Kaiser Health News Original Stories

3. Political Cartoon: 'Subpar?'

Kaiser Health News provides a fresh take on health policy developments with "Political Cartoon: 'Subpar?'" by Roy Delgado.

Here's today's health policy haiku:


Another merger...
Anthem buys Cigna. And now
What was five is three.


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4. The Deal Is Done! Anthem To Buy Cigna In Latest Health Insurance Merger Deal

Anthem's acquisition of Cigna will create the health insurance industry's biggest company by enrollment and shrink the number of major players in the sector.

Los Angeles Times: Anthem Clinches Deal To Buy Rival Cigna For $54 Billion
Anthem Inc. has agreed to acquire rival Cigna Corp. for $54 billion, creating the health insurance industry's biggest company by enrollment. The agreement announced Friday caps weeks of frenzied dealmaking in the healthcare sector. Aetna Inc. reached a $37-billion deal for Humana Inc. this month. And Woodland Hills insurer Health Net Inc. agreed to be acquired by Medicaid insurer Centene Corp. for $6.8 billion. (Terhune, 7/24)

The New York Times: Anthem To Buy Cigna In Deal Valued At $54.2 Billion
The deal would shrink the number of major health insurers in the United States and comes just weeks after Aetna agreed to acquire Humana, the smallest of the big five insurers, for $37 billion in cash and stock. A combined Anthem-Cigna would have estimated revenue of about $115 billion and serve more than 53 million people with medical coverage. (Bray, 7/24)

The Wall Street Journal: Anthem Agrees To Buy Cigna For $48 Billion
Anthem Inc. agreed to buy Cigna Corp. for more than $48 billion in a transaction that, along with a previously proposed combination of rivals, could reshape the U.S. health industry. ... The tie-up of Anthem and Cigna would accelerate the rapid-fire reconfiguration at the top of the U.S. managed-care industry. The biggest companies are seeking more cost efficiency and scale as the health-care landscape changes because of the Affordable Care Act and other factors. ... Of the five largest health insurers, only UnitedHealth Group Inc., the largest by revenue, is sitting out the merger wave, at least so far. (Mattioli, Wilde Mathews and Dulaney, 7/24)

5. Cancer Drug Costs Skyrocket, Create Tension Between Doctors, Drug Makers

IMS Health, which tracks the market, estimates an increase in 2014 costs of about 10.3 percent. Meanwhile, some physicians are developing a database to score cancer medicines based on how they will work and how much they cost.

CBS News: Rising Cancer Costs Pit Doctors Against Drugmakers
Spending on cancer drugs is skyrocketing and shows no signs of slowing. IMS Health, which tracks the market, estimates that spending on these medications hit $100 billion worldwide in 2014, an increase of 10.3 percent, bringing the compound annual growth rate to 6.5 percent over the past five years. That's expected to rise to 6 percent to 8 percent through 2018, when total global spending is forecast to hit between $114 billion to $147 billion. (Berr, 7/24)

The Fiscal Times: As Drug Prices Soar, Doctors Voice Outrage
Recent breakthroughs in cancer treatment come with a hefty price tag. In 2014, virtually every new cancer-treatment drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration was priced at more than $120,000 a year, according to a new study. And the cost for each additional year lived by a patient as a result of new drugs soared from $54,000 in 1995 to $207,000 in 2013. (Pianin, 7/23)

In other news, The Wall Street Journal writes about the latest bid to alter the prescription-drug pricing landscape in the U.S. by having the federal government negotiate with drug makers for Medicare Part D medicines -

Health Law Issues And Implementation

6. Many Taxpayers Overpaid Obamacare Penalty, Report Finds

CBS News reports that more than 300,000 Americans overpaid the IRS on the Individual Shared Responsibility Payment, according to a report by the National Taxpayer Advocate. Meanwhile, the Colorado nuns who have been challenging the Obama administration on the health law's birth control mandate announced they will appeal the most recent ruling to the Supreme Court.

