First Edition: September 17, 2014
Today's headlines include reports that the Government Accountability Office has raised questions about the possible security risks associated with Healthcare.gov.
Kaiser Health News: Rise Of Catholic Insurance Plans Raises Questions About Contraceptive Coverage
Kaiser Health News staff writer Julie Rovner reports: “Catholic and other religious hospitals and universities have been arguing in federal court for much of the past two years that they shouldn’t have to offer or facilitate birth control as part of their employee health plans because it violates their religious beliefs. But what happens when the insurance company is itself Catholic? It turns out that Catholic health plans have for years been arranging for outside firms to provide contraceptive coverage to their enrollees” (Rovner, 9/17). Read the story, which also ran in Crux.
Kaiser Health News: In Onscreen Dramas, Health Experts Inject A Dose Of Reality
Kaiser Health News staff writer Anna Gorman reports: “In a bright office building in Beverly Hills, Kate Langrall Folb and her team at Hollywood, Health & Society are on call to field queries from the mundane to the obscure. ‘Operators are standing by,’ Folb, the group’s director, often tells TV and movie writers. The organization was established with money from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2001 to provide the entertainment industry with free, accurate health information. Since then, the group has worked with hundreds of television writers as they tell stories about performing complicated surgeries, coping with depression and fighting insurance companies for coverage” (Gorman, 9/17). Read the story, which also ran in USA Today.
Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Frustrated AMA Calls For 'Action Plan' On Digital Records; No Time To See The Doctor? Try A Virtual Visit; One-Quarter Of ACOs Save Enough Money To Earn Bonuses
Now on Kaiser Health News’ blog, Roni Caryn Rabin writes about an action plan on digital records: “Saying that electronic health records distract doctors, take time away from care and make physicians less productive, an influential doctors’ group called on vendors and government agencies to work with them to develop better, easier-to-use technology. The American Medical Association asked the Obama administration to abandon its “all or nothing approach” requiring Medicare providers to go digital or be penalized. The group also wants the government to develop better certification criteria for vendors selling electronic record systems” (Rabin, 9/16).
Jordan Rau reports the latest on ACOs: “About a quarter of the 243 groups of hospitals and doctors that banded together as accountable care organizations under the Affordable Care Act saved Medicare enough money to earn bonuses, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services announced Tuesday. Those 64 ACOs earned a combined $445 million in bonuses, the agency said. Medicare saved $372 million after accounting for the ACOs that did not show success, including five that overspent significantly and now owe the government money” (Rau, 9/16).
Also on Capsules, Anna Gorman reports on virtual doctors’ visits: “Patients looking for convenient medical appointments can now see UCLA Health System doctors using their cell phones, computers or tablets. It’s part of an ongoing effort at UCLA and elsewhere to extend alternatives to the in-person doctor visit to busy consumers outside rural areas” (Gorman, 9/16). Check out what else is on the blog.
The Wall Street Journal: Federal Health Care Website Faces Security Risks, Watchdog Finds
HealthCare.gov has continuing security frailties that put users' sensitive personal information at risk, a government watchdog is set to tell Congress this week. Despite the federal government's efforts to protect the website from breaches, "weaknesses remained in the security and privacy protections applied to HealthCare.gov and its supporting systems," said the Government Accountability Office. The agency released a report Tuesday on the security of the site, through which millions of Americans bought coverage under the health law last year and which millions more will be urged to use (Radnofsky and Armour, 9/16).
The Associated Press: Probe: HealthCare.gov Website Must Boost Security
HealthCare.gov, the health insurance website serving more than 5 million Americans, has significant security flaws that put users’ personal information at risk, nonpartisan congressional investigators have concluded. The Government Accountability Office said the Obama administration must resolve more than 20 specific security issues related to who can get into the system, who can make changes in it and what to do in case the complex network fails (9/16).
The Washington Post: Md. To Stagger Access To Health Exchange Web Site To Address Any Technical Flaws
Maryland officials want to limit access to the state’s new health insurance Web site when it launches in November so that any glitches can be worked out and the system won’t be overwhelmed with requests. The state’s staggered approach is different from what will happen elsewhere in the country on Nov. 15, the beginning of the second enrollment period for health insurance made possible by the federal Affordable Care Act. Advocates raised concerns Tuesday that the unusual schedule planned for Maryland could further muddle an already confusing process (Johnson, 9/16).
The Associated Press: Va. Hospitals Lament Limited Health Care Expansion
With an expansion of Medicaid in Virginia all but pronounced dead, the state’s hospitals and health care systems are bracing for tough decisions on how to balance their budgets. State lawmakers are holding a special legislative session on the topic starting Thursday, but there’s been no sign that Republican opposition to Medicaid expansion has wavered (9/16).
The New York Times: Fate Of Children’s Insurance Program Is Called Into Question At Senate Hearing
A Senate hearing on Tuesday set the stage for a coming debate over whether the federal government should continue financing a popular health insurance program for lower-income children who are now eligible for new coverage options under the Affordable Care Act (Goodnough, 9/16).
