First Edition: January 16, 2013

Today's headlines include reports that a federal judge on Wednesday rejected a legal challenge related to the health law's insurance subsidies.  

Kaiser Health News: Congress Is Poised To Change Medicare Payment Policy. What Does That Mean For Patients And Doctors?
Kaiser Health News staff writer Mary Agnes Carey reports: "After years of legislative wrangling and last-minute patches, expectations are high among physician groups, lawmakers and Medicare beneficiaries that Congress could act this year to permanently replace the current Medicare physician payment formula. While committees in both chambers have approved their own 'doc fix' proposals, the approaches have yet to be reconciled, and none have identified how they would pay for a repeal" (Carey, 1/16). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: Check Your Blood Pressure, (Unwittingly) Sell Your Contact Information
KQED’s April Dembosky, working in partnership with Kaiser Health News and NPR, reports: "Health insurance companies are on the prowl for more customers. There are still three months to go for people to enroll in health plans under the Affordable Care Act, but insurers don’t want to rely solely on state or federal websites to find them. Some are finding a path to new customers by partnering with companies that operate health-screening kiosks –- those machines in supermarkets and drug stores where people check their blood pressure or weight" (Dembosky, 1/15). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: State Snapshots Of Obamacare Enrollment Numbers
Now on Kaiser Health News blog, a roundup of enrollment numbers from various states: "Enrollment in the health law’s marketplaces surged in December, and the administration’s report on the numbers made headlines on Monday — but the national story isn’t the whole story. Health care is delivered in 50 different state markets, and each state is implementing the health law with varying degrees of success and failure, enthusiasm and hostility. Reporters at NPR member stations around the country dove into the data the Obama administration released and delivered these dispatches" (1/16). Check out what else is new on the blog.

The Wall Street Journal: Two Weeks Into Health Law’s Rollout, Few Problems, Few Patients
Two weeks into the full rollout of the Affordable Care Act, hospitals and doctors say they are coping with the trickle of new patients relatively smoothly, but one of the biggest issues is making sure enrollees get insurance cards. The 2010 health law represented the biggest expansion of insurance coverage in a generation. Nonetheless, the number of people signing up so far for private coverage or Medicaid under the law is still a tiny fraction of all Americans with health insurance, partly because computer snafus hindered early enrollment (Corbett Dooren and Beck, 1/16).

The New York Times: Federal Judge Upholds Health Care Subsidies
A federal judge rejected a legal challenge on Wednesday to a central part of President Obama’s health care law, ruling that millions of low- and moderate-income people could obtain health insurance subsidies regardless of whether they bought coverage through the federal insurance exchange or in marketplaces run by the states (Pear, 1/15).

Los Angeles Times: Obamacare Critics Lose Major Lawsuit
A federal judge Wednesday emphatically rejected a last-ditch challenge to President Obama’s healthcare law, ruling that the Affordable Care Act allows low-income Americans to get government subsidies to buy health coverage no matter what state they live in. Critics of the law argued that the statute, passed by Congress in 2010, limited these subsidies to consumers in states that operate their own insurance marketplaces. Only 14 states do that; the remaining 36 rely on the federal government to run their marketplaces, or exchanges (Levey, 1/15).

The Wall Street Journal: Judge Rejects Challenge To Health-Care Law Subsidies
A federal judge on Wednesday upheld the legality of subsidies at the core of the federal health-care law, turning aside one of the principal remaining court challenges to the law. The decision hands a victory to the Obama administration, which has been fighting in court to defend the Affordable Care Act since it passed in March 2010. The Supreme Court in June 2012 upheld the law's requirement for most Americans to carry health insurance or pay a tax penalty (Kendall, 1/15).

The Washington Post: Judge Upholds Health Law Subsidies
A federal judge in the District rejected a lawsuit Wednesday that would have gutted President Obama’s health-care law by preventing the government from giving out subsidies to people buying health insurance in dozens of states. The federal subsidies are critical to the law because they reduce monthly premiums, in some cases drastically, for the vast majority of people buying coverage on new online insurance marketplaces. Starting this year, most Americans must have health insurance or face a fine (Somashekhar, 1/15).

