Kaiser Health News Original Stories

5. Political Cartoon: 'Matter Of Time?'

Kaiser Health News provides a fresh take on health policy developments with "Political Cartoon: 'Matter Of Time?'" by Chris Wildt .

Here's today's health policy haiku:


An OR without
Cell  phones? Let's discuss later --
I'm playing Minecraft.

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6. Medicare Trustees: Program's Trust Fund Will Be Solvent Until 2030

But the annual report card issued Wednesday by the trustees of Medicare and Social Security also offers concerns -- highlighting the fiscal challenges ahead for the Social Security disability program unless Congress intervenes.

Kaiser Health News: Good News, Bad News In Medicare Trustees Report
As Medicare approaches its 50th anniversary next week, the federal program got some welcome financial news Wednesday: Its giant hospital trust fund will be solvent until 2030, and its long-term outlook has improved, according to a report from the program’s trustees. But the report warned that several million Medicare beneficiaries could see their Medicare Part B monthly premiums skyrocket by 52 percent in January — from $104.90 to $159.30. Medicare Part B, which is paid for by a combination of federal funds and beneficiary premiums, generally covers physician and outpatient costs. (Galewitz, 7/23)

The Wall Street Journal: Social Security, Medicare Outlook: Better But Still Bleak
Meanwhile, the report said Medicare’s hospital-insurance program, which insured around 1.6 million more people last year than it did the previous year, will be able to pay full benefits for elderly and disabled patients through 2030. The estimate is unchanged from last year’s projection. As recently as 2009, trustees had estimated that the hospital-care fund would be depleted by 2017. (Timiraos, 7/22)

The Associated Press: 5 Things From Annual Check-Up For Social Security, Medicare
Looking at the big picture, the financial health of Social Security and Medicare doesn’t appear to have worsened. Wednesday’s annual check-up found that Social Security’s retirement trust fund has enough money to pay full benefits until 2035, a year later than previously projected. Medicare’s giant trust fund for inpatient care won’t be exhausted until 2030, the same date as last year’s report. But below those reassuring projections, program trustees said there’s cause for concern. (Alonso-Zaldivar and Ohlemacher, 7/23)

The Associated Press: Report: Social Security Disability Fund To Run Dry Next Year
The 11 million Americans who receive Social Security disability face steep benefit cuts next year, the government said Wednesday, handing lawmakers a fiscal and political crisis in the middle of a presidential campaign. ... In more bad news for beneficiaries, the trustees project there will be no cost-of-living increase in benefits at the end of the year. It would mark only the third year without an increase since automatic adjustments were adopted in 1975. Separately, about 7 million Medicare beneficiaries could face a monthly premium increase of at least $54 for outpatient coverage. (Ohlemacher and Alonso-Zaldivar, 7/22)

Los Angeles Times: Disability Benefits For 11 Million People At Risk As Congress In Stalemate
Nearly 11 million Americans who receive federal disability benefits risk seeing their checks reduced unless Congress acts by next year to replenish the system's trust fund, the Social Security trustees reported Wednesday. The pending cash crunch in the disability fund is one of those slow-motion -- and largely self-created -- crises that Congress usually fails to resolve until a deadline hits. The latest report puts that deadline, the date when the disability trust fund will reach insolvency, in fall of 2016. After that point, tax revenues will cover only about 80% of scheduled disability benefits, unless Congress acts to fix the system. (Lauter, 7/22)

Health Law Issues And Implementation

7. Contrasts In Medicaid Expansion Affect Public Hospitals' Bottom Lines

Reuters compares how hospitals are faring in states that opted to expand the program for low-income residents with those in states that are resisting the option.

Reuters: Some Public Hospitals Win, Others Lose With Obamacare
A year and a half after the Affordable Care Act brought widespread reforms to the U.S. healthcare system, Chicago's Cook County Health & Hospitals System has made its first profit in 180 years. Seven hundred miles south, the fortunes of Atlanta's primary public hospital, Grady Health System, haven't improved, and it remains as dependent as ever on philanthropy and county funding to stay afloat. The disparity between the two "safety net" hospitals, both of which serve a disproportionate share of their communities' poorest patients, illustrates a growing divide nationwide. (Respaut, 7/23)

News outlets also report on developments in some states implementing the expansion.

The Associated Press: Bullock, Health Secretary To Talk Medicaid Expansion Waiver
Gov. Steve Bullock will discuss with a federal official Montana's plan to expand Medicaid that recently entered a public-comment period. The Democratic governor traveled with his health policy adviser and deputy chief of staff to Washington, D.C., Wednesday morning to meet with U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Burwell .... They will discuss the premiums and copays that are expected to receive particular scrutiny before the federal government's decision to support or deny the state's waiver for expanding government-subsidized health insurance. (7/22)

Fairbanks News-Miner: Budget Committee Still Weighing Medicaid Vote
They have no power to stop Gov. Bill Walker’s plan to unilaterally expand Medicaid by the end of the summer, but some members of the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee would still like to hold a meeting about it. The committee met in Anchorage on Wednesday to discuss a number of issues related to education but held a brief discussion at the end about holding a meeting on Medicaid expansion. ... Ultimately the decision rests with committee chairman Rep. Mike Hawker, an Anchorage Republican who supports Medicaid expansion. He told the committee that he asked for legal opinions on the matter and that everything confirmed the governor’s ability to act alone in expanding Medicaid. (Buxton, 7/22)

Bismark (N.D.) Tribune: Medicaid Cost Increase Was Expected
North Dakota's costs for the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act have increased since the original estimate during the 2013 legislative session. The North Dakota Department of Human Services' initial estimate of $2.9 million to $8.2 million for the 2017 fiscal year. "We knew when we prepared those estimates that it was an estimate," said Maggie Anderson, executive director of the the Department of Human Services. "You have to start somewhere." (Magee, 7/22)

Meanwhile, in Connecticut, officials are examining issues about the state's marketplace and insurance enrollment.

The Associated Press: Connecticut Health Exchange Officials Worried About Coverage Gaps For 1,300 People
Officials at Connecticut’s health insurance exchange say they’re trying to limit any coverage gaps for the 1,300 people who will no longer be eligible for Medicaid starting September 1. James Michele, director of operations at Access Health CT, said Wednesday that letters will be sent to recipients later this week, followed by robo-calls informing people about how to get replacement, private insurance coverage through the exchange. The state’s new two-year, $40.3 billion budget reduced the income levels for certain people to qualify for Medicaid. The group includes parents and caregivers of children in the HUSKY insurance program. About 18,000 more will lose coverage next year. (Haigh, 7/22)

8. HHS Pushes States To Work To Keep Health Exchange Plans Affordable

The Department of Health and Human Services is, behind the scenes, encouraging states to negotiate lower rates on these plans. Meanwhile, The Hill reports that small business owners are lobbying this week to roll back a specific health Obamacare rule.

Kaiser Health News: HHS Pushes States To Negotiate Lower Obamacare Rates
Some analysts who have looked at health insurers’ proposed premiums for next year predict major increases for policies sold on state and federal health exchanges. Others say it’s too soon to tell. One thing is clear: There’s a battle brewing behind the scenes to keep plans affordable for consumers. Now the Obama administration is weighing in, asking state insurance regulators to take a closer look at rate requests before granting them. Under the Affordable Care Act, state agencies largely retain the right to regulate premiums in their states. So far only a handful have finalized premiums for the coming year, for which enrollment begins in November. (Rovner, 7/22)