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4. Political Cartoon: 'Do You Read Me?'

Kaiser Health News provides a fresh take on health policy developments with "Political Cartoon: 'Do You Read Me?'" by Lee Judge, Kansas City Star.

Here's today's health policy haiku:

VETERANS' CHOICE

The VA Choice Card
McCain says make permanent.
A hero to me.

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Summaries Of The News:

Medicare

5. Final Rule Provides Slight Increase In Medicare Advantage Payments

The payment amount decision, which came after heavy lobbying, was a bit lower than the administration initially suggested. On another part of the rule, however, the administration delayed efforts to cut payments to employer-sponsored Medicare Advantage plans.

The Wall Street Journal: Federal Regulators Issue Medicare Advantage Rates For 2017
Federal regulators said Monday that payments to insurers that offer private Medicare plans to older Americans would rise slightly, but somewhat less than the government indicated earlier this year. The increase represents a boost for companies who offer the plans under Medicare Advantage, the program in which beneficiaries can get Medicare policies from private companies, which are then reimbursed by the federal government. ean Cavanaugh, deputy administrator at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said the Medicare Advantage payments would increase 0.85% on average for 2017, and that insurers would likely see overall revenue increase about 3.05%, in a final rule published Monday. (Radnofsky and Armour, 4/4)

Reuters: U.S. To Raise Payments To Insurers For Medicare Advantage 2017 Plans
Each year, the government sets out how it will reimburse insurers for the healthcare services their members use. Payments vary by region, the quality rating earned by the health plan and the relative health of the members. The proposal is always subject to industry lobbying and often changes before it is finalized. (Humer, 4/4)

The Associated Press: Modest Payment Increase For Medicare Advantage In 2017
Medicare says private insurance plans serving as an alternative for 17 million beneficiaries will get a modest payment increase next year. ... Medicare Advantage plans cover nearly one out of three beneficiaries, a steadily growing share of the program. They offer lower overall costs for many patients, in exchange for some limitations on choice. (4/4)

Bloomberg: U.S. Increases 2017 Medicare Advantage Rates Less Than Expected
The Obama administration has been pushing to contain costs for Medicare Advantage since the Affordable Care Act became law in 2010. At the time, the U.S. was spending about 10 percent more for each Medicare Advantage beneficiary than for the traditional Medicare program. Spending per Medicare Advantage recipient is about 2 percent higher this year, according to the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, known as MedPAC, which advises Congress on payment policies. (Tracer, 4/4)

Modern Healthcare: Final Medicare Advantage Rates Largely Shun Health Plan Lobbying
The federal government has lowered average payments for 2017 Medicare Advantage plans, and it also modified several of the program's policies after weeks of unremitting lobbying from the health insurance industry. Overall, the Obama administration showed a commitment to proposals the powerful industry vehemently opposed. One of the most notable policy changes within the CMS' 250-page policy document was the decision to phase in cuts to employer-sponsored Medicare Advantage plans over two years instead of instituting the cuts in 2017. That policy was not nixed altogether, much to the chagrin of insurers. (Herman, 4/4)

Morning Consult: After Intense Lobbying, Administration Slows Retiree Health Plan Changes
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will still decrease payments to Medicare employer retiree plans, but will implement the policy change over a two-year period rather than immediately this August. The Monday announcement comes as part of the finalized 2017 payment rates for Medicare Advantage plans, and after insurers, some unions, employers and lawmakers urged the agency not to finalize the proposal. While the agency did not completely reverse course, the two-year transition will somewhat mitigate the effects on insurers, Sean Cavanaugh, CMS’ deputy administrator and director of the Center for Medicare said on a press call Monday. (McIntire, 4/4)

Health Law Issues And Implementation

6. Employer-Based Health Care System 'Alive And Well' Under The Affordable Care Act, Analysis Finds

Despite fears that the health law would cause employers to rush to drop benefits for their workers, offering insurance is still viewed as an important recruitment and retention tool.

