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KHN First Edition: February 23, 2016


First Edition

Tuesday, February 23, 2016
Check Kaiser Health News online for the latest headlines

Today's early morning highlights from the major news organizations.

Kaiiser Health News: Dueling Star Ratings May Confuse Some Home Health Patients
Kaiser Health News staff writer Jordan Rau reports: "Patients looking for home health care services will be impressed if they check out the federal government’s ratings of Brookdale Senior Living. Four of the company’s home health agencies — in Florida, North Carolina, Ohio and Rhode Island — each earned five stars, the top quality score, primarily based on Medicare’s assessment of how often patients got better." (Rau, 2/23)

Kaiser Health News: As Rural Hospitals Struggle, Some Opt To Close Labor And Delivery Units
Kaiser Health News consumer columnist Michelle Andrews writes: "A few years ago, when a young woman delivered her baby at Alleghany Memorial Hospital in Sparta, North Carolina, it was in the middle of a Valentine’s Day ice storm and the mountain roads out of town were impassable. The delivery was routine, but the baby girl had trouble breathing because her lungs weren’t fully developed. Dr. Maureen Murphy, the family physician who delivered her that night, stayed in touch with the neonatal intensive care unit at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, a 90-minute drive away, to consult on treatment for the infant." (Andrews, 2/23)

The Washington Post: HHS Failed To Heed Many Warnings That Was In Trouble
During the two years before the disastrous opening of, federal officials in charge of creating the online insurance marketplace received 18 written warnings that the mammoth project was mismanaged and off course but never considered postponing its launch, according to government investigators. The warnings included a series of 11 scathing reviews from an outside consultant — among them a top-10 list of risks drawn up in the spring of 2013 that cited inadequate planning for the website’s capacity and deviations from usual IT standards. ... he long trail of unheeded warnings is among the findings from an exhaustive two-year inquiry by HHS’s Office of Inspector General into the failings of, which crashed within two hours of its launch on Oct. 1, 2013. (Goldstein, 2/23)

The Washington Post: Abortion Foes’ Strategy Faces A Key Test At The Supreme Court
When the Supreme Court meets next week to hear its first abortion-related case in nearly a decade, the justices will consider the most significant challenge to an argument that has become central to the antiabortion cause: that abortion hurts not just a fetus but also its mother. That idea wasn’t always at the heart of the movement, which for years spent more time highlighting what it considered the plight of the unborn child. (Somashekhar, 2/22)

The Associated Press: Senate Clears Way For Approval Of New FDA Commissioner
The Senate has cleared the way for approval of President Barack Obama’s nominee for commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration. Senators voted 80-6 Monday to end a Democratic filibuster of Obama’s pick to head the agency. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Ed Markey of Massachusetts had held up the nomination of Dr. Robert Califf in an effort to force the agency to be tougher on prescription drug prices and the abuse of opioid painkillers. (Jalonick, 2/22)

The Associated Press: Health Care Issue, Longtime Uniter Of Democrats, Now Divides
Health care for all. It's a goal that tugs at the heartstrings of Democrats, but pursuing it usually invites political peril. Now Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton are clashing over this core question for liberals, making it a wedge issue in the party's presidential primary. It's a choice between his conviction that a government-run system would be fairer and more affordable, and her preference for step-by-step change at a time of widespread skepticism about federal power. (2/22)

NPR: Sanders Health Plan Renews Debate On Universal Coverage
When Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders stumps for health care for everyone, it always gets huge applause. "I believe that the U.S. should do what every other major country on earth is doing," he told a crowd at Eastern Michigan University on Feb. 15. "And that is, guarantee health care to all people as a right." The Democratic presidential hopeful basically wants to nationalize the U.S. health insurance industry, and have Uncle Sam foot the bill for medical bills, office visits and prescriptions. (Kodjak, 2/23)

Politico: Clinton Revives Support For Health Care 'Public Option'
Hillary Clinton wants to bring back the public option, offering a competing vision to Bernie Sanders’ support for a more progressive health care system. Clinton's campaign has updated its website to note her continued support for the government-run health plan that was dropped from Obamacare during the law's drafting. The idea was popular among progressives who prefer a single-payer plan -- like the one Bernie Sanders is touting. (Diamond and Pradhan, 2/22)

