First Edition: February 15, 2013

Today's headlines include news about how the health law's insurance exchanges are taking shape. 

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Feds Increase Costs To High-Risk Pool Members; Valentine's Day Surprise: Senate Democrats Blast Obamacare Implementation; As Hospital Challenges Rise, Their Bond Ratings Fall
Now on Kaiser Health News' blog, Phil Galewitz reports on news related to federal high-risk pools: "The Obama administration has increased costs for about 38,000 people enrolled in high-risk insurance pools run under the federal health law to prevent the program from running out of money" (Galewitz, 2/14).

In addition, he filed a report about some Senate Democrats' criticism of certain elements of the health law: "Testifying before the powerful Senate Finance Committee, the administration’s top regulator on new health exchanges encountered criticism from several Democrats who helped push through the 2010 federal health overhaul — among them Chairman Max Baucus of Montana and Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon, Bill Nelson of Florida and Maria Cantwell of Washington" (Galewitz, 2/14).

Also on Capsules, Jay Hancock writes about hospital bond ratings: "Nonprofit hospitals don't issue stock, so you can't track their financial health by the ups and downs of share prices. But many sell bonds, and it's fair to say that hospital bonds haven't fared as well recently as the Dow Jones average. Last year set a record for hospital-bond downgrades, as debt levels rose and hospitals faced the uncertainty of business under the Affordable Care Act, debt-rater Moody's said this week" (Hancock, 2/15). Check out what else is on the blog.

The Associated Press/Washington Post: A Look At How Administration Says Automatic Budget Cuts Would Diminish Government Services
The sequester law exempts Social Security, Medicaid, food stamps and Medicare recipients’ benefits from cuts, but most programs are vulnerable. … The National Institutes of Health would lose $1.6 billion, trimming research on cancer, drying up money for hundreds of other research projects and eliminating up 20,000 private research positions nationwide. Health departments would give 424,000 fewer tests for the AIDS virus this year. More than 373,000 seriously ill people may not receive needed mental health services (2/15).

USA Today: States Face Friday Deadline On Health Care Exchanges
As states work to decide by Friday whether they plan to create their own or partner with the federal government to run health exchanges, there has been one last-minute surprise and one skin-of-the teeth agreement (Kennedy, 2/15).

The New York Times: Enrollments For Insurance Start Oct. 1, Official Says
An Obama administration official told Congress on Thursday that the government would be ready to enroll millions of people in private health insurance plans this fall, but senators of both parties expressed doubts (Pear, 2/14).

The Washington Post’s WonkBlog: Inside The Obama Administration's Plan To Build 25 Insurance Markets
For months now, it's been one of the health care overhaul’s biggest unknowns: Will the federal government be ready to run two dozen state insurance marketplaces? On Thursday Gary Cohen, director of the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight gave the Senate Finance Committee the most comprehensive explanation to date of what the agency has achieved so far—and what remains to be done (Kliff, 2/14).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: McDonnell To Feds: Virginia Will Use Federal Health Exchange But Retain Oversight On Providers
Gov. Bob McDonnell told the Obama administration Thursday that while Virginia will use a federally run health insurance exchange, the state intends to retain regulatory authority over insurance providers that do business with Virginians through the exchange. McDonnell's Feb. 14 letter to Gary Cohen of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services confirms his December position not to commit Virginia to establishing its own exchange that would be financed and operated by the state (2/14).

The Washington Post’s The Fix: Bobby Jindal's Make-Or-Break Moment
But since then Jindal has made some tough budget choices and has pushed some difficult education reforms. Perhaps most troubling for him right now is his decision to reject a federal Medicaid expansion – a decision the Voter/Consumer Research poll showed is unpopular with the state’s voters. Jindal has been out front among Republican governors in rejecting the Medicaid expansion, even as a growing number of GOP governors have decided to take part. In fact, Jindal wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post last month about why he decided to reject the expansion (Blake, 2/14).

Politico: Gaps In Health Law Dental Coverage
The health care law was supposed to go a long way toward getting more kids access to dental care. But as it stands now, the effort may fall short. Children's dental coverage is considered an "essential health benefit" under the law. But the way it's likely to be offered — through separate dental policies with no penalties for parents who don't get them — has dentists and child health advocates worried (Cunningham, 2/15).

Politico: Courts Split On Contraception, Cases Plow Forward
The cases brought against the Obama administration's employer contraception coverage rule are largely marching forward, despite the White House's recent attempt at compromise, the American Civil Liberties Union noted in an update Thursday (Smith, 2/15).

The Wall Street Journal’s Washington Wire: CDC Report Sheds Light On Contraception Use
Two statistics at the heart of the controversy over mandatory insurance coverage of contraception — that 99% of American women have used contraception, including 98% of Catholics — are getting fresh attention from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The topline findings in a Valentine's Day release from CDC back both of those claims, but with important caveats that are sometimes blurred in the debate (Radnofsky, 2/14).

The New York Times: Uphill Road For Plan To Cut Government's Drug Costs
In just a handful of words in his State of the Union address, President Obama renewed a proposal to lower the amount that the federal government pays for drugs taken by low-income seniors — a measure that supporters say would save the government more than $150 billion over the next decade. But it faces formidable opposition from Republicans, some Democrats and the powerful pharmaceutical industry, making passage unlikely (Thomas and Pear, 2/14).

The Wall Street Journal: Numbers, Numbers And More Numbers
Under pressure to do more with less, insurers, pharmacy benefit managers and health-care providers are all pushing data analysis to new heights. Insurers have been crunching numbers for years to figure out which patients are most likely to generate high costs. Now other groups are gauging probabilities of relapses, and the likelihood of a patient's not taking his or her medicine. Using models that draw on massive troves of medical and other data, some are also focusing on seemingly healthy individuals, trying to prevent problems before they occur (Tibken, 2/14).

Los Angeles Times: Anthem Blue Cross Rolls Back Rate Increase
In response to pressure from California regulators, Anthem Blue Cross agreed to a slightly lower rate increase for about 630,000 individual policyholders that will save consumers an estimated $54 million. Anthem, a unit of Indianapolis insurance giant WellPoint Inc., had sought to raise rates an average of 18% beginning Feb. 1. California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones said Thursday that the company had agreed to reduce the average increase to 14% after regulators reviewed Anthem's rate filing (Terhune, 2/15).

The New York Times: Cardinal Health Is Buying Large Medical Supplier For $2 Billion
Cardinal Health, the second-largest distributor of prescription drugs, announced on Thursday that it was buying a large medical supplier in a $2 billion deal aimed at expanding the business into the growing area of home health care (Thomas, 2/14).

The Wall Street Journal: The Y Takes On Diabetes
A new health program being rolled out at YMCAs across the country shows the potential for a community-based organization to deliver a nationwide health-care intervention. The Y's target is diabetes. Research has shown that the program, which combines exercise, dieting and individual counseling, can have a big impact in reducing incidences of diabetes. Impressed by the research, insurers and employers are providing direct funding as the YMCA seeks to enroll participants in the program and induce them to reach weight-loss targets (Dooren, 2/14).

USA Today: As Alzheimer’s Rate Soars, Concern Rises Over Costs
Patients with Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia will spend three times more on health care than patients with other types of illnesses, the association says. Medicare patients with Alzheimer's and other dementias spent $43,847 on health care and long-term care services, compared to $13,879 spent by patients without those illnesses, the association said in a 2012 report. For government health care programs already facing economic strain, these estimates are daunting, researchers and advocates say (Lloyd, 2/14).

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