First Edition: February 28, 2013

Today's headlines include reports setting the scene for what might be the impact of the March 1 sequester.  

Kaiser Health News: Some States Will Rate Health Plans On Quality
Kaiser Health News staff writer Julie Appleby reports: "This fall, health insurers in a few states will be seeing stars. Not the celestial kind, but stars that reflect their scores on quality measures designed to help consumers make better-informed decisions about what coverage to buy" (Appleby, 2/28). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: FAQ On Medicare Doctor Pay: Why Is It So Hard To Fix?
Kaiser Health News staff writer Mary Agnes Carey reports: "While physicians have sidestepped drastic Medicare payment cuts for 2013, doctors’ groups and lawmakers are gearing up for yet another battle to scrap the formula that forces Congress to consider the 'doc fix' on a yearly basis. For doctors, the nail-biter has become a familiar but frustrating rite. Lawmakers invariably defer the cuts prescribed by a 1997 reimbursement formula, which everyone agrees is broken beyond repair. But the deferrals are always temporary due to the difficulty of finding offsetting cuts to pay for a permanent fix" (Carey, 2/27). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Messaging Your Doctor? There’s An App For That; Tenet Shows Hospitals Will Cut Prices For Exchange Patients — But Only So Much
Now on Kaiser Health News’ blog, Ankita Rao reports on a new app for patients and physicians: "Last year Dr. Michael Nusbaum introduced a mobile application in an effort to make scheduling a medical appointment as easy as sending a Facebook message to a friend, and as safe as sharing your medical information in person at the doctor's office" (Rao, 2/27).

Also on Capsules, Jay Hancock reports on news from Tenet about hospital prices for exchange patients: "How much will hospitals reduce prices in an effort to win what are expected to be millions of newly insured patients under the Affordable Care Act? A little, not a lot, if deals disclosed this week by Tenet Healthcare are any indication" (Hancock, 2/28).Check out what else is on the blog.

The New York Times: Parties Focus On The Positive As Budget Cuts Draw Near
For weeks, President Obama has barnstormed the country, warning of the dire consequences of the cuts to military readiness, educators, air travel and first responders even as the White House acknowledges that some of the disruptions will take weeks to emerge. The reverse side has gone unmentioned: Some of the most liberal members of Congress see the cuts as a rare opportunity to whittle down Pentagon spending. The poor are already shielded from the worst of the cuts, and the process could take pressure off the Democratic Party, at least in the short run, to tamper with Social Security and Medicare (Weisman, 2/27).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Senate Democrats And GOP To Stage Votes On Rival Plans To Address Automatic Budget Cuts
Democrats controlling the Senate are pushing a $110 billion plan that would block the cuts through the end of the year. They would carve 5 percent from domestic agencies and 8 percent from the Pentagon but would leave several major programs alone, including Social Security, Medicaid and food stamps, while limiting the cuts to Medicare to a 2 percent reduction to health care providers like doctors and hospitals.  … Republicans were sure to kill the Democratic alternative with a filibuster. They were poised to offer an alternative of their own that would give Obama the authority to propose a rewrite to the 2013 budget to redistribute the cuts. Obama would be unable to cut defense by more than the $43 billion reduction that the Pentagon faces and would be unable to raise taxes to undo the cuts (2/28).

Los Angeles Times: 'Sequester' Cuts To Hit Healthcare Hard
As the Obama administration begins to implement $85 billion in cuts to federal spending this year, no part of the budget other than defense will take a bigger hit than healthcare. And the so-called sequester appears likely to have a disproportionate effect on areas of the health system already hobbled by years of retrenchment or underfunding, including public health and medical research (Levey, 2/27).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: The Dog That Didn't Bark: For Medicare Providers, Looming Cuts Less Painful Than Budget Deal
Hospitals, doctors and other Medicare providers are on the hook for a 2 percent cut under looming government spending reductions. But they're not raising a ruckus. Why? The pain could be a lot worse if President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans actually did reach a sweeping agreement to reduce federal deficits (2/27).

