Daily Health Policy Report

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Last updated: Wed, Mar 7

KHN Original Reporting & Guest Opinion

Capitol Hill Watch

Health Reform

Campaign 2012

Administration News

Health Care Marketplace

State Watch

Editorials and Opinions

KHN Original Reporting & Guest Opinion

Medicare Hopes To Combat Fraud With Billing Statements That Beneficiaries Can Understand

Reporting for Kaiser Health News in collaboration with The Washington Post, Susan Jaffe writes: "In the latest effort to enlist seniors in the fight against Medicare fraud, federal officials have overhauled Medicare billing statements to make it easier to find bogus charges without a magnifying glass" (Jaffe, 3/7). Read the story.

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Electronic Intensive Care Unit Expands In Alaska

Alaska Public Radio's Annie Feidt, working in partnership with Kaiser Health News and NPR, reports: "Frances Lynch is used to the active life of a bedside nurse. But lately, she spends half of her shifts at a simple office desk stacked with six computer monitors. The familiar squiggles of a heart beat roll across one screen" (Feidt, 3/6). Read the story.

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Health On The Hill: House Moves Closer To IPAB Repeal Vote

Kaiser Health News' Mary Agnes Carey talks with Jackie Judd about the latest movement in House Republican efforts to repeal a key part of the health reform law -- the Independent Payment Advisory Board. One House committee passed a repeal of IPAB Tuesday while another held a hearing on it. The full House is expected to vote on a repeal of IPAB as early as the end of March (3/6). Read the transcript or listen to the audio.

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Capsules: For Tavenners, It's All In The Family

Now on Kaiser Health News' blog, Phil Galewitz reports: "Hospital administrators have to deal with Medicare and Medicaid almost every day. Not too many have their mom as head of the two government health insurance programs. Matt Tavenner does" (Galewitz, 3/6). Read what else is on the blog.

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Super Tuesday Speeches Feature Health Care Issues

This Kaiser Health News video offer highlights of last night's Super Tuesday speeches by GOP presidential candidates. On a day with 10 GOP primaries and caucuses, Rick Santorum calls health care "the most important issue of the day." Mitt Romney repeats pledge to "repeal Obamacare." Watch the video.

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Video: Obama Fields Questions On Limbaugh, 'War On Women'

This Kaiser Health News video highlights parts of Tuesday's news conference in which President Barack Obama responded to questions about Rush Limbaugh and the heated debate over contraception coverage, and about whether Republican positions on these issues constitute a "war on women" (3/6). Watch the video.

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Political Cartoon: 'In Utero Veritas?'

Kaiser Health News provides a fresh take on health policy developments with "In Utero Veritas?" By J.D. Crowe.

Meanwhile, here's today's haiku:


For Governor Mitt
was it a Super Tuesday?
Or a Groundhog Day?

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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Capitol Hill Watch

House Moves Closer to IPAB Repeal Vote

The Energy and Commerce Committee approved a bill Tuesday to repeal the Independent Payment Advisory Board, an advisory group created in the health care law to curb Medicare spending. The full House is expected to vote on the legislation as early as the end of March.

Bloomberg: House Panel Approves Repeal of Medicare Board in Health-Care Law
The U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee approved legislation that would repeal implementation of an advisory board created to recommend cuts to Medicare, the U.S. health program for the elderly and disabled. Under the 2010 health-care overhaul, the Independent Payment Advisory Board could draft reductions to Medicare payments for doctors, hospitals and other providers without congressional approval. The board would have 15 members selected by the president and confirmed by the Senate; none have been named to the panel (Jamrisko, 3/6).

Kaiser Health News: Health On The Hill: House Moves Closer To IPAB Repeal Vote
Kaiser Health News' Mary Agnes Carey talks with Jackie Judd about the latest movement in the Republican-controlled House to repeal a key part of the health reform law -- the Independent Payment Advisory Board. One House committee passed a repeal of IPAB Tuesday while another held a hearing on it. The full House is expected to vote on a repeal of IPAB as early as the end of March (3/6).

Roll Call: Democrats Willing To Tinker With Health Care Law
House Republicans’ latest attack on the Affordable Care Act isn't expected to go far, but it will show disagreements within the Democratic Caucus as the Supreme Court begins hearing oral arguments on the Obama administration’s landmark law later this month. Democrats charge that the division on President Barack Obama’s hallmark legislative accomplishment is old news and dates back to the rigorous debate during the measure’s drafting in 2010. Republicans insist their latest proposal, to scrap a 15-member panel tasked with finding Medicare savings, helps build their case that the entire law should be overturned (Brady, 3/7).

