Daily Health Policy Report

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Last updated: Wed, Jan 30

KHN Original Reporting & Guest Opinion

Health Spending And Fiscal Battles

Health Reform

Capitol Hill Watch

Health Care Marketplace

Public Health & Education

Coverage & Access

State Watch

Editorials and Opinions

KHN Original Reporting & Guest Opinion

Q&A: Contraception Coverage Under The Health Law (Video)

Kaiser Health News consumer columnist Michelle Andrews answers a reader question about the health law's provision on no-cost birth control (1/30). Watch the video.

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Capsules: For Medicare Innovations – Think Locally

Now on Kaiser Health News' blog, Ankita Rao reports: "Reforming Medicare – from changing the way doctors are paid to streamlining patient care – could benefit from a grassroots approach, according to experts and physicians at a policy summit held by National Journal Live in Washington, D.C., Tuesday" (Rao, 1/29). Check out what else is on the blog.

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Twitter Topics: We're Talking Health #Exchanges

Could health insurance exchanges work more like TurboTax than TravelocitySee what others are saying on KHN's Twitter Feed about just what these exchanges could look like.

For more, join the #exchanges conversation on Twitter and follow @KHNews for the latest.

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Political Cartoon: 'And The Good News Is What, Exactly?'

Kaiser Health News provides a fresh take on health policy developments with "And The Good News Is What, Exactly?" By Chris Wildt.

Meanwhile, here is today's health policy haiku:

(More thoughts inspired by Lady Sybil and Downton Abbey)

Would things really change
if physicians heard our words
about what matters?
-Janice Lynch Schuster


If you have a health policy haiku to share, please send it to us at http://www.kaiserhealthnews.org/ContactUs.aspx and let us know if you want to include your name. Keep in mind that we give extra points if you link back to a KHN original story.

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Health Spending And Fiscal Battles

GOP Leaders Increasingly Signal That Deep Spending Cuts Are Likely

The across-the-board spending reductions -- also known as sequestration -- scheduled for March 1 could play into the partisan politics of the broader budget debate that includes Medicare, Medicaid and other entitlement programs.

The Washington Post: Deep Spending Cuts Are Likely, Lawmakers Say, With No Deal On Sequester In Sight
Less than a month after averting one fiscal crisis, Washington began bracing Tuesday for another, as lawmakers in both parties predicted that deep, across-the-board spending cuts would probably hit the Pentagon and other federal agencies on March 1. An array of proposals are in the works to delay or replace the cuts. But party leaders say they see no clear path to compromise, particularly given a growing sentiment among Republicans to pocket the cuts and move on to larger battles over health and retirement spending (Montgomery, 1/29).

The Associated Press: In Turnabout, GOP Lawmakers Willing To Risk Automatic Budget Cuts To Get Their Way On Budget
It's a remarkable turnabout from last year, when GOP leaders were among the loudest voices warning of dire consequences for the military and the economy if more than $100 billion worth of across-the-board cuts were allowed to take effect. Now, even as defense hawks fume, Republicans see the strategy as their best chance of wringing cuts from costly government benefit programs like Medicare that President Barack Obama and his Democratic allies have been reluctant to touch (Taylor, 1/29).

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Health Reform

Tax Forms To Include Health Insurance Cost Info -- Per Health Law Requirement

Today's headlines also include coverage of other health law issues, such as student health plans and the health care workforce.

The New York Times: To Open Eyes, W-2s List Cost Of Providing A Health Plan
As workers open their W-2 forms this month, many will see a new box with information on the total cost of employer-sponsored health insurance coverage. To some, it will be a surprise, perhaps even a shock. Workers often have little idea how much they and their employers are paying for coverage. ... The new information appears in Box 12 of the standard W-2 form, with a two-letter code, DD. The box shows the “cost of employer-sponsored health coverage.” And that amount is not taxable (Pear, 1/29).

