Kaiser Health News Original Stories

4. Political Cartoon: 'Can't Help Myself?'

Kaiser Health News provides a fresh take on health policy developments with "Political Cartoon: 'Can't Help Myself?'" by Joel Pett.

Here's today's health policy haiku:


Need superhero
To combat these crazy germs -
Or work together.

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5. Aetna Reports Strong Profits With Better-Than-Expected Second Quarter

The nation's third-largest insurer also details aspects of how its plan to buy Humana will go forward.

The Wall Street Journal: Aetna Lifts Guidance As Profit Tops Expectations
The consolidation momentum is being fed by a desire to diversify and cut costs following changes brought by the Affordable Care Act. The deal to buy Humana would boost Hartford, Conn.-based Aetna’s Medicare business and give it scale to thrive as the industry consolidates. In the latest quarter, Aetna said strength in its Medicare and Medicaid businesses offset the impact of net charges incurred under the federal health law’s provisions meant to adjust for insurers’ risk if they enroll a large share of sicker, higher-cost consumers. (Dulaney, 8/4)

Reuters: Aetna Profit Beats As Moderate Medical Costs Help Government Plans
Aetna Inc on Tuesday reported a better-than-expected adjusted net profit for the second quarter and said "moderate" medical costs boosted the profitability of its government Medicare and Medicaid plans. The third-largest U.S. health insurer, which is in the process of buying rival Humana Inc, also raised its full-year forecast for adjusted net profit to at least $7.40 per share from $7.20-$7.40. (8/4)

The Associated Press: Aetna Turns In Better-Than-Expected 2Q, Hikes Forecast Again
Insurers like Aetna and the Blue Cross-Blue Shield carrier Anthem have been pushing to expand their government business as the baby boomer generation ages and becomes eligible for Medicare coverage and as the federal health care overhaul makes more people eligible for the state-and-federally funded Medicaid program. Aetna stoked its government growth a couple years ago when it completed a $6.9 billion acquisition of fellow insurer Coventry Health Care. It plans to further juice that business with a pending acquisition of Humana Inc., the nation's second-largest provider of Medicare Advantage plans. (8/4)

The Wall Street Journal: Aetna Will Clear Commercial Paper Balances At End Of The Year
Health insurer Aetna Inc. will clear its commercial paper balances at the end of the year to make room to finance its $34 billion acquisition of Humana Inc. The company had no commercial paper outstanding at the end of June, but could borrow more during the second half of the year, said David Buda, treasurer at the company, in an interview with CFO Journal. Instead of rolling the short-term debt over, the company will clear the books at the end of the 2015, freeing up room to borrow more in 2016 to fund the Humana deal, he added. (Monga, 8/4)

CVS also issues its quarterly earnings report -

Marketplace: Post Cigarettes, CVS Looks To Grow As A Health Company
The company is investing in providing health services. It’s taken over the pharmacy counter at hundreds of Target stores. CVS, which reports its quarterly earnings Tuesday, bought Omnicare, a company that provides prescription drugs to long-term care facilities. And for years it has been expanding walk-in clinics in its stores. (Weissmann, 8/4)

The Associated Press: CVS Earnings Rise Despite No Tobacco Fix
Pricey specialty drugs helped CVS Health cope with tobacco withdrawal and top analyst expectations in the second quarter. But the nation's second-largest drugstore chain also narrowed its full-year earnings outlook and issued a third-quarter forecast that fell short of Wall Street's expectations. The Woonsocket, Rhode Island, company said that revenue from its biggest business, its pharmacy benefits management segment, jumped 12 percent in the second quarter to more than $24 billion, spurred in part by specialty drugs. These complex medications treat certain forms of cancer and hepatitis C, among other conditions. They often represent treatment breakthroughs but can cost considerably more than other prescriptions. Use of these drugs is soaring, and health insurers, employers and other bill payers are relying more on companies like CVS Health to help restrain this growth. (Murphy, 8/4)

And in other marketplace news -

The Wall Street Journal: Community Health Spinoff To Focus On Smaller Markets
Community Health Systems Inc. said it would spin off 38 hospitals from California to the Deep South to form a new publicly traded company that focuses on smaller, often rural markets. The plan stands in contrast to the broader pattern among U.S. health-care companies and providers, which have been rushing to consolidate to build market share, find savings and steady themselves for a fast-changing market under the Affordable Care Act. (Weaver and Jaramillo, 8/4)