And, in other news from Capitol Hill -

Politico Pro: Sebelius Fields Questions On HHS Financial Management
House Republicans attacked HHS for a series of financial management problems Tuesday, suggesting it can't be trusted with greater responsibilities under health care reform. House labor-HHS appropriations subcommittee Chairman Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.) kicked off a hearing with Secretary Kathleen Sebelius by raising what he called "a number of financial management issues," including 176 contracts — with a total value of $1.4 billion — that violated a law regulating spending by federal agencies (Feder, 3/6).

CQ HealthBeat: Republican Floats Idea of Spending Caps For Medicaid Enrollees
Not every Republican lawmaker wants to upend Medicaid by block-granting federal funds to states for their programs. Rep. Bill Cassidy is shopping around a proposal that instead would set caps for federal Medicaid payments depending on the type of beneficiary and also give bonuses to states for good outcomes. The policy choices in the past for the federal-state program for the poor have been between "nibbling around the edges" to bring about change or simply giving states lump sums to run their programs as they see fit, said Cassidy, a physician who treats uninsured patients when he is in his home state of Louisiana (Norman, 3/6)?

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House GOP Backs Away From Bill Aimed At Obama Birth Control Rule

In related news, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, is reportedly having "voter's remorse" regarding her decision last week to vote for similar Senate legislation - the Blunt amendement.

Politico: House Slowing Down On Contraception Legislation
House Republican leaders are taking their foot off the gas, slowing down plans to pass legislation taking aim at the Obama administration's contraception coverage requirement, according to sources close to leadership (Feder and Nocera, 3/7).

National Journal: Report: Murkowski Regrets Voting For Contraception Amendment
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, regrets having voted for a controversial birth control amendment offered by Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., that would have let employers opt out of providing anything they objected to in health insurance for workers, the Anchorage Daily News reports…Murkowski said contraception should be covered and affordable, but that churches and religiously affiliated organizations should get an opt-out—something the Obama administration offers (3/6).

In the background -

NPR: How Birth Control Saves Taxpayers Money
While the controversy continues to swirl around radio talkmeister Rush Limbaugh and his admittedly inappropriate comments about Georgetown Law Student Sandra Fluke, an analysis from the left-leaning Brookings Institution adds an economic twist to the debate over coverage of contraception (Rovner, 3/6).

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Health Reform

Tavenner: Final Exchange Rule Release Just Weeks Away

Modern Healthcare and CQ HealthBeat report that the final rule on health insurance exchanges will be out "very soon."  

Modern Healthcare: Exchange Rule Coming 'Very Soon': Tavenner
Acting CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner told attendees at the Federation of American Hospitals meeting they can expect more information on the state insurance exchanges in the weeks ahead. "We will need your help as we go into 2012 and into 2013 on setting up the exchanges," Tavenner said in her morning remarks Tuesday at the Marriott Washington Wardman Park. "And we will have more detail on that as the year rolls out—and, in fact, we will have some details in the next couple of weeks as it relates to the exchanges and Medicaid expansion" (Zigmond, 3/6).

CQ HealthBeat: Final Rule On Exchanges To Be Issued Very Soon, HHS Officials Disclose
Top Department of Health and Human Services officials hinted Tuesday that a final rule laying out the structure for state health insurance exchanges is about to be unveiled. In addition, Steve Larsen of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services stressed that federal officials are deep into their work setting up a federal exchange that would serve as a fallback for states that refuse to establish state exchanges or can't get them up and running by January 2014 (Norman, 3/6).

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Young Adults, School Health Centers And Cost-Cutting: Examining Elements Of The Health Law's Implementation

News outlets report on various provisions of the health law and their impact on the marketplace and access to care.

Journal of the American Medical Association: Author Insights: More Young Adults Insured After Health Reform Law Passed
A popular provision of the Affordable Care Act that allowed young adults to remain covered by a parent's health insurance policy until age 26 years appears to be having the intended effect of boosting the number of individuals in this age group who are insured, according to analysis by scientists from the US Department of Health and Human Services, published in JAMA today (Kuehn, 3/6).

