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Kaiser Health News Original Stories

4. Political Cartoon: 'Meep Meep'

Kaiser Health News provides a fresh take on health policy developments with "Political Cartoon: 'Meep Meep'" by Adam Zyglis, The Buffalo News.

Here's today's health policy haiku:

STUDY: SENIORS DO WELL WHEN THEY SET THEIR OWN GOALS

Achievable goals …
That’s a key to the success
Of aging in place.

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Summaries Of The News:

Health Law Issues And Implementation

5. After Year Filled With Turmoil, Health Law Is At A Crossroads

Federal officials say it's all temporary, but others fear a death spiral. Meanwhile, Blue Cross Blue Shield will offer plans in the Arizona county that was in danger of not having any exchange options after Aetna pulled out of the market there and the struggles with another provision in the health law adds to its mounting challenges.

The Wall Street Journal: U.S. Health Law Faces Critical Year
Significant spikes in premiums, insurer dropouts and persistently low enrollment numbers are combining to make this fall’s sign-up period a crossroads for the Obama administration’s signature health law. Federal officials characterize the turbulence as temporary. At the same time, the administration is making a push in its final months to shore up the law by trying to sign up healthy people who are critical to the law’s sustainability but have so far rejected insurance. That push will take place against a backdrop of elections that will shape the law’s future. (Radnofsky and Armour, 9/7)

The Wall Street Journal: Arizona’s Pinal County Gains Health-Law Exchange Insurer
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona will offer plans on the Affordable Care Act exchange in Arizona’s Pinal County next year, resolving a situation that drew a national spotlight because it represented a major challenge to the mechanics of the health law. When Aetna Inc. announced last month that it would withdraw from the exchange in Arizona, among other states, it left Pinal at risk of becoming the first U.S. county without a single insurer selling exchange plans. Aetna had been expected to sell exchange plans in Pinal County, where approximately 10,000 people had signed up for ACA plans. (Wilde Mathews, 9/8)

The Arizona Republic: Health-Insurance Woes In Pinal County Eased By At Least One 'Obamacare' Choice
Nearly 10,000 Pinal County residents now enrolled in an "Obamacare" plan will have at least one option in 2017 after Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona officials confirmed the insurer will offer health plans there next year. Pinal County faced the prospect of no Affordable Care Act plans in 2017 when Aetna last month said it would exit the marketplace in Arizona and 10 other states. The fast-growing county became the only known U.S. county without a marketplace option — as well as a national symbol of the Affordable Care Act's struggle to retain health-care insurers for the upcoming year. (Alltucker, 9/7)

The Hill: County With No ObamaCare Options Gets An Insurer After All
Arizona’s Pinal County will have an insurer offering ObamaCare coverage after all, as Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona announced Wednesday that it will step in to offer insurance there next year. The move averts what would have been an unprecedented situation for a county in the United States: having no insurer offering ObamaCare coverage, depriving people there the ability to sign up. (Sullivan, 9/7)

Politico: Another Piece Of Obamacare Falls Short
An Obamacare provision designed to inject a protective extra layer of competition into fledgling insurance markets fell into near-oblivion — and its failure has made Obamacare’s mounting challenges even more acute. Under the unwieldy name of the Multi-State Plan Program, the federal government was supposed to contract with two private health plans, at least one a nonprofit. Each is required to offer coverage in all 50 states by next year. But it’s fallen short, reaching fewer states than anticipated, and offering plans that mirror options people already have. (Pradhan and Demko, 9/7)

In other health law news —

The Hill: GOP Senators Unveil Bill Loosening ObamaCare Individual Mandate 
A group of Republican senators on Wednesday introduced a bill to exempt people from ObamaCare’s individual mandate if they live in a county with one or no options for coverage. The lawmakers, led by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), argue that it is wrong for people to face ObamaCare’s financial penalty for lacking insurance if there is only one insurer offering coverage in their area, or none at all. (Sullivan, 9/7)

Fox News: Dems Use ObamaCare Crisis To Revive 'Public Option' Push
President Obama and his Democratic allies are seizing on the exodus of private insurers from ObamaCare markets to renew their push for a so-called "public option" -- but Republicans say more "government intervention" is not the answer to the latest Affordable Care Act woes. (Chakraborthy, 9/7)

Capitol Hill Watch

6. Democrats: We're Ready To Compromise On Zika Funding

If Republican lawmakers drop the Planned Parenthood restrictions, Democrats say the lower amount of funding -- $1.1 billion -- would be acceptable.

The Hill: Pelosi: Dems Will Back Smaller Zika Bill 
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Wednesday that Democrats are ready to compromise on funding levels to address the Zika virus, provided Republicans drop restrictions on Planned Parenthood using the money. Pelosi said Democrats will accept the Senate's $1.1 billion compromise — in lieu of the $1.9 billion requested by President Obama and demanded by Pelosi earlier in the year — but only if health agencies are underwritten for a full 12 months. (Lillis, 9/7)

Morning Consult: Sticking Points Remain, Pose Obstacles To Potential Zika-CR Package
Top senators from both parties are in talks with the White House about a stopgap funding measure to keep the government open past Sept. 30, and while it’s possible Zika funding could find its way into the legislation, the issues that have caused a months-long stalemate are still very much present. Pressure is building to pass Zika funding, and everyone on Capitol Hill knows it. But there doesn’t seem to be an obvious way to get House Republicans and Senate Democrats on the same page. While attaching Zika funding to a CR seems to be the most likely way forward, it’s unclear what form that will take. (McIntire, 9/7)

Stat: What Have We Learned About Zika Over The Past Year?
Nearly a year after the Zika virus grabbed global attention, it is still confounding the scientific community. It may not have wowed Congress, or the countries and foundations that normally fund the World Health Organization’s outbreak response efforts, but it has still left scientists scrambling for answers to critical questions. (Branswell, 9/8)

In other news from Capitol Hill —

Morning Consult: Lawmakers Grapple With HHS Efforts To Lower Costs
Some Republicans suggested Wednesday that the Congressional Budget Office has not provided enough useful information about the potential savings of demonstration projects from the Health and Human Services Department’s Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation. The center is charged with experimenting with different ways to lower health care spending without decreasing the quality of care. It was created under the Affordable Care Act. In addition, the CMMI is stepping on Congress’ lawmaking powers, members of the House Budget Committee said at a hearing about the agency. (McIntire, 9/7)

The Hill: GOP Chairman Eyes Lame-Duck For Passing Medical Cures Bill 
House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) is looking to the lame-duck session after the election for passage of his signature 21st Century Cures Act, acknowledging that there is not enough time to get it done before Congress leaves this fall. “Knowing that the Senate is likely to file their CR next week…and say see ya in November it’s darn near impossible to get a bill through both the House and the Senate [before Congress breaks],” Upton told reporters Wednesday. (Sullivan, 9/7)

Pharmaceuticals

7. Dems Offer Only Vague Praise For Clinton's Drug Costs Proposal, While Republicans Dismiss It Outright

“That’s her answer to most things – bigger government, more subsidies, more government involvement, and that’s not the answer,” said Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), the No. 4 G
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