The New York Times: Despite Fears, Affordable Care Act Has Not Uprooted Employer Coverage
The Affordable Care Act was aimed mainly at giving people better options for buying health insurance on their own. There were widespread predictions that employers would leap at the chance to drop coverage and send workers to fend for themselves. But those predictions were largely wrong. Most companies, and particularly large employers, that offered coverage before the law have stayed committed to providing health insurance. (Abelson, 4/4)

Meanwhile, researchers say the Internal Revenue Service is wasting an opportunity to help get people subsidies for the federal exchanges, and Republicans put health law programs on the chopping block to woo their conservative wing —

Kaiser Health News: IRS Could Help Find Many Uninsured People, But Doesn't
Nearly a third of people without health insurance, about 10 million, live in families that received a federal earned income tax credit (EITC) in 2014, according to a new study. But the Internal Revenue Service doesn’t tell those tax filers that their low and moderate incomes likely mean their households qualify for Medicaid or subsidies to buy coverage on the insurance exchanges. That’s a lost opportunity to identify people who are eligible but not receiving government assistance to gain health coverage, the researchers say. (Galewitz, 4/5)

The Associated Press: GOP Appeals To Conservatives With Health Care, Immigrant Cuts
Trying to win over conservatives, House Republicans are sweetening their budget proposal by putting several programs on the chopping block, including President Barack Obama's health care law and tax credits for children of immigrants living in the country illegally. But cuts to programs like food stamps are on hold and a drive to cap medical malpractice awards has faltered before a GOP-controlled committee, though cuts to Medicaid and a popular program that provides health coverage to children have advanced. (4/5)

7. Ark. Lawmakers Advise Governor To Drop Medicaid Managed Care Plan For Now

In a letter, House and Senate leaders advise Gov. Asa Hutchinson to not ask the legislature to take up his proposal to switch part of the Medicaid program to a private managed care model when he calls the legislature into special session this week to consider the state's Medicaid expansion.

Arkansas Online: Cut Managed-Care Plan For Now, Governor Urged
House and Senate leaders told the governor late Monday that they don't want to consider a proposal to privatize parts of Medicaid administration in a special session set to begin Wednesday. In a letter to Gov. Asa Hutchinson, House Speaker Jeremy Gillam, R-Judsonia, and Senate President Pro Tempore Jonathan Dismang, R-Beebe, said "there's not a consensus on the cost-savings strategy for traditional Medicaid at this time." J.R. Davis, a spokesman for the governor, said the governor will review the letter, consider the request and make a decision today. (Fanney, 4/5)

Arkansas News: Legislative Leaders Ask Governor To Drop Managed Care From Special Session
Hutchinson said previously there will be two — and only two — items on his call for a special session starting Wednesday: A proposal to continue and modify the state’s Medicaid expansion program and a proposal to allow the state to contract with a private company or companies to manage parts of the traditional Medicaid program as a cost-saving measure. In letters to the governor, House Speaker Jeremy Gillam, R-Judsonia, and Senate President Pro Tem Jonathan Dismang, R-Beebe, said there is no consensus in either chamber on the latter proposal. (Lyon, 4/4)

KUAR: Legislative Leaders Ask Governor To Limit Session To Arkansas Works
Hutchinson said the [managed care] model is needed in order to produce savings when the state would begin sharing in the cost of Arkansas Works – 10% by 2020. The legislation would limit managed care to the areas of behavioral health and for services for the developmentally disabled, excluding the state’s human development centers for more seriously disabled residents. (Brawner, 4/4)

Modern Healthcare: Future Of Arkansas' Medicaid Expansion Unclear As Lawmakers Start Special Session
Arkansas political observers aren't betting the farm on whether the Republican-controlled Legislature will approve Gov. Asa Hutchinson's plan for renewing and modifying the state's widely acclaimed Medicaid expansion to low-income adults. Hutchinson, a Republican, has called lawmakers to Little Rock for a special session starting Wednesday to vote on his plan, dubbed Arkansas Works, a revised version of his Democratic predecessor's so-called private option version of expansion that helped cut the state's uninsured rate by more than half. About 225,000 people have received coverage under the existing program. (Dickson, 4/4)

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