NPR: Health Centers At Schools Get A Funding Boost
Under the federal health care law, money is going out around the country to help school campuses boost health services for their students. ... The law set aside $200 million dollars for these centers around the country. So far the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services says 43 states have received funding to treat more than half a million new patients (Weiss, 3/6). 

The Fiscal Times: Health Plans Undergo Major Changes to Cut Costs 
The health care insurance industry, whose policy making council is meeting in Washington this week, is beginning to roll out private plans for the working-age population that incorporate most of the changes foreseen for Medicare in the Affordable Care Act. They include creation of accountable care organizations, coordinated care and medical homes on the delivery side and bundled payments, pay-for-performance and shared savings with providers on the payment side (Goozner, 3/6).

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Campaign 2012

Romney Claims Super Tuesday Wins, But Santorum Presses Health Reform Issues

GOP presidential hopeful Rick Santorum used election night speech to again assail the former governor's support of a Massachusetts health overhaul that some say was a template for the federal law. 

Los Angeles Times: Battle In Ohio Reinforces GOP Divide
Mitt Romney squeezed past Rick Santorum to win Ohio's presidential primary, capturing the biggest Super Tuesday prize but raising enough doubts to quash hopes of quickly ending the Republicans' bruising nominating fight (Barabak, 3/6).

USA Today: Romney Takes 6 Of 10 Super Tuesday Contests
Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator, scored substantial wins in GOP primaries in Tennessee and Oklahoma and won easily in North Dakota's caucuses, where Ron Paul finished a distant second and Romney finished third. Romney easily won primaries in his home of Massachusetts, neighboring Vermont and Virginia, where only he and Paul were on the ballot (Welch, 3/7).

The Washington Post: GOP Race Takes Toll On Front-Runner Romney
The GOP fight has been extremely negative, and super PACs have contributed significantly to the tone of the contest. Former senator Rick Santorum (Pa.) and former House speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) have attacked Romney throughout the winter, and their super PACs have done more. Former Republican National Committee chairman Michael S. Steele said Monday on C-SPAN that Romney missed an opportunity last week to reach out to independents by not taking a stronger stand against Rush Limbaugh after the conservative talk show host attacked Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke as a "slut" and a "prostitute" for her position on health insurance coverage of contraceptives (Balz, 3/7).

The Associated Press: Romney, Santorum Show Ohio GOP Ideological Divide
In Massachusetts, Romney performed strongly among all types of voters. But that state's GOP voters expressed displeasure with the health care coverage program enacted while Romney was governor, with 51 percent saying the measure had gone too far. Romney has been criticized for that plan by his GOP rivals and has pledged, if elected, to repeal Obama's national health care overhaul, which resembles Romney's Massachusetts measure (Fram and Agiesta, 3/7).

Politico Pro: How Santorum Denied Romney A Super Tuesday
In his speech, Santorum reminded his supporters that the health care law was the reason he decided to enter the race. He called it the "one particular issue that to me breaks the camel's back with respect to liberty in this country." ... This is an election about fundamental liberty," Santorum said. He called the health reform law "the signature piece of legislation that points this out, where you have economic rights created by the government, and then the government [is] using its heavy hand to force you to buy insurance, to force you to take policies that you don't want" (Nather, 3/6).

Boston Globe: Romney Fails To Change Dynamic Of Race Despite Wins
Striking on Orwellian tone, [Santorum] blasted "elites" in Washington who overspend and said, "This is the beginning of the end of freedom in America. Once the government has control of your life, then they gotcha." He cited Obama's health care overhaul as a prime example of government intrusion in private life and the private sector, and he argued Romney can't challenge Obama on that front because the universal health care law he signed in Massachusetts served as the template for the federal plan (Johnson, 3/7).

The New York Times: 'He Should Be All Right,' Massachusetts Voters Say Of Their Ex-Governor
Yet at several polling places around Massachusetts on Tuesday, even some of those who helped give Mr. Romney a victory here in the Republican presidential primary were hazy on his accomplishments as governor and lukewarm on his candidacy. Not a few expressed frustration, or outright anger, about his support for the state’s 2006 landmark universal health care law, which has become a lightning rod (Goodnough, 3/6).

