First Edition: March 26, 2013

Today's headlines include reports about the challenges of long-term care planning and the startling rise in disability within the United States.  

Kaiser Health News: Temp Agencies See Opportunity In Health Law
Kaiser Health News staff writer Jay Hancock, working in collaboration with The Washington Post, reports: "The rush to implement the Affordable Care Act, which is generating billions for insurers, hospitals and technology vendors, also looks like a boon for staffing companies, whose share prices have soared. But some suggest that exceptions for temporary employees could leave holes in the health law’s expanded coverage" (Hancock, 3/26). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: Slow Progress On Efforts To Pay Docs, Hospitals For 'Value,' Not Volume
Reporting for Kaiser Health News in collaboration with USA Today, Russ Mitchell writes: "For decades, reformers have sought to change how doctors and hospitals are paid to reward quality and efficiency – efforts that accelerated as a result of the health care overhaul. But surprisingly little progress has been made to date, a consortium of large employers reported today" (Mitchell, 3/26). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: Insuring Your Health: Large Companies Are Increasingly Offering Workers Only High Deductible Health Plans
In her latest Kaiser Health News consumer column, Michelle Andrews writes: "Historically, one of the perks of working at a big company has been generous health benefits with modest out-of-pocket costs. But increasingly, large companies are offering their employees only one option: a plan with a relatively high deductible linked to a savings account for medical expenses" (Andrews, 3/26).  Read the column.

The New York Times: Companies Get Strict On Health Of Workers
Employers are increasingly trying to lower health care costs by using incentives to persuade workers to make better lifestyle choices, a new survey shows, but what remains less clear is whether a reward is better than a punishment — or whether the programs work at all (Thomas, 3/25).

The Wall Street Journal: U.S. Moves To Dismiss Suit Against Michigan Blue Cross
The Justice Department on Monday moved to dismiss its long-running antitrust lawsuit against Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. The department said that the state had resolved the agency's concerns by enacting a law that bans certain deals between insurers and health-care providers. The department, however, said it was continuing to investigate the use of the deals in health-plan contracts elsewhere (Kendall, 3/25).

The Washington Post’s WonkBlog: Here's Obamacare's Most Controversial Regulation
The Affordable Care Act changes the health care system in myriad ways —  everything from allowing insurers to charge tobacco smokers higher premiums to guaranteeing free coverage of breast pumps. One provision, however, has engendered more controversy than any other: The requirement that contraceptives be covered without co-payment has drawn more than 147,000 public comments, according to an analysis from the Sunlight Foundation. These are the letters that companies, non-profits and private citizens send to the federal government, hoping to sway the regulatory process (Kliff, 3/25).

NPR: Arkansas Medicaid Expansion Attracts Other States' Interest
Since the Supreme Court made the Medicaid expansion under the federal health law optional last year, states' decisions have largely split along party lines. States run by Democrats have been opting in; states run by Republicans have mostly been saying no or holding back. But now Arkansas – at the suggestion of the federal government – has suggested a third option: Enroll those newly eligible for Medicaid in the same private insurance plans available to individuals and small businesses (Rovner, 3/26).

The New York Times: Expense And Emotions In Preparing For Long-Term Care
The emotional impact of witnessing the decline of a family member or helping to care for one is often the reason people seek coverage for long-term care, people who work in the aging field say (Carrns, 3/25).

NPR: Unfit for Work: The Startling Rise Of Disability In America (A four-part series)
In the past three decades, the number of Americans who are on disability has skyrocketed. The rise has come even as medical advances have allowed many more people to remain on the job, and new laws have banned workplace discrimination against the disabled. Every month, 14 million people now get a disability check from the government (Joffe-Walt, 3/26).

Los Angeles Times: Limiting Hospital Intern Shifts May Not Cut Errors, Studies Find
It's been 15 years now, but Dr. Sanjay Desai remembers the brutal hours he worked as a young medical intern and how he struggled with fatigue while treating patients. "There were days we were easily working 36 hours straight and you couldn't remember how you got home — if you got home," Desai said. "It wasn't safe." Times have changed. Regulations now demand that teaching hospitals limit first-year trainees to 16-hour shifts. By reducing work hours, medical authorities reasoned, interns would get more sleep, suffer less fatigue and commit fewer mistakes (Morin, 3/25).

The New York Times: Salesmen In The Surgical Suite
It is not the first time patients have claimed they were harmed by Intuitive’s robotic surgical equipment, called the da Vinci Surgical System. But the Taylor case, set for trial in April, is unusual. Internal company e-mails, provided to The New York Times by lawyers for the Taylor estate, offer a glimpse into the aggressive tactics used to market high-tech medical devices and raise questions about the quality of training provided to doctors before they use new equipment on patients. Intuitive, based in Sunnyvale, Calif., declined to comment on the lawsuit but said studies showed that its robotic equipment results in better outcomes than conventional open surgery (Rabin, 3/25).

The New York Times: U.S. Wants State To Pay After Audit Of Youth Care
In another critical assessment of New York's multibillion-dollar Medicaid program, a federal audit says the state improperly claimed $27.5 million in reimbursements for services to mentally ill and emotionally disturbed children and teenagers (McKinley, 3/26).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Maryland House Passed Bill Further Implements Health Care Reform
A measure to further implement federal health care reform in Maryland passed the House of Delegates on a 93-43 vote Monday with little debate. The measure creates a dedicated funding stream for the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange, which is a new insurance market that will offer residents a choice of private health plans. While the exchange is on track to be up and running by Jan. 1 with federal help in the first year, the state will begin paying roughly $24 million in fiscal year 2015. The money will come from an existing 2 percent tax on insurance plans that are state-regulated (3/25).

The New York Times: Caregiver For Disabled People Sues New York State
The employee, Jeffrey Monsour, has brought to light a number of questionable practices by the state, as varied as routinely falsifying fire drills and turning a blind eye toward abuse of those in the state's system of care for people with developmental disabilities. He was one of the people interviewed and featured in a 2011 series of articles by The New York Times examining problems of abuse and corruption within the system (Hakim, 3/25).

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