Kaiser Health News Original Stories

3. Political Cartoon: 'Medicine Go Frown'

Kaiser Health News provides a fresh take on health policy developments with "Political Cartoon: 'Medicine Go Frown'" by Hillary B. Price.

Here's today's health policy haiku:


The Kasich brand of
Conservative – out of step
With campaign rivals.

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Health Law Issues And Implementation

4. CDC Uninsured Data Highlights Progress In Expanding Coverage To Adult Hispanics

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics reported coverage gains in the first three months of this year that were related to the health law. Hispanic adults had the greatest percentage point decrease in the uninsured rate -- 28.3 percent -- since 2013, before enrollment began in marketplace plans authorized under the law.

NBC News: Share Of Latinos Without Health Coverage Down To 28.3 Percent
Newly released federal data show just 28.3 percent of adult Hispanics lacked health insurance in the first three months of the year. The National Center for Health Statistics reported that Hispanic adults had the greatest percentage point decrease in the uninsured rate between 2013, when the uninsured rate was 40.6 percent, and the first three months of this year, 28.3 percent. (8/12)

NBC News: Nine In 10 Americans Have Health Insurance, Survey Finds
More than 7 million people who didn't have health insurance last year got coverage this year, a new government survey finds. It's the latest in a series of reports showing the Affordable Care Act is expanding the availability of coverage. Each report takes a slightly different approach. This one, conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics, compares the first three months of 2014 to the first quarter of 2015. (Fox, 8/12)

CQ Healthbeat: Uninsured Rate Fell By One-Third Since 2013, CDC Says
Mounting evidence suggests that more people are benefiting from the 2010 health care law, with the number of Americans without medical coverage declining by one-third, or 15.8 million people, since 2013, according to the latest report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The number of people without health insurance dropped from 36 million last year to 29 million between January and March 2015, the CDC said Wednesday. The data is based on a National Health Interview Survey of 26,121 people from the first quarter of this year. (Zanona, 8/12)

In Michigan, a look at enrollment increases and how they have played out in the marketplace -

The Detroit News: Enrollment Up In Mich. Medicaid HMOs, Individual Plans
Michigan Medicaid HMOs and individual health insurance plans tripled their operating margins in 2014 as a result of the federal Affordable Care Act, according to a report released Wednesday. Research by Allan Baumgarten, publisher of Michigan Health Market Review, found that health maintenance organizations providing coverage under Michigan’s expanded Medicaid program saw improved enrollment, underwriting margins and operating income in 2014 as more than 600,000 residents enrolled. (Bouffard, 8/12)

Crain's Detroit Business: Operating Income Of Michigan Medicaid HMOs Rises 295% In 2014
The 12 Medicaid HMOs in Michigan were the big managed-care winners last year as operating income rose 295 percent to $163.1 million from $41.2 million and enrollment increased by 21 percent to 1.6 million, driven by Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, according to the 2015 Michigan Health Market Review. Overall, the 19 Michigan HMOs — aided by federally mandated public and private health care insurance expansion under Obamacare — boosted enrollment by 14.8 percent to nearly 3.1 million from 2.7 million the year before, said the report, published by Minneapolis-based consultant Allan Baumgarten. (Greene, 8/12)

But other federal figures show the budget deficit is on the rise, driven in part by costs associated with Medicare spending and veterans' health care benefits -

Bloomberg: U.S. Deficit Grows In July On Higher Medicare, Veterans Payments
The U.S. budget deficit jumped 58 percent in July from a year earlier on higher spending, as August payments for veterans, retirees and health-care beneficiaries were accelerated. Outlays exceeded revenue by $149.2 billion in July, compared with $94.6 billion shortfall in the same month a year earlier, Treasury Department figures released Wednesday showed. Because Aug. 1 fell on a weekend, Social Security and other payments due that day went out earlier, the department said. (Klimasinska, 8/12)


5. Survey Explores Trends In Employer Health Benefits, Efforts To Control Health Costs

News outlets report on a variety of findings from the National Business Group on Health's annual survey of large employers.

