KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

First Edition: August 21, 2013

Today's headlines include reports about how the push to defund the health law is playing as members of Congress hold town hall meetings in their districts, as well as coverage of a survey released yesterday showing that employer-provided health insurance premiums rose slightly in 2012.

Kaiser Health News: UPS Won’t Insure Spouses Of Some Employees
Kaiser Health News staff writer Jay Hancock, working in collaboration with USA Today, reports: "Partly blaming the health law, United Parcel Service is set to remove thousands of spouses from its medical plan because they are eligible for coverage elsewhere. Many analysts downplay the Affordable Care Act’s effect on companies such as UPS, noting that the move is part of a long-term trend of shrinking corporate medical benefits. But the shipping giant repeatedly cites the act to explain the decision, adding fuel to the debate over whether the law erodes traditional employer coverage" (Hancock, 8/21). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: Health Law Adds New Expense For Farmers: Insurance For Field Workers
Kaiser Health News staff writer Sarah Varney, working in collaboration with The New York Times, reports: "Farm labor contractors across California -- the nation's biggest agricultural engine -- are anxiously studying a provision of the Affordable Care Act, which will require hundreds of thousands of field workers to be covered by health insurance. And while the requirement to cover workers was recently delayed until 2015, the contractors, who provide farmers with armies of field workers, say they are already preparing for the potential cost, inconvenience, and liability the new law will bring to their business, which typically operates on a slender profit margin" (Varney, 8/21). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: An Alaska-Sized Price Difference: A Circumcision In Anchorage Hospitals Can Cost $2,110 or $235
Alaska Public Radio Network’s Annie Feidt, working in partnership with Kaiser Health News and NPR, reports: "It’s not just patients who are stunned to see what a hospital charges for services. Two groups of pediatricians in Anchorage are taking a stand after learning that one of the city’s hospitals, Alaska Regional Hospital, is charging $2,110 for a circumcision, almost 10 times more than the $235 that Providence Hospital, the city’s other major health facility, charges. Those prices are on top of the doctor’s bill" (Feidt, 8/20). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: Family Insurance Premiums Rise 4 Percent For 2nd Year In Row, Survey Finds
Kaiser Health News staff writer Julie Appleby reports: "For the second year in a row, health insurance premiums for job-based family coverage rose a relatively modest 4 percent, reflecting slowed health spending. Nonetheless, workers are likely to feel an increased pinch from health care costs:  More than a third have annual deductibles of at least $1,000 this year before their insurance kicks in, while wages continue to grow far more slowly than health insurance costs" (Appleby, 8/20). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: With A Nod To Billy Joel, N.Y. Brands Obamacare Marketplace; GOP Gov Extols Exchange 'Run By Idahoans For Idahoans'
Now on Kaiser Health News’ blog, Phil Galewitz reports on how New York state is branding its health exchange: "New York is the latest state attempting to brand the new marketplaces. The marketplaces, one of the key ways the health care law extends coverage to the uninsured, open for enrollment Oct. 1, selling policies that will take effect Jan. 1. New York exchange officials announced last month that average premiums sold on the exchange would be about half the price they are today for individuals who buy their own insurance" (Galewitz, 8/20).

Also on Capsules, Galewitz reports on the latest regarding Idaho’s health insurance marketplace: "Idaho is the only state under complete Republican control that is running its own marketplace, also called an exchange. ‘I wanted the state to do this so we could fashion it to what we needed in Idaho, rather than deal with a multi-state federal system,’ Otter said at a press conference in the capitol in Boise" (Galewitz, 8/20). Check out what else is on the blog.

The New York Times: Health Care Costs Climb Moderately, Survey Says
Premiums for employer-provided health insurance have increased by relatively modest amounts this year, according to a new survey, a further sign that once-torrid health care inflation has abated for now (Pollack, 8/20).

Los Angeles Times: Costs Rise For Employer-Provided Health Benefits, Survey Finds
American workers and their employers saw another rise in health insurance premiums this year, as the total cost of employer-provided health benefits ticked up 4% for family plans and 5% for individual plans, according to a closely watched national survey (Levey and Villeneuve, 8/20).

The Wall Street Journal: Employer Health Coverage Premiums Rise Slowly Again This Year
The increase, to an annual total of $16,351 from $15,745 in 2012, represented the same rate of growth as last year, which likely reflects employees' continued tendency to limit their use of medical care, said Gary Claxton, vice president of the Kaiser Family Foundation. The nonprofit performed the annual poll of employers along with the Health Research & Educational Trust, a nonprofit affiliated with the American Hospital Association (Mathews, 8/20).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Survey: 2013 Employer-Sponsored Health Insurance Costs Rise Modestly But Outpace Wage Gains
Workers saw a modest rise in the average cost of employer-sponsored health insurance this year, but they’re probably not overwhelmed with relief. Coverage costs still are climbing faster than wages. That means, in many cases, a bigger portion of the average paycheck is sliced off for insurance instead of being deposited into employee bank accounts (8/20).