The Washington Post: Sequester Spin Gets Ahead Of Reality
State and local governments could also shift money around to blunt the impact on some popular programs such as Meals on Wheels, which delivers food to homebound elderly people and is funded with flexible federal grant money. And some of the scariest scenarios — say, concerns that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which stands to lose more than $300 million, will not have the resources it needs to spot and contain the next deadly disease outbreak — are by their nature impossible to quantify. "The threats aren't decreasing," said CDC Director Tom Frieden. "I can't predict when an outbreak is going to happen" (Tumulty and Layton, 2/27).

The Washington Post: Health Law's Rules Help Hospitals Cut Patient Readmission Rate
Over the past several months, America's hospitals have achieved a feat that long seemed beyond reach: substantially reducing the share of patients who must return for treatment almost as soon as they are discharged (Aizenman, 2/27).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Fed Watchdog Report Says Medicare Paid $5.1B To Nursing Homes Offering Poor Care
Medicare paid billions in taxpayer dollars to nursing homes nationwide that were not meeting basic requirements to look after their residents, government investigators have found. The report, released Thursday by the Department of Health and Human Services' inspector general, said Medicare paid about $5.1 billion for patients to stay in skilled nursing facilities that failed to meet federal quality of care rules in 2009, in some cases resulting in dangerous and neglectful conditions (2/28).

Politico: Arkansas To Use Federal Funds For Exchange
Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe’s office says the state has received approval from Health and Human Services to take federal Medicaid expansion money and use it to buy private coverage for low-income residents through the state’s insurance exchange (Cheney and Millman, 2/28).

Los Angeles Times: Insurers Not Covering Behavioral Therapies For Autism, California Says
Insurers have been skirting their obligation under recently enacted state law to provide costly behavioral therapies for autism, according to the Department of Insurance, which is proposing emergency regulations aimed at enforcing the law. In July, California joined more than two dozen other states in requiring private insurers to cover such treatments when medically necessary (Zarembo, 2/28).

Los Angeles Times: Key Senate Panel To Consider Medi-Cal Expansion
A key Senate panel will consider legislation Wednesday that would dramatically expand Medi-Cal, the state's public insurance program for the poor. The proposal, authored by state Sen. Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina) and Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), is part of a legislative package that aims to help California implement President Obama's healthcare overhaul (Mishak, 2/27).

NPR: For Bloomberg, Guns (Like Big Sodas) Are A Health Issue
The victory of a pro-gun-control candidate in the Illinois Democratic primary race to replace Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. was also a political win for New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose superPAC backed the winner over a candidate it linked to the NRA. But Robin Kelly's victory Tuesday was, for Bloomberg, more than just another achievement on the gun control front. It was one more win in Bloomberg's unique assault on what he views as the public health problems of our time (James, 2/27).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Va. AG, Pharmaceutical Company Agree To $223,000 Settlement Over Unapproved Drug
Virginia’s Medicaid program will receive more than $223,000 under a settlement that resolves allegations that a Texas-based company submitted false claims for an unapproved drug. Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli announced the settlement Wednesday (2/28).

Politico: Long After Roe V. Wade, NARAL To Redefine Choice
The new head of NARAL Pro-Choice America is ready to redefine "choice." It's the right to end a pregnancy — and the right to start one, including access to pricey fertility treatment. Once a baby is born, parents should have paid family leave to take care of them (Smith, 2/28).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Only Miss. Abortion Clinic Set For License Revocation Hearing; State Says Violating New Law
Mississippi's only abortion clinic says it is scheduled for an April 18 license revocation hearing before the state Department of Health. The Center for Reproductive Rights said Wednesday that the Jackson Women's Health Organization had received notice of the hearing date (2/27).

The Associated Press/Wall Street Journal: Critics: NY Gov's Abortion Bill Would Hurt Women
A coalition of doctors said Wednesday that Gov. Andrew Cuomo's abortion rights bill would hurt women, force many into lifetime bouts of depression and guilt and make late-term abortions more common and more dangerous. The group's press conference was the first effort outside the state Conservative Party, the Republican Party and the Catholic Conference to oppose Cuomo's proposed Women's Reproductive Health Act (2/27).

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