First Edition: June 13, 2013

Today's headlines include reports about how employers are preparing for some parts of the health law to kick in.

Kaiser Health News: How Does The Health Law Affect Premiums For Smokers? (Video)
Kaiser Health News consumer columnist Michelle Andrews answers a question from a reader about how the health law affects insurance for smokers and programs may help them quit (6/13). Watch the video or read the transcript.

The Washington Post: New Budget Talks, Same Stalemate: GOP Sees The Long Term, Democrats See Today
Republicans want to keep the sequester cuts but exempt the Pentagon. President Obama wants to replace most of the cuts for all agencies with higher taxes on the rich and long-term reforms to Social Security and Medicare that would save $1.8 trillion over the next decade and, some Republicans acknowledge, even more over the next 30 years. But other Republicans have rejected Obama’s approach because it involves higher taxes. Unless the two sides can reach an agreement, the government will shut down Oct. 1, and the Treasury Department will face a potential default before the year is out. During an hour-long session Tuesday afternoon in a Senate hearing room, White House officials were more receptive to the GOP argument, according to Johnson and other Republicans present, agreeing to use the long view to examine potential policy options (Montgomery, 6/12).

Politico: Obamacare? We Were Just Leaving…
Dozens of lawmakers and aides are so afraid that their health insurance premiums will skyrocket next year thanks to Obamacare that they are thinking about retiring early or just quitting. The fear: Government-subsidized premiums will disappear at the end of the year under a provision in the health care law that nudges aides and lawmakers onto the government health care exchanges, which could make their benefits exorbitantly expensive (Palmer and Sherman, 6/13).

The Wall Street Journal’s Risk & Compliance Journal: Employers Coming To Grips With Health Reform Costs: Survey
Companies have grown more pessimistic about their ability to avoid higher health-care costs as a result of the Affordable Care Act as the time draws near when all individuals will be required to have health insurance, according to a survey released on Wednesday by benefits consultant Mercer. Just 9% of companies feel the ACA will add less than 1% to their costs next year, compared to 25% that felt in 2011 they would see little or no impact come 2014, Mercer said. Beth Umland, director of research for health and benefits in Mercer’s health and benefits business, said 20% felt so sanguine last year (Murphy, 6/12).

Los Angeles Times: Backers Of Rate Regulation Aren't Satisfied With Health Exchange
President Obama singled out California last week for getting better-than-expected rates in its rollout of the health insurance overhaul for millions of consumers. Yet some Obamacare supporters say those premiums are still too high, and they are continuing to push for a California ballot measure to regulate health insurance rates (Terhune, 6/12).

Politico: Few Insurers Join Small-Business Exchanges
Obamacare's new insurance marketplaces for small businesses, which have already stumbled before getting out of the gate, are facing another pressing question just months before millions can sign up for benefits: What happens if insurers don't show up to sell? (Millman, 6/13).

Los Angeles Times: Kaiser's Obamacare Rates Surprise Analysts
In California's new state-run health insurance market, Kaiser Permanente will cost you. The healthcare giant has the highest rates in Southern California and some other areas of the state, surpassing rivals such as Anthem Blue Cross and other smaller competitors. The relatively high premiums from such a strong supporter of the federal healthcare law surprised industry analysts, and it has sparked considerable debate about the company's motives (Terhune, 6/12).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Ariz. House Passes Budget And Medicaid Expansion In Victory For Gov. Brewer; Senate Votes Next
The Arizona House passed an $8.8 billion state budget that includes Medicaid expansion early Thursday and puts Gov. Jan Brewer one Senate vote away from a huge political victory as she embraces a signature part of President Barack Obama's health care overhaul law. A newly formed coalition of Democrats and GOP moderates forced the budget and Medicaid expansion proposal to move in the Arizona Senate and House during a day filled with debate. The Senate took a break after giving its initial approval Wednesday afternoon, while the House toiled into the night as conservative Republicans railed against the Medicaid proposal and accused members of their party who supported Brewer of being turncoats before taking a final vote that ended after 1:30 a.m. PDT (6/13).

NPR: In Arizona, An Unlikely Ally For Medicaid Expansion
The Arizona Legislature is debating whether to extend Medicaid to about 300,000 people in the state. The expansion is a requirement to get federal funding under the Affordable Care Act. The big surprise is who has been leading the charge: Republican Gov. Jan Brewer. She's one of President Obama's staunchest critics and has confounded conservatives in her own party by supporting the expansion (Robbins, 6/12).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Accenture Predicts Growth Surge For Retail Health Clinics As Overhaul Adds Insured Patients
The number of retail health clinics that have been popping up in places like drugstores for years is expected to double by the end of 2015, according to the consulting firm Accenture. Accenture said in a report released Wednesday that a flood of newly insured patients from the national health care overhaul will help stoke demand for those clinics, which typically treat minor illnesses when a patient doesn’t have a doctor or the physician isn’t available (6/12).