Politico: The Invisible Health-Care Panel
A panel charged with helping devise solutions to the nation's health care workforce crisis is having a workforce crisis of its own: It hasn't been funded, and it's never met. Created by Congress nearly three years ago under the health care law, the panelists were appointed, but that's about as far as it has gone. The lack of action was noted at a hearing Tuesday of a subcommittee of the Senate Special Committee on Aging (Cheney, 1/30).

CQ Healthbeat: Shortage Of Primary Care Doctors Seen As A Problem For Health Care Law
Congress should consider increased payments and other ways to bolster the primary care physician workforce before next year’s expansion of health care insurance coverage, witnesses told a Senate panel Tuesday. The current shortage of primary care physicians will only increase as an estimated 30 million people join the ranks of the insured under the 2010 health care overhaul the witnesses said (Ethridge, 1/29).

Kaiser Health News: Q&A: Contraception Coverage Under The Health Law 
Consumer columnist Michelle Andrews answers a reader's question about the health law's provision on no-cost birth control (Andrews, 1/30).

San Francisco Chronicle: Obamacare Loophole Threatens UC Students
Life was great for Kenya Wheeler in the spring of 2011. He'd just enrolled in a UC Berkeley master's program in city planning and had won a research position that would pay his fees. ... A year later, a cancer diagnosis had changed everything. Wheeler, 38, had so many medical bills that he reached the $400,000 limit allowed by his UC student health plan. … Health care limits like the one imposed by UC are already illegal under the sweeping federal health-care law - dubbed Obamacare - that takes full effect next Jan. 1. But the health care act does not apply to "self-funded" college plans like UC's (Asimov and Colliver, 1/29).

Earlier, related KHN coverage: College Health Plans: Exploring The Options (Torres, 6/18/2012).

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States And The Health Law: Action On Insurance Exchanges, Medicaid Expansion

The Associated Press and other news outlets report on state action on the health law's insurance exchanges as well as the Medicaid expansion.

The Associated Press: New Health Insurance Market Opens In Washington State In October
Another aspect of President Barack Obama's health care law will go from concept to reality this fall as Washington state residents who don't have health insurance will become eligible for Medicaid or gain access to a new insurance exchange. Some questions and answers on where the health care law stands in Washington state (Blankinship, 1/29).

MPR News: MN Insurance Exchange Info Website Launches
The state budget office has launched a website about how a health insurance exchange will work in Minnesota. Officials project at least 1 million Minnesotans will use the exchange to comparison shop for health insurance policies or enroll in Medicaid starting in October. Until now it's been difficult to find complete information about this key part of the federal health care law. State Budget Commissioner Jim Schowalter said the site is a work in progress. "What it does right now is give people a simple take on what the exchange can do for them; what some of the costs might be with the calculator; a nice little video to help explain what the exchange does; and ultimately, add ability for people to get insurance come next October," Schowalter said (Stawicki, 1/29).

The Associated Press: Q&A: Taking Look At Georgia's New Health Care Fundamentals
The 2010 federal health insurance overhaul, commonly called the Affordable Care Act, expands access to health insurance in two major ways. The first is through insurance exchanges where individuals can shop for policies from private insurance firms. Secondly, the law gives states the option to expand the Medicaid insurance program that provides coverage to low-income Americans (Barrow, 1/30).

The Associated Press: Uninsured Children Expected To Grow Medicaid Rolls
The analyst hired by the state to estimate the impact of the federal health care law told Indiana lawmakers Tuesday that an unintended consequence could unearth tens of thousands of children who qualify for Medicaid but are not enrolled. Rob Damler, an actuary for Milliman Inc. in Indianapolis, told members of the House Ways and Means Committee that residents are expected to grow the state's rolls in the coming years as the individual mandate forces low-income residents into federal coverage (LoBianco, 1/29).

