Kaiser Health News Original Stories

3. Political Cartoon: 'Are We There Yet?'

Kaiser Health News provides a fresh take on health policy developments with "Political Cartoon: 'Are We There Yet?'" by Hilary Price.

Here's today's health policy haiku:

COSTLY ADDITION TO THE MEDICINE CHEST

It’s an uphill climb
To keep cholesterol down…
Will these new drugs help?

If you have a health policy haiku to share, please Contact Us and let us know if you want us to include your name. Keep in mind that we give extra points if you link back to a KHN original story.

Health Law Issues And Implementation

4. Officials In Alaska, Iowa, Massachusetts. And Washington Approve Increases In Health Premiums

The increases range from 40 percent for two companies in Alaska to about 4 percent for the average rise in Washington state.

The Associated Press: Rate Increase Approved For Individual Health Care Market
Alaska's Division of Insurance has approved average rate increases for next year of nearly 40 percent for the two companies providing individual health insurance plans through the federally run online marketplace. Division director Lori Wing-Heier said Thursday that Premera Blue Cross Blue Shield and Moda Health cited the high cost of medical services as one of the factors in requesting rate increases. (Bohrer, 8/28)

The Des Moines Register: Wellmark, Coventry Double-Digit Rate Increases Approved
Iowa's chief insurance regulator has approved double-digit premium rate increases affecting thousands of Iowans. The Iowa Insurance Division said Wednesday that Insurance Commissioner Nick Gerhart has approved increases requested by Wellmark Blue Cross & Blue Shield, Coventry Health Care and Gundersen Health Insurance. ... For Wellmark, Iowa's dominant health insurance carrier, Gerhart approved rate increases of 17.6 percent to 28.7 percent on average for different insurance plans. Those rate increases affect about 137,000 Wellmark policyholders. (Leys, 8/26)

The Boston Globe: 300,000 In Mass. To See Health Policy Rates Rise 6 Percent
Health insurers in Massachusetts will boost rates more than 6 percent for small businesses and individuals in 2016, a troubling sign that costs are once again accelerating. The increase, approved by the state Division of Insurance last week, is more than double the rise in premiums at the beginning of this year and triple the rise in 2014. (Dayal McCluskey, 8/27)

The Associated Press: Washington Health Insurance Rates To Go Up 4.2 Percent
People who buy their health insurance on the Washington Healthplanfinder exchange can expect an average 4.2 percent increase in their rates in 2016. The rate increases approved Thursday by the Office of the Insurance Commissioner are lower than the insurance companies had requested. Insurance officials have approved 12 health insurance companies to sell 136 individual health plans on Washington Healthplanfider in 2016. The companies requested an average rate change of 5.4 percent. (8/27)

Meanwhile, insurance companies seek lobbying help as they prepare for mergers -

The Hill: Cigna, Aetna Hire Lobbyists Amid Mergers
As the health insurance market prepares for a duo of mergers, the companies involved are hiring teams of lobbyists to make sure the process goes smoothly. Most recently, Cigna, which agreed to a $54 billion takeover by insurance company Anthem last month, hired two firms. WilmerHale and Polaris Government Relations will be working on anti-trust issues for the company as it navigates the merger. (Wilson, 8/27)

5. Alaska Judge To Rule Today On Suit Against Governor's Medicaid Expansion Plan

The judge said the ruling will be on the Republican legislators' request to temporarily bar the Medicaid expansion while legal questions are fully argued. Also in the news, a look at how flexible spending accounts may be affected by the "Cadillac tax" and an analysis of the fiscal problems of the insurance co-ops set up in the health law.

Alaska Dispatch News: Judge To Issue Initial Ruling Friday On Alaska Legislature's Medicaid Lawsuit
A trial court judge said Thursday he would deliver an oral ruling Friday on the Alaska Legislature’s lawsuit to stop Gov. Bill Walker from unilaterally expanding the public Medicaid health-care program. ... The ruling, [Judge Frank] Pfiffner said, will approve or deny the Legislature’s request to temporarily bar Medicaid expansion while legal questions are fully argued. Friday’s decision will not address the underlying question of whether Walker's executive power allows him to use federal money to expand the Medicaid program without legislative approval. (Herz, 8/27)

Politico Pro: Flexible Spending Accounts May Vanish As Result Of Cadillac Tax
A popular middle-class tax benefit could become one of the first casualties of the Affordable Care Act’s so-called Cadillac tax, potentially affecting millions of voters. Flexible spending accounts, which allow people to save tax free for everything from doctor’s co-pays to eyeglasses, may vanish in coming years as companies scramble to avoid the law’s 40 percent levy on pricey health care benefits. (Faler, 8/27)