Bloomberg: Companies Slow Down Shift Of Health Costs To Workers
After years of passing on more and more health-care costs to employees, companies are slowing their adoption of high-deductible plans next year, according to a survey of more than 100 large U.S. employers. That relief could be temporary. Companies are waiting to see if lawmakers will repeal Obamacare’s “Cadillac tax” on high-cost health coverage, which is a levy on individual health premiums greater than $10,200. A roll-back would keep employers from having to shift workers into plans where they bear more of the up-front costs of their insurance. (Tracer and Rubin, 8/12)

Kaiser Health News: Large Employers Look To Tighten Control Of Costs For Expensive Drugs
More than half of large employers in 2016 will aim to more tightly manage employees’ use of high-priced specialty drugs, one of the fastest-growing expenses in their health plans. Despite those efforts, companies still expect the cost of specialty drugs that are carefully administered to treat conditions such as cancer, HIV and hepatitis C to continue rising at a double-digit annual rate — well ahead of the pace for traditional pharmacy drugs or companies’ overall spending on health benefits, according to the National Business Group on Health. (Gillsepie, 8/12)

Forbes: As Obamacare's Cadillac Tax Looms, Employers Raise Deductibles, Shift Costs
Though employers won’t have to pay the “Cadillac tax” on rich medical plans until 2018, they are mitigating potential financial hits from it by spending more on wellness and shifting workers to high deductible plans so employees think twice about using expensive care, a new analysis indicates. The Cadillac tax was created as part of the Affordable Care Act largely as a way to help fund subsidized benefits to the uninsured under the law. Starting in 2018, employers pay a 40% tax on costs of health plans that are above $10,200 per individual and $27,500 for family coverage. (Japsen, 8/12)

In related news -

The Washington Post's Wonkblog: No, Obamacare Isn’t Killing Full-Time Jobs, New Evidence Shows
President Obama's health-care reform hasn't meant less time on the job for American workers, according to three newly published studies that challenge one of the main arguments raised by critics of the Affordable Care Act. One provision of the law, which is widely known as Obamacare, requires businesses with more than 50 employees to offer health insurance to those working at least 30 hours a week. That mandate took effect this year. (Ehrenfreund, 8/12)

Capitol Hill Watch

6. HHS Warns States About Ending Medicaid Funds For Planned Parenthood

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has been in contact with officials in Louisiana and Alabama this month warning them that efforts to defund the nonprofit organization could result in restricting beneficiaries' access to services, which is protected.

The Wall Street Journal: States Warned Over Ending Medicaid Funds For Planned Parenthood
The Obama administration has notified two states that took steps to halt Medicaid funds to Planned Parenthood Federation of America that they may be in conflict with federal law. The law requires that Medicaid beneficiaries may obtain services, including family planning, from any qualified provider. States that terminate their Medicaid-provider agreements with Planned Parenthood restrict access by not permitting recipients to get services from providers of their choice, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. (Armour, 8/12)

Reuters: U.S. Warns States Against Defunding Planned Parenthood
The U.S. government has warned states moving to defund women's health group Planned Parenthood that they may be in conflict with federal law, officials said on Wednesday. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, a federal agency, was in contact with officials in Louisiana and Alabama this month, said a spokesperson for the agency's parent, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The agency warned those two states that their plans to terminate Medicaid provider agreements with Planned Parenthood may illegally restrict beneficiary access to services, the spokesperson said in a statement. (Cassella, 8/12)

Kaiser Health News: ‘Defunding’ Planned Parenthood Is Easier Promised Than Done
The undercover videos purporting to show officials of Planned Parenthood bargaining over the sale of fetal tissue have made the promise to defund the organization one of the most popular refrains on the Republican presidential campaign trail. It’s actually a much easier promise to make than to fulfill. But that’s not slowing down the candidates. (Rovner, 8/13)

CQ Healthbeat: Planned Parenthood Fight Echoes Past Debates, With A Twist
Although recent sting videos that shed light on fetal tissue donation practices at Planned Parenthood have roiled the abortion debate in Congress, the charge that some organizations profit from the “the sale of baby body parts” is nothing new. But some of the reactions and arguments heard in Congress 15 years ago are notably different than the ones voiced today, representing the evolving science and politics underpinning the debate. (Zanona, 8/12)

Meanwhile, the saga over Planned Parenthood's involvement with fetal tissue research continues  -

In other news -