Kaiser Health News Original Stories

3. Political Cartoon: 'Split The Difference?'

Kaiser Health News provides a fresh take on health policy developments with "Political Cartoon: 'Split The Difference?'" by Chris Browne.

Here's today's health policy haiku:


Lousy decisions
Disgraceful, poor responses.
At stake: public health.

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.

Spending And Fiscal Battles

4. Obama's $4 Trillion Budget Includes Health Initiatives That Might Win Over Republicans

Although much of the president's budget includes proposals that are dead on arrival in the Republican Congress, ideas such as funding cancer research and opioid treatment could garner bipartisan support in a rancorous election year.

The Associated Press: Obama To Release $4 Trillion-Plus Budget For 2017
President Barack Obama is unveiling his eighth and final budget, a $4 trillion-plus proposal that’s freighted with liberal policy initiatives and new and familiar tax hikes — all sent to a dismissive Republican-controlled Congress that simply wants to move on from his presidency. ... Now, Obama has broken out a budget playbook filled with ideas sure to appeal to Democrats: A “moonshot” initiative to cure cancer; increasing Pell Grants for college students from low-income backgrounds; renewed incentives for GOP-governed states to join the expanded Medicaid system established under the health care law, and incentives to boost individual retirement accounts. (Taylor and Crutsinger, 2/9)

The New York Times: Congressional Republicans Balk At Obama’s Budget, Sight Unseen
President Obama sends Congress his eighth and last annual budget proposal on Tuesday, a lame-duck executive’s accounting of national priorities that Republican leaders have branded sight unseen: dead before arrival. But some new ideas that the administration previewed in recent weeks, including on cancer research, opioid abuse and military projects, could have more life than Republicans care to admit. (Calmes, 2/8)

Reuters: Corporate Winners Of Obama Budget Still Face Long Odds
Ipsita Smolinski, managing director at healthcare research consulting firm Capitol Street, said it was doubtful the Republican Congress would approve Obama's plan to aid the 19 state governments that passed up an earlier offer to expand the Medicaid program for low-income Americans. Such a plan, she said, would benefit hospital companies including Tenet Healthcare and HCA Holdings and Medicaid insurers such as Centene and Molina Healthcare. More palatable to Congress could be Obama's push for $755 million to jumpstart cancer research. But that level of investment without being more targeted may not benefit any specific firms, given that so many drug and biotech companies are invested in developing cancer therapies. (Krauskopf, 2/8)

5. As CDC Put On Highest Level Of Alert Over Zika, Obama Asks For $1.8 Billion In Emergency Funding

The president says there's no need to panic, and experts do not expect a large U.S. outbreak. They say, however, that the extra funding will help them prepare as spring and summer approach.

The Associated Press: Obama Asking Congress For Emergency Funding To Combat Zika
President Barack Obama is asking Congress for more than $1.8 billion in emergency funding to fight the Zika virus and the mosquitoes that spread it here and abroad, but says "there shouldn't be a panic on this." The virus is spreading rapidly through Latin America. While most people experience either mild or no symptoms, Zika is suspected of causing a devastating birth defect — babies born with abnormally small heads — and pregnant Americans are urged to avoid travel to affected areas. U.S. health officials say the money is critical for research into the birth defect known as microcephaly. (2/8)

The Washington Post: $1.8 Billion To Fight Zika: CDC Moves To Highest Alert Level
"We must work aggressively to investigate these outbreaks, and mitigate, to the best extent possible, the spread of the virus," the administration said in a statement. It said it has not yet seen a case of Zika transmitted directly within the continental United States, but with the approach of spring and summer mosquito seasons, it wants to be prepared to fight the disease. (Mufson and Sun, 2/8)

The Wall Street Journal: White House To Request $1.8 Billion To Combat Zika Virus
The largest portion of funding, $828 million, would go to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for programs that include mosquito control and surveillance efforts to track the virus. It would also go to ensuring the ability of birth-defect registries in the U.S. to detect Zika-related risks. It is uncertain whether the request will get full approval from Congress, but lawmakers said Monday they were pleased to see the White House acknowledging the need to act promptly before transmission of the virus by mosquitoes in the continental U.S. is seen. (Armour and Lee, 2/8)

USA Today: Obama Asks For $1.8 Billion In Emergency Zika Funding
The new request comes as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that its emergency operations center has been put on a “Level 1” status — its highest level of activation — because of the Zika outbreak. The CDC has only put its operations center at Level 1 three times in the past: during the Ebola outbreak in 2014; during the H1N1 pandemic in in 2009; and after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Obama's spending proposal includes $355 million in foreign aid to South America, Central America, the Caribbean, where the Zika virus is spreading most rapidly. (Korte and Szabo, 2/8)