The Wall Street Journal: Health Law's Election Impact Is Dimming
Though Republicans continue to hammer away at the Affordable Care Act, the health-insurance law is losing some of its punch in the 2014 campaign. Polls show that voters don't see the law as a top concern, and both Democrats and Republicans say the election will turn on a range of issues. That outlook is causing both parties to adjust. While some Republicans had billed the election as a referendum on the health law, the GOP is now delivering a broader indictment of what the party describes as the Obama administration's failures. Some Democrats are cautiously stepping out to defend the law, highlighting its most popular provisions while suggesting fixes (Reinhard and Meckler, 9/16).
Politico: Obamacare: From Game-Changer To Background Noise
A year ago, it looked like Obamacare was going to have a huge role in this year’s elections. And not in a good way — as a symbol of government incompetence and the Republicans’ main case against President Barack Obama’s record. Now, it’s clear that the health care law not going to be the centerpiece of the November campaigns, in a good way or a bad way. It’s going to be more like the wallpaper (Nather, 9/17).
The Washington Post: In Iowa, Attacks On Republican Ernst Change Dynamics Of Tight Senate Race
President Obama’s low approval ratings are creating a drag in almost all the truly competitive races. Democrats are relying on the performance of their candidates and the advantages they have on pocketbook and women’s-health issues to withstand strong challenges from Republicans. The debate over these issues is especially pronounced in swing states that Obama has carried, such as Iowa (Rucker and Balz, 9/16).
The New York Times: In Kentucky, Health Law Helps Voters But Saps Votes
he Affordable Care Act allowed Robin Evans, an eBay warehouse packer earning $9 an hour, to sign up for Medicaid this year. She is being treated for high blood pressure and Graves’ disease, an autoimmune disorder, after years of going uninsured and rarely seeing doctors (Goodnough, 9/16).
The Wall Street Journal’s Pharmalot: CMS Asked To Eliminate Some Payments From Sunshine Database
With only two weeks until the launch of the highly anticipated Open Payments database – which will show how much money doctors receive from drug and device makers – 64 health advocacy groups are asking to eliminate an entire category of data (McCabe, 9/16).
NPR: Top Scientists Suggest A Few Fixes For Medical Funding Crisis
Many U.S. scientists had hoped to ride out the steady decline in federal funding for biomedical research, but it's continuing on a downward trend with no end in sight. So leaders of the science establishment are now trying to figure out how to fix this broken system (Harris, 9/17).
The Associated Press: Hospitals Struggled During Sandy, Report Says
When Superstorm Sandy slammed into the Northeast nearly two years ago, hospitals found themselves dealing with surges in patients, lost power supplies and employees who couldn’t get to work — problems that a new federal report finds they were not prepared to handle (9/17).
The New York Times: Hospitals And Insurer Join Forces In California
In a partnership that appears to be the first of its kind, Anthem Blue Cross, a large California health insurance company, is teaming up with seven fiercely competitive hospital groups to create a new health system in the Los Angeles area. The partnership includes such well-known medical centers as UCLA Health and Cedars-Sinai (Abelson, 9/17).
Los Angeles Times: New Anthem Blue Cross Plan Takes On Kaiser
Taking aim at HMO giant Kaiser Permanente, insurer Anthem Blue Cross is joining forces with several big-name hospitals and their doctors to create an unusual health plan option for employers in Southern California. The joint venture being announced Wednesday brings together seven rival hospital groups in Los Angeles and Orange counties, including well-known institutions Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and the UCLA Health System. The deal reflects the pressure insurers and hospitals alike are facing to hold down healthcare costs for employers and their workers (Terhune, 9/16).
The Associated Press: Doctor Pleads Guilty To Cancer Treatment Fraud
A Detroit-area cancer doctor accused of putting people through unnecessary treatments and then billing insurers for millions of dollars pleaded guilty to fraud Tuesday, admitting that he knew his patients often didn’t need chemotherapy (9/16).
The Associated Press: Clinton Urges Renewal Of 9/11 Compensation Act
Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton urged Congress on Tuesday to reauthorize federal legislation that compensates first responders who got sick working at ground zero in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, saying thousands still need help. During a fundraising event in lower Manhattan, the former U.S. senator from New York and potential Democratic presidential candidate called on union members to mobilize to fight for the extension of the James Zadroga Act (9/16).
The Wall Street Journal’s Metropolis: Hillary Clinton Discusses 9/11 Health Act At Labor Gathering
The fundraiser was to raise awareness for the impending cessation of the 9/11 Health and Compensation Act — known as the James Zadroga Act — which provides for the monitoring, medical treatment and compensation for people who sustained health problems as a result of toxic exposure after the twin towers collapsed. Mrs. Clinton said it was organized labor that came to the forefront in the aftermath of the tragedy to “begin working with me and others” on what ultimately resulted in the bill, which became law in 2010 (Bashan, 9/16).
Check out all of Kaiser Health News' e-mail options including First Edition and Breaking News alerts on our Subscriptions page.This is part of the Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.