First Edition: April 3, 2013

Today's headlines include reports about how the latest round of payment rates for private Medicare plans led to stock market gains for insurers. 

Kaiser Health News: Death Rates Rise At Geographically Isolated Hospitals, Study Finds
Kaiser Health News staff writer Jordan Rau reports: "For 15 years, Congress has bestowed special privileges to some small remote hospitals, usually in rural areas, to help them stay afloat. Medicare pays them more than it pays most hospitals and exempts them from financial pressure to operate efficiently and requirements to reveal how their patients fare. Nearly one in four hospitals qualifies for the program. Despite these benefits, there's new evidence that the quality of many of these hospitals may be deteriorating. A study published Tuesday found that during the past decade the death rates of patients at these critical access hospitals were growing while mortality rates at other hospitals were dropping" (Rau, 4/2). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: In South Jersey, New Options For Primary Care Are Slow To Take Hold
WHYY's Taunya English, working in partnership with Kaiser Health News and NPR, reports: "Camden, N.J., has serious health problems, with too many people going to local emergency rooms unnecessarily. But progress is being made, albeit slowly" (English, 4/3). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Why You May Want To Reconsider That Plan With A Health Savings Account
Now on Kaiser Health News' blog, consumer columnist Michelle Andrews writes about health savings accounts: "Since high-deductible plans often mean you pay more out of pocket for medical care, it might seem like a no-brainer to sign up for a plan that links to a health savings account so you can sock away money tax free to cover your medical expenses. But there are good reasons to think twice before making that choice" (Andrews, 4/2). Check out what else is on the blog.

Politico: CMS Reverses Course On Cuts
The insurance industry chalked up one of its greatest political victories in recent memory on Monday as the Obama administration reversed course on a proposal to cut Medicare Advantage rates. After intense lobbying, the agency said Monday that it would change the proposed 2.3 percent cut to those plans to a 3.3 percent boost. That's a significant swing worth billions of dollars to the industry next year alone (Norman and Haberkorn, 4/3).

The Wall Street Journal: Health Insurers Prevail In Medicare Fight With Washington
Washington wants to get tough on spending—but in the latest round of payment rates for private Medicare plans, insurers emerged victorious. Shares of health insurance companies soared Tuesday after federal officials scrapped proposed payment cuts to carriers that run Medicare plans amid pressure from senior citizens and lawmakers (Kamp, 4/2).

The Associated Press/Los Angeles Times: Health Insurers Lead Stocks Higher On Wall Street
U.S. stocks closed at a record highs Tuesday after reports on auto sales and factory orders provided the latest evidence that the U.S. economy is strengthening. Traders plowed money back into European stocks as the financial situation in Cyprus appeared to stabilize. Health insurers powered the gains a day after the government released revised reimbursement rates for Medicare Advantage plans. The new numbers suggest that funding cuts will be less severe than analysts and companies had feared (4/2).

Reuters/The New York Times: Rate Increase for Private Medicare Buoys an Uncertain Market
Stocks rose on Tuesday, led by the health care sector after the government said it would alter payment rates for private Medicare insurers, and helped by data on factory orders that indicated the economy was steadily improving (4/2).

USA Today: Stock Indexes Close At New Highs On Medicare News
The Dow Jones industrial average and the Standard & Poor's 500 stock index closed at new highs Tuesday following strong reports on auto sales and factory orders, evidence that the U.S. economy is strengthening. The Dow closed up 89.16 points to 14,662.01 and the S&P 500 finished up 8.08 points to 1,570.25. The Nasdaq composite rose 15.69 points to 3,254.86 (Huggins, 4/3).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Departing WellPoint CEO's Compensation Ballooned To $20.6M Last Year, As Insurer's Shares Fell
The compensation paid to outgoing Wellpoint Inc. CEO Angela Braly last year rose 56 percent, even as the company's shares slid on lower enrollment in its Blue Cross Blue Shield health plans. Braly, who resigned in August, received 2012 compensation valued at $20.6 million, according to an Associated Press analysis of the company's annual proxy statement. Most of the increase came from stock options (4/2).

USA Today: Feds Delay Small-Business Health Care Program
Small businesses may not have an insurance market set up specifically for them when the state and federal health exchanges begin in January, government officials said Monday (Kennedy, 4/2).

Los Angeles Times: State Hires Consumer Group To Health It Review Healthcare Rates
California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones lashed out Tuesday at another double-digit rate hike for thousands of small businesses getting their health insurance from industry giant Anthem Blue Cross (Terhune, 4/3).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Medicaid Contractor Objects To Cancellation, Says Nothing Improper Done to Get La. Contract
The company whose nearly $200 million Medicaid contract with the state has been cancelled says it didn't do anything improper to get the work, despite an ongoing federal investigation into the contract award (4/2).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Fight Brewing Over McDonnell Amendment Banning Abortion Coverage Through Va Insurance Exchange
A Senate fight is brewing over Gov. Bob McDonnell's amendment to ban abortion coverage from being sold through a new federally run health insurance exchange. The bill faces an uncertain outcome in the Senate, where Democrats and Republicans hold 20 seats apiece. It's likely the most fiercely debated bill in Wednesday's single-day reconvened legislative session to consider McDonnell's amendments to 80 bills and vetoes to six (4/3).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Alabama Legislature Passes Bill Setting Stricter Standards For Abortion Clinics
Alabama lawmakers late Tuesday gave final passage to a measure placing stricter regulations on clinics that provide abortions. The state House voted 68-21 to give final passage to the Women's Health and Safety Act. The vote came hours after the state Senate voted 20-10 to approve the bill after amending the measure to require clinics to tell patients what medications they had received (4/3).

NPR: Obama's Plan To Explore The Brain A 'Most Audacious Project'
President Obama has announced an ambitious plan to explore the mysteries of the human brain. In a speech Tuesday, Obama said he will ask Congress for $100 million in 2014 to "better understand how we think and how we learn and how we remember." Other goals include finding new treatments for Alzheimer's disease, epilepsy and traumatic brain injury (Hamilton, 3/2). 

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This is part of Kaiser Health News' Daily Report - a summary of health policy coverage from more than 300 news organizations. The full summary of the day's news can be found here and you can sign up for e-mail subscriptions to the Daily Report here. In addition, our staff of reporters and correspondents file original stories each day, which you can find on our home page.