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KHN First Edition: July 17, 2015


First Edition

Friday, July 17, 2015
Check Kaiser Health News online for the latest headlines

Today's early morning highlights from the major news organizations.

Kaiser Health News: Home Health Agencies Get Medicare’s Star Treatment
Kaiser Health News staff writer Jordan Rau reports: "The federal government released on Thursday a new five-star rating system for home health agencies, hoping to bring clarity to a fast-growing but fragmented corner of the medical industry where it’s often difficult to distinguish good from bad. Medicare applied the new quality measure to more than 9,000 agencies based on how quickly visits began and how often patients improved while under their care. Nearly half received average scores, with the government sparingly doling out top and bottom ratings." (Rau, 7/16)

Kaiser Health News: 2015 Home Health Agencies Ratings: 5-Star Facilities
The federal government has awarded star ratings to home health agencies based on quality measures such as how quickly patients began receiving visits from nurses and other skilled caregivers and how many patients improved in performing basic activities such as walking and getting out of bed. KHN compiled a list of 239 home health agencies that received Medicare’s highest rating of five stars. (Rau, 7/16)

Kaiser Health News: How Much Does It Cost To Have A Baby? Hospital Study Finds Huge Price Range
Kaiser Health News consumer columnist Michelle Andrews writes: "Which hospital parents pick to deliver their baby can have serious cost consequences, according to a new study. Hospital costs for women who had no maternal or obstetric risk factors to complicate childbirth ranged from less than $2,000 to nearly $12,000, the analysis of discharge data found. The wide variation in cost means that for expectant parents, it can pay to shop around. (Andrews, 7/17)

The New York Times: Over Objections Of Legislature, Alaska’s Governor Says He Will Expand Medicaid
After failing to persuade his Legislature to expand Medicaid, Gov. Bill Walker of Alaska said Thursday that he planned to unilaterally accept the federal funds available to cover more low-income residents under the program. Mr. Walker, an independent who took office in December, said in a news conference in Anchorage that he could not wait any longer to offer health coverage to the roughly 42,000 people his administration projects will be eligible under the expansion. Expanding Medicaid — an option for every state under President Obama’s Affordable Care Act — was a campaign priority for Mr. Walker, who couched it as a “common-sense decision” for the state’s economy and for the health of its people. (Goodnough, 7/16)

The Wall Street Journal: Alaska Governor Moves To Expand Medicaid
The independent governor on Thursday said he had sent a letter to state legislators saying he will apply directly to Washington to extend Medicaid coverage to most residents whose incomes are up to one-third above than the poverty line in his state, and that legislators would have to call a special session or take other action to stop him. He said he was giving the state legislature 45 days to act or he would do so unilaterally after lawmakers previously declined to vote on a bill he had proposed to expand the Medicaid program, which is jointly funded and administered by federal and state governments. (Radnofsky, 7/16)

Politico: California May Let Undocumented Immigrants Buy Obamacare
California lawmakers and activists are spearheading a first-in-the-nation plan to let undocumented immigrants buy Obamacare health insurance. Supporters say the California proposal, which would need federal approval and couldn’t start until 2017, is the next logical step in expanding health insurance to a population that was intentionally excluded from the president’s health-care law. But uniting the two highly combustible issues of Obamacare and immigration could reignite a fierce health-care reform controversy. (Pradhan, 7/17)

The Associated Press: Democrats Decry Undercover Probe Of
Senior Democrats pushed back Thursday against an undercover government probe of President Barack Obama’s health care law, saying it didn’t uncover any real fraud. Investigators for the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office signed up 11 bogus beneficiaries for 2014 coverage then got to continue benefits this year for all but one. (Alonso-Zaldivar, 7/16)

Politico: Republicans Plan New Abortion Push
In recent years, Republicans have worked to soften their tone when it comes to contentious issues such as abortion, wanting to avoid a repeat of gaffes like Todd Akin’s “legitimate rape” comments that have turned off many female voters. But now, the GOP is going hard on abortion politics — and Planned Parenthood specifically — following the release of the video depicting a top official for the group casually talking about doctors collecting fetal organs for biomedical companies during abortions. (Bade and Kim, 7/16)

USA Today: Planned Parenthood President: Video Claims 'Not True'
The president of Planned Parenthood responded to accusations against the organization Thursday, denouncing lawmakers and anti-abortion groups who have rallied for investigations of the group's practices. "I want to be really clear: The allegation that Planned Parenthood profits in any way from tissue donation is not true," said Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards in a video. (Calfas, 7/16)

