Kaiser Health News Original Stories

1. Do Cell Phones Belong In The Operating Room?

A number of doctors and professional organizations are calling for clear rules on whether and how health care professionals can use cell phones while in the operating room. (Shefali Luthra, 7/14)

3. Political Cartoon: 'Hide And Seek Counsel?'

Kaiser Health News provides a fresh take on health policy developments with "Political Cartoon: 'Hide And Seek Counsel?'" by Hilary Price.

Here's today's health policy haiku:


I told the app I
was seeing spots.  Its reply?
"You have chicken pox."

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.

Administration News

4. In Pushing States To Help Seniors Save For Retirement, Obama Lauds Medicare, Medicaid And Social Security

President Barack Obama made these comments during a speech at the sixth White House conference on aging, an event that takes place roughly once a decade.

The New York Times: Obama Wants More State Laws To Make Retirement Saving Easier
A handful of states have passed laws that require certain employers to automatically open retirement plans for employees when they are hired instead of waiting for workers to decide to do so on their own, and about 20 more are considering such laws. Mr. Obama said he wanted to encourage more of these laws to be passed. The president spoke during the sixth White House conference on aging, an event that takes place roughly once a decade. Mr. Obama noted that the conference was particularly well timed because it was being held almost 50 years after legislation was passed creating the Medicare and Medicaid programs, which provide health care to the elderly and the poor. (Harris,7/13)

McClatchy: Obama Pushes States To Help Millions More Save For Retirement
The president praised Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security and said the programs reaffirmed the greatness of the United States, allowing older Americans who had worked hard to retire independently. He used his grandmother as an example, saying Medicare and Social Security allowed her to continue to live on her own after she had retired and his grandfather died. (Kennedy, 7/13)


5. New Ranking Tool Aids Consumers In Finding Top-Ranked Surgeons

The "surgeon scorecard," which is Web-based, free and supported by a non-profit consumers group, ranks surgeons in 14 types of major surgery including bypass, and total knee and hip replacement.

The Washington Post: Need A New Knee? Heart Valve? Back Surgery? This Web Site Could Help You Find The Top Surgeons Near You.
Now a nonprofit consumers group has come out with a free surgeon rating tool that allows consumers to type in a Zip code and search for the top-performing surgeons in 14 types of major surgery. They include: heart valve and bypass surgery, total knee and hip replacement, gastric (stomach), hernia, and spine fusion surgery. The ratings are based on an analysis of federal government records of more than 4 million surgeries performed by more than 50,000 doctors. Using star ratings (5 stars being the best), the group identified surgeons who have better-than-average performances based on three criteria: Death rates; Other bad outcomes, such as infections, falls or other complications that resulted in longer hospital stays; or re-admissions. (Sun, 7/14)

USA Today: 'Surgeon Scorecard' Measures Docs By Complications
Surgeons around the country are now scored against their peers in a new statistic developed by a non-profit news organization that goes beyond hospital-level data, providing a never-before-available tool for consumers and generating debate and some angst in the surgical community. (Penzenstadler, 7/14)

In related news, Bloomberg takes a look at the geographic cost disparity -- sometimes within the same city or region -- that exists for surgical procedures -

Bloomberg: Thirty Cities Where The Price Of A New Hip Can Double Across Town
In Dallas, a 15-mile trip can save a patient $12,000 on joint replacement surgery. Coloradans who come down from the mountains for treatment in Denver can save $19,000. And in Maryland, a 9-mile drive from Baltimore to the suburbs can save $36,000. Hospitals sometimes just a few miles apart get paid wildly different prices for hip or knee replacements in much of the U.S., according to an analysis of Medicare data. The public health insurance program for Americans over 65 spends $7 billion on more than 400,000 joint replacements each year. (Tozzi, 7/13)


6. Drug Makers, Insurers Could Feel Added Marketplace Merger Pressures

The Wall Street Journal notes that changes in the insurance market could lead to new pressures as doctors likely face stingier reimbursements, with cancer treatments a possible target. Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports that insurers, which have been hesitant to cover costly hepatitis C drugs, will also feel a push from a report that finds these therapies cost effective.

