First Edition: April 16, 2014

Today's headlines include a report detailing how changes in the Census Bureau's annual survey could mask the health law's impact.   

Kaiser Health News: FAQ On ACOs: Accountable Care Organizations, Explained
Kaiser Health News staff writer Jenny Gold writes: “One of the main ways the Affordable Care Act seeks to reduce health care costs is by encouraging doctors, hospitals and other health care providers to form networks which coordinate patient care and become eligible for bonuses when they deliver care more efficiently. … While ACOs are touted as a way to help fix an inefficient payment system that rewards more, not better, care, some economists warn they could lead to greater consolidation in the health care industry, which could allow some providers to charge more if they’re the only game in town. Here are answers to some of the more common questions about how they work” (Gold, 4/16). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Health Law Push Brings Thousands Into Colo. Medicaid Who Were Already Eligible
Now on Kaiser Health News' blog, Eric Whitney writes: “The big marketing push to get people enrolled in health coverage between October and March resulted in 3 million people signing up for Medicaid. Hundreds of thousands of those people were already eligible and could have signed up even before the Affordable Care Act made it much more generous” (Whitney, 4/16). Check out what else is on the blog.

The New York Times: Census Survey Revisions Mask Health Law Effects
The Census Bureau, the authoritative source of health insurance data for more than three decades, is changing its annual survey so thoroughly that it will be difficult to measure the effects of President Obama’s health care law in the next report, due this fall, census officials said. The changes are intended to improve the accuracy of the survey, being conducted this month in interviews with tens of thousands of households around the country. But the new questions are so different that the findings will not be comparable, the officials said (Pear, 4/15).

Politico: Insurers See Brighter Obamacare Skies
Health insurers got their first taste of Obamacare this year. And they want seconds. Insurers saw disaster in the fall when Obamacare’s rollout flopped and HealthCare.gov was a mess. But a strong March enrollment surge, along with indications that younger and healthier people had begun signing up, has changed their attitude. Around the country, insurers are considering expanding their stake in the Obamacare exchanges next year, bringing their business to more states and counties. Some health plans that skipped the new marketplaces altogether this year are ready to dive in next year (Cheney and Norman, 4/15).

The Wall Street Journal: Obama Administration Won't Extend Health-Insurance Enrollment
The Obama administration said on Tuesday that a midnight deadline for most people to finish health-insurance applications for private coverage this year wouldn't be extended amid signs that enrollment waits had dissipated. Aaron Albright, a spokesman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, confirmed there would be no further changes to an extension that pushed the end of insurance enrollment until April 15 for those who were "in line" on HealthCare.gov by March 31. The federally run site is the main portal for buying insurance under the Affordable Care Act (Radnofsky, 4/15).

Los Angeles Times: Health Sign-Ups In State Draw to A Close
After website troubles sparked a two-week extension, California officials wrapped up the first open enrollment for Obamacare coverage with nearly 1.3 million consumers signed up since October for the state-run exchange. Sign-ups ahead of Tuesday's enrollment deadline appeared to run more smoothly than they did March 31, the previous cut-off date (Terhune, 4/15).

NPR: Is Obamacare A Success? We Might Not Know For A While
After months of focusing on how many people have or haven't signed up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, we now have a rough total (7.5 million) and everyone's keen to get to the bigger questions: How well is the law working? How many of those who signed up have paid their premiums and are actually getting coverage? How many were uninsured before they signed up? And just how big has the drop been in the number of uninsured people? (Rovner, 4/16).

Politico: Poll: Uninsured Drops In Key States
States that have expanded Medicaid and opened their own exchanges have seen a higher rate of decline in the number of uninsured, compared with other states, a new poll show. The 21 states and D.C., which have done both, saw an average decline in uninsured of 2.5 percent, according to a poll released Wednesday by Gallup. The other 29 states that didn’t enact both measure had a dip in uninsured of less than 1 percent on average (McCalmont, 4/16).

The Associated Press: Va. House Republicans Reaffirm Medicaid Opposition
House Republicans say they remain resolute in their opposition to using federal Medicaid funds to provide health insurance to as many as 400,000 low-income Virginians. During a conference call with reporters Tuesday, House Speaker William J. Howell said he is optimistic that Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Democratic lawmakers would back down from their support of a proposed state budget that includes expanding Medicaid eligibility. State services could shutter if a state budget isn’t passed by July 1 (4/15).

Politico: Giving Anti-Obamacare Speeches To Enrollees
The two-week recess is the first extended break from Washington for lawmakers since the 2014 open enrollment season ended and coverage for many Americans kicked in. Many people with new plans received subsidies to make their health insurance more affordable, or they became eligible for expanded Medicaid. It’s not that red-state representatives and senators won’t come across negative stories about the Affordable Care Act from constituents who say the law caused their plans to be canceled, forced them to change doctors or raised costs for their businesses. It’s that other group, comprising the people being helped, that potentially poses a challenge (Cunningham and Kim, 4/16).

