First Edition: February 4, 2013

Today's headlines include reports about the Obama administration's effort to advance a compromise on its birth control coverage mandate.

Kaiser Health News: Research Finds Link Between Poor Health And Seniors Switching Out Of Private Medicare Plans
Kaiser Health News staff writer Jordan Rau reports: "New research finds that many seniors who switch from their HMO-style Medicare Advantage plan to traditional Medicare have higher levels of significant health problems, fueling concerns that the private plans cater to more profitable, healthy beneficiaries but don't provide the most attractive care for the very ill" (Rau, 2/4). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: Religious Nonprofits Won't Pay For Birth Control Under Proposal
Kaiser Health News staff writer Jenny Gold reports: "After a year of lawsuits and public outcry, the Obama administration proposed Friday a way for women who work at nonprofit religious institutions to get free birth control without requiring their employers to pay for it. Instead, institutions that insure themselves, such as hospitals and universities, could use a third party to find a separate health policy that would pay for and provide the coverage" (Gold, 2/1). Read the story as well as KHN's Six Questions And Answers About The Obama Administration’s Birth Control Rule (2/1).

Kaiser Health News also tracked weekend health policy headlines, including reports about Democrats' stance on Medicaid funding (2/3) and a new CMS rule on payments to physicians (2/2).

The Wall Street Journal: Contraception Opt-Out Offer
The Obama administration on Friday offered an updated compromise to its requirement that employers cover contraception in workers' insurance plans, a step aimed at settling a yearlong contretemps over a mandate in the health-care overhaul. The proposal is aimed at addressing the argument of Catholic bishops, along with religiously affiliated universities, hospitals and charities, that requiring employers to provide contraception violates their religious freedom (Radnofsky, 2/2).

Politico: Obama Reopens Rift With Religious Groups
President Barack Obama wasn’t looking for another fight with religious groups when the administration attempted Friday to clarify its birth control mandate. But he got one anyway (Budoff Brown, 2/4).

Los Angeles Times: Health Insurers Highlight Excessive Out-Of-Network Charges
Some California physicians providing out-of-network medical care bill patients at rates far beyond what Medicare allows, a new report from a health insurance trade group shows. The national survey released Friday by America's Health Insurance Plans is part of the industry's effort to show that some medical providers are overcharging consumers and unnecessarily raising healthcare costs. Some critics fault insurers for all too often paying these excessive charges for out-of-network care and then passing along those increased costs in the form of higher premiums for employers and consumers. ... Medical providers often complain that Medicare rates are too low, and they say they shouldn't have to accept an insurance company's deeply discounted rates to become an in-network provider (Terhune, 2/1).

The Wall Street Journal/US News: Battles Erupt Over Filling Doctors' Shoes
As physician assistants and other midlevel health professionals fill growing gaps in primary health care, turf battles are erupting in many states over what they can and can't do in medical practices. One of the bitterest fights is in Kentucky, where physician assistants are lobbying the state legislature to repeal a law that says that for the first 18 months after certification, physician assistants are allowed to treat patients only when a supervising physician is on site. Being in phone contact isn't deemed sufficient (Beck, 2/3).

NPR: Home Care Aides Await Decision On New Labor Rules
Home health care aides are waiting to find out if they will be entitled to receive minimum wage. A decades-old amendment in labor law means that the workers, approximately 2.5 million people, do not always receive minimum wage or overtime (2/3).

NPR: FDA Challenges Stem Cell Companies As Patients Run Out Of Time
Americans seeking stem cell replacement therapy hope the process can heal them of myriad diseases, and a 2011 report by the Baker Institute estimated the industry could bring in $16 billion in revenue by 2020. But the Food and Drug Administration has expressed concerns. The agency sued to stop treatments at a Regenerative Sciences clinic in Colorado and closed the lab of another company, Celltex Therapeutics, in Texas. While patients in dire situations are willing to try the therapy (and pay the hefty costs), there's concern the research doesn't support broad practice just yet (2/2).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Arkansas Judge Orders Johnson & Johnson to Pay $181 Million In Legal Fees In Risperdal Suit
An Arkansas judge says Johnson & Johnson must pay $181 million in fees to attorneys who successfully argued that the pharmaceutical company committed Medicaid fraud in the marketing of its antipsychotic drug Risperdal (2/1).

The Washington Post: Virginia Senate Could Be Headed For Budget Stalemate
Democrats in the evenly divided Senate signaled Sunday that they will try to force another budget stalemate unless the General Assembly agrees to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act (Vozzella, 2/3).

Los Angeles Times: Medical Clinic Workers Struggle With Burnout
The jobs are demanding — providers spend long hours treating patients who have multiple chronic illnesses and often have gone years without care. Administrators have trouble finding enough doctors, nurse practitioners and physician assistants to staff their clinics. That is expected to cause a major roadblock next year, when the bulk of the national healthcare reform law takes effect, aiming to help 30 million uninsured Americans gain coverage. In preparation, clinics — expected to get an influx of new patients — are stepping up recruitment and trying to hold on to the care providers they have. But burnout is common, and staff members often leave for less-stressful, higher-paying positions elsewhere (Gorman, 2/3).

Los Angeles Times: L.A. County Removing Metal Detectors From Some Hospital Facilities
Now, 20 years after the attack, officials want the metal detectors removed from parts of county hospitals to make them more welcoming to patients in the newly competitive marketplace being created by the Obama administration's healthcare overhaul. The machines in the emergency rooms will remain, but the others are to be taken out by summer. The proposal comes at a time when high-profile shootings have put the nation on edge and prompted emotionally charged debates about the availability of assault weapons and the presence of armed officers in schools (Gorman, 2/3).

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