KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

First Edition: September 28, 2011

Today's headlines include reports about the costs of employer insurance plans and the final installment of KHN's "Building Ambitions" series about children's hospitals.  

Kaiser Health News: Building Ambitions: The Big Money World Of Kids' Care – Children's Hospitals May Face Leaner Future (Part 3 of 3)
Reporting for Kaiser Health News, in collaboration with McClatchy, reporter Gilbert M. Gaul writes: "Last October, executives from some of the largest and most prestigious children's hospitals gathered in Philadelphia to talk about the future of children's care. Panel topics ranged from the impact of the federal health overhaul law on children's hospitals to the nation's debt crisis and the significant role that health spending plays in it. In the past, the mood at such gatherings was largely upbeat, reflecting the exceptional market power of children's hospitals, which were enjoying strong profits and record growth. But now, confronted with a rapidly shifting landscape for children’s care and a battering economy, the leaders were worried" (Gaul, 9/26).

KHN also reports in a related story, Heads Of Largest Children's Hospitals Receive Big Salaries And Rich Benefits, that critics say generous compensation of CEOs raises questions about the tax-exempt status of nonprofit hospitals. Check out charts detailing the growth of children's hospitals over the past decade and the 2009 pay packages for the CEOs of the top 25 children's hospitals
 
You can read the previous two parts of this series: Day One: The Rise Of Children's Hospitals and Day Two: One City, Three Hospitals

Kaiser Health News: Costs Of Employer Insurance Plans Surge In 2011
Kaiser Health News staff writer Julie Appleby reports: "Employers' spending on health coverage for workers spiked abruptly this year, with the average cost of a family plan rising by 9 percent, triple the growth seen in 2010. … Although many benefit analysts say the federal health law's requirements played only a small part in the rise, the results could provide political fodder for both supporters and opponents of the law" (Appleby, 9/27).

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Hospital Readmissions; An Initiative To Address Childhood Obesity; HHS Announces New Community Transformation Grants;  Slower Growth For Federal Employee Health Premiums
Now on Capsules, KHN's news blog, Jordan Rau reports: "As Medicare figures out how to financially penalize hospitals with high readmission rates, a new Dartmouth Atlas study finds hospitals have made very little progress in ensuring that fewer patients return. One possible reason raised by the study: fewer than half of patients had a follow-up appointment with a doctor within two weeks of discharge." Also on the blog, Christian Torres writes about a new round of HHS public health grants: "A total of 61 groups as well as state and local government agencies, spread across 36 states and one territory, will receive funding to promote healthy living and prevention locally over the next five years." Jessica Marcy reports: "Childhood obesity, which has nearly tripled over the past three decades, impacts children from across racial groups. Yet, more than a third of black children who are obese or significantly overweight often come from communities with socio-economic conditions that hinder their ability to tackle the problem." In addition, Shefali S. Kulkarni writes: "As health plan enrollment season gears up, premiums for federal employees and retirees will increase on average about 3.8 percent – less than half of the increase they saw last year." Check out what else is on the blog.

The New York Times: Health Insurers Push Premiums Sharply Higher
Major health insurance companies have been charging sharply higher premiums this year, outstripping any growth in workers' wages and creating more uncertainty for the Obama administration and employers who are struggling to drive down an unrelenting rise in medical costs. A study released on Tuesday by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a research group, showed that the average annual premium for family coverage through an employer reached $15,073 in 2011 — 9 percent higher than in the previous year (Abelson and Bernstein, 9/27).

Los Angeles Times: Premiums For Employer-Provided Health Insurance Jump
The price of health insurance provided by employers for families jumped 9% this year over 2010 as rising healthcare expenses contributed to the largest premium increases in six years, a national survey shows (Helfand, 9/27).

The Washington Post: Surveys: Health Insurance Costs Shifted To Workers, Even As Premiums Surge
Premiums for employer-sponsored health insurance continued to escalate this year even as the share of workers getting less generous coverage reached a new high, according to survey data released Tuesday. In 2011, for the first time, half of workers at small firms with individual policies faced annual deductibles of $1,000 or more. In 2006, that figure was 16 percent. At large firms, the share has grown from 6 percent to 22 percent over the same five years (Aizenman, 9/27).

USA Today: Survey: Health Insurance Costs Surge In 2011
As Congress works to decrease the federal deficit by cutting health care programs such as Medicare, policy experts say health providers will have to find money elsewhere, which could force insurance premiums higher for most Americans (Kennedy, 9/27).

The Wall Street Journal: Employers' Health-Care Premiums Jump 9%
The health-insurance premiums employers pay rose sharply this year, with the average annual cost of family coverage passing the $15,000 mark for the first time, according to a major survey (Mathews, 9/28).