Health News Florida: Sen. Garcia Now Open To Medicaid Expansion
When Florida sued to overturn the Affordable Care Act, lawmakers targeted a piece of the law that would have forced Florida to make Medicaid available to more than a million uninsured Floridians. The U. S. Supreme Court upheld most of the act, but it made Medicaid expansion optional (Mack, 1/29).

The Miami Herald: Study: Medicaid Expansion May Save State Money
Florida would save money over the next decade — not lose billions as Gov. Rick Scott has argued — by accepting Medicaid expansion under federal healthcare reforms, according to a detailed economic study. Miami-Dade legislators and healthcare industry leaders, getting together on Monday, heard about the report by Georgetown University — the most positive yet on a highly debated provision of what is often called Obamacare (Dorschner, 1/29).

The Associated Press: Democratic Lawmakers Seek To Increase Iowa Medicaid
A push that Democratic lawmakers initiated Tuesday to expand Medicaid in Iowa would likely translate into new or improved health benefits for thousands of the state’s low-income residents. Broadening the program could mean that people like Terri White, a 51-year-old widow from Fort Dodge, would for the first time have comprehensive health insurance (Lucey, 1/30).

The Associated Press: Medicaid Could Boost Mississippi Health Jobs
Republican Gov. Phil Bryant wants to create more health care jobs in Mississippi, one of the poorest and most medically under-served states in the nation. He also opposes putting more Mississippi residents on Medicaid under the federal health care law that Democratic President Barack Obama signed in 2010, even with the federal government paying most of the cost (Pettus, 1/29).

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Capitol Hill Watch

House Republicans Keep Target On Health Law's Insurance Subsidies

Meanwhile, a new GOP lawmaker from Texas renews his pledge to undo "ObamaCare" while a senator focuses on workforce issues.

The Hill: Republicans Threaten To Subpoena IRS Records On Health Law's Subsidies
House Republicans on Tuesday reiterated their threat to issue subpoenas in their investigation into the Affordable Care Act's insurance subsidies. Republicans believe the IRS exceeded its legal authority by writing regulations to make the subsidies available in both state-run and federally facilitated exchanges, and have repeatedly asked to review documents about the IRS's decision making process (Baker, 1/29).

Fox News: Freshman Cruz Vows to Keep Campaign Promise To Try To Dismantle ObamaCare
Freshman Republican Sen. Ted Cruz is introducing legislation to fully repeal President Obama's signature health care law, making good on a campaign promise that attempting to dismantle ObamaCare would be his first order of congressional business. "I promised the voters of Texas that the first bill I would file as a U.S. senator would be to repeal every last word of ObamaCare, and that's a promise I'm proud to keep," the Texas senator said in a statement. Cruz argues Congress passed the legislation over the strong opposition of the American people, that it has already increased the cost of health insurance and has caused employers to drop their coverage. He also says further implementation of the law will continue to reduce the quality of health care (1/29).

The Hill: Rubio: Immigration Deal 'Un-Doable' If Health Benefits Are On The Table
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) signaled that he will withdraw support from any immigration reform deal that extends federal health care benefits to provisionally legal U.S. residents. Rubio was speaking with conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh Tuesday when he said that adding millions of new beneficiaries under President Obama's health care law would excessively strain the federal budget (Viebeck, 1/29).

In other health care news from Capitol Hill --

The Hill: Lobbyists Air Concerns About Doctor Gift-Disclosure Rule At White House
Lobbyists are lining up to meet with Obama administration officials about rules that would require medical companies to disclose financial relationships with doctors, according to records released by the White House. The rules set forth by the Affordable Care Act reached the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) in November -- way behind schedule set by Congress. Interest groups and Congress have since called for the administration to speed the process along. OIRA has up to 90 days to conduct a review, giving it until Feb. 27 (Wilson, 1/29).

Modern Healthcare: Senator Plans Bill To Tackle Doc Shortage
One of the Senate's health policy leaders is preparing legislation to address a primary-care physician shortage that could balloon next year as millions of uninsured Americans get coverage under the healthcare reform law. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) told reporters after a Tuesday hearing that he would soon introduce a bill and push for it to be enacted before the launch of the law's individual insurance mandate, Medicaid expansion and insurance exchanges in 2014(Daly, 1/29).