The Wall Street Journal: Romney Extends His Lead
Speaking to supporters Tuesday night, Mr. Santorum took aim at Mr. Romney, arguing he offered voters a deeper contrast with Mr. Obama because of Mr. Romney's support of a law in Massachusetts requiring most residents to buy health insurance (King and O’Connor, 3/7).

Kaiser Health News: Super Tuesday Speeches Feature Health Care Issues (Video)
On a day with 10 GOP primaries and caucuses, Rick Santorum calls health care "the most important issue of the day." Mitt Romney repeats pledge to "repeal Obamacare" (3/7).


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Administration News

Obama Fields Questions on Limbaugh, 'War On Women'

During his "Super Tuesday" press conference, the president talked about contraception coverage and the Rush Limbaugh flap, saying that Democrats have "a better story to tell women."

The Washington Post: At News Conference, Obama Criticizes GOP Candidates For Talk Of War With Iran
He was father in chief, fretting about whether the rough-edged debate over health insurance coverage for women’s contraception will keep his daughters and other young women from engaging in public life. … When a reporter asked whether other Democrats are pandering by referring to the contraception debate and Limbaugh's remarks as a "war on women," Obama referred to his wife, saying she has helped him understand that women will make up their own minds (Wilson and Nakamura, 3/6).

Kaiser Health News: Video: Obama Fields Questions On Limbaugh, 'War On Women'
This Kaiser Health News video highlights parts of Tuesday's news conference in which President Barack Obama responded to questions about Rush Limbaugh and the heated debate over contraception coverage, and about whether Republican positions on these issues constitute a "war on women" (3/6).

The Associated Press/Seattle Times: Analysis: Obama Demands His Say On GOP's Big Day
Obama positioned himself as a voice of civility and - to a nation of voting parents - maturity in the debate over whether health insurance plans should cover contraception. He said he called Sandra Fluke, the woman called a "slut" by radio host Rush Limbaugh, with his own two young daughters in mind. There's a way to debate, Obama said, that doesn't involve being demeaned. It wasn't long before another reporter had him talking about the race for the women's vote in general. "I believe that Democrats have a better story to tell women," Obama said (Feller, 3/6).

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Health Care Marketplace

AARP Study Details Price Increases Of Popular Drugs

The New York Times: AARP Study Says Price Of Popular Drugs Rose 26%
The prices of drugs used most widely by older Americans rose by nearly 26 percent from 2005 to 2009 — nearly twice the rate of inflation — according to a report issued Tuesday by AARP (Thomas, 3/6).

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State Watch

States Use Retiree Health Care, Medicaid Cuts To Stare Down Budget Gaps

State budget cuts are targeting health care and retiree health care programs in states around the U.S. In Maryland, a "doomsday" budget scenario could reduce Medicaid spending by $101 million while advocates push for reinstatement of Medicaid dollars in Idaho and Arizona.

Bloomberg: U.S. States Face 'Sleeping Cancer' In 96% Unfunded Retiree Health Benefits
The near-failure by U.S. states to fund rising retiree health-care costs for millions of government workers threatens to produce budget crises similar to the one that pushed Stockton, California, to take a step toward bankruptcy last week. States haven't financed almost 96 percent of the $627.4 billion they were projected to owe for future retiree benefits in 2010, according to Bloomberg Rankings data. The estimated deficit grew from about 95 percent in 2009 as governors coped with lower general-fund revenue and rising demand for services following the longest recession since the Great Depression (Preston, 3/7).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: State Analysts Brief Maryland Lawmakers On 'Doomsday' Budget Plan
Maryland analysts outlined nearly $800 million in potential budget cuts on Tuesday that would have considerable consequences for education, health and aid to local governments in a so-called doomsday alternative plan to Gov. Martin O'Malley's proposed budget. The plan has been presented to lawmakers in case they fail to agree on new revenues and savings needed to balance the state's books for the next fiscal year and reduce an ongoing $1.1 billion deficit by half. … Another $101 million could come from reductions in Medicaid. The state also could save $115 million by reducing funding for higher education by 10 percent (3/6).

Arizona Republic: Child Care Advocates Ask State For $100 Million For Safety-Net Programs
Child-welfare advocates are calling on lawmakers to add more than $100 million to the upcoming budget to prop up the state's safety net for distressed children. The money should be used for remedial reading programs, the reinstatement of KidsCare -- a children's health-care program -- and the replacement of federal dollars that aid needy families (Pitzl, 3/6).

