Kaiser Health News Original Stories

3. Political Cartoon: 'Know Of Anyone?'

Kaiser Health News provides a fresh take on health policy developments with "Political Cartoon: 'Know Of Anyone?'" by Roy Delgado.

Here's today's health policy haiku:

BERNIE SANDERS' BURNING QUESTION

Would Congress keep its
Hands out of it if there were
Medicare for all?

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Health Law Issues And Implementation

4. Administration Retreats On Rules For Insurers' Networks, Standardized Options For 2017

Modern Healthcare reports on the final rule out Monday that backs down from earlier efforts by the administration to force insurers to have minimum quantitative standards for networks of hospitals and doctors and to offer standardized options for health plans. News outlets also look at health law issues in Texas, Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Modern Healthcare: Obama Administration Backs Off On ACA Rules For 2017 Health Plans
In a major win for the industry, health insurers will not be forced to have minimum quantitative standards when designing their networks of hospitals and doctors for 2017, nor will they have to offer standardized options for health plans. The CMS released a sweeping final rule Monday afternoon that solidifies the Affordable Care Act's coverage policies for 2017. The agency proposed tight network adequacy provisions and standardized health plan options in late November, which fueled antipathy from the health insurance industry. ... The rule addresses several other issues, including surprise medical bills and the 2017 open-enrollment period. (Herman, 2/29)

Louisville (Ky.) Courier-Journal: Bills Aim To Save Kynect, Medicaid Programs
Rep. Darryl Owens, a Louisville Democrat, has filed two bills seeking to block Gov. Matt Bevin's plans to dismantle kynect, the state health exchange, and scale back the state Medicaid program. Owens said he hopes to get a hearing on his bills in the House, where Democrats hold the majority, though he acknowledged that they likely won't fare well in the Senate, controlled by Republicans. (Yetter, 2/29)

NPR: In Texas, Uneven Expansion Of Obamacare Sows Frustration
People in Texas are significantly more likely than adults nationwide to report that it has gotten harder to see a doctor in the past two years. The finding comes from polling done by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. ... Almost 1 in 5 people in Texas says it's gotten harder to see a doctor in the past two years according to the NPR poll. It didn't matter what kind of insurance they had. About 70 percent of insurance plans for Texans available on HealthCare.gov are small ones, according to Dan Polsky, a health economist at the University of Pennsylvania. (Silverman, 2/29)

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel: Wisconsin Uses Affordable Care Act But Rejects Funding For It
Wisconsin's decision last week to challenge a fee imposed by the Affordable Care Act set up a comparison not lost on advocates who support the law. The fee has cost the state about $23 million so far. In contrast, Gov. Scott Walker and the Legislature's opposition to the law is projected to cost $678.6 million in state tax dollars through the 2017 fiscal year. That's because Wisconsin is the only state in the country to use the Affordable Care Act to expand its Medicaid program while turning down the additional federal dollars available through the law to pay for it. (Boulton, 2/29)

Minnesota Public Radio: Report: Only 4 Percent Lack Health Insurance In Minnesota
An improving economy and access to affordable coverage led more than 200,000 uninsured Minnesotans to get health insurance the past two years, boosting Minnesota's insured rate to an all-time high, officials said Monday. ... Among its findings, the survey found uninsured rates for Latino Minnesotans fell from 35 percent in 2013 to 12 percent in 2015. Other groups saw progress, too, although the department said there are still gaps between the insurance rates of whites and people of color in the state. (2/29)

5. S.D. Governor Moves His Medicaid Expansion Plan Off Agenda For This Legislative Session

Republican Gov. Dennis Daugaard says there isn't enough time left for lawmakers to adequately consider his plan, but he hints the issue could come up in a special session or in 2017. In Utah, a House committee approves a bill that would extend Medicaid coverage to the chronically homeless, mentally ill and those recently released from prison.

The Associated Press: Governor Won't Pursue Medicaid Expansion This Session
Gov. Dennis Daugaard said Monday that he won't pursue an expansion of Medicaid in South Dakota during the current legislative session. The governor made the announcement after getting input from federal officials about policy revisions necessary to satisfy his conditions. Daugaard said there are not enough days left in the legislative session for lawmakers to consider his plan and adequately make their decisions. (Lammers, 2/29)

