In This Edition

From Kaiser Health News: Latest Stories

Kaiser Health News Original Stories

4. Political Cartoon: 'Get Off My Back'

Kaiser Health News provides a fresh take on health policy developments with "Political Cartoon: 'Get Off My Back'" by Jerry King.

Here's today's health policy haiku:


Rural hospitals
Face struggles with finances.
One finds way to soar.

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.

Summaries of the News

Capitol Hill Watch

5. In Rare Bipartisan Vote, Senate Passes Opioid Bill 94-1

Dozens of senators came to the floor to praise the measure, saying the opioid epidemic is one of the most pressing issues facing the American family at the moment.

The New York Times: Senate Passes Broad Bill To Combat Drug Abuse
Responding to a drug crisis that has contributed to more American deaths than car crashes, the Senate on Thursday overwhelmingly passed a broad drug treatment and prevention bill, the largest of its kind since a law in 2008 that mandated insurance coverage for addiction treatment. “This is big and significant,” said Marvin Ventrell, the executive director of the National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers. “It had legs and interest because of the opioid crisis that has hit Middle America.” The bill, which passed 94 to 1, is a boon for Republican senators in swing states, which have been hit particularly hard by the drug crisis. Senators Rob Portman of Ohio and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, both Republicans, spent weeks promoting the measure on the floor after seeing opioid-related crime and addiction soar in their states. (Steinhauer, 3/10)

USA Today: Senate Passes Bipartisan Bill To Combat Painkiller Abuse, Heroin Addiction
The legislation authorizes $725 million for federal grants but does not allocate any actual funds, which would have to be approved as part of legislation to fund federal agencies for the 2017 fiscal year. Senate Republicans last week blocked an effort by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., to add $600 million in emergency money to the bill. "Let's not pretend that there is new money for this," [Sen. Sheldon] Whitehouse said. "The sooner we can get this funded, the sooner we can save lives." (Kelly, 3/10)

The Washington Post: Senate Passes Bill To Combat Heroin, Painkiller Abuse
Drug abuse has been in the spotlight this political season, with presidential candidates recalling personal stories about relatives and friends who struggled with addiction and lawmakers from states dealing with the crisis highlighting their efforts to address the problem legislatively. Many of the Republican senators who have most vocally backed the bill face tough re-election battles. (Demirjian, 3/10)

The Wall Street Journal: Senate Passes Bill To Fight U.S. Opioid Epidemic
The Senate bill authorizes funding for state and local governments, as well as schools and nonprofits, to prevent and treat prescription drug and heroin abuse. It also would expand the availability of naloxone, a drug that can counter the effects of an overdose, and it makes special provisions to help prisoners, veterans, pregnant women and mothers fighting addiction. The lone senator to oppose the bill was Sen. Ben Sasse (R., Neb.). “I’m not convinced fighting addiction—as opposed to stopping drug traffickers—is best addressed at the federal level,” Mr. Sasse said in a statement. (O'Keeffe, 3/10)

And the crisis is also being addressed in the states —

The Washington Post: Hogan Proposes Additional Spending On Education, Drug Treatment
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced new spending proposals Thursday that would boost funding for K-12 education and drug addiction treatment and pay for new construction at five of the state’s universities. The $77 million plan is the latest addition to the $42 billion budget Hogan (R) pitched to the state legislature in January. The Senate Budget and Taxation Committee is expected to approve the original budget with minor tweaks before next week, sending it to the full Senate for ­consideration. (Hicks, 3/10)

Health Law Issues And Implementation

6. Key House Republican Seeks New Rules On Reclaiming Health Law Subsidy Overpayments

The proposal by Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, is part of his effort to get an annual budget. In addition, Republicans are questioning the administration overpayments to insurers. Also on Capitol Hill, Senate Republicans are raising questions about how the insurance co-ops were regulated.

The Associated Press: Top Republican Unveils $98B In Cuts To Social Programs
A senior House Republican on Thursday reprised a proposal to cut child tax credits for immigrants working in the U.S. illegally. Powerful Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, also wants tougher rules to reclaim overpayments of health insurance tax subsidies under the new health care law as part of package to cut spending by $98 billion over 10 years. The move is part of an effort designed to help GOP leaders make progress in passing the House's annual budget blueprint. (Taylor, 3/10)

The Hill: GOP: ObamaCare Payments Break The Law
Republicans are putting heightened scrutiny on ObamaCare payments that they argue break the law. They say the administration is violating the Affordable Care Act by prioritizing payments to insurers over payments to the U.S. Treasury, and have grilled Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell about the matter at recent hearings. ... At issue is ObamaCare’s reinsurance program, which is designed to protect insurers against high costs for sicker enrollees in the early years of the law. Under the program, the government collects money from insurers and then gives it to plans with high-cost enrollees. (Sullivan, 3/10)

The Hill: ObamaCare Official: Troubled Co-Op Should Have Been Closed Sooner
A top ObamaCare official acknowledged Thursday that a troubled nonprofit “co-op” insurer set up under the health law should have been shut down sooner. The co-op, called CoOportunity, operated in Iowa and Nebraska and was shut down by regulators in January 2015 because of financial problems. Andy Slavitt, the acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), said at a Senate hearing Thursday that the insurer should have been shut down before beginning the 2015 coverage year. (Sullivan, 3/10)

The Washington Post: $1.2 Billion In Loans To ACA Health Insurance Co-Ops May Be A Loss, Report Warns
The new report says the Department of Health and Human Services was told early by its outside financial consultant that the 12 co-ops’ business plans and financial forecasts were inadequate, incomplete or based on unsupported assumptions — and yet officials approved loans anyway. After that, the report says, HHS failed to monitor the co-ops’ status despite being aware of their “severe financial distress,” continued to disburse loans and allowed them to list anticipated payments through the ACA risk-balancing program as assets even after getting “credible warnings that those payments would not materialize.” (Levine and Goldstein, 3/10)

And on health law news from the states —

NPR: Split Views On Health Overhaul In Ohio
Adults in Ohio are divided when it comes to whether they believe the Affordable Care Act has been good or bad for them. And while most rate their own health care positively, far more Ohioans rate the state's overall health care system as fair or poor than rate it as excellent. Those are some of the findings in a series of recent polls by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. (Tribble, 3/11)

WBUR: Mass. Small Business Owners Dropping Health Coverage That’s Become Unaffordable
Ryan Cook wanted to help. The office manager at his small Raynham real estate office needed health insurance; her husband had lost his job and with it, the family’s coverage. So Cook looked into adding the woman and her family to his self-employed plan. “And I was seeing prices at about $1,800 a month. That cost was ridiculous, quite frankly,” said Cook, president of FCRG, Inc. (Bebinger, 3/11)