Medpage Today: RUC Targeted At Senate Hearing On Primary Care
The nation's primary care physician (PCP) shortage might be eased by requiring more transparency from the group that helps set Medicare pay rates, speakers at a Senate hearing said Tuesday. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging, criticized the American Medical Association's Relative Value Scale Update Committee (RUC), which develops annual recommendations on physician pay updates for Medicare. Sanders noted that the RUC is dominated by specialists, whose opinions are accepted by Medicare more than 90% of the time. … A report on primary care access that the subcommittee released Tuesday paints a gloomy picture,forecasting a need for an additional 52,000 primary care physicians by 2025 (Pittman, 1/29).

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Health Care Marketplace

Nursing-Home Operators Face Credit Crunch

The Wall Street Journal reports that instability in the health care environment is making banks hesitant to give mortgages to nursing homes.

The Wall Street Journal: Nursing-Home Operators Turn To The U.S.
The Federal Housing Administration has come to the rescue of nursing-home operators that are having a tough time obtaining traditional financing for mortgage loans. ... . Lenders are worried that nursing-home companies may face trouble repaying the loans in the future if they are hit with cutbacks by state governments or the federal Medicare program (Pruitt, 1/29).

More news about provisions in the fiscal cliff deal that could affect the health industry --

The Wall Street Journal: Room For Favors In 'Cliff' Deal
The New Year's Day legislation that averted tax increases for millions of Americans brought an unwelcome surprise for Elekta AB, a Swedish maker of radiation tools designed to battle brain tumors. A provision, inserted at the last minute, sharply cut Medicare payments for the company's product while leaving unchanged those of its direct competitor, Varian Medical Systems Inc., of Palo Alto, Calif. Varian lobbyists pushed for the change, … which was put through by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.). Under the change, payments for hospital outpatient surgeries using Elekta's technology would drop by 58%, news that knocked the company's stock sharply through early January (Mundy, 1/28).

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Public Health & Education

CDC: Adult Vaccination Rates 'Unacceptably Low'

According to the CDC, a "substantial increase" in immunizations for adults is necessary.

Reuters: More Adults Need Vaccines And Not Just For Flu: Centers For Disease Control And Prevention
The flu isn't the only illness adults should be immunized against, U.S. health officials said on Tuesday, as a new study found current adult vaccination rates in the country "unacceptably low." The report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) concluded that a "substantial increase" in adult vaccinations is needed to prevent diseases including pneumonia, tetanus, diphtheria, hepatitis, shingles and whooping cough (Beasley, 1/29).

MedPage Today: Adults Aren't Getting Their Shots, CDC Says
Adult vaccination rates for problematic illnesses such as pneumonia remain "unacceptably low," government researchers said Tuesday. While there were slight increases in coverage rates for the HPV and Tdap vaccines in the past year, many vaccines remained at stable, low levels, Carolyn Bridges, MD, of the CDC, and colleagues reported online in Morbidity & Mortality Weekly Report. For example, vaccination with the hepatitis A shot inched up 1.8 percentage points to 12.5% of adults ages 19 to 49, while hepatitis B coverage rose just 2.1 percentage points to 35.9%, they found -- well below targets of 90% in 2020 (Fiore, 1/29).

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Coverage & Access

First Payments Awarded From 9/11 Compensation Fund

Fifteen first responders received payments from a federal fund set up to compensate people who were sickened by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. So far, fewer applications have been received by the fund than officials estimated they would receive.  

The New York Times: 9/11 Health Fund Pays Out Its First 15 Awards
The recipients’ names were not released, but 14 are firefighters and one is a correction officer who responded to the disaster early on, mainly on the first day, said Sheila Birnbaum, the special master of the $2.8 billion victim compensation fund. Most of them had respiratory illnesses and none of them had cancer, she said. Their awards, which are tax-free, ranged from $10,000 to $1.5 million (Hartocollis, 1/29).