CBS News: Did You Overpay The Obamacare Tax Penalty?
More than 300,000 taxpayers have overpaid the IRS because they incorrectly indicated that they owed the Individual Shared Responsibility Payment (ISRP), the tax penalty related to the Affordable Care Act, on their 2014 tax return. This was discovered and outlined in a annual report by the National Taxpayer Advocate. When it sampled IRS tax return data, the NTA found that a large number of taxpayers didn't owe the penalty that they incorrectly indicated on their tax returns. (Martin, 7/24)

The Associated Press: Colorado Nuns Appeal Birth Control Ruling To Supreme Court
A group of Colorado nuns said Thursday they will go to the U.S. Supreme Court to appeal a ruling that allows their employees to receive birth control from a third party under the Affordable Care Act, fueling a combustible argument over contraception and religion ahead of next year's presidential election. Attorneys for Little Sisters of the Poor and four Oklahoma Christian colleges said last week's ruling from the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver violates their religious freedom, in an argument that goes beyond last year's Hobby Lobby case. (Riccardi, 7/23)

The Wall Street Journal reports on how some health law gambles are paying off big  -

The Wall Street Journal: Fund Boss’s Gamble On Health Law Pays Off Big
Glenview Capital Management LLC made a bold decision when President Barack Obama’s health-care overhaul was rolling out: Bet on it. The result has been one of the most successful hedge-fund wagers in recent years. New York-based Glenview has realized and paper gains of more than $3.2 billion since it started making investments in hospitals and insurers four years ago, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of securities filings. (Benoit, 7/23)

And in terms of recent developments regarding states and Medicaid expansion -

The Associated Press: Hearing On Challenge To Arizona Medicaid Plan Rescheduled
A hearing for arguments on the constitutionality of a fee collected from hospitals to pay for an expansion of Arizona's Medicaid program has been postponed. The hearing had been scheduled for Friday in Maricopa County Superior Court but Judge Douglas Gerlach has reset it for July 30. The hearing is for arguments on motions for a pretrial judgment in a lawsuit filed by Republican legislators. They lost a 2013 legislative battle over expansion of coverage provided by the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System. (7/23)

Capitol Hill Watch

7. Anti-Abortion Activists View Controversial Videos As Stepping Stone To Ban On Federal Funding For Planned Parenthood

Activists increasingly believe the goal of cutting off federal support for the organization is now achievable. The related outrage has spread from the halls of Congress, where members are calling for investigations, to the campaign trail and to some state houses.

The Wall Street Journal: Planned Parenthood Federal Funds Challenged By Surreptitious Videos
Videos of Planned Parenthood staffers discussing how they gather fetal tissue during abortions for use in medical research are stirring antiabortion activists’ hopes of converting the controversy into a ban on federal funding for the organization. Cutting off federal funds for Planned Parenthood has emerged as one of the short-term moves that activists believe is most achievable in the wake of the release of two videos in the past two weeks. (Radnofsky and son, 7/23)

CQ Healthbeat: Planned Parenthood Videos: Members Call For Dueling DOJ Probes
In the wake of the release this week of another undercover video of Planned Parenthood officials discussing fetal tissue, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are calling for a Department of Justice investigation — but that’s where any bipartisan agreement ends. Republicans want Attorney General Loretta Lynch to probe whether the nation’s largest provider of abortions is illegally harvesting and selling fetal organs and tissue, while Democrats want the Justice Department to look at whether the anti-abortion activists behind the videos went too far with their secretive recordings. (Khurshid, 7/23)

Politico: GOP States Push Planned Parenthood Probes
At least eight Republican-led states are starting investigations or trying to stop funding Planned Parenthood — and they may be able to get results more easily than the outraged Republicans in Congress or on the GOP presidential campaign trail. The red states may be better placed to slash funds than Congress, where Senate Democrats can likely block GOP efforts to defund the organization, which gets millions in state and federal financing each year for providing health care services ranging from breast cancer screening to birth control, often for low-income women. (Haberkorn, 7/24)

Politico: Hillary Clinton Comes Out In Defense Of Planned Parenthood
Hillary Clinton on Thursday came out in defense of Planned Parenthood for the first time since the organization got swept up in a scandal involving videos that allege it sells fetal tissue. “Planned Parenthood has apologized for the insensitivity of the employee who was taped, and they will continue to answer questions for Congress and others,” Clinton said during a campaign stop in South Carolina. (Karni, 7/23)