First Edition: June 16, 2014

Today's headlines include more analysis of the events that led to a resolution of Virginia's budget impasse and an end -- at least for now -- to Gov. Terry McAuliffe's hope to expand Medicaid.

Kaiser Health News: Say What? Many Patients Struggling To Learn The Foreign Language Of Health Insurance
Kaiser Health News staff writer Anna Gorman reports: “Health officials have spent much of the past year promoting the Affordable Care Act and enrolling people in coverage. Now they need to help consumers understand the basics of health insurance and how to use their policies, health care providers and researchers say” (Gorman, 6/16). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: Health Data Geeks Get Their Day
Reporting for Kaiser Health News, in partnership with NPR, Eric Whitney reports: “Venture capitalists are pouring more money than ever before into digital health start-ups, more than $2 billion so far this year alone, according to the venture capital firm Rock Health. They are betting that entrepreneurs can help doctors, hospitals and insurers become leaner – which the Affordable Care Act strongly encourages” (Whitney, 6/16). Read the story

The New York Times: Thousands To Be Questioned On Eligibility For Health Insurance Subsidies 
Of the eight million people who signed up for private health plans through insurance exchanges under the new health care law, two million reported personal information that differed from data in government records, according to federal officials and Serco, the company hired to resolve such inconsistencies. The government is asking consumers for additional documents ... People who do not provide the information risk losing their subsidized coverage and may have to repay subsidies next April (Pear, 6/15).

The Washington Post: In Virginia, The Road To A Budget Comes With Twists And Turns
Virginia seemed hopelessly locked in a partisan budget and Medicaid standoff, careening toward its first-ever government shutdown. Yet for weeks behind the scenes, a handful of lawmakers were hammering out a deal. ... Even as the GOP took full control of the legislature, thwarting Medicaid expansion and dimming the legislative prospects for McAuliffe’s entire term, the Republican Party’s insecurities and internal fractures were on vivid display. Conservative Republicans, already suspicious that McAuliffe will attempt through executive order what he cannot win through the legislature, made it clear that they also distrust the GOP pragmatists in their midst (Vozzella, 6/15).

The Associated Press: McAuliffe Blasts Tea Party After Budget Vote
All eyes are now on McAuliffe to see what he does with the budget and how he responds to a major setback of one of the top priorities of his young administration. The Affordable Care Act allows states to expand Medicaid eligibility to low-income residents with the federal government paying for most of the expense. Democrats largely favor expansion, saying that would help the working poor, while Republicans argue the state can’t afford a large increase of a costly entitlement program (6/13).

The Washington Post: Gov. Rick Snyder Could Be The Country’s Most Unusual Republican. Can He Save Detroit? 
Like some other GOP governors, Snyder has signed controversial right-to-work legislation preventing unions from requiring workers to pay dues — a crushing defeat for organized labor in a state that was once a hub of union power. Working with a GOP-controlled legislature, he also has cut unemployment benefits and slashed business taxes while imposing a new tax on pensioners. But unlike many Republican governors, he pushed to expand Medicaid and is encouraging immigration of high-skill workers. He vetoed legislation requiring voters to have government-issued identification. And while Snyder forced Detroit into bankruptcy, he has become perhaps the most influential advocate for an aid plan to put the city back on sound financial footing (Fletcher, 6/13).

Politico: Hobby Lobby Aims For Obamacare Win, Christian Nation
The evangelical owners of Hobby Lobby made a fortune selling crafts supplies and made headlines fighting government-mandated birth control coverage. They’re also using their billions to sell the American public on the literal truth of Scripture — through a public-school Bible curriculum, a huge museum around the corner from the Smithsonian and public forums on the faith of the founding fathers. The Green family may be best known in secular circles for their lawsuit against Obamacare, a high-stakes — and highly political — case that could undercut the administration’s goal of setting minimum standards for health care coverage. By the end of this month, the Supreme Court will decide if the federal government can force the Greens to include methods of contraception they deem sinful as part of employees’ health insurance (Simon, 6/16).