The Wall Street Journal's CFO Journal: UAW Trust Sought Drug-Price Risk Disclosures
Specialty drug costs are sky high, and insurers, doctors and hospitals are pushing back—in a phenomenon that played out during the most recent proxy season. One large pension plan was keen on finding out whether some pharmaceutical companies are at risk of pricing themselves out of the game. The $54 billion UAW Retiree Medical Benefits Trust, which provides health-care benefits to more than 750,000 retirees of the UAW union and their dependents, targeted six pharmaceutical companies this proxy season, according to a proxy-season wrap-up memo that law firm Gibson Dunn sent to clients on Wednesday. Three are working with the trust address to its concerns outside of a shareholder proposal, while the other three went up for vote. Two tried to block the resolutions based on Securities and Exchange rules but were denied. (Murphy, 7/16)

The Associated Press: UnitedHealth Tops Street 2Q Forecasts, Raises Forecasts
ompetitors like the Blue Cross-Blue Shield carrier Anthem Inc., Aetna Inc. and Centene Corp. all have made multibillion-dollar offers for smaller companies in recent weeks as health insurers bulk up on technology try to cut costs by growing larger. They also want to stoke enrollment in areas like Medicare Advantage, the fast-growing privately run version of the federal government's coverage program for people who are over 65 or disabled. UnitedHealth, already the nation's largest Medicare Advantage plan provider, has taken a different path on acquisitions, one that veers from its core business. The insurer is wrapping up its bid for the pharmacy benefits manager Catamaran Corp., a deal valued at more than $12 billion. (7/16)

The Wall Street Journal: UnitedHealth Lifts View Amid Strong Growth
The company also offered reassurance on hospital spending, which is a particular focus for investors because it was a factor in Humana Inc.’s recent downward revision of 2015 earnings guidance. UnitedHealth said it continues to see overall reductions in per-capital hospital use and isn’t seeing any sign that it is coming in higher than expected. (Dulaney and Wilde Mathews, 7/16)

Los Angeles Times: Aetna's 21% Rate Hike Amounts To 'Price Gouging,' California Regulator Says
California's managed-care regulator slammed health insurance giant Aetna Inc. on Thursday for "price gouging" after it raised rates on small employers by 21%. This marked the fourth time since 2013 that California officials have found Aetna's premium increases on small businesses unreasonable. Aetna, the nation's third-largest health insurer, is raising rates by 21%, on average, for about 13,000 people covered by small employers. This change in premiums took effect July 1. Shelley Rouillard, director of the California Department of Managed Health Care, said an Aetna executive rejected her request this week to lower the rates. (Terhune, 7/16)

The Washington Post: VA Says It Will Start Closing Hospitals In Weeks If Congress Doesn’t Help Plug Its Budget Hole
Senior lawmakers traveled from Capitol Hill on Thursday to the Department of Veterans Affairs headquarters to hear firsthand why the agency is threatening to shut down some hospitals next month if Congress does not address a $2.5 billion shortfall. The visit by the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate committees that oversee veterans care was the agency’s latest effort to step up pressure on Congress to fill a $3 billion hole in its budget before the August recess. The lawmakers attended a daily meeting of agency staff that is trying to manage an explosion in demand for health care. (Rein, 7/17)

The Washington Post: Limits On VA Employee Rights To Get Quick House Vote
Under a measure approved Wednesday by the House Veterans Affairs Committee, VA employees would have less time to challenge disciplinary actions, such as demotions or firings, and they could not appeal decisions beyond a first-level hearing official. Those changes would largely mirror limits imposed last year by a law that applies only to senior executives at the VA. ... The measure is one of numerous proposals offered in response to the scandal over patient scheduling and care at the department, and employee organizations see such measures as a precedent for making similar changes government-wide. (Yoder, 7/16)

Los Angeles Times: Out-Of-Network Costs Lurk Even At In-Network Hospitals
Lorena Martin's 18-year-old son, Robert, hurt his ankle playing football one recent Friday evening. He was in pain and unable to walk, and she was concerned that he'd done real damage. Both her doctor's office and the nearby urgent care center were closed, so with no other options, she took him to the emergency room. The hospital was in her health plan's network — she'd made sure of that. Once there, Martin paid a $50 co-pay and later received a bill for an additional $270, which she expected. (Zamosky, 6/17)

The New York Times: Benefits, And Some Resistance, As New York Cracks Down On Nail Salon Abuses
Under newly issued state rules, gloves must now be worn by manicurists when they are handling things like cotton balls soaked in nail polish remover, and goggles when they pour acetone and other chemicals. Respirator masks — not the paper hospital-style mask that is commonly seen and is considered ineffective at combating chemical exposure — must be made available for workers to use when buffing or filing nails, or when sculpting acrylic nails. But the survey found gloves being used at just 15 percent of salons. When The Times observed masks in use at about two dozen salons, just three of them were employing the required respirator-style ones. (Nir and Pagan, 7/16)

Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent operating program of the Kaiser Family Foundation. (c) 2014 Kaiser Health News. All rights reserved.

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