Kaiser Health News Original Stories

3. Political Cartoon: 'Lost In Translation'

Kaiser Health News provides a fresh take on health policy developments with "Political Cartoon: 'Lost In Translation'" by Rina Piccolo.

Here's today's health policy haiku:

FRIDAY, DEC. 11: THE OMNIBUS (AND OMINOUS?) DEADLINE

Another countdown…
To another shutdown. Ugh!
Work it out, Congress!

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Capitol Hill Watch

4. Congress Has Until Friday To Pass Year-End Spending Bill

Policy riders threaten to be a flashpoint as lawmakers work to reach a spending deal in order to avert a government shutdown.

The Washington Post: Pressure Mounts For A Year-End Spending Deal
A bipartisan group of negotiators worked through the weekend in hopes of striking a year-end spending deal by Monday so Congress has enough time to pass the legislation before Dec. 11 and avert a government shutdown. The weekend sessions came after Democrats rejected an initial proposal from Republicans last week that included dozens of policy riders that GOP lawmakers wanted to attach to the must-pass legislation. ... The biggest issue facing negotiations on the omnibus spending bill is the policy riders being pushed by Republicans. ... Democrats said they will not budge on any riders aimed at attacking abortion rights, curbing funds for Planned Parenthood or undermining President Obama’s executive actions on immigration. (Snell, 12/7)

The Wall Street Journal: House Conservatives Work To Shape Spending Bill
Congress has until Friday to pass a $1.15 trillion spending bill to keep the government running once its current funding expires Friday. Lawmakers agreed to the bill’s overall spending level when they passed a two-year budget agreement in late October, during Mr. Boehner’s final week in office. But Republicans and Democrats have found plenty to disagree over since then as they hashed out funding for individual government programs and sparred over which other policy measures should get attached to the bill. ... Conservatives said they also need to see some antiabortion measures included in the spending bill. Rep. Jim Jordan (R., Ohio), chairman of the Freedom Caucus, said more than 100 Republicans signed a letter to GOP leaders backing antiabortion provisions, including one permitting states to decide whether to withhold federal Medicaid funding from Planned Parenthood Federation of America. (son, 12/6)

5. Dramatic Drug Cost Hikes To Be Subject Of Wednesday Senate Hearing

Meanwhile, The New York Times takes a look at Martin Shkreli, the pharmaceutical company official who has become the poster boy of drug company greed.

The Wall Street Journal: Rising Drug Costs To Be In Focus At Congressional Hearing
Dramatic price increases for several medicines are scheduled to be the subject of a congressional hearing in the coming week. Companies including Valeant Pharmaceuticals International Inc. and Turing Pharmaceuticals AG have been under fire this year from doctors, patients and lawmakers over rising drug costs. Such increases have prompted investigations by congressional committees, and House Democrats have established a task force to probe drug pricing. On Wednesday, the Senate Special Committee on Aging is scheduled to hold a hearing further exploring the matter. (Rockoff, 12/5)

The New York Times: Martin Shkreli, The Bad Boy Of Pharmaceuticals, Hits Back
A former hedge fund manager, Mr. Shkreli drew the wrath of consumers, became a talking point in the presidential campaign, and spurred federal and state inquiries as well as a dialogue about how and whether to control rising drug prices. As proof of Mr. Shkreli’s toxicity, Bernie Sanders rejected his $2,700 campaign donation, turning it over to a health clinic instead. ... Mr. Shkreli’s price increase is likely to take another pummeling at a Senate committee hearing investigating skyrocketing drug prices next Wednesday. Rather than cower as he takes a beating, Mr. Shkreli seems to relish his time in the ring. (Creswell and Pollack, 12/5)

6. Despite Symbolic Repeal Vote, Senate Offers Few Clues To Future Efforts On Health Law

News outlets analyze last week's vote to repeal key parts of the 2010 health law and strip federal funding from Planned Parenthood.

The New York Times: Not Even Catharsis Is Seen In Senate Vote To Repeal Health Law
Senate Republicans have finally fulfilled their long quest to pass legislation repealing President Obama’s landmark health care law, and Congress will soon send the measure to the White House, where it might have a chance of being folded into origami or a fleet of paper airplanes, but no possibility of being signed into law. ... So, what next? It is unclear that lawmakers have drawn constructive lessons from the experience, and there is no sign that either party will use the repeal vote as a cathartic turning point onto a more cooperative path. (Herszenhorn, 12/4)

