First Edition: March 21, 2014

Today's early morning highlights from the major news organizations, including a new examination of Ezekiel Emanuel's book about the crafting of the health law and President Obama's latest push to boost enrollment.

Kaiser Health News: The Sign-Up Deadline Is March 31: A Consumers’ Guide
Kaiser Health News staff writer Mary Agnes Carey reports: "With just over a week until the March 31 deadline to sign up for health insurance, backers of the health law -- from President Barack Obama on down -- are engaged in a full-force campaign to enroll eligible Americans, especially younger ones who tend to be healthier and less costly to insure. ... Here's a primer on how the law might affect you" (Carey, 3/21).

Kaiser Health News: A Reader Asks: After I Was In The Hospital, Can I Buy Insurance To Cover My Bills?
Kaiser Health News consumer columnist Michelle Andrews answers this reader’s question (3/21). 

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Cholesterol Advice Could Mean Statins For Many Over 40
Now on Kaiser Health News' blog, Richard Knox, writing for Kaiser Health News in collaboration with NPR, reports: "When sweeping new advice on preventing heart attacks and strokes came out last November, it wasn’t clear how many more Americans should be taking daily statin pills to lower their risk. A new analysis provides an answer: a whole lot. Nearly 13 million more, to be precise" (Knox, 3/20).

The New York Times: In Book, Architect of Health Law Predicts a Shift Away From Employer Coverage
Ezekiel J. Emanuel, who helped devise the Affordable Care Act, has a vision for how it will eventually work. Democrats hope it will not materialize anytime soon. Mr. Emanuel expects the law to produce an unadvertised but fundamental shift in where most working Americans get their health insurance — specifically, a sharp drop in the number of employers who offer coverage to their workers. ... His former colleagues in the Obama White House say there is no evidence the law will bring "the end of employer-sponsored insurance," as Mr. Emanuel puts it in his new book (Harwood, 3/20).

The Wall Street Journal: Republicans Challenge Administration's Authority
Republicans are pointing to statements by a top Treasury Department official as evidence that the Obama administration overstepped its authority in delaying the health-care law's requirement that employers offer coverage or pay a penalty. Mark Mazur, assistant Treasury secretary for tax policy, said in a January interview with staff from the GOP-led House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that he wasn't aware of any examination of the legal basis for the administration's authority to delay the employer mandate (Radnofsky, 3/20).

Los Angeles Times: Obama Enlists Help To Push Affordable Care Act
President Obama teased Ellen DeGeneres about the selfie she took at the Oscars and confessed to leaving his socks and shoes lying around while the first lady is out of town, but before the end of his Thursday appearance on her talk show, he got DeGeneres to put in a plug for the Affordable Care Act. That's Obama's deal with popular media these days as the president enlists help to boost healthcare sign-up numbers before the March 31 enrollment deadline for coverage this year. In recent days, Obama has filled out his March Madness brackets on ESPN, joked with comedian Zach Galifianakis and defended his "mom jeans" with radio host Ryan Seacrest — all with the agreement he'd get a moment to make his pitch (Parsons, 3/20).

Los Angeles Times: Younger Americans Warm Somewhat To Obamacare, Poll Shows
As the deadline approaches for enrolling in Obamacare health coverage this year, younger Americans have warmed somewhat to the president’s healthcare law, but Latinos remain closely split over it. Those findings from a large-scale Pew Research Center survey provide a glimpse at two groups that are major targets of the Obama administration’s push to get people to sign up before the March 31 deadline (Lauter, 3/20).

The Associated Press: With Health Law, Workers Ponder The I-Quit Option
But for Stephanie Payne of St. Louis, who already had good insurance, the law could offer another kind of escape: the chance to quit her job. At 62, Payne has worked for three decades as a nurse …. One of the selling points of the new health care plan, which has a March 31 enrollment deadline, is that it breaks the link between affordable health insurance and having a job with benefits. Payne believes she'll be able to replace her current coverage with a $400- to $500-a-month plan on Oregon's version of the new insurance exchange system set up under the law. … Last month, congressional budget analysts estimated that within 10 years, the equivalent of 2.5 million full-time workers could be working less because of the expanded coverage. But is the new option a gamble? That's a matter of debate (Johnson, 3/21).

Los Angeles Times: Half Of Callers To Covered California Give Up As Deadline Looms
Nearly half of callers to California's health insurance exchange in February and March couldn't get through and abandoned their call, state figures show. … Also Thursday, the Covered California exchange reported progress on another front: low enrollment among the state's large Latino population. At its monthly board meeting, the exchange said 32% of health plan enrollees in the first two weeks of March described themselves as Latino. That was up from 18% during the first three months of enrollment that ended in December (Terhune, 3/20).

