Kaiser Health News Original Stories

4. Political Cartoon: 'Made Of Money'

Kaiser Health News provides a fresh take on health policy developments with "Political Cartoon: 'Made Of Money'" by Marty Bucella.

Here's today's health policy haiku:

OREGON MAY RECLAIM ITS HEALTH EXCHANGE

Maybe it wasn't
So bad: state reconsiders
Running health website.

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Health Law Issues And Implementation

5. Tuesday Marks First Deadline In This Year's Health Law Open Enrollment Season

Dec. 15 is the deadline to enroll for coverage that will begin Jan. 1, 2016.

The Baltimore Sun: First Deadline For Health Coverage Under Obamacare Is Dec. 15
They're using a rock band and social media to attract young people, bilingual radio ads to draw Spanish speakers and needle exchange vans to reach out to drug addicts. Grass-roots groups and health workers around the state have deployed these tactics to persuade the persistently uninsured to sign up for health plans under the Affordable Care Act. The first deadline in this year's open enrollment period is Dec. 15 for people who want to get coverage by Jan. 1. (McDaniels, 12/13)

Meanwhile, Marketplace examines issues related to the "Cadillac tax" -

Marketplace: Why The 'Cadillac Tax' Is Such A Tough Pill To Swallow
Everyone loves to talk about how Americans are spending too much on healthcare. And there’s a provision in Obamacare — often called the Cadillac Tax — that’s designed to at least help slow down this spending habit by taxing high-priced health insurance plans. But word from Washington is lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are looking at ways to delay the provision — which is slated to take effect in 2018. (Gorenstein, 12/11)

6. Mindful Of Federal Fees, Oregon Mulls Running Its Own Exchange -- Again

If it does so, though, Oregon officials say they will use another state's software. Also, Covered California hopes to boost enrollment in certain underserved communities, and MNsure extends the deadline for coverage beginning Jan. 1.

The Associated Press: Faced With Federal Fee, Oregon Reconsiders Own Exchange
With a new fee for some states using the federal health insurance portal on the horizon, Oregon says it’s looking into running its own exchange again, but with another state’s software. Oregon officials say they’re planning to solicit proposals this month for technology that’s successfully running an existing health insurance exchange. (Wozniacka, 12/11)

In news on Medicaid expansion, Louisiana lawmakers are showing more interest -

The Associated Press: Analysis: Medicaid Expansion Moving Closer To Reality In La.
Republican lawmakers who have repeatedly rejected efforts to expand Louisiana's Medicaid program and provide government-funded health insurance to the working poor are showing much more interest in the idea. It's hard to keep turning down the offer of billions of federal dollars for a cash-strapped state. But perhaps more importantly for the debate, the Republican governor who ran a failed presidential campaign that included strong opposition to the federal health care revamp is leaving office in January. (Deslatte, 12/13)

In other news related to how states may want to revise their health law programs -

Modern Healthcare: HHS Guidance On State Waivers Sets Strict Rules Preventing Limited Or Expensive Coverage
HHS is working to ensure that the poor maintain coverage in states that end up seeking a 1332 waiver through new guidance posted Friday. According to a statute in the Affordable Care Act, beginning Jan. 1, 2017, states can request that the federal government waive basically every major coverage component of the ACA, including exchanges, benefit packages, and the individual and employer mandates. (Dickson 12/11)

Marketplace

7. Valeant Taps Attorney, 'High-Stakes' Crisis Public Affairs Firm

Meanwhile, in Massachusetts, a small, year-old startup is working to stabilize the prices of generic drugs.

Reuters: Valeant Hires Attorney, Crisis Management Firm As U.S. Scrutiny Mounts
U.S. pharmaceuticals firm Valeant, under mounting pressure from Congress and prosecutors over its drug pricing, has hired an attorney in Washington, D.C., and crisis public relations experts with political connections, according to sources familiar with the matter. The move, confirmed by sources and through documents viewed by Reuters, signals a shift for Valeant Pharmaceuticals, which does not maintain a large presence on Capitol Hill. (12/13)

The Boston Globe: Nonprofit Vows To Lower Generic Drug Costs
It’s a long way from Manhattan, where Turing Pharmaceuticals this fall raised the price of a generic drug to fight parasitic infections by 5,000 percent. The aim, in the words of founder Martin Shkreli, was “to make as much money as possible.” But in this Central Massachusetts town, a small team of drug industry veterans has launched a startup to counter Turing and other biopharma price gougers by making affordable generic medicines to treat critical diseases. And they’re doing it as a nonprofit (Weisman, 12/14)

Some consumers are dealing with the high cost of prescriptions by bypassing doctors and taking matters into their own hands -

8. States To Have Big Role Helping Decide Insurer Mergers

State-based regulators can likely modify -- or altogether block -- pending deals between big insurers Anthem and Cigna as well as Aetna and Humana. Elsewhere, Millennium Health's bankruptcy plan clears a big hurdle, and an Ohio insurer decides to end commissions for some small group and individual insurance plans in Obamacare.

Modern Healthcare: States Hold Key Role In Big Insurer Mergers
The U.S. Justice Department's antitrust probe of two massive proposed insurance mergers has dominated the spotlight as hospitals, doctors and lawmakers fret over the impact of allowing Anthem to absorb Cigna Corp. and Aetna to swallow Humana. But insurance regulators in most states also have a shot at derailing or modifying the deals and will spend the first half of 2016 crunching data and holding public hearings. (Schencker, 12/12)

The Wall Street Journal: Millennium Health Chapter 11 Plan Clears Crucial Hurdle
Millennium Health LLC’s chapter 11 plan cleared a major hurdle Friday when a bankruptcy judge brushed aside objections to the plan, which funds a $256 million settlement of fraud accusations with the Justice Department. Judge Laurie Selber Silverstein approved the bulk of a reorganization strategy designed as a fresh start for the drug-testing company. Millennium hasn’t admitted to civil charges that it fraudulently billed taxpayers. The judge withheld her signature while pondering the form of the order she is being asked to sign. (Brickley, 12/11)

The Cleveland Plain Dealer: HealthSpan Backs Away From Obamacare Plans; Dissolves Northeast Ohio Physicians Group
Cleveland-based insurer HealthSpan is disbanding its physicians network and has notified brokers it will stop paying commissions for small group and individual customers, citing concerns about its financial viability in those markets. The company, which insures 200,000 people statewide, also said it has laid off employees in its small group and individual sales units. The decision to back away from those markets raised alarms among local brokers who stand to lose commissions and assistance from HealthSpan in serving their clients. (Ross, 12/12)

Capitol Hill Watch

9. Weary 9/11 Health Bill Supporters Wonder, Why Won't It Pass?

The popular legislation has become a political chit, and advocates are frustrated as they watch responders die waiting. Elsewhere on Capitol Hill, Republicans are expected to block Democrats' proposal to federally fund gun violence research.