Kaiser Health News Original Stories

4. Political Cartoon: 'Not Exactly'

Kaiser Health News provides a fresh take on health policy developments with "Political Cartoon: 'Not Exactly'" by Steve Kelley.

Here's today's health policy haiku:

FUNDING BAN LIFTED ON NEEDLE EXCHANGES

Needle exchanges
And the federal haystack
Come together now.

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Health Law Issues And Implementation

5. Based On Latest Enrollment Numbers, Covered California Now 'Running In Place'

Also regarding Covered California, the exchange may require its health plans to pay broker commissions to try to avoid discrimination against higher-cost consumers. Meanwhile, in Minnesota, MNSure data indicates exchange shoppers are getting older.

The San Jose Mercury News: Obamacare: Are Covered California's Numbers Plateauing?
With Covered California's announcement Wednesday that 1.57 million Californians selected health plans during its third open enrollment period, at least one health care expert believes that the nation's bellwether state in implementing the Affordable Care Act is now essentially running in place. Although the latest numbers don't say how many people have paid for their plan to complete their enrollment -- the only figure that really counts and which will be available in a few months -- some experts say that the net gain from last year's 1.3 million total could be minimal. (Seipel, 2/17)

Kaiser Health News: California Marketplace May Require Insurers To Pay Agent Commissions
California’s health exchange may require its health plans to pay sales commissions to insurance agents to keep insurers from shunning the sickest and costliest patients. Covered California is working on a proposal that would force the plans to pay commissions effective next year, said Executive Director Lee. The proposed rules could apply to regular and special enrollment periods, and would leave the specific commission amount or percentage up to insurers, he said. The issue is expected to be discussed Thursday at Covered California’s monthly board meeting. (Terhune, 2/18)

The Associated Press: Data Shows MNsure Shoppers Are Getting Older
Consumers buying health insurance through MNsure are getting older, according to data released Wednesday from the latest round of open enrollment, a troubling sign that could mean increasing costs. The state's health insurance exchange celebrated meeting its goals for private coverage signups after enrollment closed at the end of January, finally hitting a critical goal after two years of setbacks. But the details behind those numbers show the share of residents 55 and older who bought insurance through MNsure have jumped by 7 percent since 2015, while the pool of younger enrollees shrank. (Potter, 2/17)

6. Faith Leaders Press Virginia Lawmakers To Rethink Medicaid Expansion

Meanwhile, in Georgia, a Senate health committee held a hearing on a proposal that would create a Medicaid expansion alternative.

Campaign 2016

7. In Latest Critique, Economists Slam Health Savings Claims Cited By Sanders

Their letter states that there is no credible research that backs up the overly rosy projections of economic growth touted by Bernie Sanders' campaign. In other 2016 election news, Donald Trump, when asked about Americans having access to health care, says as president he would work out a deal with the hospitals.

The Wall Street Journal: Democratic Economists Say Bernie Sanders’s Math Doesn’t Add Up
Four leading Democratic economists sharply criticized Sen. Bernie Sanders for citing “extreme claims” about the economic effects of his campaign proposals, the latest in a stream of critiques from Democrats over details of his platform. Criticism has also been directed at Mr. Sanders’s plan for a single-payer, government-run health-care plan, with critics saying he underestimates the costs of providing health care to all Americans and overestimates the revenue his plan would generate. (Timiraos and Meckler, 2/17)

NBC News: Trump On Sanders: 'We're Very Similar' In This Way
Consider a political outsider who is tapping into voter anger, delivering a populist message and drawing raucous thousands to rallies. He wants the hedge fund managers to pay more taxes and argues that there should be health care for everyone. Sound familiar? (Timm, 2/17)

Meanwhile, media outlets fact check the candidates' health care claims —

The Washington Post's Fact Checker: Trump’s Truly Absurd Claim He Would Save $300 Billion A Year On Prescription Drugs
Reining in the cost of prescription drugs has become a major issue in the 2016 presidential campaign. Both former secretary of state Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) have proposed detailed plans to control prescription-drug prices, with both calling for Medicare to negotiate directly with prescription-drug companies to get lower prices. Republican candidates have also decried high prescription-drug costs, though generally their policy proposals have been thinner. Developer Donald Trump ... also says he wants to allow Medicare to negotiate directly with drug companies. In fact, he makes the bold claim that he would save $300 billion a year. Is this even remotely possible? (Kessler, 2/18)

Health IT

8. California Hospital Held Hostage By Hackers Pays $17,000 Ransom To Unlock Records

The cyberattack forced Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center to return to pen and paper for its record-keeping.

The Associated Press: Hospital Pays Thousands To End Attack Known As ‘Ransomware’
A Los Angeles hospital paid a ransom in bitcoins equivalent to about $17,000 to hackers who infiltrated and disabled its computer network, the medical center’s chief executive said Wednesday. It was in the best interest of Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center to pay the ransom of 40 bitcoins — currently worth $16,664 dollars — after the network infiltration that began Feb. 5, CEO Allen Stefanek said in a statement. (Dalton, 2/17)

Los Angeles Times: Hollywood Hospital Pays $17,000 In Bitcoins To Hackers Who Took Control Of Computers
“The malware locks systems by encrypting files and demanding ransom to obtain the decryption key. The quickest and most efficient way to restore our systems and administrative functions was to pay the ransom and obtain the decryption key,” Hollywood Presbyterian CEO Allen Stefanek said. “In the best interest of restoring normal operations, we did this.” Stefanek said patient care was never compromised, nor were hospital records. (Winton, 2/17)

Modern Healthcare: Hospital Pays Hackers $17,000 To Unlock EHRs Frozen In 'Ransomware' Attack
Healthcare organizations, along with small businesses and schools, make good targets for ransomware attacks because they don't typically have the sophisticated backup systems and other resilience measures that are typical at large corporations, said Lillian Ablon, a cybersecurity expert with the RAND Corp., a California think tank. For example, two smaller healthcare organizations—a three-physician surgical practice in 2012 and an 18-bed critical-access hospital in 2014—were hit by ransomware attacks. The smaller ransom amount in the Hollywood Presbyterian case is more in line with customary ransomware demands, according to security experts. The demands typically track with the nuisance value of not having to restore databases and computer systems. (Conn, 2/17)