First Edition: July 2, 2010

Today's health policy headlines include the latest developments regarding Virginia's legal challenge to the federal health care overhaul. 

COBRA, Medicaid Subsidies Still Loom Over Congressional Agenda
Kaiser Health News staff writer Andrew Villegas provides a status update regarding key health-related legislation: "Democrats are leaving Washington for the July 4 recess without passing key parts of their health care agenda" (Kaiser Health News).

Study Finds Doctors' Orders Help Patients Get Preferred End-Of-Life Treatment
Kaiser Health News staff writer Jessica Marcy reports on new findings: "Nursing home patients are more likely to receive the treatment they want and less likely to have unwanted hospitalizations and medical interventions under a program using medical forms signed by a physician that detail the patients' decisions about end-of-life care, according to a new study" (Kaiser Health News).

Among Some, High Marks For Health Care Overhaul's Beginnings
President Obama gets high marks, even from some Republicans, for the way he has begun carrying out the new health care law in the 100 days since it was signed. And a new poll suggests a small increase in favorable views of the measure since May (The New York Times).

'Game Changer' Rule Looms For Health Insurers
One number in the health-care overhaul law could dramatically alter the health-insurance landscape. Winners and losers are soon to be determined in the health-insurance industry, which is holding its breath as regulators decide to what extent a key aspect of health reform will clip profits. How federal regulators interpret a metric known as a medical-loss ratio could affect players from industry giant UnitedHealth Group Inc. down to specialized companies such as American National Insurance Co. Plans could be forced to pay out millions in rebates, while others may be driven out of the market (The Wall Street Journal).

Health Law Risks Turning Away Sick
The Obama administration has not ruled out turning sick people away from an insurance program created by the new healthcare law to provide coverage for the uninsured. Critics of the $5 billion high-risk pool program insist it will run out of money before Jan. 1, 2014. That’s when the program sunsets and health plans can no longer discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions (The Hill).

Judge Hears Arguments On Health Overhaul Challenge
For the first time since President Obama signed the health care law, the federal government faced off in open court Thursday against one of the 21 states that are seeking to invalidate the law by challenging the requirement that most Americans obtain insurance (The New York Times).

Obama's Health Plan Getting Tested In Court
The Obama administration's biggest domestic policy accomplishment — the new health care law — is under steady legal attack (NPR). 

Va. Begins Courtroom Assault On Federal Health-Care Law
The legal challenge to the nation's new health-care law was launched Thursday in a courtroom in Richmond, where the office of Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli argued that the measure is an unprecedented overreach by Washington that violates the founders' intention of a limited federal government (The Washington Post).

Erick Erickson: GOP Leaders Betraying Repeal
RedState editor Erick Erickson doubts that House Minority Leader John Boehner and House Minority Whip Eric Cantor are actually committed to repealing health care, accusing the GOP leaders of just looking for "cover" from tea party activists (Politico). 

New State Budget Plans Burdened By Recession, Pension Costs
Across the US, states have launched into their 2011 fiscal year saddled with many of the same budget problems that they had the year before: low tax revenues, high recession-related expenses, and uncertainty about how to pay for long-term costs such as retiree pensions (The Christian Science Monitor).

Health Overhaul May Mean Longer ER Waits, Crowding
Emergency rooms, the only choice for patients who can't find care elsewhere, may grow even more crowded with longer wait times under the nation's new health law (The Associated Press).

State Retains 137 Rate Caps On Insurers
State regulators wrestling with soaring health care costs yesterday held fast to a cap on prices for 137 health insurance plans up for renewal this summer, freezing rates at 2009 levels, while sending three insurers scrambling to supply additional data to justify their proposed double-digit rate hikes (The Boston Globe).

Medical Billing, A President's Cousin, And The Pain-In-The But Index
Every morning at 6 a.m., a mail truck arrives outside the headquarters of athenahealth. The truck is filled with other people’s hassles: box after box of medical bills and paperwork (NPR).

Opinion: Smart Health Care Cuts Hit A Brick Wall
One of the outcomes of the 1997 Balanced Budget Act was the establishment of MedPAC, which was formed to monitor costs and quality for the Medicare program. But intentions don't produce results, so President Obama included a juiced up version in the health reform law signed last March. He called it "MedPAC on steroids." The idea was to change the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission’s annual reports into hard and fast blueprints for implementing money-saving changes throughout the nation’s senior citizen health care program (The Fiscal Times).

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