The Wall Street Journal: 9/11 Fund Sets First Payments
The fund has received fewer than 100 completed applications for money, officials said. That suggests the program may end up receiving far less than the 34,000 total claims for aid that fund officials estimated. Congress created the $2.8 billion fund two years ago to compensate those who developed health problems after working around the sites of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, as well as a Pennsylvania field where passengers forced the crash of a jetliner hijacked by terrorists (Barrett, 1/29).

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State Watch

Post-Newtown Shooting, Conn. Dives Deep Into Examining Mental Health System

A legislative task force has been reviewing ways to prevent violence, improve school safety and study psychiatric commitment laws.

The Associated Press: After School Shooting, Conn. Debates Mental Health
Connecticut lawmakers on Tuesday began reviewing mental health care following the deadly Newtown school shooting, even though they and the public have little insight into the mental state of the 20-year-old gunman. The prosecutor in the case, Danbury State's Attorney Stephen Sedensky III, said he cannot release information about Adam Lanza's mental health because of the Connecticut Rules of Professional Conduct, which covers all attorneys in the state (Haigh and Collins, 1/29).

The Wall Street Journal: Conn. Ponders Mental Health
Even without additional insight into Mr. Lanza, who committed suicide, Connecticut is moving toward sweeping changes that could include everything from forcing private insurers to offer more mental-health coverage to screening every child in school statewide for emotional or psychological problems (De Avila, 1/29).

USA Today: Mental Health Experts Talk About Systemic Issues
In the third of four hearings scheduled by a legislative task force formed to prevent gun violence and improve school safety in the wake of December's Newtown school shooting massacre, Patricia Rehmer, commissioner of the state's Department of Mental Health Services, said risk assessments of mental-health patients are difficult and cannot be done with complete accuracy (Stoller, 1/29).

WBUR: Conn. Debates Mandatory Outpatients Treatment For Mentally Ill (Audio)
It is not known if Newtown shooter Adam Lanza had any diagnosed mental illness, but a family friend has said Lanza's mother was in the process of having her son committed to a psychiatric hospital just before he went on his shooting spree. Connecticut lawmakers are now debating whether to join most other states in passing what's called "outpatient commitment," which would mandate court-ordered treatment for people with serious mental illness who are not in the hospital. It's outraged some mental health advocates, who say people with mental illness should make their own decisions (1/29).

In related news --

Kansas Health Institute: Family Shares Experience Of Mental Health System
It was a situation that could have produced another tragic headline about a mentally ill person who slipped through the cracks. Instead it became a success story. Three weeks ago, Jace Bemis’s friends knew something wasn’t right. He wasn’t his happy-go-lucky self. He seemed sad, depressed (Ranney, 1/29).

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Texas Gov.'s Speech Disrupted By Protesters Demanding Medicaid Expansion

Texas Gov. Rick Perry was interrupted during a budget speech Tuesday by protesters demanding he expand Medicaid.

The New York Times: Perry Changes Tack On Rainy Day Fund
Mr. Perry used the speech to promote the initiatives he wants the Legislature to support, including tax relief of at least $1.8 billion. His remarks were interrupted as activists with the Texas Organizing Project, a group that advocates for low-income people, stood and shouted for an expansion of Medicaid while he was discussing the tax plan. On the chamber floor, it was nearly impossible to hear them -- Republican lawmakers rose from their seats and applauded, drowning out the protesters as they were rushed out by state troopers (Fernandez, 1/29).

Leaders in New York City and Connecticut, meanwhile, struggle with health care spending obligations as they try to balance their budgets --

The New York Times: Bloomberg Seeks Spending Limits, But No Tax Increases
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, proposing a New York budget for the 12th and last time, called on Tuesday for agencies across the city to cut costs as he seeks to keep spending flat despite the prospective loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in state education aid because of a labor dispute. Much of the increase stems from costs that the city says it cannot control, like those of pensions, health care, Medicaid and debt service (Chen and Santora, 1/29).