Sioux Falls (S.D.) Argus-Leader: Special Session For Medicaid Expansion?
Gov. Dennis Daugaard on Monday said he won't ask lawmakers to take up Medicaid expansion in the final two weeks of the legislative session. But the conversation isn't over. ... The Republican governor reiterated that he won't expand Medicaid to include tens of thousands of additional needy South Dakota residents without the Legislature's and tribes' approval. And he would only move forward if expansion is budget neutral. He said he'd ask the state's budget writing committee to remove the provisions in his proposal that allowed for expansion, but he said the conversation could come up again in 2017 or in special session. (Ferguson, 2/29)

Salt Lake Tribune: House Panel OKs Bill Promoting Health Care For Homeless, Mentally Ill
With backing from advocates for the poor, a House committee approved legislation Monday that would provide health-care coverage to a portion of Utah's chronically homeless, mentally ill and those recently released from prison. "We have an opportunity to improve the lives of 16,000 of our fellow Utahns. These are people who have virtually no income and they're either homeless, interacting with the corrections [and] justice system, or have behavioral health needs," said House Majority Leader Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, the sponsor of the second substitute of HB437. "They need our help," he said. "It's a measured plan, it has cost controls in it, and I think it's the appropriate step at this time." (Gehrke, 2/29)

Deseret News: Committee Approves Bill Extending Medicaid To Utahns In The 'Greatest Need'
A bill backed by Republican House leaders extending Medicaid coverage to Utahns in the "greatest need" because of homelessness, run-ins with the law, substance abuse or mental health issues won committee approval Monday. ... Dunnigan said his proposal to offer assistance to the poorest Utahns currently without coverage under President Barack Obama's health care law is "a measured plan. It has cost controls in it, and I think it's the appropriate step at this time." The plan is the latest attempt by lawmakers to deal with the more than 60,000 Utahns in the coverage gap, earning below the federal poverty level but without federal health care subsidies because Utah has not accepted Medicaid expansion. (Riley Roche, 2/29)

And while much of the excitement over Super Tuesday has centered on the presidential primaries, some legislative races could impact Medicaid expansion.

Supreme Court

6. 'Greyhound' Vs. 'Trailblazer': Meet The Lawyers On The Texas Abortion Case

The young lawyers will face off on Wednesday in front of the Supreme Court. News outlets offer further coverage of Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, a case centering on a Texas law that requires abortion clinics to meet all standards for an “ambulatory surgical center” and for physicians performing the procedure to have admitting privileges to a hospital within 30 miles.

The New York Times: Young Lawyers Ready To Argue A Major Abortion Case Before The Supreme Court
Facing off before the Supreme Court on Wednesday, in what could be the most momentous abortion case in a quarter-century, will be two lawyers who are still in their thirties and are described by colleagues as whip-smart masters of the law and unflappable under pressure. Arguing in defense of Texas’ sharp restrictions on abortion clinics will be Scott Keller, 34, the state solicitor general. He spent his childhood in rural Wisconsin, clerked for Justice Anthony M. Kennedy in the Supreme Court and was legal counsel in the Senate to Ted Cruz, whom Mr. Keller calls a mentor. Speaking on behalf of Texas abortion providers, who are challenging laws that may force many clinics to close, will be Stephanie Toti, 37, a lawyer with the Center for Reproductive Rights in New York. Born in Brooklyn to an Italian-American family, she said her devotion to women’s rights was influenced by her grandmother, whose immigrant parents pulled her from school after the eighth grade because they feared that education would make her unmarriageable. (Eckholm, 2/29)

Politico: High Court To Hear 'Watershed' Texas Abortion Case
The Supreme Court this week will hear arguments on whether Texas can limit abortions to surgical centers and to doctors affiliated with nearby hospitals — potentially reshaping the national landscape on abortion during a presidential election year. Eight justices will hear oral arguments Wednesday in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the most significant abortion case to come before the court since 1992, and among the most significant constitutional tests since the court upheld abortion rights in the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling. (Haberkorn, 2/29)

USA Today: Abortion War In Texas Tests High Court Standard
On Wednesday, a suddenly short-staffed Supreme Court will hear the most significant challenge in a generation to the ever-rising number of state abortion restrictions. Clinics in Texas, a dwindling breed under the 2013 law, are fighting requirements that doctors must have admitting privileges at local hospitals and clinics must meet the same operating standards as surgical centers. Texas legislators and the nation's leading abortion opponents say those rules are necessary to protect women's health, even if they result in leaving just 10 clinics in a state with 5.4 million women of reproductive age. The nation's leading abortion rights groups and major medical associations say the rules don't serve public health but represent a roadblock for women seeking abortions — the very type of burden the high court's landmark 1992 ruling in Planned Parenthood v. Casey was intended to prohibit. (Wolf, 2/29)