Kaiser Health News Original Stories

4. States Simplify Medicaid Sign-Ups

Forty-nine states now take Medicaid applications by phone and 49 also accept online applications, reports the Kaiser Family Foundation. (Phil Galewitz, 1/21)

5. Political Cartoon: 'The Elephant In The Room'

Kaiser Health News provides a fresh take on health policy developments with "Political Cartoon: 'The Elephant In The Room'" by Dan Piraro.

Here's today's health policy haiku:


Avoid the doctor
Lift with your legs, not your back
When shoveling snow.

If you have a health policy haiku to share, please Contact Us and let us know if you want us to include your name. Keep in mind that we give extra points if you link back to a KHN original story.

Capitol Hill Watch

6. GOP Senators: Obama Administration Missed Warning Signs On Co-Ops

At a Senate Finance Committee hearing on Thursday, lawmakers grilled acting CMS Administrator Andy Slavitt over the failed nonprofit health insurers. Slavitt promised the committee that the government is taking steps to help the co-ops, which were created to compete with larger private insurers. Twelve of the 23 set up under the law have gone out of business.

The New York Times: Republicans Say Government Mismanaged Health Care Co-Ops
Republican senators charged Thursday that the Obama administration had missed warning signs of financial distress at nonprofit health insurance cooperatives that failed last year, but a top federal official denied that the government had been negligent in its supervision. The co-ops were created with federal money under the Affordable Care Act. Democrats hoped the co-ops would increase competition in state insurance markets, creating additional choices for consumers and holding down premiums. But 12 of the 23 co-ops have shut down. (Pear, 1/21)

The Hill: Lawmakers Grill ObamaCare Official Over Co-Op Failures
Senators on Thursday pressed a top ObamaCare official over a string of failures in non-profit health insurers known as co-ops. Twelve of the 23 co-ops, set up under ObamaCare to compete with larger private insurers, have gone out of business due to financial problems. (Sullivan, 1/21)

USA Today: Federal Officials Unsure How Much Will Be Recouped From Failed Health Co-Ops
Federal officials still don't how much they will recoup of the $1.2 billion they spent on loans and startup costs for a dozen health care cooperatives that later failed, a top regulator said Thursday. “We are working closely with the Department of Justice,’’ Andy Slavitt, acting administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, told the Senate Finance Committee. “We have taken the first step calling the loans." (Tumulty, 1/21)

The Wall Street Journal: Obama Administration Works To Fix Health Insurance Co-Ops
An Obama administration official said Thursday the government is taking steps to help health cooperatives set up under the Affordable Care Act remain solvent, while seeking to recoup federal funds from those that failed. Andy Slavitt, acting administrator at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, told a Senate committee that the agency is working with the Justice Department and taking legal actions to collect the federal moneys in some cases. (Armour, 1/21)

The Washington Post: How Would Paul Ryan Replace Obamacare? Only Time Will Tell
Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) vowed to release a plan to replace Obamacare this year. There is plenty of skepticism about whether that will actually happen. ... Yet, the new House speaker intends to back a “bold alternative agenda,” and he committed to unveiling a replacement plan in his first major policy address. ... “As the speaker has said many times, committees, not leadership, will be taking the lead on policy development,” said Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong in response to an inquiry. (Viebeck, 1/21)

7. If He Shows, Shkreli Plans To Invoke Fifth Amendment

The Oversight and Government Reform Committee subpoenaed former Turing CEO Martin Shkreli, who became the face of the high drug costs controversy, to testify on the spiked prices.

Reuters: Drug Exec Shkreli, Lawmakers Clash Ahead Of Congressional Hearing
Former pharmaceutical executive Martin Shkreli was on a collision course with Congress on Thursday as lawmakers warned he could be prosecuted for contempt if he does not appear next week for a hearing about drug prices. Shkreli, 32, has said he would invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. On Twitter, he told followers it was "disgusting and insulting" for lawmakers to try to subvert that right. ... The dispute appeared likely to end in one of two ways: with Shkreli appearing in Washington on Tuesday to invoke that right, or with Shkreli staying home in New York, prompting the committee to vote to hold him in contempt and setting off a potential criminal prosecution. (Raymond and Ingram, 1/21)

The Associated Press: Reviled Pharma Exec Would Decline Congressional Questioning
The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform has subpoenaed [Martin] Shkreli to appear at a hearing on exorbitant drug pricing next Tuesday. Shkreli became the public face of pharmaceutical-industry greed last fall, after hiking the price of a 60-year-old drug for a rare infection by 5,000 percent. Questions emerged Thursday about whether Shkreli would even attend the hearing, in spite of the congressional subpoena. Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Maryland, said Shkreli has apparently not made any legal arrangements to travel to Washington, based on conversations with his attorney. (1/21)

The Wall Street Journal: Shkreli Seeks To Shield Congressional Testimony
Martin Shkreli, the former drug-company executive criticized for dramatically raising a pill’s price, has asked a congressional committee seeking his testimony to guarantee it can’t be used in a federal prosecution, according to materials reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. ... Lawyers for Mr. Shkreli have told the committee he won’t answer questions, citing his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination, according to emails between Mr. Shkreli’s lawyers and the committee. The lawyers indicated that position would change if the committee would grant Mr. Shkreli the immunity so prosecutors couldn’t use his testimony against him, according to the emails. (Rockoff, 1/21)

8. VA Secretary: Agency Providing Better Care Than Ever

During a congressional hearing on Thursday, Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald rebuffed charges that he had not fired enough employees for the scandal over veterans' health care and outlined his plan for the VA "to become the No. 1 customer-service agency in the government." In other Capitol Hill news, a Senate report finds that hospitals did not properly report outbreaks associated to dirty scopes.

The Associated Press: VA Chief To Congress: You Can’t Fire Your Way To Excellence
Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald on Thursday disputed claims by members of Congress that his scandal-plagued agency hasn’t dismissed enough employees, saying, “You can’t fire your way to excellence.” McDonald told the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee that he and other top leaders are turning the VA around, “providing more and better care than ever before” and holding employees accountable, including firing about 2,600 workers since he took office 18 months ago. (Daly, 1/21)

Los Angeles Times: Hospitals Failed To Report Outbreaks Linked To Tainted Scopes, Senate Report Says
A Senate investigation of deadly infections spread by contaminated scopes found that not one of the 16 or more American hospitals where patients were sickened appeared to have properly filed the required federal report. A Senate report titled "Preventable Tragedies" said the hospitals' failure to properly report the outbreaks left the Food and Drug Administration "with an inaccurate picture of the frequency and severity" of the outbreaks. (sen, 1/22)

Health Law Issues And Implementation

9. HHS: Average Costs Of Health Exchange Premiums Rose, But Most Enrollees Pay Far Less

The Department of Health and Human Services reports that premiums for Obamacare plans increased to $408 per month, about 9 percent more than last year. The vast majority of people with this coverage, though, pay far less because they receive subsidies. Meanwhile, a federal proposal would create standardized marketplace plans and consumers could see their out-of-pocket costs drop.

The Hill: Average ObamaCare Premium Rises To $408 Per Month
The average ObamaCare premium rose to $408 per month for 2016 plans, about a 9 percent increase from this time last year, according to a new report from the Department of Health and Human Services. However, 83 percent of ObamaCare enrollees pay far less than $408 because they get tax credits under the healthcare law. The average tax credit for 2016 is $294, meaning that the average share of the premiums that enrollees have to pay is $113. That is up $8 from the $105 people paid on average last year. (Sullivan, 1/21)