CT Mirror: Lawmakers' Reluctance To Continue Spending Cuts Widens Hole In Next State Budget
While legislators slashed spending last month to balance current finances, their reluctance to embrace those cuts long-term means the shortfall in the next state budget has grown yet again, according to a new report from nonpartisan analysts. The legislature's Office of Fiscal Analysis projects that spending will outstrip revenues by $1.2 billion in the fiscal year that begins July 1, based on current trends, and the fiscal hole in 2014-15 now exceeds $1.3 billion. That's up modestly from the shortfall projections of $1.14 billion for next year and $1 billion for 2014-15 that OFA released in mid-November. The $1.2 billion gap, which is 6 percent of the current operating budget, also is roughly one-third the size of the historic, $3.7 billion annual shortfall that Malloy inherited upon taking office two years ago (Phaneuf, 1/29).

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State Roundup: Ga. Hospital Fee Bill Nears Passage

A selection of health policy stories from Georgia, California, New York, Texas, Kansas and Massachusetts.

Georgia Health News: Hospital Fee Bill Clears Another Big Hurdle
After a series of friendly questions and statements of support, the fast-tracked legislation on a state hospital provider fee swept through a House committee Tuesday. The House Government Affairs Committee, by a 15-1 vote, approved Senate Bill 24, which would facilitate the renewal of the assessment. The state Senate passed the bill earlier this month. The legislation could reach the House floor Thursday or Friday. If it passes, it then would go to Gov. Nathan Deal for his signature -- an unusually rapid journey into law (Miller, 1/29).

California Healthline: Managed Care Tax Key In Healthy Families Shortfall
The Healthy Families program is short by almost $100 million, according to California health officials. That number will rise, officials said, because the current deficit only covers the program's operation for January and half of December. The problem is restricted to this year, however, since the roughly 860,000 children in Healthy Families -- California's federally subsidized Children's Health Insurance Program -- are being moved into Medi-Cal managed care plans. This year's transition is planned in four phases. The first phase began Jan. 1 (Gorn, 1/29).

The Associated Press/Wall Street Journal: Cuomo's Abortion Proposal Faces Senate Roadblock
New York's Senate Republicans who can block legislation are slamming Gov. Andrew Cuomo's proposal to expand abortion rights as an extreme measure from the radical left (1/29).

Los Angeles Times: Report: Kaiser Tops State Health Insurance Market With 40% Share
Nonprofit health care giant Kaiser Permanente had a 40 percent share of California's $59-billion health insurance market for employers and individuals, new data show. A report issued this week by Citigroup analyst Carl McDonald compiled nationwide data on 2011 premiums and enrollment among large and small employers and individuals buying their own policies (Terhune, 1/29).

The Texas Tribune: State Posts Revised List Of Women's Health Providers
A revised list of Texas Women's Health Program providers -- with 965 fewer doctors and clinics -- has returned to the state's website. The Health and Human Services Commission removed the list earlier this month after lawmakers and women’s health advocates challenged its accuracy (Aaronson, 1/29).

California Healthline: Packard Issue Brief Analyzes Healthy Families Transition
The state needs to be extremely careful with the children being phased out of the Healthy Families program because they're in danger of losing access to care and services if that transition doesn't go smoothly, according to a new issue brief from the Lucile Packard Foundation for Children's Health, based in Palo Alto. The issue brief follows on the heels of last week's release of a study on the level of care and services provided to children with chronic illnesses, a study which ranked California near the bottom of the nation in several categories, including access to pediatric specialists. The two issues -- care of chronically ill children and implementation of the Healthy Families transition -- are inextricably linked, said Edward Schor, senior vice president of programs and partnerships for the Packard Foundation (Gorn, 1/30).