Politico: Obamacare Tax Credit Suit Rejected
The four individuals who brought the lawsuit, Halbig v. Sebelius, had argued that the IRS overstepped its legal authority by allowing federal-run exchanges to provide tax credits for people who purchase health insurance. They contended that the Affordable Care Act only allows for state-run exchanges to access such credits and that Congress purposefully designed the law that way to incentivize states to run their own insurance marketplaces (Millman, 1/15).

The Wall Street Journal: Bare-Bones Health Plans Survive Through Quirk In Law
The health-care overhaul was supposed to eliminate insurance plans that offer skimpy coverage at cut rates. But a quirk in the law stands to help some companies keep them going for years to come. AlliedBarton Security Services … has offered a modestly updated version of its so-called mini-med plan to employees this year and it intends to do so in 2015 as well, even though the cheap coverage fails to meet requirements of the Affordable Care Act. What makes the no-frills plan attractive is that it will save money for AlliedBarton and for its security-guard employees who don't incur substantial medical bills, many of whom want a low-cost option, according to the company. What makes it possible under the health law: As long as companies offer at least one plan that complies with the law's requirements, they are free to keep offering ones that don't (Francis, 1/16).

The Washington Post’s Wonkblog: Don’t Believe The Hype: Health Insurers Think Obamacare Is Going To Be Fine
Obamacare's troubled rollout hasn't scared insurers out of the marketplace. Instead, speaking to thousands of health-care investors gathered in San Francisco, plan executives describe the Affordable Care Act as, at worst, a fixable mess and, at best, a major growth opportunity. The executives' commentary was a reminder that the health-care industry doesn't set its watch by the election cycles which dominate Washington. They expected Obamacare to be a bit of a mess in 2014 -- but they're in it for the long haul (Kliff, 1/15).

The Washington Post’s The Fact Checker: Warning: Ignore Claims That 3.9 Million People Signed Up For Medicaid Because Of Obamacare
There is much less to the Medicaid figure than meets the eye. (The exchange figure has been updated recently, to 2.2 million, but not the Medicaid figure.) Indeed, there has been vast confusion about what this figure means, especially in the news media. The Fact Checker cited the 3.9 million figure in a few recent columns, but prodded by an interesting analysis by Sean Trende at Real Clear Politics, we decided to take a closer look (Kessler, 1/16).

The Washington Post: Maryland Senate Committee To Again Question State Official About Health Exchange Problems
The chairman of the Maryland Senate Finance Committee, after expressing frustration with not being informed of brewing problems with the state’s health exchange, has asked state officials to now provide updates on the status of the exchange every two weeks. Sen. Thomas M. Middleton (D-Charles) also asked Joshua M. Sharfstein, secretary of health and mental hygiene, to appear before the committee for a second time this month and again answer questions about what went wrong in the rollout of the state’s health exchange Web site. That briefing is expected early next week (Johnson, 1/15).

The Washington Post: Countdown Begins For Marylanders To Get Retroactive Private Health Insurance
Maryland health exchange workers are focusing the next few days on calling and emailing thousands of uninsured people to see if they need coverage for this month and to let them know they have until Tuesday at 5 p.m. to sign up for private health insurance that would be retroactive to Jan. 1. To qualify, Marylanders must prove that they tried unsuccessfully to get health insurance through the state’s marketplace before the new year began, and they must be willing to pay premiums for January and February before Feb. 15. For those that get in, the insurance will cover medical expenses incurred this year (Johnson, 1/15).

USA Today: White House Jump Starts Health Exchanges With Celebrities
After a month of marketing the federal exchange site as "not broken anymore," the White House has tossed the ball to Magic Johnson and Alonzo Mourning in new ads touting health insurance to begin running Thursday. Both men offered up their help for free, said Julie Bataille, communications director at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Their ads will spark a full-court press effort to get young people — in particular, young men — to sign up for health insurance before enrollment ends March 31 (Kennedy, 1/16).