The Wall Street Journal's Washington Wire: On Health Law Repeal Bill, Amendment Votes Were Symbolic But Politics Are Real
Senate Republicans Thursday employed a special budget maneuver to pass a bill that would repeal the 2010 health care law and strip Planned Parenthood of federal funding for a year. The tactic allowed them to get around the Senate’s usual 60-vote threshold; this one could pass with a simple majority. The White House has said President Barack Obama would veto the bill, so the measure is largely symbolic. At the same time, the open amendment process involved in passing the bill, known as a reconciliation measure, ended up putting some senators on the record on some hot-button issues and on aspects of the health care law itself. The votes could provide a window into the kind of support some of these measures could get as standalone bills, if senators were to bring them up. They also could be used by the opponents of incumbents running for re-election next year (or running for president). As a result several of these votes could have meaning down the line. (Armour and Hughes, 12/4)

7. Officials, Families Push For Congressional Action On 9/11 Health Bill

The Sunday rally was held to push lawmakers to extend the medical coverage for first responders and clean-up crews who were sickened by toxic materials at the World Trade Center site. They want Congress to add the coverage to the must-pass omnibus spending bill.

The New York Times: Officials Rally For An Extension Of A 9/11 Health Bill
Standing in the shadow of the towering rebuilt World Trade Center, scores of firefighters and police officers, led by Mayor Bill de Blasio and two United States senators from New York, rallied on Sunday to press Congress to extend a 9/11 health bill. The bill would pay for medical care for emergency medical workers and others, including police officers, firefighters and construction workers who risked their lives on Sept. 11, 2001, or in the weeks and months after to recover bodies and begin the cleanup. They were exposed to toxic chemicals that have sickened or killed many of them. (Foderaro and Schlossberg, 12/6)

The Wall Street Journal: Families Rally At Ground Zero For 9/11 Health Act
Lawmakers, however, are pushing for the Zadroga Act to be included in one large bill, known as a omnibus, that must be passed by Dec. 11, when the congressional session ends for the holidays. “We will not, we cannot, we won’t walk away without a permanent 9/11 bill to protect the health care and the lives of our first responders,” said U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer. (Morales, 12/6)

Health Law Issues And Implementation

8. New York Health Exchange To Partner With Pharmacies To Educate Public About Coverage Options

And in Medicaid expansion news, outlets report on developments from Louisiana, South Dakota and Wyoming.

New Orleans Times-Picayune: How Much Will Medicaid Expansion Cost In Louisiana? Senate To Do The Math
After spending hours at a recent meeting talking about the costs of Louisiana's health care costs without discussing Medicaid expansion, the Senate Finance Committee now plans to prepare a report on the implications of expanding the federal program. The effort to gather and report information on Medicaid expansion is significant because accepting more federal money to pay for health care for the poor has been off the table for years. As a result, Legislators have not really grappled with the complexities of changing the state's approach to health care until it became clear the next governor would accept Medicaid expansion -- one of the key elements of the Affordable Care Act. (Litten, 12/5)

Rapid City (S.D.) Journal: Daugaard Wants Medicaid Costs Covered, And May Require Recipients To Work
As Gov. Dennis Daugaard considers whether to expand Medicaid coverage to more low-income South Dakota residents, he is seeking assurances the expansion can be paid for, and may add a requirement that new recipients must have jobs. Daugaard may reveal his intentions in his budget address to the state next week, a top aide said Thursday. The governor has been seeking definite proof that the $46 million annual cost for Medicaid expansion starting in 2020 can be covered by savings on current spending on Medicaid services in South Dakota, a member of his senior management team said. (Mercer, 12/4)

Casper (Wyo.) Star Tribune: Lawmakers Remains Skeptical On Medicaid Expansion, Despite Governor's Recommendation
Wyoming's Legislature has for several years rejected Medicaid expansion, despite studies indicating it would save the state money. Now, with the state facing a major budget shortfall, Gov. Matt Mead is recommending lawmakers expand Medicaid, arguing that accepting federal money for the program will help the state weather the economic downturn. But many of the Wyoming lawmakers who resisted expansion in the past say they are likely to continue to oppose it, even as the state looks for ways to save money. (Hancock, 12/6)

Marketplace

9. Kaiser Permanente To Acquire Seattle-Based Group Health Cooperative

The agreement by the California managed-care operator is likely a sign that the insurer will pursue a strategy of expansion that includes more such deals across the country.

The Wall Street Journal: Kaiser Permanente To Buy Major Insurer In Washington State
Kaiser Permanente has agreed to acquire a major health insurer in Washington state, signaling a more aggressive expansion strategy for the big California-based managed-care operator at a time when its integrated model is increasingly fashionable. The nonprofit’s acquisition of Seattle-based Group Health Cooperative, which like Kaiser includes both an insurance arm and health-care providers, would bring about 590,000 new members and a far broader geographic footprint in the state of Washington. (Wilde Mathews, 12/4)