The Associated Press/(New Orleans) Times-Picayune: Idaho Bill Spends $1.5M To Restore Medicaid Cuts
A bill in the Idaho House would restore a sliver of the cuts made to Idaho's health insurance program for the poor, elderly and disabled. State spending on Idaho's Medicaid program was reduced by roughly $35 million in the 2011 session as lawmakers worked to balance the budget in the economic downturn. A bill advanced Tuesday by the House Health and Welfare Committee spends $1.5 million in state funding to restore some of the Medicaid cuts (3/6).

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Mass. House Speaker Readies Proposal To Slow Health Care Cost Growth

The Massachusetts House Speaker believes the state should try to halve the growth of health care costs, but he offered few details on how to do it.

Boston Globe: DeLeo Says House Bill Will Try To Cut Health Cost In Half
Long-awaited state legislation to control health care costs will aim to cut annual increases in half, to about 3.7 percent, House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo said Tuesday in a speech to business leaders in which he provided few other details. Currently, the cost of health care in the state is climbing 6.7 percent to 8 percent a year, when taking into account both the prices paid to providers and the amount of care patients use (Kowalczyk, 3/7).

WBUR's CommonHealth blog: Speaker Says State Will Tie Health Cost Increases to Economic Growth Rate 
DeLeo, speaking to members of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, did not say if the goal should be exactly in line with the state's economic growth rate, a little higher or a little lower. The difference could mean billions of dollars, and it's the topic of heated behind-the-scenes debate (Bebinger, 3/6).

The Associated Press/MSNBC: Mass. Speaker Outlines Plan On Health Care Costs
The speaker told the gathering of business leaders the House proposal will make "aggressive" changes to make the state's $70 billion health care industry more transparent and give consumers and businesses more ability to make informed choices (3/6).

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More Minn. Young Adults Covered, But Has Mass. Insured Rate Hit Ceiling?

Health insurance coverage rates are making news in Minnesota and Massachusetts, where officials wonder if their 98 percent coverage rate is the best they can do.

Minnesota Public Radio: Survey: Many Minnesotans Still Without Insurance
A new report shows that the portion of Minnesotans who have health insurance has not recovered from losses that occurred during the recession that ended in 2009. Minnesota's uninsured rate in 2011 remained essentially unchanged at 9.1 percent, despite improvements in the state's job picture (Benson, 3/6). 

Minneapolis Star Tribune: Uninsured Rate For Young Minn. Adults Drops To 17%
As unemployed Minnesotans found work, they accepted jobs without health coverage or found the plans too pricey, researchers concluded. ... New state and federal health laws, however, allow parents to retain health benefits for their children, regardless of their educational status, through age 26. As a result, the uninsured rate dropped significantly for 18- to 25-year-olds -- from 22 percent in 2009 to 17 percent in 2011 (Olson, 3/6).

WBUR's CommonHealth blog: 98% Mass. Health Coverage 'As Good As It Gets' — Or Is It?
98% of Massachusetts residents have health insurance. That number, a result of the state's 2006 health coverage law, has been more or less the same for the last two years. It is confirmed in the latest report from the Patrick administration. What's new is that the state now says 98% is as good as it gets. From the same report: "Massachusetts may have reached maximum insurance levels based on existing demographics and health insurance characteristics" (Bebinger, 3/7).

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Texas Plan To Defund Women's Health Program Draws Protest

Texas' move and subsequently imminent loss of federal Medicaid money has sparked a protest. Lawmakers in New Hampshire and Minnesota are examining the federal contraception coverage requirement.

The Dallas Morning News: Women Protest Loss Of Health Services
More than 200 women protested at the Capitol on Tuesday, lamenting the imminent loss of health services for 130,000 poor women. Republican state leaders are adamant that they will not participate in the Women's Health Program, for which the federal government provides 90 percent of the funding, if some of the money has to go to Planned Parenthood. The 6-year-old program, up for federal renewal, provides cancer screenings and contraceptives to women who don't have insurance (Hoppe, 3/6).

The Texas Tribune: Rally Targets Possible End of Women's Health Program 
Perry spokeswoman Catherine Frazier said the White House is to blame in the dispute. "Gov. Perry and lawmakers are fighting to continue the WHP, but unfortunately, its fate rests in the hands of the Obama Administration which is willing to end a good program that serves more than 100,000 Texas women to save less than 2 percent of providers," Frazier said (Heinrich, 3/6). 