The Associated Press: Supreme Court To Decide 17 More Cases
It’s crunch time at the Supreme Court, where the justices are racing to issue opinions in 17 cases over the next two weeks. The religious rights of corporations, the speech rights of abortion protesters and the privacy rights of people under arrest are among the significant issues that are so far unresolved. … A look at some of the cases that remain: — Contraceptive coverage: Corporations are claiming the right to exercise religious objections to covering women’s contraceptives under their employee health insurance plans, despite the new health law’s requirement that birth control be among a range of no-cost preventive services included in health plans. — Abortion clinic buffer zones: Abortion opponents are challenging as a violation of their speech rights a Massachusetts law mandating a 35-foot protest-free zone on public sidewalks outside abortion clinics (6/16).

The Associated Press: Senate Bill Doubles Spending On Veterans Health 
Spending on veterans’ health care could double in three years under the Senate’s solution to the long waits experienced by thousands seeking medical care at VA hospitals and clinics, according to congressional budget experts. Analyzing a bill the Senate passed overwhelmingly last Wednesday, the Congressional Budget Office estimates the measure would add $35 billion over the next three years to the $44 billion the government now spends annually on medical care for veterans (Daly, 6/14).

The Washington Post: Once Again, U.S. Has Most Expensive, Lease Effective Health Care System In Survey
A report released Monday by a respected think tank ranks the United States dead last in the quality of its health-care system when compared with 10 other western, industrialized nations, the same spot it occupied in four previous studies by the same organization. Not only did the U.S. fail to move up between 2004 and 2014 — as other nations did with concerted effort and significant reforms — it also has maintained this dubious distinction while spending far more per capita ($8,508) on health care than Norway ($5,669), which has the second most expensive system (Bernstein, 6/16).

Politico: Electronic Health Records: A ‘Clunky’ Transition
The government-led transformation of health information is driving doctors to distraction, igniting nurse protests and crushing hospitals under debt. Most health care professionals accept the inevitability of going electronic and see its value. But they have a message for the administration’s multibillion-dollar push: not so fast (Allen, 6/15). 

The Wall Street Journal: Medical Merger Part Of 'Tax Inversion' Wave
Medtronic Inc.'s agreement on Sunday to buy rival medical-device maker Covidien for $42.9 billion is the latest in a wave of recent moves designed—at least in part—to escape U.S. corporate tax rates. Covidien's U.S. headquarters are in Mansfield, Mass., ... But officially it is domiciled in Ireland, which is known for having a relatively low tax rate ... Such so-called "tax inversion" deals have become increasingly popular, especially among health-care companies, many of which have ample cash abroad that would be taxed should they bring it back to the U.S. (Cimilluca, Mattioli and Walker, 6/15).

The New York Times' Dealbook: Medtronic To Buy Covidien For $42.9 Billion
Medtronic agreed on Sunday to buy Covidien for $42.9 billion, combining two of the world’s biggest medical device makers and helping it reduce its corporate taxes. The deal, which is being structured as a so-called inversion, will relocate Medtronic from its historic headquarters in Minneapolis to Covidien’s corporate home in Ireland, whose tax rate is significantly lower than the United States (De La Merced, 6/15).

Los Angeles Times: California Legislature Passes $156.4Bbillion 2014-15 Budget
The spending plan -- which includes a $108-billion general fund, $7.3 billion larger than last year -- is scheduled to take effect July 1. It funds preschool for children from poor families, increases welfare grants and continues expanding public healthcare under President Obama's federal overhaul ( Megerian and Mason, 6/15).

The Wall Street Journal: Miami Beach 'Rock Doc' Sentenced for Medicare Fraud
A federal judge sentenced Christopher G. Wayne, a Miami Beach, Fla., family physician, to five years and 10 months in prison for defrauding Medicare and ordered him to pay restitution to the government of $1.6 million. ... Dr. Wayne, known to his admirers as the "Rock Doc" for his punk style, was featured in a Wall Street Journal page-one article in December 2010. Using Medicare claims data, the Journal identified unusually high physical-therapy billings by Dr. Wayne (Carreyrou, 6/13).

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