The New York Times: Health Care Exchange In Oregon Not Meeting High Hopes
As the federal health care overhaul was rolled out over the last few years, Oregon was invariably the eager overachiever in the first row, waving a hand to volunteer. The governor, John Kitzhaber, a doctor who left the emergency room for politics, made health care his main issue. … Yet for all that, by some measures Oregon has among the most dysfunctional online insurance exchanges in the nation. ... On Thursday, a grim-faced Mr. Kitzhaber released a new report, commissioned by the state with a private company, that underscored how systemic Oregon’s failure has been (Johnson, 3/20).

The Washington Post: After Disastrous Rollout, Oregon Considers Health Exchange Options
Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber (D) has fired the head of the state’s online health-care exchange — the second to leave the organization in three months — after chronic technical issues that left uninsured residents unable to purchase insurance mandated by the Affordable Care Act. Plagued by technical issues, breakdowns in supervisory management and shoddy work by an outside vendor that received tens of millions of dollars in state funding, Cover Oregon, the state’s online health insurance exchange has been one of the worst in the country (Wilson, 3/20).

Politico: Pelosi: Health Law Is A 'Winner' For Democrats
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said the health care law is a "winner," when asked whether it’s a winning or losing issue for Democrats in swing districts this year. "You'll have to ask the member, but I believe it's a winner," she told reporters as she marked this Sunday’s fourth anniversary of the law’s passage (Cunningham, 3/20).

The Associated Press: Pelosi Says Health Law A Winner For Dems
A defiant House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi declared firmly Thursday that the health care law looms as a political winner for her party this fall, despite ceaseless Republican attacks and palpable nervousness among some of her rank and file who fear their re-election may be in jeopardy because of it (Espo, 3/20).

The Wall Street Journal: Medical Device Recalls Nearly Doubled In A Decade
Recalls of defective medical devices nearly doubled in the decade from 2003 through 2012, according to a Food and Drug Administration report due Friday. The total number of recalls rose to 1,190 in 2012, up from 604 in 2003. There was a sharp increase in recalls where the defective product carried a reasonable probability of death. In 2012, there were 57 of these so-called Class I recalls, up from seven in 2003 (Burton, 3/21).

The Wall Street Journal: Hard Choices In Pursuit Of Rare-Disease Cures
Late last year, the National Institute on Aging, which is part of NIH, said a long-running observational study of fibromuscular dysplasia and four other rare diseases was no longer collecting data or enrolling patients, and that the study's goals had been met. Sufferers, arguing that fibromuscular dysplasia's cause or cure still isn't known, mobilized. ... The fight to continue the study exemplifies tensions that often arise between researchers and patients over which efforts yield the most valuable science. ... Both NIH and the Food and Drug Administration have said such studies are a critical early step toward drug development. But the studies are expensive and don't always lead to new trials (Marcus, 3/20).

The Wall Street Journal: Child-Abuse Deaths Prompt Lawmakers To Weigh Overhauls
They were among 78 children who died in Florida last year as a result of abuse or neglect—36 of whom had prior involvement with the state Department of Children and Families, the agency said. In some cases, DCF documents show the agency left kids with caregivers about whom it had logged multiple warning signs. The string of deaths triggered public outcry, plunged the state's child-welfare system into crisis and led to the resignation of the DCF secretary in July. Now, the Florida Legislature has made overhauling the system one of its top priorities in the session that began earlier this month (Campo-Flores, 3/20).

The New York Times: Arkansas Court Reverses $1.2 Billion Judgment Against Johnson & Johnson
The Arkansas Supreme Court reversed a $1.2 billion judgment against Johnson & Johnson on Thursday, finding that the state attorney general erred by suing under a law that applied to health care facilities, not drug companies. The judgment, one of the largest in history for a state fraud case, was imposed in 2012 after a jury concluded that Johnson & Johnson had improperly marketed and concealed the risks of Risperdal, an antipsychotic drug. Arkansas had sued the company, accusing it of violating the state’s Medicaid fraud law and its deceptive trade practices act (Thomas, 3/2).

The Associated Press: Arkansas Court Tosses $1.2B Judgment Against J&J
The Arkansas Supreme Court tossed out a $1.2 billion judgment against Johnson & Johnson on Thursday, reversing a lower court verdict that found the drug maker engaged in fraudulent tactics when marketing the antipsychotic drug Risperdal. The high court ruled the state's Medicaid fraud law, which formed the basis of Arkansas' lawsuit, regulates health care facilities and that drug manufacturers, including Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiary, Janssen Pharmaceutical Inc., don't fall under its scope (Bartels, 3/20).

The Wall Street Journal: Arizona 'Abortion Pill' Rule Faces Challenge
A federal court next week is set to hear a challenge to a new Arizona regulation that would require so-called abortion pills to be administered under a protocol that abortion-rights activists say is outdated and overly restrictive (Phillips, 3/20).

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