Los Angeles Times: Louisiana Democrat Highlights Independence From Obama In New Ad
The aggressive tone of Landrieu’s new ad mirrors that of her first ad last fall, which highlighted her legislative proposal to fix Obama’s healthcare law. Her campaign aired the ad after thousands of Louisiana residents received warnings that their health insurance policies would be canceled because they did not meet the new guidelines under the law. As a key target in the Republican quest to win back the Senate, Landrieu faces two Republican opponents in the November election and must win more than 50% of the vote to avoid a runoff (Reston, 4/15).

The Wall Street Journal: Health Law Poses A Test In New Hampshire Senate Race
New Hampshire's rollout of the Affordable Care Act has been one of the rockiest in the nation, putting Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen on the front lines of Republican efforts to make the 2014 elections a referendum on the health law. Only a single insurer in the state offers policies through the new law. Ten of the state's 26 hospitals and one fifth of its primary care providers aren't in its network. Residents of Concord, the state capital, have to drive to other cities to get covered hospital care (Hook, 4/15).

The Washington Post: Scientists Embark On Unprecedented Effort To Connect Millions Of Patient Medical Records
Inside an otherwise ordinary office building in lower Manhattan, government-funded scientists have begun collecting and connecting together terabytes of patient medical records in what may be one of the most radical projects in health care ever attempted. The data — from every patient treated at one of New York’s major hospital centers over the past few years — include some of the most intimate details of a life. Vital signs. Diagnoses and conditions. Results of blood tests, X-rays, MRI scans. Surgeries. Insurance claims. And in some cases, links to genetic samples (Cha, 4/15).

USA Today: Doctors, Medical Staff On Drugs Put Patients At Risk
America's prescription drug epidemic reaches deep into the medical community. Across the country, more than 100,000 doctors, nurses, technicians and other health professionals struggle with abuse or addiction, mostly involving narcotics such as oxycodone and fentanyl. Their knowledge and access make their problems especially hard to detect. Yet the risks they pose — to the public and to themselves — are enormous. A single addicted health care worker who resorts to "drug diversion," the official term for stealing drugs, can endanger thousands (Eisler, 4/15).

Los Angeles Times: Supreme Court to Consider Challenge To Law Barring Campaign Falsehoods
The Supreme Court next week will consider for the first time whether states may enforce laws that make it a crime to knowingly publish false statements about political candidates. The justices will hear an antiabortion group's free-speech challenge to an Ohio law that was invoked in 2010 by then-Rep. Steve Driehaus, a Democrat. He had voted for President Obama's healthcare law and was facing a tough race for reelection. The antiabortion group Susan B. Anthony List launched a campaign to unseat Driehaus, preparing to run billboard ads saying, "Shame on Steve Driehaus! Driehaus voted for taxpayer-funded abortion." The statement was false, Driehaus said, since under the law no federal funds can be spent to pay for abortions (Savage, 4/15).

The Associated Press: Court To Weigh Challenge To Ban On Campaign Lies
The Ohio law makes it illegal to knowingly or recklessly make false statements about a candidate during an election. The high court is not expected to rule directly on the constitutional issue, instead focusing on the narrower question of whether the law can be challenged before it is actually enforced. The outcome could affect similar laws in at least 15 states. The case began during the 2010 election, when the Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion group, planned to launch a billboard campaign accusing then-Democratic Rep. Steven Driehaus of supporting taxpayer-funded abortion because he backed President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul (4/16).

The New York Times: Arizona: Law Signed To Allow Surprise Inspections At Abortion Clinics
Gov. Jan Brewer on Tuesday signed a bill allowing health inspectors to carry out surprise inspections on abortion clinics without having to get a court-approved warrant (Santos, 4/15).

The Washington Post: Gansler Takes Aim At Maryland’s ‘Bad Spending Habits,’ Says He Would Save The State Money
Gansler said major savings could be realized through reforms to the state’s procurement process, better management of the state Medicaid program and reduction of the non-violent prison population, among other strategies (Wagner, 4/15).

The Washington Post: Massachusetts Cannot Ban FDA-Approved Painkiller, Judge Rules
A federal judge on Tuesday blocked an effort by Massachusetts Gov. Deval L. Patrick to ban sales of a controversial new painkiller in the state, saying the governor’s move was preempted by federal law and could harm people who need the drug for pain relief. In a five-page order, U.S. District Judge Rya W. Zobel sided with the drug’s California-based manufacturer, Zogenix, which had argued that Patrick had no right to bar a medication that the Food and Drug Administration has deemed safe and effective (Dennis, 4/15).

The Wall Street Journal: Detroit Reaches Deal With Police, Firefighter Retirees
Other terms in Tuesday's police and firefighters pact include a voluntary employee beneficiary association plan, known as a VEBA, funded by Detroit to handle retiree health care, instead of the city. These retirees would also keep some representation on the board of their pension system, over which the city had proposed increasing independent oversight. All of the city's creditors will still have a chance to vote on the city's plan, including more than 20,000 city workers and retirees. But Judge Rhodes will have the final say on its approval (Dolan, 4/15).

Check out all of Kaiser Health News' e-mail options including First Edition and Breaking News alerts on our Subscriptions page.

This is part of Kaiser Health News' Daily Report - a summary of health policy coverage from major 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.