The New York Times: Congressional Memo: Short-Term Fixes That Take Time And Resolve Little
From this year’s series of short-term deals to keep the government’s lights on, to another set to keep the doors of the Federal Aviation Administration open, to the dozen laws that temporarily block cuts in Medicare payments to doctors until "fixed," Congress sometimes feels less like a legislative branch than a beauty shop, where everything gets prettied up, but only temporarily (Steinhauer, 9/27).

Politico: Supercommittee Operating In Secret
As 12 lawmakers tackle the historic task of slashing at least $1.2 trillion from the nation's deficit, they have spent lots of time behind closed doors, speaking almost nothing of their proceedings while leaving behind little more than a trail of sandwich wrappers and unanswered questions. It's a remarkable show of secrecy after an election year that ushered in nearly 90 new Republicans who rejected the idea that sweeping legislation would be authored outside the public view (Sherman and Dobias, 9/27).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Small-Business Group Asks Supreme Court To Strike Down Entire Health Care Overhaul
A small-business group opposed to the health care overhaul is asking the Supreme Court to strike down the entire law, not just the core requirement to buy health insurance or pay a penalty. The National Federation of Independent Business is filing an appeal Wednesday of a portion of the ruling by the federal appeals court in Atlanta that struck down the individual insurance requirement (9/28).

Politico: Paul Ryan Delivers Health Care Reform Replacement
House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan says it's time for Republicans to rally around a comprehensive "replacement" to President Barack Obama's signature health care reform legislation — with the government giving a limited contribution to help Americans get health coverage (Haberkorn, 9/27).

The Wall Street Journal: Medicare Records Case Moves Forward In Court
A federal judge in Florida has ruled that a case aimed at overturning a 32-year-old injunction that bars the public from seeing the Medicare billing records of individual doctors can proceed. The case was brought in January by Dow Jones & Co., the publisher of The Wall Street Journal, on the grounds that releasing the records would enable state medical boards, nonprofit organizations, universities and newspapers to act as watchdogs over the $500 billion Medicare program (Carreyrou, 9/27).

NPR: Boomers 'Delusion' About Health In Retirement
Most baby boomers say they're planning on an active and healthy retirement, according to a new poll conducted by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health. And, in a switch from earlier years, more than two-thirds recognize the threat of long-term care expenses to their financial futures (Rovner, 9/28).

The Washington Post: The Federal Diary: Health Insurance Costs Rise At Lower Rate, But They Still Rise
The good news and the bad news is that health insurance premiums for non-postal federal employees and all retirees will increase an average of 3.8 percent in 2012. The increase certainly is much lower than the 7.3 percent jump for this year. But when your pay is frozen, as federal pay is through this year and next, the premium boost amounts to another hole in your wallet (Davidson, 9/27).

Los Angeles Times: Legal Opinion Could Spell Trouble For Plan To Roll Back L.A. Pension Costs
But in a reminder of the risks faced by local agencies when they tinker with public pension benefits, a law firm retained by the city's Fire and Police Pensions board concluded this month that those benefits were already guaranteed — and that the city is legally obligated to cover the cost of rising healthcare premiums for its retirees (Zahniser, 9/28).

Los Angeles Times: Pending Bill Would Tighten Scrutiny Of Outpatient Surgery Centers
Outpatient surgery centers, including those that perform weight-loss procedures after which five Southern California patients have died, could face additional scrutiny under a bill pending before Gov. Jerry Brown. Both houses of the state Legislature have approved a bill that would reshape laws governing clinics such as Valley Surgical Center, where Paula Rojeski underwent Lap-Band surgery before her Sept. 8 death (Pfeifer, 9/28).

Los Angeles Times: Eleventh-Hour Lawmaking With Morning-After Questions
A few hours earlier, using an obscure parliamentary procedure, the senator had carved the contents out of a bill about local gas taxes and "amended" it into a proposal to warn women about breast cancer risks. It was now speeding through the statehouse so fast, and with so little scrutiny, that Simitian would later be on the defensive about one significant effect: a possible multimillion-dollar windfall for a medical business in his district (York, 9/28).

The Washington Post: D.C. Has Fewer Than 3,000 Active Doctors, Report Says
A new report on the number of physicians practicing in the District appears to confirm what many patients already experience: It’s not easy to find a doctor in Washington. The report by the D.C. Board of Medicine, to be released Wednesday, shows that 8,490 doctors are licensed to work in the nation’s capital, but only about 4,000 practice in the District. And of those, only 2,821 spend more than 20 hours a week seeing patients (Sun, 9/27).

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