Los Angeles Times: Shire Offers To Buy Baxter Drug Spinoff For $30 Billion
The Irish drugmaker Shire Is offering to buy Baxalta for about $30 billion in stock as it attempts to solidify its strengthening position in rare disease treatments. Earlier this year, Shire said it would pay $5.2 billion to acquire NPS Pharmaceuticals Inc., which specializes in drugs for rare conditions. Baxalta, a Deerfield, Illinois, company spun off by Baxter International Inc. in July, focuses on bleeding disorders. (8/4)

Health Law Issues And Implementation

6. 1.8M Americans Could Face Tax Filing Problems That Jeopardize Next Year's Subsidies

According to administration officials, those taxpayers will have to act quickly to address this issue. In other health law news, the latest on the failure of CoOportunity Health and Medicaid expansion efforts in Wisconsin, as well as a report about how much Blue Shield of California owes in Obamacare rebates.

The Associated Press: Tax Filing Problems Could Jeopardize Health Law Aid For 1.8M
About 1.8 million households that got financial help for health insurance under President Barack Obama's law now have issues with their tax returns that could jeopardize their subsidies next year. Administration officials say those taxpayers will have to act quickly. "There's still time, but people need to take action soon," said Lori Lodes, communications director for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which runs HealthCare.gov. (Alonso-Zaldivar, 8/4)

The Des Moines Register: CoOportunity Failure Could Cost Feds $140M
The federal government could be out more than $140 million by the time a defunct Iowa health-insurance cooperative's finances are settled, a new court filing suggests. CoOportunity Health, which was created under the Affordable Care Act, went belly up last December after losing millions of dollars. Its financing included $147 million in loans from the federal government. That money was used to launch the company in 2012 and then to keep it afloat as it sold health-insurance policies to about 110,000 people in Iowa and Nebraska. (Leys, 8/4)

Los Angeles Times: Blue Shield Of California Owes $82.8 Million In Obamacare Rebates
Health insurance giant Blue Shield of California owes $82.8 million in rebates to consumers and small employers under requirements of the federal health law. The majority of that money, $61.7 million, will be divvied up among 454,000 individual policyholders who had Blue Shield coverage in 2014. The average rebate is $136. The remaining rebates of $21.1 million are owed to about 19,000 small employers. Customers will receive their money by the end of next month, according to the San Francisco insurer. (Terhune, 8/4)

The Associated Press: Wisconsin Health Care Leaders Say Medicaid Expansion Not Dead
Taking federal money to pay for expanding Medicaid coverage in Wisconsin isn't dead yet, even though Gov. Scott Walker and Republicans who control the Legislature have repeatedly refused to accept the funding, health care leaders in the state said Tuesday. Walker has touted his decision to reject the money while he runs for president, and Republican legislators have repeatedly voted down Democratic attempts to accept the money. The funding would make more people eligible for Medicaid and free up state money to pay for other priorities. (Bauer, 8/4)

Campaign 2016

7. GOP Presidential Hopeful Jeb Bush Questions Women's Health Funding Levels

During a campaign appearance when asked about efforts to defund Planned Parenthood, Bush said he was less than certain that "half a billion" dollars was needed for women's health programs. He quickly stepped back from the comment, but not before drawing fire from Democrats.

Politico: Jeb Bush’s Ad-Lib Offers Dems Another Gift
Another ill-advised ad lib from Jeb Bush, another opportunity for Democrats. Looking to curry favor with religious conservatives at the outset of a competitive primary fight, Bush on Tuesday repeated his call to cut off funding for Planned Parenthood — and then he went even further, questioning the amount of government support for women’s health programs generally. The Romneyesque unforced error drew a fast and furious backlash from Democrats, causing Bush to backtrack almost immediately and to acknowledge that he “misspoke.” (Stokols, 8/4)

The Associated Press: Dems Hit Bush After Comments On Funding For Women's Health
Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush vowed Tuesday to cut off federal funding for Planned Parenthood if elected to the White House, but drew immediate fire from Democrats for adding, "I'm not sure we need half a billion dollars for women's health issues." Democratic frontrunner Hillary Rodham Clinton replied on Twitter, "@JebBush: You are absolutely, unequivocally wrong." And Planned Parenthood issued a statement saying Bush "told the rest of America what Florida women have known for years, which is that he doesn't believe women's health is worth much." Bush leapt at the chance Tuesday to prove his anti-abortion bona fides before a group of largely conservative Christian voters at a meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention. The former Florida governor was asked during an onstage interview, "Shouldn't we ... say not one more red cent for Planned Parenthood?" (Bustos and Schelzig, 8/4)

The Associated Press: Hillary Clinton Slams Bush On Immigration, Women’s H

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