First Edition: April 18, 2013

Today's headlines include reports from Capitol Hill about one Democratic senator's poor reviews of the Obama administration's progress in implementing the health law.  

Kaiser Health News: Health Insurance Actuaries In the Hot Seat On 'Rate Shock'
Kaiser Health News staff writer Jay Hancock reports: "Few aspects of the Affordable Care Act are more critical to its success than affordability, but in recent weeks experts have predicted costs for some health plans could soar next year. Now health law supporters are pushing back, noting close ties between the actuaries making the forecasts and an insurance industry that has been complaining about taxes and other factors it says will lead to rate shock for consumers" (Hancock, 4/18). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: Health On The Hill: Sebelius Gets Grilling In Senate Committee Hearing
Kaiser Health News staff writer Mary Agnes Carey talks with Jackie Judd about Wednesday's  Senate Finance Committee hearing during which Chairman Max Baucus, a "key architect" of the health law, was "visibly angry and frustrated" as he questioned HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius about progress implementing the law (4/17). Listen to the discussion or read the transcript.

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: The Medicare Budget Cuts No One Likes; Study: Patient Satisfaction May Not Be Good Quality Indicator; Innovators Preach Health Care Change At TED MED
Now on Kaiser Health News' blog, Mary Agnes Carey reports on Medicare budget cuts: "Just in case the Obama administration didn't know it already, cutting Medicare is hard to do. During a Senate Finance Committee hearing Wednesday on President Barack Obama’s fiscal 2014 budget, Democrats and Republicans proved that. Both Republicans, who have sought major changes to entitlements, and Democrats, who have vowed to preserve the programs, expressed concerns with the president's blueprint" (Carey, 4/18).

Also on the blog, Jordan Rau reports on findings from a patient satisfaction study: "You may have found your doctor to be a great communicator, your hospital room clean and quiet and your pain well controlled. Yet a study finds these opinions are not barometers of whether your hospital's surgical care is any good" (Rau, 4/17).

In addition, Ankita Rao reports on TEDMED: "The annual conference, part of the media and innovation company TED (of new-media favorite TED Talks) is being held this week at Washington's John F. Kennedy Center For Performing Arts, and it features a range of speakers meant to stir imaginative solutions and conversations around health care. There are also TEDMED live events happening in 81 countries, with broadcasts reaching an estimated 200,000 people" (Rao, 4/17). Check out what else is on the blog.

The Washington Post: Senator Gives Administration 'F’ On Public Education For Health-Care Law
A Democratic senator who helped craft President Obama’s signature health-care law gave the administration "a failing grade" Wednesday for its efforts to educate the public and small employers about sweeping changes set to take effect in eight months (Morgan, 4/17).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Co-Author Of Obama Health Care Law Sees 'Huge Train Wreck' In Implementation
Baucus is the first top Democrat to publicly voice fears about the rollout of the new health care law, designed to bring coverage to some 30 million uninsured people through a mix of government programs and tax credits for private insurance. Polls show that Americans remain confused by the complex law, and even many uninsured people are skeptical they will be helped by benefits that start next year (4/17).

The New York Times' The Caucus: Misconceptions Could Lead To Health Law 'Train Wreck,' Baucus Warns
A routine Senate budget hearing turned into a public scolding as a prominent backer of the health care overhaul warned that a lack of public information could cause a "train wreck" as the law's implementation moves forward (Wheaton, 4/17).

The Wall Street Journal's Washington Wire: Baucus Warns of Health-Law 'Train Wreck'
Mr. Baucus, the Senate Finance Committee chairman and a key figure in the crafting of the overhaul, grilled Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius at a Senate hearing Wednesday morning, telling her that he was getting increasingly worried because she couldn't give him the answers he wanted to assess the administration's progress (Radnofsky, 4/17).

Politico: Max Baucus Worried About Health Law 'Train Wreck'
After the hearing, Baucus explained that the train wreck is "that consumers and businesses will just not have enough information. That it will be too confusing." He also expressed frustration that the White House and HHS are not providing details of its outreach efforts (Haberkorn, 4/17).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Arkansas Oks Compromise Plan To Use Federal Medicaid Expansion Funds For Private Insurance
Arkansas' plan to use federal money to buy private insurance for low-income residents won final approval from state lawmakers Wednesday, endorsing a model that several other states are eyeing as a possible alternative to expanding Medicaid. The Republican-controlled Legislature narrowly reached the three-fourths majority needed to pass the proposal, which was a compromise reached between leading GOP lawmakers and Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe (4/18).

Los Angeles Times: Study Questions 'Community Benefits' Paid By Tax-Exempt Hospitals
Private, tax-exempt hospitals spent an average of 7.5% of their operating expenses on community benefits in 2009, according to a new study that raises questions about whether the amount is enough. Overall, the study published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine showed hospitals "varied widely" in the level of "community benefits" they provided, ranging from 20% of the operating budget at some to 1% at others. They concluded that most of the expenditures benefited patient care while "little was spent on community health improvement" (Bloomekatz, 4/17).

USA Today: Study: Most Health Subsidies To Aid Working Families
The majority of tax subsidies to help Americans pay for health insurance starting in January will go to working families, according to a nationwide study to be released Thursday and obtained by USA TODAY (Kennedy, 4/18).

Politico: Chuck Grassley Eyes Former Aide In Medicare Advantage Leak
A Washington law firm and a former congressional aide are facing scrutiny over a leak of sensitive details on Medicare Advantage payment rates that may have sparked hundreds of millions of dollars in stock trading on insurance companies before the information was made public. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) is questioning whether a lobbyist at Greenberg Traurig, a K Street law firm, tipped off Height Securities, a political intelligence firm, regarding a soon-to-be-announced increase in Medicare Advantage rates. Height quickly put out an investor alert before the markets closed on April 1 — and before the government announced it was raising the rates after earlier proposing the largest cuts in the history of Medicare Advantage (Millman, 4/17).

Los Angeles Times: CalPERS Picks Four New HMO Plans For 5-Year Contracts
The California Public Employees' Retirement System picked four new HMO plans for five-year health insurance contracts starting next year, a blow to incumbent carrier Blue Shield of California. The giant pension fund voted Wednesday to split up Blue Shield's statewide HMO contract and offer additional plans from Anthem Blue Cross, UnitedHealth Group Inc., Sharp Health Plan and Health Net Inc. alongside Blue Shield (Terhune, 4/17).

Los Angeles Times: Abuse-Resistant OxyContin Will Be Only Version Available: FDA
Three years after it approved a version of the opioid analgesic OxyContin designed to discourage the painkiller's abuse, the Food and Drug Administration has effectively barred the original form of the drug from ever reaching the legal U.S. market. The agency says it will approve no new applications from generic drug manufacturers to produce cheaper versions of OxyContin in its original form (Healy, 4/17).

Politico: 'Medical Mecca' Boston Was Equipped For Mass Trauma
Here's an unsettling thought: Monday's Boston Marathon carnage could’ve been a whole lot worse if it had happened almost anywhere else. But the bombings happened in the heart of a world-class medical cluster. And local hospitals were already bracing for a flood of patients — though they were expecting dehydrated runners, not blast and burn victims, some of whom had lost limbs (Cheney, 4/18).

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