Bloomberg: Gilead Pills Priced At $1,000 A Day Are Found Cost-Effective
Health insurers that have been reluctant to cover hepatitis C drugs with list prices of $1,000 a daily dose will face more pressure after a report concluding the medications are “cost-effective” given their benefits. The report, still in draft form, is by an influential panel of doctors and medical experts that helps insurers set policies. While insurance companies already cover the sickest patients for treatments by Gilead Sciences Inc. and AbbVie Inc., they’ve resisted extending coverage to people who aren’t yet showing damage from the disease. Even with negotiated discounts, the pills can cost hundreds of dollars a day and are taken for eight to 12 weeks. (Bloomfield, 7/13)

Meanwhile, on the biotech front -

CQ Healthbeat: CMS Pay Proposal On Copycat Biotech Drugs Draws Criticism
Novartis AG, the first company to win United States approval to sell a copycat biotechnology drug, and Amgen Inc., a competitor in the emerging field, are questioning how Medicare officials plan to pay for these products. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services last week said it plans to put products that are approved to deliver the same therapeutic protein in the body into a common group calculation. The approach, known as blended J codes, would make it more difficult to track cases where one manufacturer's version of a biotech medicine may have variations that cause complications, Kimberly Greco, director of research and development policy at Amgen, told reporters Monday after a Capitol Hill briefing. Having distinguishable codes in setting payments would make it easier to track the cause of potential adverse events for patients, she said. (Young, 7/13)

Health Law Issues And Implementation

7. Alaska Gov. To Announce Medicaid Expansion Plans Thursday

A spokesman for Gov. Bill Walker said the announcement won't mark the beginning of the program but will explain how the governor will roll it out. News outlets also report on some Medicaid developments in Arkansas and Indiana.

Alaska Dispatch News: Alaska Gov. Walker To Announce Plans For Medicaid Expansion Thursday
Gov. Bill Walker will announce his plans to expand Medicaid in Alaska on Thursday, bringing him closer to fulfilling one of this top campaign promises, his spokeswoman said Monday. The scheduled announcement Thursday morning won’t mark the initiation of the program, but will explain how Walker intends to go forward on expansion without a mandate from the Republican-controlled Legislature, said Grace Jang, Walker's spokeswoman. The Legislature, with opponents of expansion in key leadership roles, failed to hold a vote on Walker's expansion bills. (7/13)

The Associated Press: Walker To Announce Plans For Medicaid Expansion
Walker campaigned on expanding Medicaid coverage. ... In May, during the first special session, an administration bill to expand and make changes to the Medicaid program was tabled in the House Finance Committee for further review. Senate Finance did not take up the bill during this year's two special sessions. (/7/12)

The Associated Press: Governor: More Help Allowed For Medicaid Check
Concerned about disruptions in health coverage for private-option enrollees and children from low-income families, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said in a letter to state lawmakers Monday that he has instructed the state Department of Human Services to "bring in additional resources as necessary" to help with the annual check of eligibility for Medicaid benefits. Hutchinson sent the letter to update lawmakers on an annual check of the incomes of about 600,000 Medicaid recipients, including tens of thousands of enrollees on the private option, that began a month ago using an electronic eligibility and enrollment system that has been under construction for more than two years. (Davis, 7/14)

Chicago Tribune: Medicaid Director Lauds Lake County HIP Response
Lake County is one of the leading counties in [Indiana] when it comes to previously uninsured residents signing up for the Healthy Indiana Plan 2.0. In a Monday speech before the Gary Chamber of Commerce, Indiana Medicaid Director Joe Moser spotlighted the fact that 20,309 of 25,557 of Lake County enrollees were purchasing insurance for the first time through HIP 2.0 — and not rolled over from the previous version of HIP or other Medicaid programs. ... But Moser said that census data reveals that there are almost 7,000 Lake County residents who may qualify for HIP 2.0, but haven't enrolled yet. (Lazerus, 7/14)