affecting programs like Social Security, Medicare and military spending (Paletta, 4/9).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Obama Sends Congress$3.77 Trillion Spending Plan For 2014 Seeking Elusive Grand Bargain
But instead of moving Congress nearer a grand bargain, Obama’s proposals so far have managed to anger both Republicans, who are upset by higher taxes, and Democrats upset with cuts to Social Security benefits. The president’s spending and tax plan is two months late. The administration blames the delay on the lengthy “fiscal cliff” negotiations at the end of December and then fights over the March 1 automatic spending cuts (4/10).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Liberal Groups, Lawmakers Balk At Entitlement Cuts In Budget, 2nd Term Overtures To GOP
Liberal lawmakers from Congress and a coalition of like-minded groups rallied outside the White House on Tuesday, voicing frustration at the Democratic president they say has let them down by proposing cuts to Medicare and Social Security. One day before President Barack Obama was set to unveil his budget, organizers stacked nine file boxes in front of the White House that they said contained more than 2 million signatures on petitions telling Obama they won’t stand for cuts to entitlement programs cherished by the Democratic base (4/9).

USA Today: On Left And Right, Obama’s Budget Anticipated As A Dud
President Obama will unveil his budget later today, offering a fiscal plan that even before it's officially released is eliciting groans from his conservative opponents as well as his backers on the left. … The plan claims to achieve $400 billion in savings by cutting waste and fraud in Medicare and $580 billion in new revenues by limiting tax benefits for top earners. It also saves another $230 billion by restructuring cost-of-living adjustments for beneficiaries of social security, according to a White House overview of the budget (Madhani, 4/10).

The New York Times: Three Obama Nominees Encounter No Opposition At Senate Confirmation Hearings
President Obama’s three nominees to run Medicare and Medicaid, the Energy Department and the Office of Management and Budget sailed through their separate Senate confirmation hearings on Tuesday and appeared to be on track to win approval from the committees, though none of the panels voted on the nominations (Wald and Pear, 4/9).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Senate Seen Likely To Approve Former Nurse To Run Medicare, Medicaid And Health Care Rollout
Republican lawmakers are heaping praise on a former nurse picked by President Barack Obama to run Medicare and Medicaid, and also oversee his health care law. If the Senate confirms Marilyn Tavenner, as expected, it may be the closest thing to a truce in the nation’s political wars over health care (4/9).

The Wall Street Journal: Medicare Chief Expected To Get Nod
In recent years, the job has become so politically contentious that lawmakers haven't been able to formally confirm a head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. In a hearing Tuesday to vet her for the post, Ms. Tavenner gained support from both Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee, who said she has proved herself capable as acting administrator of the agency since late 2011 (Dooren, 4/9).

Politico: Marilyn Tavenner Soars Through Senate Finance Hearing
The Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday overwhelmingly lauded President Barack Obama’s nominee to run Medicare, Medicaid and even much of the health reform law. Marilyn Tavenner, who has run the sprawling Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services as acting administrator for well over a year, was praised by Republicans and Democrats during her confirmation hearing, indicating that she is likely to sail through the full Senate without a reprise of the nasty politics of the health law (Haberkorn, 4/9).

Politico: Mental Health Is Pushed Down On Hill Agenda
Lawmakers have filed plenty of mental health care bills since the Newtown, Conn., killings, hoping they’d get attached to any agreement on gun control. But the ambitions are shrinking (Cunningham, 4/10).

The Washington Post: Smokers Will Pay Same Rates As Nonsmokers In D.C. Insurance Exchange
With less than six months until the District’s health insurance exchange is set to debut, policymakers have made another momentous decision that will affect how much residents pay for coverage. On Monday, the D.C. exchange’s executive board voted to prevent insurers from charging higher premiums to smokers than to nonsmokers — meaning nonsmokers are likely to pay modestly higher rates than if smoking surcharges were permitted (DeBonis, 4/9).

The Wall Street Journal: Health Care Ails In Rockaways
After superstorm Sandy disrupted many of the Rockaway Peninsula's health-care facilities, volunteer doctors and nurses filtered into the devastated area, knocking on doors to see if residents needed help and serving hundreds of them from mobile medical units (Dawsey, 4/9).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Del. Officials Reduce Hours At Public Health Clinic, Cite Lose Patient Numbers, Consolidation
Delaware public health officials say services at a Middletown clinic are being reduced because of low patient number and a need to consolidate services. Officials say the Division of Public Health alerted patients last week of a reduction in service hours at the Middletown Health Unit, Sexual and Reproductive Health Clinic, effective last Friday (4/10).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Jury Orders HMO To Pay $500M In Punitive Damages To 3 Plaintiffs In Las Vegas Hepatitis C Case
A Nevada jury ordered the state’s largest health management organization on Tuesday to pay $500 million in punitive damages to three plaintiffs in a civil negligence lawsuit stemming from a Las Vegas hepatitis outbreak (4/9).

The Wall Street Journal: Jury Awards $500 Million Damages In Hepatitis Case
A Nevada jury said two UnitedHealth Group Inc. units should pay a total of $500 million in punitive damages in a case involving two members who contracted hepatitis C, an award that will draw close attention in the health-insurance industry. The decision follows the jury's decision last week that Health Plan of Nevada and a sister company, Sierra Health Services, bore responsibility for negligence in the two women's illness. At that time, it awarded $24 million in total compensatory damages to them and to the spouse of one of them (Mathews, 4/9).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Texas Firm Accused Of Overcharging Va. Tech Students By Millions For Their Health Insurance
An indictment says a Texas company that provided health insurance to Virginia Tech students fraudulently overstated claims by more than $9 million to boost its profits. The grand jury indictment unsealed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Abingdon, Va., charges GM-Southwest Inc. and its former owner, 73-year-old John Paul Gutschlag Sr., with racketeering, conspiracy, money laundering and fraud (4/9).

The Wall Street Journal’s Law Blog: Analyzing The Kansas Abortion Bill
Following in the footsteps of North Dakota and Arkansas, Kansas is poised to adopt new restrictions on abortion access. Arkansas in early March passed a law prohibiting most abortions after 12 weeks of pregnancy. North Dakota, three weeks later, banned the procedure as early as six weeks into a pregnancy (Gershman, 4/9).  

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