First Edition: July 16, 2013

Today's headlines include a look at how the health law will really work. 

Kaiser Health News: Insuring Your Health: A Handful Of State Marketplaces Opt Not To Charge Smokers More For Premiums
Kaiser Health News consumer columnist Michelle Andrews reports: "Since smokers' health-care costs tend to be higher than those of nonsmokers, is it reasonable for smokers to pay higher premiums when they buy insurance through the new state marketplaces that are scheduled to open in October? A handful of states and the District say the answer is no" (Andrews, 7/16). Read the column.

Kaiser Health News: Why Your Doctor May Still Have Paper Records
Colorado Public Radio's Eric Whitney, working in partnership with Kaiser Health News and NPR, reports: "Uncle Sam wants your doctor go to digital. And the federal government is backing up that goal by offering money to practices if they start using digital records systems. Nearly half of all physicians in America still rely on paper records for most patient care, and time is running out to take advantage of the government incentive payments. So practices like Colorado Springs Internal Medicine are scrambling to get with the program" (Whitney, 7/15). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Health Law Fosters A New Kind Of Business Partnership In Georgia; Few Medicaid Docs Have Seen 2013 Pay Raise; Electronic Health Records Help Cut Costs For Mass. Community Docs: Study
Now on Kaiser Health News' blog, WABE's Jim Burress, working in partnership with KHN and NPR, reports on a new health care partnership in Georgia: "Medical equipment manufacturers operate largely on a 'supply and demand' model: Hospitals buy their multi-million dollar machines, use them for a few years, and then the process starts again. But Philips Healthcare and a hospital system in Georgia are betting on a new business model, one that has risks and rewards for both the hospital and the manufacturer" (Burress, 7/16).

Phil Galewitz reports on Medicaid payment rates: "Most primary care doctors are still waiting for that Medicaid pay raise that was scheduled to begin in January under the Affordable Care Act, but a federal official says the government has now approved applications from 48 states to begin paying the higher rates" (Galewitz, 7/16).

Also on the blog, Alvin Tran reports on a study regarding EHRs and health care costs: "The adoption of electronic health records by community doctors helped drive down health costs, a study published Monday in the Annals of Internal Medicine reported. Previous studies, many dealing with academic teaching hospitals, have yielded mixed results about the effects electronic health records (EHRs) have had and have drawn concerns over the adoption of health information technology. Federal officials are encouraging the implementation of such systems, arguing that it will help curb the rise in health spending by eliminating duplication of services and medical errors" (Tran, 7/15). Check out what else is new on the blog.

Politico: Obamacare Primer: How Is It Really Going To Work?
In less than three months, people are going to be able to sign up for Obamacare coverage for the first time. To hear the Obama administration tell it, it'll be quick and painless. Fill out a short form, and new health insurance marketplaces will be instantly able to "ping" a massive data system that can check just about everything you say — keeping most people honest and cheats to a minimum (Nather, 7/15).

The Wall Street Journal: Mixed Results In Health Pilot Plan
Lowering health-care costs is tougher than improving the quality of care, according to first-year results from a key pilot program under the federal health law. All of the 32 health systems in the so-called Pioneer Accountable Care Organization program improved patient care on quality measures such as cancer screenings and controlling blood pressure, according to data to be released Tuesday by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. But only 18 of the 32 managed to lower costs for the Medicare patients they treated—a major goal of the effort (Beck, 7/16).

Politico: ACA Penalties Spawn 'Skinny' Plans
Employers heaved a sigh of relief when the Obama administration announced it would not enforce Obamacare's mandate that large companies provide insurance to their workers next year. But some companies plan to offer "skinny plans" designed to duck the biggest penalties anyway, according to industry consultants. And the Obama administration has extended its blessing to this limited coverage, even though it would not protect individuals from medical bills that could cause financial ruin in the case of severe injury or illness (Norman, 7/16).

The New York Times' Well Blog: Health Insurance Within Reach
Ever since Marci Lieber, a part-time social worker in Brooklyn, learned she was pregnant, she and her husband have been scrambling to find health insurance. But insurers consider pregnancy a pre-existing condition, and won't sell anyone a new policy that covers it. That changes on Jan. 1, 2014, when insurers will no longer be permitted to deny coverage of pre-existing conditions — and all Americans will be required to have health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. Ms. Lieber, 37, hopes to purchase a policy through New York State's new health exchange as early as this October (Rabin, 7/15).

The Washington Post's The Fact Checker: Harry Reid's Claim That House GOP Efforts To Repeal 'Obamacare' All Ended In Failure
Congressional Republicans have never reconciled themselves to passage of the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, which became law in 2010 without a single Republican vote when the Democrats had big majorities in the House and Senate. But a review of the votes commonly lumped together as "repeal" shows that only a handful in this list of "40" (actually 37) involved repeal of the entire law (Kessler, 7/16).

The Washington Post's Wonk Blog: Obamacare Contractor Under Investigation In Britain
The British government has launched an investigation of Serco Group, parent company of the firm recently awarded $1.2 billion to manage key elements of the U.S. health-care law’s rollout. That contract, announced in late June, is among the largest Affordable Care Act grants made so far, expected to cover the hiring of 1,500 workers who will process a wave of health coverage applications. In the United Kingdom, Serco Group reportedly overbilled the government by "tens of millions of pounds" under a contract to monitor offenders on parole and individuals released on bail, according to an audit conducted by the country's Justice Ministry (Kliff, 7/15).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Judge Rules North Dakota Law On Medication Abortions Is Unconstitutional; State To Appeal
A 2011 North Dakota law that outlaws one of two drugs used in nonsurgical abortions violates the state and U.S. constitutions, a state judge ruled Monday. After a three-day trial in April, East Central Judge Wickham Corwin said he’d rule in favor of the state's sole abortion clinic, calling the 2011 state law "simply wrongheaded." Corwin officially ruled on the case Monday (7/15).

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