NBC News: White House Seeks $1.8 Billion For Zika Virus Response
"The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports 50 laboratory-confirmed cases among U.S. travelers from December 2015 - February 5, 2016. As spring and summer approach, bringing with them larger and more active mosquito populations, we must be fully prepared to mitigate and quickly address local transmission within the continental U.S., particularly in the Southern United States," the White House said. (Fox, 2/8)

Health Law Issues And Implementation

6. Eight States Show Significant Drops In Uninsured: Gov't Report

The Associated Press reports that the eight states -- Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and New York -- with statistically significant coverage gains in the National Health Interview Survey represent a political grab bag. Meanwhile, news outlets in Georgia, Connecticut and Montana detail state-based coverage numbers.

The Associated Press: Report: Eight States Show Big Drops In Uninsured
Eight states saw a significant drop last year in the number of residents going without health insurance, according to a government report out Tuesday that has implications for the presidential campaign. All but Florida had accepted a Medicaid expansion that is one of two major pathways to coverage under President Barack Obama’s health care law. The law’s other coverage route is subsidized private insurance, available in all 50 states. (Alonso-Zaldivar, 2/8)

The Associated Press: Enrollment Rises For Montana Health Insurance Exchange
More Montanans are getting medical coverage through the federal health insurance marketplace. According to the federal government, 58,114 Montana residents enrolled for an insurance plan through the marketplace during the most recent open enrollment period. That's up 7 percent from the previous year. Last year, 54,266 Montanans were enrolled for health coverage through the exchange. (2/8)

The Connecticut Mirror: 116,019 CT Residents Signed Up For Obamacare Plans
In all, 116,019 Connecticut residents signed up for private insurance through the state’s health insurance exchange, Access Health CT, during the open enrollment period that ended last week, officials said Monday. That figure is slightly higher than the 110,095 who signed up during last year’s enrollment period and exchange officials’ goal for this year of signing up 105,000 to 115,000. (Levin Becker, 2/8)

Changes may be afoot for healthcare.gov —

Kaiser Health News: Will Healthcare.gov Get A California Makeover?
The federal government — in pending proposed rules for 2017 — has signaled it too wants to have more of a hand in crafting plans. Though there are no plans to go as far as a monthly drug copay cap, healthcare.gov would be forging ahead on a path California already paved, swapping variety for simplicity in plan design. (Bartolone, 2/9)

Meanwhile, news outlets also report on how the health law may create tax questions and issues —

The Associated Press: Health Care Law Makes Tax Season Tougher For Small Companies
As more requirements of the health care law take effect, income tax filing season becomes more complex for small businesses. Companies required to offer health insurance have new forms to complete providing details of their coverage. Owners whose payrolls have hovered around the threshold where insurance is mandatory need to be sure their coverage — if they offered it last year — was sufficient to avoid penalties. (Rosenberg, 2/8)

The Hill: ObamaCare Gets Extra Sign-Up Period To Clear Tax Issues
The Obama administration is setting up a new ObamaCare sign-up period for people who failed to file 2014 tax returns. Jan. 31 was the deadline for most people to sign up, but this new period will provide another chance until March 31, for certain people who might have missed out on coverage because of confusion about new ObamaCare requirements regarding taxes and health insurance. People who received tax credits under ObamaCare to help them afford insurance in 2014 were required to file a 2014 tax return in order to make sure they received the right amount of credit. If people failed to file a tax return, they became ineligible for further tax credits starting in 2016. (Sullivan, 2/8)

Kaiser Health News: A 401(k) Withdrawal Can Lead To Trouble For Health Plan Subsidies
It’s not uncommon for people to fail to count one-time income bumps from retirement savings or other sources when they’re estimating their annual income to qualify for advance premium tax credits for marketplace coverage, said Tara Straw, a senior policy analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. In the case of retirement savings, “they’re not thinking of it as income because it’s their own money,” she said. But since retirement money is generally deposited on a pretax basis, it counts as income when it’s withdrawn and can affect how much people qualify for in premium tax credits. (Andrews, 2/9)

7. Wyo. Governor Presses For Medicaid Expansion In Address To Legislature

Gov. Matt Mead tells lawmakers that the program would help uninsured residents and the state's hospitals. Also in the ne

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