Politico: Former HHS Secretary Sebelius Endorses Clinton
Hillary Clinton picked up the support of former Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Monday. "I just feel that she's the only person, frankly, in the field of candidates who has the experience and background that prepares her nationally and internationally to be the leader of the country," the former governor of Kansas told the Topeka Capital-Journal. "As a mother, a grandmother and a former public servant, who had the privilege of serving with Hillary in the president's Cabinet, I can think of nothing more important than ensuring our next president is someone who will protect and build upon the progress made by President Obama over the past eight years." (Gass, 2/22)

The New York Times: Kevin McCarthy, G.O.P. House Leader, Says He Could Work With Donald Trump
Representative Kevin McCarthy, a Republican from California and the House majority leader, said on Monday that he would be able to work with Donald J. Trump as the party’s presidential nominee, the latest signal of acceptance from national figures of the billionaire real estate developer. “I think I’ll work with Donald Trump,” Mr. McCarthy said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program, adding, “I think I can work with anyone that comes out to be the nominee.” That includes Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who helped egg on a government shutdown over efforts to defund President Obama’s signature health care law, according to Mr. McCarthy. (Haberman, 2/22)

USA Today: Bipartisan Group Calls For Universal Long-Term Care Insurance Plans
The long-term care costs for our aging population are growing so fast and can be so financially overwhelming for families that the United States needs a universal catastrophic insurance program similar to Medicare, a bipartisan policy group announced Monday. The Long Term Care Financing Collaborative, which includes former state Medicaid directors, and members from the Brookings Institution, and the trade group America's Health Insurance Plans, is the third recent policy group to cite universal long-term care insurance as a possible solution — and the one that goes the farthest in recommending it. (O'Donnell, 2/22)

The Associated Press: Insurer Stocks Rise After Gov't Releases 2017 Rate Update
Medicare Advantage health plans will face less pressure to cut benefits or leave some markets next year after the government released a favorable early assessment of factors affecting rates. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services laid out a payment and policy update for 2017 on Friday after markets closed. The announcement includes an assessment of several variables that can affect the price of coverage. Analysts say it boils down to a rate increase of around 3.5 percent when including adjustments made to account for the health of patients covered by a plan. (2/22)

The Wall Street Journal: Zenefits Once Told Employees: No Sex In Stairwells
Zenefits’s new chief executive, David Sacks, last week banned alcohol in the office of the health-insurance brokerage startup as he tries to reverse its rambunctious culture, especially among sales staff. But it wasn’t just drinking booze that gave the San Francisco headquarters a frat-house feel. (Winkler, 2/22)

The Wall Street Journal: New York Hospitals Strain To Meet Deadline On Electronic Prescriptions
New York hospitals and physicians are scrambling to meet a state mandate to electronically prescribe all medications, with some institutions asking for extra time to comply with a 2012 law to curb prescription drug abuse, medical errors and fraud. New York is the first state to mandate e-prescribing for all prescriptions with penalties for noncompliance, said Zeynep Sumer-King, vice president of regulatory and professional affairs at the Greater New York Hospital Association. (Ramey, 2/22)

Reuters: Puerto Rico May Issue Delayed Audited 2014 Statements In April
Entities subject to going concern assessments, Garcia Padilla wrote, include not only the government itself, but PREPA, the island’s sole power utility; HTA, which operates the island’s major roads; the Metropolitan Bus Authority, which transports thousands in the San Juan area; the Puerto Rico Medical Services Administration, the island’s main hospital and trauma center; and PRIHA, which oversees Medicaid benefits for 1.6 million poor residents. (2/22)

Los Angeles Times: Orange County Just Launched Its First Clean-Needle Exchang
A year ago, a group of UC Irvine medical students realized that Orange County was missing what they considered an important public health service that every major city in California had access to: a clean-needle exchange program. So they decided to do something about it. The students organized with partners across the region and submitted a plan to the California Department of Public Health. The agency rejected the plan last summer, noting a lack of community support and funding for a program. (Kandil, 2/23)

The Associated Press: Mayor Wants Managed Heroin Injection Facility
A New York mayor wants his city to be the first in the U.S. to offer a supervised injection facility, where heroin users would be able to shoot up under the care of a nurse. Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick tells The Associated Press the facility, which would also connect addicts to recovery services, is one piece of a new approach he wants his city to take against the scourge of addiction. (2/22)

Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent operating program of the Kaiser Family Foundation. (c) 2016 Kaiser Health News. All rights reserved.

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