The Associated Press/Boston Globe: N.H. Democrats Backing Birth Control Coverage
Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Maggie Hassan and Democratic legislative leaders urged defeat Tuesday of a House bill that would allow employers with religious objections to exclude contraceptive coverage from their health plans. ... The bill would amend a 12-year-old law that requires health plans that include coverage for prescriptions to cover contraceptives. The law does not affect plans that do not offer drug coverage, nor does it affect employers who self-insure (Love, 3/7).

(St. Paul) Pioneer Press: Contraceptives Debate Appears At The Capitol
The national debate on insurance coverage for contraceptives made an appearance at the state Capitol on Tuesday with the introduction of a bill to mandate benefits for certain employer-sponsored health plans in Minnesota. ... The bill introduced Tuesday by Rep. Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, would extend the mandate to employer-sponsored health plans that have "grandfathered" status, meaning they were in place before the federal health care law was enacted (Snowbeck, 3/7).

Also, an abortion-related bill in moved forward in Oklahoma --

Politico: Fetal 'Heartbeat' Bill Advances In Oklahoma
The bill, approved 34-8, will now head to the Republican-dominated state House, Reuters reported. The original proposal required that women hear the heartbeat before having an abortion, but the bill's author watered down the measure to only require the abortion provider let a woman know of her right to hear the heartbeat (Weinger, 3/7).

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Roundup: Calif. County Mum On Probe Of Medicaid Managed Care Firm

News outlets report on a variety of state health policy news.

Los Angeles Times: Ventura Country Seeks To Keep Healthcare Plan Audit A Secret
A Ventura County commission is trying to keep secret the details of a state-ordered investigation into the management and claims procedures of a healthcare plan designed to serve the county's neediest residents. Complaints about alleged late payments and poor management prompted the Department of Health Care Services to request that auditors step in and examine the plan's financial condition and claims practices. Gold Coast Health Plan was launched last year to switch an estimated 110,000 Ventura County Medi-Cal beneficiaries into an HMO-style healthcare plan (Saillant, 3/7).

The Washington Post: D.C. Council Passes Bill Expanding School Mental Health Services
The D.C. Council agreed Tuesday to increase behavioral health services and testing for city youths to try to keep students in schools and out of jail, but officials caution that the District still has to find money to pay for some key provisions of the bill (Craig, 3/6).

Kaiser Health News: Electronic Intensive Care Unit Expands In Alaska
Frances Lynch is used to the active life of a bedside nurse. But lately, she spends half of her shifts at a simple office desk stacked with six computer monitors. The familiar squiggles of a heart beat roll across one screen (Feidt, 3/6).

Arizona Republic: Arizona Inmates Denied Adequate Medical Care, Lawsuit Says
Arizona's Department of Corrections was accused in a lawsuit filed Tuesday of unconstitutionally denying adequate medical and mental-health care to inmates in state prisons and of routinely keeping mentally ill inmates in solitary confinement under brutal conditions. The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Phoenix by a coalition of human-rights groups, lists myriad shocking allegations of prisoners suffering serious, preventable injuries, disfigurements and death, and it seeks to force the state to improve prison health care (Ortega, 3/6).

Modern Healthcare: Duke LifePoint Plans To Acquire Mich. Hospital
Duke LifePoint Healthcare, Durham, N.C., has signed a memo of understanding to acquire 275-bed Marquette (Mich.) General Health System. ... Officials expect to sign a definitive agreement in two to four months and then submit it to the Michigan attorney general's office for review (Selvam, 3/6). 

California Healthline: Survey: Californians Concur On Need For Prevention
At a joint Assembly and Senate health hearing yesterday, results of a Field Poll unveiled a few days shy of the official release indicate that an overwhelming majority of Californians (about 80% of those surveyed) believe government and schools need to pitch in to fight childhood obesity and that preventive health programs pay for themselves in reduced health care costs to the state (Gorn, 3/7). 

The Associated Press/Missoulian: Federal Prosecutors Seek Settlement Of Blue Cross Antitrust Case
Federal prosecutors have asked a judge to approve an antitrust settlement involving two Montana health insurers now that one of the companies has been broken up as part of the deal. U.S. Justice Department attorneys filed their request Monday asking U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull to sign the final judgment in the case against Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana "as soon as possible." "The court should find that the proposed final judgment is in the public interest and should enter the final judgment without further hearings," prosecutors Scott Fitzgerald and Claudia Dulmage wrote (3/6).