Los Angeles Times: Los Angeles Leads Nation In Medicare Spending On End-Of-Life Care
More money was spent in the Los Angeles area on chronically ill patients in their final years than anywhere else in the United States, according to new data on Medicare patients released Wednesday. Spending in the last two years of life was about $112,000 per patient in Los Angeles as of 2010, about 60% higher than the national average, the report by the Dartmouth Atlas Project showed (Gorman, 6/12).

The Wall Street Journal's Washington Wire: House Panel Votes To Ban Abortions After 20 Weeks of Pregnancy
The House Judiciary Committee voted largely along party lines to approve legislation that would ban all abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, a move that is certain to keep the focus on a contentious social issue that splits Republicans and Democrats. The 20-12 vote Wednesday afternoon sends the bill to the House floor, and an aide to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R., Va.) said Republican leaders plan a vote by the full House later this month (Boles, 6/12).

Politico: Judge Accepts Administration Plan On 'Morning-After' Pill
A federal judge approved Wednesday the Obama administration's plan to drop its lawsuit over the "morning after pill" and offer a form of emergency contraception over-the-counter without any age restrictions, winding down a controversy that has lasted for a decade. His acceptance means the Obama administration can move forward with its plan to let the FDA quickly take the steps necessary to get Plan B One-Step available over the counter with no age restrictions. The government promised in a proposal Monday to do so "without delay." It does require some regulatory drug labeling steps and paperwork from the FDA and the drugmaker but the judge did not see that as an obstacle (Smith, 6/12).

Los Angeles Times: Plan B Emergency Contraceptive Pill Battle: Confusion Endures
It was hailed as a significant step forward in women's reproductive rights, but this week's decision by the Obama administration to allow non-prescription, over-the-counter sales of the emergency contraceptive Plan B One-Step may do little to dispel widespread bafflement over the issue, say medical and legal experts (Morin, 6/12).

The Wall Street Journal: Medical Groups Push Back At Gun-Law Change
An Obama administration proposal to speed the flow of mental-health records into the national gun background-check database has run into opposition from medical groups and state authorities, threatening another element of the flagging effort to strengthen federal gun controls in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., school shootings. The debate involves a plan by the Department of Health and Human Services to amend a federal privacy rule (Palazzolo, 6/12).

Politico: Surgeon General To Step Down
Surgeon General Regina Benjamin announced today that she plans to step down from her post, which she has held since 2009. "I loved serving as #SGReginaBenjamin, putting prevention in all we do. I leave next month confident we created a more healthy & fit nation," she posted on her Twitter account (Haberkorn, 6/12).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: NY Judge: Government Can Go Ahead With Plan To Make Morning-After Pills Available Over Counter
President Barack Obama's administration can go forward with its new plan to make the morning-after pill available to buyers of any age without prescriptions, but it needs to do it promptly or face potential sanctions in the long-running dispute over access to the emergency contraceptives, a federal judge ruled Wednesday. The finding by U.S. District Judge Edward Korman came in response to a Department of Justice decision this week to ditch rules barring over-the-counter sales to girls younger than 15 and comply with his April order to make the pills available to buyers of any age (6/12).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Govt. Cautions Health-Related Schools About Possibly Discriminatory Enrollment Decisions
The federal government has cautioned the nation’s medical schools and other health-related schools that their enrollment decisions may be based on an incorrect understanding of the hepatitis B virus, resulting in discrimination. The government says updated recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention dispel many myths associated with hepatitis B and provide guidance to health-related schools on managing students with the virus (6/12).

The Washington Post: State Budgets Are On The Mend
In addition, while states are budgeting for modest increases in Medicaid spending next year, those expenditures are poised to increase in future years, he said. Health-care costs are rising at a slower rate than in the past, but it is unclear how long that will last (Fletcher, 6/12).

The Wall Street Journal's CIO Journal: Rash Of Data Breaches Strikes California Healthcare Companies
California healthcare companies have reported a rash of data breaches, exposing information that included the medical conditions and treatments of patients. The state’s hospitals, medical vendors and health insurers have reported at least eight breaches of customer data since the start of the year, according to records maintained by the state’s attorney general. It’s not known if that number is rising, as the state only began tracking data breaches last year. But many of the cases showed providers failed to take basic precautions to protect patient data, like encrypting health information stored on hardware. For example, in several cases patient records were stolen when healthcare workers left unencrypted laptops, containing patient data, in cars (Schectman, 6/12).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Wisconsin Clinics To Resume Offering Nonsurgical Abortions After Judge’s Ruling
Some Wisconsin clinics will resume offering nonsurgical abortions after a judge halted a state law requiring three doctor visits for women seeking them. Under the law, a woman seeking a nonsurgical abortion must meet with a doctor who ensures she isn’t being coerced into having the procedure. The doctor also must be present when a woman takes the pills that induce an abortion. Web-based consultations are prohibited (6/12).

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