Politico Pro: Despite Enrollment Gains, Co-Op Losses Pile Up
Nonprofit health insurers created with billions of dollars in Obamacare loans have doubled their enrollments this year, but they haven’t been able to slow their financial losses, according to a POLITICO analysis of their most recent financial reports. Although the nearly two dozen co-op plans have signed up almost 1 million customers during Obamacare’s second enrollment period, they’ve lost roughly $200 million during the first six months of this year. That puts the nonprofit plans on pace to lose nearly the same amount as they did during their first year of operations. (Demko, 8/27)

Capitol Hill Watch

6. Planned Parenthood Analysis Alleges Manipulation, Editing Of Covert Videos

Planned Parenthood sent to members of Congress a detailed letter and an accompanying report defending its practices and alleging that a string of eight undercover videos was heavily altered.

The Associated Press: Planned Parenthood Alleges 'Smear' In Letter To Congress
Planned Parenthood Federation of America defended its practices Thursday in a lengthy letter to congressional leaders and included a report by experts it hired who found undercover videos of officials discussing fetal tissue for research were heavily altered by anti-abortion activists. The report supports the organization's claims that the secretly recorded videos were distorted to misrepresent conversations employees had with anti-abortion activists posing as biomedical company employees interested in buying fetal tissue, Planned Parenthood said. (Melley, 8/27)

The New York Times: Planned Parenthood Videos Were Altered, Analysis Finds
Planned Parenthood on Thursday gave congressional leaders and a committee that is investigating allegations of criminality at its clinics an analysis it commissioned concluding that “manipulation” of undercover videos by abortion opponents make those recordings unreliable for any official inquiry. “A thorough review of these videos in consultation with qualified experts found that they do not present a complete or accurate record of the events they purport to depict,” the analysis of a private research company said. (Calmes, 8/27)

The Wall Street Journal: Dueling Assessments Of Planned Parenthood Videos
The [Planned Parenthood ] letter and analysis are the organization’s first concerted response to investigations by federal lawmakers following the release of eight videos by the Center for Medical Progress, another antiabortion group. Americans United for Life on Thursday also sent letters to congressional leaders, saying its lawyers had reviewed seven unedited videos, concluding that they raise probable cause that Planned Parenthood violated at least six federal laws. (Armour, 8/27)

The Washington Post: Videos Deceptively Edited, Planned Parenthood Tells Congress
The letter, [written by the ­organization’s president, Cecile Richards] was accompanied by a 10-page report commissioned by Planned Parenthood and penned by an independent investigator, former Wall Street Journal reporter Glenn Simpson. Through his firm Fusion GPS, Simpson enlisted experts who analyzed both the short, highly produced videos publicized by the antiabortion group, as well as hours of “full” footage the group posted on YouTube. The implication is that the longer footage was unedited. But Simpson said he found significant gaps. (Somashekhar, 8/27)

Politico: Report For Planned Parenthood Finds Sting Videos Manipulated
Planned Parenthood also told lawmakers that only two of the 59 Planned Parenthood affiliates are currently involved in fetal tissue research — and that there is no evidence any affiliate has broken federal or state laws. “The attacks on us have the intended purpose of making it appear that fetal tissue research is an enormous focus of Planned Parenthood,” Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, wrote in a letter to House Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Harry Reid. “But the simple fact is that 99 percent of our health centers have no involvement in this work.” (Haberkorn, 8/27)

The Hill: Planned Parenthood To House, Senate Leaders: Videos Manipulated
The documents offer the closest look so far at how Planned Parenthood has fared since it came under attack from the makers of the videos. It also offers new details about the tissue program’s history, such as the “modest reimbursement” of $60 per tissue specimen that Planned Parenthood’s California provider receives from a tissue procurement company. It also says that Planned Parenthood has launched an internal review of its "policies and practices" surrounding the program. The measures are part of an effort to pressure supporters on Capitol Hill to “intervene in what is clearly an unnecessary and distracting process,” Planned Parenthood Executive Vice President Dawn Laguens told reporters Thursday. (Ferris, 8/27)

CNN: In Report To Congress, Planned Parenthood Says Videos Are Deceptive
At the time of the examination, CMP had released five videos, Planned Parenthood said. The report said experts found that there were at least 42 splices where content is cut and edited together to create the appearance of seamless conversations. "In some cases, these splices completely change the meaning of s
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