First Edition: May 20, 2013

Today's headlines include reports about the policy and political issues currently surrounding the health law's implementation.

Kaiser Health News: With High Deductible Health Plans, It Pays To Shop Around For Care
Reporting for Kaiser Health News, in collaboration with The Philadelphia Inquirer, Michelle Andrews writes: "When Maria and Vadim Brodsky's then 7-year-old daughter needed an MRI two years ago to examine a tumor in her head, they took her to a hospital in their health plan’s network and were dismayed to receive a $4,500 bill. The couple had a $6,000 deductible on their family plan. And even though the bill was reduced to $3,000 — the price the provider and insurer had agreed to by contract — the Brodskys had to cover all of it" (Andrews, 5/20). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: Feds Make It Easier For States To Enroll Poor Under Health Law
Kaiser Health News staff writer Phil Galewitz reports: "The Obama administration is making it easier for states to sign up the poor for health coverage – and to help those people stay covered. On Friday, it informed state officials that they could simplify enrollment in Medicaid, the federal-state program for the poor, to handle the onslaught of millions of anticipated enrollees next year when the health care law expands coverage. The administration said the changes are geared to states that are expanding their programs, but they may also be adopted by others" (Galewitz, 5/18). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Audio: 42 Percent Of Americans Unaware Health Law Exists (Audio)
Kaiser Health News staff writer Mary Agnes Carey joined NPR's "Tell Me More" Friday afternoon to discuss the state of the health law and other health policy issues – including a new poll saying 42 percent of Americans don't know that the Affordable Care Act actually still stands (5/17). Check out what else is on the blog

Kaiser Health News also tracked weekend news coverage, including reports that Republicans are pressing the link between the health law and the IRS scandal (5/19).  

The New York Times: Potential Donors to Enroll America Grow Skittish
The Obama administration's efforts to raise private money to carry out the president's health care law have provoked such a strong partisan uproar that potential donors have become skittish about contributing, according to several people involved in the fund-raising program (Pear, 5/19).

Los Angeles Times: Medicaid Opposition Underscores States' Healthcare Disparities
Republican opposition in many statehouses to expanding Medicaid next year under President Obama's healthcare law — opposition that could leave millions of the nation's poorest residents without insurance coverage — will likely widen the divide between the nation's healthiest and sickest states (Levey, 5/18).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Republicans Seek To Link IRS Scandal And Tax Agency's Role Implementing Obama Health Overhaul
Political scandals have strange ways of causing collateral damage, and Republicans are hoping the furor over federal tax enforcers singling out conservative groups will ensnare their biggest target: President Barack Obama’s health care law. There is a link, but it may only be coincidence. No one appears to have connected the dots factually, and it’s unclear whether they will (5/18).

The Wall Street Journal: Employers Eye Bare-Bones Health Plans Under New Law
Employers are increasingly recognizing they may be able to avoid certain penalties under the federal health law by offering very limited plans that can lack key benefits such as hospital coverage. Benefits advisers and insurance brokers—bucking a commonly held expectation that the law would broadly enrich benefits—are pitching these low-benefit plans around the country. They cover minimal requirements such as preventive services, but often little more. Some of the plans wouldn't cover surgery, X-rays or prenatal care at all. Others will be paired with limited packages to cover additional services, for instance, $100 a day for a hospital visit (Weaver and Mathews, 5/19).

Politico: Obamacare Allies Eye Ballot Initiatives
Obamacare backers stymied by conservative legislatures in red states may have a new approach: letting the voters break logjams with state ballot initiatives in 2014. Frustrated by conservative opposition to extending Medicaid even in states where Republican governors have embraced it, the president's allies are strategizing about asking voters to do what their elected leaders have not: accept billions of federal dollars to cover millions of poor people under Obamacare (Cheney and Millman, 5/19).

The Washington Post: McConnell Predicts Obamacare Will Be 'Biggest Issue' Of 2014 Election
The Senate's top Republican predicted Sunday morning that President Obama's health care law will be the biggest issue of the 2014 midterm elections (Sullivan, 5/19).

Los Angeles Times: Obama Budget Would Cut Deficits, Report Says
President Obama's proposed mix of tax hikes and spending cuts would reduce future budget deficits more quickly than under current laws, according to a report issued Friday that could rekindle the dormant budget wars in Washington. The outlook from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office comes as the government is set to reach its debt limit on Saturday, forcing the White House and Congress back to the negotiating table to work out a long-term budget plan that raises taxes, cuts spending -- or some combination of the two (Mascaro, 5/17).

Los Angeles Times: Anthrax Drug Brings $334 Million To Pentagon Advisor's Biotech Firm
Over the last decade, former Navy Secretary Richard J. Danzig, a prominent lawyer, presidential advisor and biowarfare consultant to the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security, has urged the government to counter what he called a major threat to national security. Terrorists, he warned, could easily engineer a devastating killer germ: a form of anthrax resistant to common antibiotics. … Danzig did this while serving as a director of a biotech startup that won $334 million in federal contracts to supply just such a drug, a Los Angeles Times investigation found (Willman, 5/19).

Los Angeles Times: City Of San Francisco, Worker Unions Protest Kaiser Premium Hike
It's a trend many public employees can relate to: Health insurance premiums climb year after year, while at the bargaining table workers have agreed to kick in more for pensions, take salary cuts and sign on to furlough days. But when Kaiser Permanente — which insures 45,000 public workers here — proposed another hike for 2014, San Francisco's Health Service System teamed up with labor unions to say "no more" (Romney, 5/19).

Politico: Virginia Pick Compared Planned Parenthood To KKK
E.W. Jackson, a black minister and activist nominated for lieutenant governor Saturday, posted a four-minute video on YouTube last fall exhorting African-Americans to vote Republican. In the video message, he accused the "civil rights establishment" of selling out their Christian values in order to support Democratic policy positions on gay marriage and abortion. ... "The Democrat Party has created an unholy alliance between certain so-called civil rights leaders and Planned Parenthood, which has killed unborn black babies by the tens of millions. Planned Parenthood has been far more lethal to black lives than the KKK ever was," Jackson says in the video (Burns, 5/19).

Los Angeles Times: St. John’s Picks Providence Health & Services In Bidding War
After months of controversy, the owner of St. John's Health Center said it plans to sell the landmark Santa Monica hospital to Catholic chain Providence Health & Services. The hospital has been at the center of an intense competition that featured bids from UCLA Health System, other Catholic hospital chains and Los Angeles billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong (Terhune, 5/17).

Los Angeles Times: Judge Temporarily Delays 12-Week Abortion Law In Arkansas
An Arkansas law that bans most abortions after 12 weeks of pregnancy was temporarily blocked by a federal judge on Friday. In a ruling from the bench, U.S. District Court Judge Susan Webber Wright in Little Rock granted a preliminary injunction preventing the Arkansas law from going into effect as scheduled, a member of the court staff said by telephone. It was scheduled to start Aug. 16 (Muskal, 5/17).

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This is part of Kaiser Health News' Daily Report - a summary of health policy coverage from more than 300 news organizations. The full summary of the day's news can be found here and you can sign up for e-mail subscriptions to the Daily Report here. In addition, our staff of reporters and correspondents file original stories each day, which you can find on our home page.