Los Angeles Times: California's New Prisons Chief Was Once Critic Of System
Jeffrey Beard's expert testimony was cited 39 times in the federal court order that capped California's prison population in 2009. He said the state's prisons were severely overcrowded, unsafe and unable to deliver adequate care to inmates. At the time, he was Pennsylvania's prisons chief. Now, he's Gov. Jerry Brown's new corrections secretary, and his first order of business is to persuade the same judges to lift the cap, as well as to end the court's longtime hold on prison mental health care (St. John, 1/30).

Georgia Health News: Legislators Look At Plan To Fight Alzheimer's
Nancy Humberstone fought an eight-year battle with Alzheimer's disease before passing away last year. She was just 65 years old when she died. Humberstone, of Gainesville, was an Emory University professor of physical therapy. But the disease, as it slowly took its toll on her brain, made her unable to figure out how to check her cellphone messages, said her daughter Sheila, who became her mother's caregiver. "It was extraordinarily difficult,"’ Sheila Humberstone said. "By the end, I was showering her, changing her diapers."’ Humberstone was among people testifying Tuesday before a Senate committee considering legislation to create a task force for developing a state response plan on Alzheimer's disease (Miller, 1/29).

Kansas Health Institute: Bill To License Mid-Level Dental Providers Introduced
A bill that would authorize the licensure of mid-level dental providers in Kansas was introduced today in the House Health and Human Services Committee. Rep. Brian Weber, a Dodge City Republican, said registering mid-level technicians was among the proposals he'd found when searching for solutions to the dental provider shortage in Kansas (Cauthon, 1/29).

Boston Globe: State Rep. Martha Walz To Lead Planned Parenthood
After four terms serving as the representative for the Eighth Suffolk District, Martha "Marty" Walz will announce Wednesday that she is resigning her legislative seat to become chief executive officer of the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts, said a person with direct knowledge of the group's decision. Walz, 51, was chosen over Dr. JudyAnn Bigby, who recently served as health and human services secretary for Governor Deval Patrick’s administration, said the source, who requested anonymity (Anderson and Phillips, 1/30).

Los Angeles Times: Former L.A. Clinic Owner Makes Medicare's Most-Wanted List
A former clinic owner in the Los Angeles area has made Medicare's list of most-wanted fugitives after bilking the federal program for $1.2 million, authorities said (Terhune, 1/29).

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Editorials and Opinions

Viewpoints: Baker And Dingell Urge Efforts To Cut Gun Deaths; Doctors As Union Workers

The New York Times: Bipartisan Hunting Buddies
Gun violence now rivals traffic accidents as the leading cause of death by injury in the United States. Quite simply, gun violence threatens to overwhelm us. Americans are grappling for strategies to make sure that the horror that occurred in Newtown isn't repeated. ... Gun advocates will say that guns don't kill people, people kill people. And of course we must examine the long-term effects on our children of violent movies, television shows and video games. We must address gaps in our mental health system that leave potential killers unidentified and untreated, and this will require more financial resources. And we must strive to make our schools and public gathering places safer (James A. Baker III and Rep. John D. Dingell, 1/29).

USA Today: Gun Control, 5 Common-Ground Steps: Our View
But the assault-weapons fight shouldn't get in the way of other common-sense, common-ground ways to curb gun deaths. ... Virginia officials were appropriately shamed when they learned that the student gunman who killed 32 people at Virginia Tech in 2007 had legally bought his two handguns after breezing through background checks — despite being so obviously disturbed that a judge had ordered him to get mental health treatment. ... Virginia had done such a slipshod job of passing along mental health records that the shooter's history never turned up in two background checks. Virginia has since cleaned up its act, but a shocking number of other states have not (1/29).