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Editorials and Opinions

Viewpoints: WSJ On Super Tuesday; Zeke Emanuel, NY Times On Electronic Health Records; Iowa High-Risk Pool Concerns

The Wall Street Journal: Republican Split Decision
Mr. Santorum is also scoring on the stump with his warnings about the threat to freedom posed by ObamaCare. Especially if the economy improves, this will be a crucial issue for Republicans in November because it reflects the great American fault line over the role of government. Yet the issue has bedeviled Mr. Romney's because of his refusal to distance himself from RomneyCare in Massachusetts and to say more than his cursory line that he'll "repeal ObamaCare"  (3/8).

Reuters: An Unsung Victory In Healthcare
It's now been a year since the administration released the regulations specifying meaningful use and what it takes to be certified — the nuts and bolts of implementing the law. The results have been nothing short of spectacular. As of December 2011, the use of EHR among office-based physicians has nearly doubled to 34 percent with e-prescribing exceeding 40 percent. ... Going electronic will allow physicians to more closely track patients, especially the chronically ill,  enabling the seamless exchange of data across multiple physicians, hospitals and other providers (Ezekiel Emanuel, 3/6).

The New York Times: Do Electronic Medical Records Save Money? 
We still believe that widespread adoption of electronic medical records will improve care and reduce costs. It is also clear that many office-based physicians will need help in making the transition. No matter how adept doctors become with computerized records, they will need to be pushed to rein in excessive use of tests (3/6).

The New York Times: Pay Only For Drugs That Help You
It's hard not to be outraged by the fact that the United States spends $2.6 trillion per year on health care, far more than any other country, and has no better medical outcomes to show for it. ... it's understandable that, with reports of individuals taking $100,000 cancer drugs only to prolong survival by a few months, the high cost of drugs is one of the first targets. But simply capping or slashing the price of drugs is not the answer. Individuals and insurance companies should be willing to pay — and pay a lot — for drugs when they work (Samuel D. Waksal, 3/6).

Los Angeles Times: Birth Control Agitprop
To be sure, Republicans invited some of this madness upon themselves. But it was President Obama who started this mess by breaking his vow to religious institutions to allow them to keep the same conscience protections that even Hillary Rodham Clinton's proposed healthcare reforms in 1994 recognized as essential (Jonah Goldberg, 3/6).

Des Moines Register: Progress On Risk Pool Still Not Enough
Over the past few months, the Register and state legislators have raised concerns about Iowa's 18-month old high-risk pool, which is funded with $35 million federal dollars. ... Some lawmakers are pushing for the creation of an insurance exchange, a permanent cornerstone of the [2010 federal health] law to insure thousands of Iowans beginning in 2014. How can Iowa be trusted to do that when there are so many concerns about how the state has operated a temporary high risk pool? (3/6).

Des Moines Register: Treat Care Workers As Professionals
"Direct care workers" is the broad term for the people who provide paid care in private homes, nursing homes and assisted living centers. It is estimated there are more than 70,000 of these workers in Iowa. ... There is no central database of them to check backgrounds or log complaints. ... That leaves Iowans in the dark about the experience and backgrounds of the people they entrust with their lives (3/6).

Newsday: Home Care Workers Deserve Fair Wages
Personal care aides are skilled professionals and not baby-sitters. They perform physically demanding jobs that also require knowing how to be personable but not domineering, caring but able to foster independence, communicating well, and performing intimate tasks while being sensitive to clients' moods. … These workers are the backbone of the home care system, yet they are undervalued and do not get the respect that they deserve (S.E. Watts, 3/6).

The Dallas Morning News: The Good Ol' Days For the Disabled Weren't
A trio of seemingly unrelated events last week highlights the complexity and opportunity for abuse of the Texas support system for people with disabilities …. That brings us back to Medicaid. What is needed is a redesigned support model, involving families, the faith-based community, commercial enterprise and, yes, the government, truly geared to the needs of people in the 21st century (Clay Boatright, 3/6).  

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Stephanie Stapleton

Andrew Villegas

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Shefali Luthra

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.