The Wall Street Journal’s Washington Wire: Obama Data Analysts Study Health-Care Habits Under Obamacare
A group of data analysts who helped President Barack Obama win two terms in the White House are now partnering with a coalition of health-care providers in Camden, N.J., to study how people’s consumption habits change under the new health law. BlueLabs, a company formed last year by members of the Obama data team, is partnering with the Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers to compile information tracking the treatment patterns of people who enroll in Medicaid or the new insurance marketplaces under the Affordable Care Act. For example, the team will gather data on how frequently the newly insured go emergency rooms or outpatient health centers and compare that with their previous behavior (O’Connor, 1/15).

Los Angeles Times: Anthem Blue Cross, Kaiser Permanente Extend Payment Deadlines Again 
Amid further delays for consumers, California's two largest health insurers extended payment deadlines once more for people who signed up for Jan. 1 coverage through the Covered California exchange. Anthem Blue Cross, a unit of industry giant WellPoint Inc., said it is giving new enrollees until Jan. 31 to pay their first month's premium. Kaiser Permanente, the state's largest HMO, extended the deadline to Jan. 22 (Terhune, 1/15).

The New York Times: Justices Seem Split On Abortion Clinic Buffer Zones, But Crucial Voice Is Silent
The Supreme Court appeared evenly divided on Wednesday as it heard arguments in a First Amendment challenge to a Massachusetts law that created buffer zones around abortion clinics in the state. But a significant piece of data was missing: Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who almost certainly holds the crucial vote, asked no questions. His earlier opinions suggest, however, that he is likely to provide the fifth vote to strike down the law (Liptak, 1/15).

Politico: Justices Skeptical About Mass. Abortion Clinic 'Buffer Zone'
Opponents of the law, including a woman who regularly tries to conduct “sidewalk counseling” outside a Boston clinic and who brought this case, say the exemption for employees creates an unconstitutional imbalance in speech. The woman, Eleanor McCullen, said her anti-abortion speech is limited while the speech of those who support the clinic is not (Haberkorn and Gerstein, 1/15).

The Washington Post: Wyden Bringing His Ambitious Agenda To A Powerful New Post
Sen. Ron Wyden is one of the Senate’s most ambitious dreamers, the prolific author of grand bipartisan plans to improve the health-care system and rewrite the tax code. He often wins fervent praise from reformers — but rarely much political support. That may be about to change. Next month, Wyden (D-Ore.) is expected to take control of the storied Senate Finance Committee. Its current chairman, Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), has been nominated to serve as U.S. ambassador to China. So Wednesday, when Wyden unveiled his latest bill, a standing-room-only crowd of lobbyists, aides and reporters packed the Capitol Hill hearing room, hoping to learn which of Wyden’s many controversial ideas would rise to the top of his newly influential agenda (Montgomery, 1/15).

USA Today: Sen. Wyden Unveils Medicare Reform Bill
Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden, who's likely to lead one of the Senate's most powerful committees soon, unveiled an ambitious bipartisan bill Wednesday that would overhaul the way older Americans receive care under Medicare and rein in the program's soaring costs. Wyden, in line to become the next chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, introduced the measure on Capitol Hill along with three co-sponsors — Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and Reps. Peter Welch, D-Vt., and Erik Paulsen, R-Minn (Chebium, 1/15).

The New York Times: Public Hospitals Hope To Attract More Upscale Patients Under Affordable Care Act
But to the Health and Hospitals Corporation, the city’s public hospital agency, it is not merely another insurance plan. The corporation created MetroPlus, and sees it as a powerful opportunity to attract a different class of patients — somewhat higher-income, more educated and more stable — to a system whose historic mission has been to serve the poor, and whose finances have been straining. … Around the country, a number of public health systems and charity hospitals serving large numbers of poor patients see the health exchanges, created by the states under the act, as a way to widen their customer base. In Los Angeles, L.A. Care, a publicly run health plan, has enrolled about 8,000 people so far via the California exchange. The Henry Ford Health System in Detroit, which has roots in organized labor and the auto industry, has signed up about 4,000 people in its exchange plans (Hartocollis, 1/15). 

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