Los Angeles Times: How Congress Could Have Ducked The Fight Over Contraception
Then there are the challenges to the law's requirement that insurers cover contraception, as well as to the regulations the Obama administration issued to implement that requirement. This issue has been particularly troubling for employers affiliated with religious institutions or led by executives who oppose abortion; as the New York Times noted over the weekend, dozens of lawsuits have been filed against the requirement. ... Congress could have avoided these fights by embracing an alternative approach to healthcare reform that had bipartisan support but was in some ways more radical than the Affordable Care Act: ending the country's reliance on employer-provided health insurance (Jon Healey, 1/29). 

The Wall Street Journal: The Doctor's Office As Union Shop
As the country moves toward the effective start date of the Affordable Care Act in 2014, the operational and economic elements of this vast legislation are becoming clearer. Yet one likely outcome of the act that will directly affect the quality of patient care, and could affect its cost, has gone virtually unnoticed and unreported: the increasing trend for physicians to become employees, rather than self-employed. This development represents a potentially radical factor in the transformation of health care—the doctor as union worker (David J. Leffell, 1/29).

Journal of the American Medical Association: A Prescription For Washington's Mood Disorder
Protagonists struggling with bipolar disorder are all the rage in television, movies, and the theatre. From Central Intelligence Agency officer Carrie Mathison in Homeland, to former teacher Pat Solitano in Silver Linings Playbook, to suburban mother Diana Goodman in the play Next to Normal just a few years ago, we've been offered many perspectives on manic depression. In a far less artistic venue, Washington is displaying its own version of a mood disorder. One minute, we're informed we need to cut health care programs now, now, now, or the economy will implode, and the next minute, seniors are told they will always receive their entitled benefits. Clearly, an intervention is needed (David M. Cutler, 1/29).

The Wall Street Journal: Coke And The Calorie Wars 
In a two-minute ad this month addressing the obesity crisis, Coke notes that "a calorie is a calorie" and calls on people to "come together" to fight obesity. ... Critics snark that the ads only stir up more debate about Coke and obesity, but this misses the point. Coke does itself no harm by signaling that it's aware of the debate, and even by subtly jamming the signal with another message about obesity in which Coke isn't the villain. And the anti-obesity campaign, which First Lady Michelle Obama has adopted, no longer seems quite so simple itself. As a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association points out, the connection between being overweight and poor health and mortality may not be close after all (Holman W. Jenkins Jr., 1/29). 

Dallas Morning News: Meat And Potatoes From Perry
It's a given: We’ll take meat and potatoes over the indigestion of divisive issues from the governor's State of the State address any day. ... One other place that Texas isn't stronger than ever is among the 1 in 4 people without health insurance, yet Perry says he refuses to budge "one iota" on meeting Washington's dictates on expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. That would come at too high a price, he insisted. Unhealthy Texans exact an unacceptably high price, too, and treating them in hospitals is the most expensive option out there. Access to health care in Texas remains too restricted, no matter how eager we may be to crow about our economic model (1/29).

Boston Globe: How Romney Can Stay Relevant
Mitt Romney could play a pivotal role in shaping the future of the Republican Party. ... Most notably, of course, he was the architect of Massachusetts health care reform, the individual mandate-based system that became the model for Obamacare. Yes, Candidate Romney disavowed it as a national approach once conservatives decided that if Obama was for it, they were opposed. Still, it was no small accomplishment to get this left-leaning state to embrace what at the time was a credentialed conservative idea (Scot Lehigh, 1/30).

San Jose Mercury News: Public Health And Gun Safety Top Priorities For Santa Clara County
As incoming president of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, I delivered the annual State of the County address Tuesday morning. ... The national Affordable Care Act will take effect one year from now. As board president, I will be devoting much time to making sure our hospital and clinics are prepared to meet the challenges of providing services to the tens of thousands of residents who will finally have medical coverage (Ken Yeager, 1/29).

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Stephanie Stapleton

Andrew Villegas

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The Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report is published by Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent program of the Kaiser Family Foundation. (c) 2014 Kaiser Health News. All rights reserved.