Kaiser Health News Original Stories

2. Political Cartoon: 'Breathing Space'

Kaiser Health News provides a fresh take on health policy developments with "Political Cartoon: 'Breathing Space'" by Dan Piraro.

Here's today's health policy haiku:


Not just mosquitoes
Can spread the zika virus ...
More cause for safe sex!

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Health Law Issues And Implementation

3. GAO: Healthcare.gov 'Passive' In Identifying Potential Fraud

Although the Government Accountability Office did not allege widespread cheating, investigators noted that the administration had struggled with questions of eligibility. Meanwhile, New York's health exchange reports that the number of people who are uninsured in the state has dropped by 850,000 since 2013.

The Associated Press: Healthcare.gov 'Passive' On Heading Off Fraud
With billions in taxpayer dollars at stake, the Obama administration has taken a "passive" approach to identifying potential fraud involving the president's health care law, nonpartisan congressional investigators say in a report due out Wednesday. While the Government Accountability Office stops short of alleging widespread cheating in President Barack Obama's signature program, investigators found that the administration has struggled to resolve eligibility questions affecting millions of initial applications and hundreds of thousands of consumers who were actually approved for benefits. (Alonso-Zaldivar, 2/23)

The Associated Press: NY Health Exchange Says State's Uninsured Down To 5%
The New York Health Exchange says more than 2.8 million people have signed up for Medicaid and low-cost insurance through its 2016 open enrollment that ended Jan. 31. According to state health officials, federal data show the number of uninsured New Yorkers has declined by nearly 850,000 since the exchange opened in 2013, dropping from 10 percent to 5 percent by last September. (2/24)

4. In Utah, State Senate Panel OKs Democratic Medicaid Expansion Bill

Meanwhile, supporters of expansion plans in Maine have relaunched their efforts. And Wyoming lawmakers are debating a bill that would block the state from expanding Medicaid for two years while a study is conducted.

Salt Lake City Tribune: Full Medicaid Expansion Clears Hurdle On Way To Utah Senate Floor
Paul Gibbs said his aunt died because she didn't have access to health care and her cancer was detected too late. "As someone who has lost a family member due to them not having health care insurance," Gibbs told lawmakers Tuesday, he believes "Utah has abdicated its responsibility as a family-first state." That argument and others appeared to carry the day as the Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee voted 5-1 to send the Medicaid expansion proposal to the full Senate. (Anderson, 2/23)

Deseret News: Senate Committee Backs Full Medicaid Expansion, But Limited House Bill Expected
Last year's most hotly debated legislative topic is finally heating up in the final weeks of the session, with a Senate committee voting Tuesday to advance a Democratic bill calling for full Medicaid expansion. The surprise 5-1 vote by the Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee on SB77, sponsored by Sen. Minority Leader Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City, comes as a new Medicaid plan backed by House leaders is about to be introduced. (Riley Roche, 2/23)

Maine Public Radio: Republican Lawmaker Leads New Medicaid Expansion Proposal
State lawmakers have launched yet another attempt to expand Medicaid health care benefits to 70,000 Mainers, including hundreds who are struggling with opioid drug addiction. Republican Sen. Tom Saviello says his plan will rely on $6 million in state money that would draw down $420 million in federal matching funds. ... This is the sixth attempt in the last few years to expand Medicaid, and Saviello is supported by an influential coalition of groups including the Maine Hospital Association, the Maine Chiefs of Police Association and the Maine Sheriffs Association. (Higgins, 2/23)

Bangor (Maine) Daily News/Sun Journal: New Drive To Expand MaineCare Eligibility Begins
Saying Maine should use available federal funds to help combat its opioid addiction crisis, Sen. Tom Saviello, R-Wilton, launched the latest push to expand the state’s Medicaid program, MaineCare. The sixth effort to expand Medicaid eligibility since 2013 is backed by the state’s hospitals, as well as advocates for low-income Mainers and a portion of Maine’s law enforcement community. (Thistle, 2/23)

Bangor (Maine) Daily News: How A MaineCare Expansion Plan Differs From Past 5 Failures
Little has changed since the five previous times since 2013 that legislators — mostly Democrats — tried but failed to expand Medicaid eligibility, notwithstanding vetoes from Gov. Paul LePage. Saviello’s fellow Republicans, who, in general, make up the opposition over fears that expanding Medicaid — known here as MaineCare — would be too expensive for future taxpayers, hold a majority in the Senate. The new effort ... touts Medicaid expansion as a way for Maine to address a drug addiction crisis. And with a handful of Republican governors in other states changing their positions to allow Medicaid expansion, advocates say there is hope. (Cousins and Shepherd, 2/22)

Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune: Bill Would Block Medicaid Expansion For Another Two Years
The state Legislature, which recently defeated Medicaid expansion, is debating a bill that would create a two-year state study of health coverage for low-income Wyomingites – a measure critics call a delay tactic for helping the poor and the hospitals who serve them. But Sen. Charlie Scott, one of the sponsors of Senate File 86, said the measure is a compromise to Medicaid expansion, since the Legislature appears unwilling to extend the federal program to 20,000 low-income Wyoming adults under the Affordable Care Act. (Hancock, 2/23)

Capitol Hill Watch

5. GOP Leaders Say No To Hearings, Vote On An Obama Pick For The Supreme Court

Senate Republicans say they are united behind this position. Meanwhile, in an interview with RealClearHealth, former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle offers his thoughts on the polarized climate on Capitol Hill that gives rise to such lines in the sand and the current legal battle between Republicans in the House of Representatives and the Obama administration over the health law. In other news, The New York Times examines how the Texas abortion case, which is currently on the high court's docket, could have implications across state lines.

The Washington Post: Republicans Vow No Hearings And No Votes For Obama’s Supreme Court Pick
Senate Republicans on Tuesday united behind an official position on how to deal with President Obama’s expected nominee to replace the late Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia: no hearings, no votes and no new justice until Obama is out of office. “Presidents have a right to nominate, just as the Senate has its constitutional right to provide or withhold consent,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in a morning floor speech. “In this case, the Senate will withhold it.” (DeBonis and Kane, 2/23)

Real Clear Health: Tom Daschle On Polarization, The Supreme Court And House V. Burwell
Tom Daschle, the former Senate majority leader and now founder and CEO of The Daschle Group, talked to RealClearHealth's Karl Eisenhower about the polarized climate in Congress and the nation, and what he recommends to find areas of consensus. ... "[T]he basic question involved here between House and Burwell is the question of delegated authority: Does the Affordable Care Act provide the delegated authority to the administration to make its judgment about the administration of the Affordable Care Act. I believe it does. The Congress made a very deliberate decision when they passed the law in 2010 to give the administration great flexibility. They did that for two reasons. One, because they weren't sure just how a lot of these circumstances could be addressed. And two, there were some very dicey politics involved in many of the decisions, and they really didn't want to have to get involved in those political questions." (Eisenhower, 2/22)

The New York Times: Texas Abortion Case On Justices’ Docket May Have Effects Beyond State Lines
About 20 women came to the abortion clinic here on a recent morning, hurrying past the shouting protesters as volunteer escorts held up umbrellas to shield their faces. Inside the Reproductive Health Services clinic was Dr. Willie Parker, an Alabama native and one of a few physicians willing to face the professional shunning and the personal threats that come with being an abortion doctor in the conservative Deep South. He travels constantly among three different cities, two in Alabama and one in Mississippi, to provide a service that no local doctors will. (Eckholm, 2/24)

6. Senators Focus On Opioid Addiction And Treatment Issues

Various proposals are being floated, including measures to address doctor shopping as well as protections for opioid-dependent parents who seek treatment, that could ultimately be folded into a comprehensive effort. Meanwhile, The Huffington Post reports on the White House's interest in tackling the epidemic.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Bill Aims To Curb Narcotics Abuse Among Medicare Recipients
Older patients who get narcotics prescriptions from more than one doctor or who fill them at more than one pharmacy soon could have to streamline. As part of an effort to prevent opioid abuse, lawmakers are teeing up legislation that would limit Medicare Part D beneficiaries to a single pharmacy and a single provider for narcotics. Medicaid beneficiaries already are subject to those limitations. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said he plans to call a committee vote soon. (Mauriello, 2/23)

CQ Healthbeat: Senators Push To Keep Seniors From Doctor Shopping For Opioids
Bipartisan legislation aimed at blocking Medicare recipients from shopping for doctors and pharmacists likely to prescribe opioids could help address the national prescription drug abuse epidemic, Senate Finance Committee Democrats said at a hearing Tuesday. But they urged Republicans to broaden their approach to encourage more addiction treatment. (Zanona, 2/23)

Reuters: Senators Push Protections For Opioid-Dependent Parents, Infants
Key senators said on Tuesday they are crafting a law that would allow states to use federal foster care funds to help opioid-addicted parents raise their infants. The senior Republican and Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee envision the law as part of a comprehensive effort to address the opioid crisis with increased prevention, treatment and law enforcement. (Shiffman, 2/23)

The Huffington Post: Obama Found Religion On The Heroin Epidemic In Charleston, West Virginia
If President Barack Obama is able to forge bipartisan consensus on tackling the opioid epidemic roiling the nation, it will be with an assist from David Grubb. Grubb is not a scientist working on a breakthrough medication to combat heroin addiction. He’s not a public health advocate arguing for a major investment in recovery clinics. He’s not a member of Congress, shepherding a bill to devote hundreds of millions of dollars to law enforcement and medical facilities. He’s a former state senator in West Virginia who now heads a consumer protection and employment law firm in Charleston. He has a story -- heart-wrenching and all-too-common -- about the toll that heroin takes on a life. (Grim and Stein, 2/23)