The Wall Street Journal: Health Overhaul Targets Hispanics
Insurers and the Obama administration are racing to sign Hispanics up for coverage under the federal health overhaul, eager to reach a segment of the U.S. population that offers huge opportunity but also presents many challenges. When WellPoint Inc. asked a group of 20 uninsured Hispanics to review educational materials on the new law earlier this year, many had simple questions: What is health insurance? And how does it work? (Martin, Campo-Flores and Rutland, 8/20).

Politico: Obamacare Critic Rick Perry Seeks Cash From Law
Gov. Rick Perry wants to kill Obamacare dead, but Texas health officials are in talks with the Obama administration about accepting an estimated $100 million available through the health law to care for the elderly and disabled, POLITICO has learned. Perry health aides are negotiating with the Obama administration on the terms of an optional Obamacare program that would allow Texas to claim stepped-up Medicaid funding for the care of people with disabilities (Cheney and Haberman, 8/20).

NPR: Fla. Balks At Insurance Navigators As Obamacare Deadline Nears
As part of the enrollment process, navigators will look at tax records, take Social Security numbers and have access to sensitive health information. Sebelius says her agency has done similar work for many years with Medicare and Medicaid recipients and that the rules in place safeguard privacy. But Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, says he believes the federal rules are inadequate” (Allen, 8/20).

The Associated Press/Wall Street Journal: New Ad Encourages NYers To Enroll In Insurance
New York's health benefit exchange has a new name, logo and look. Officials said Tuesday the federal overhaul expected to bring coverage to more than a million people statewide is now dubbed "NY State of Health" (8/20).

Politico: Heritage Action Kicks Off Obamacare Defunding Tour By Taking Aim At GOP
A last-ditch effort to derail Obamacare started in a barn here Monday night — because it’s not going to start in Washington, advocates told a packed crowd at the opening night of Heritage Action’s August defunding tour. Heritage Action, trying to fuel an effort to defund the president’s health care law on the cusp of its launch, offered a bleak assessment of a Republican Party that’s held 40 anti-Obamacare votes: They don’t have the guts to do everything necessary to stop the law, and that’s where the Heritage faithful step in (Millman, 8/20).

The New York Times: Amid Talk of White House Run, Texas Senator Targets Obama's Health Plan
Senator Ted Cruz, after two days of bedevilment over his birthplace and eligibility for the presidency, returned to form on Tuesday night with a rally here before the conservative faithful aimed at ginning up support to defund President Obama’s health care overhaul (Parker and Martin, 8/20).

The Wall Street Journal: Town-Hall Dramas Use Activists' Scripts
Immigration advocates, tea-party organizers, privacy-rights activists and others are using community meetings during this month's congressional recess to pressure politicians, drive news coverage or produce a bit of video that might gain attention to their cause. Tea-party activists confronted a North Carolina Republican about ending President Barack Obama's signature health-care law and posted on a website a video of his response, which they found unsatisfactory (Hook, 8/20).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Hecklers Confront Ted Cruz At Town Hall Meeting
A Dallas town hall meeting designed to rally support for defunding President Obama’s health-care law grew testy Tuesday night when Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) was interrupted three separate times by hecklers. The conservative senator handled each interruption calmly, asking that he be allowed to finish his remarks. “You have health care, we should too!” chanted a pair protesters near the end of Cruz’s remarks (8/20).

USA Today: Thousands Of Doctors Practicing Despite Errors, Misconduct
Despite years of criticism, the nation's state medical boards continue to allow thousands of physicians to keep practicing medicine after findings of serious misconduct that puts patients at risk, a USA TODAY investigation shows. Many of the doctors have been barred by hospitals or other medical facilities; hundreds have paid millions of dollars to resolve malpractice claims. Yet their medical licenses — and their ability to inflict harm — remain intact (Eisler and Hansen, 8/20).

The New York Times: Judge Rejects Long Island College Hospital’s Ownership Deal
In a surprise ruling cheered by nurses, doctors and others who have fought to keep a Brooklyn hospital open, but which may have muddled its fate even further, a judge on Tuesday ordered the hospital to be returned to its previous owners, nullifying a 2011 transfer to the State University of New York (Hartocollis, 8/20).

The Associated Press/Wall Street Journal: Court Extends Hold On NYC Health Insurance Plan
New York City's plan to solicit bids for health insurance for hundreds of thousands of workers is now on hold until at least mid-September. A Manhattan judge halted the initiative earlier this month. He said Tuesday the city can't go forward before he hears more arguments Sept. 16 (8/20).  

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