Kaiser Health News Original Stories

3. Political Cartoon: 'I'll Pass'

Kaiser Health News provides a fresh take on health policy developments with "Political Cartoon: 'I'll Pass'" by Chris Wildt .

Here's today's health policy haiku:

JUDGE BLOCKS GOP LAWMAKERS’ LAWSUIT

Alaska’s move to
Expand Medicaid survives
Its latest challenge.

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Health Law Issues And Implementation

4. Flexible Spending Accounts Might Vanish When 'Cadillac Tax' Kicks In

The tax on high-cost health insurance plans, set to begin in 2018, is also of concern for the writers union, which is seeking an exemption. In other health law news, Connecticut pushes back on insurers' premium hike requests while recent changes to the health coverage provided to U.S. Olympians bring it in line with federal requirements.

Politico: 'Cadillac Tax' Could Wreck Popular Medical Accounts
A popular middle class tax benefit could become one of the first casualties of the Affordable Care Act’s so-called Cadillac tax, affecting millions of voters. Flexible spending accounts, which allow people to save their own money 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, 8/31)

The Wall Street Journal's CFO Journal: Writers Union Seeks ‘Cadillac Tax’ Exemption
The union representing thousands of film, television and digital media writers is seeking an exemption for all unions from the Affordable Care Act’s “Cadillac tax” on high cost health plans. In a letter to the Department of Treasury and Internal Revenue Service on Thursday, the Writers Guild of America East argued that health care plans negotiated under collective bargaining agreements should be exempted from the tax on high cost plans, which takes effect in 2018. (Chasan, 8/28)

The Wall Street Journal: U.S. Olympians’ Insurance Finally Qualifies
America’s Olympians now have officially qualifying health insurance, after the federal government and the U.S. Olympic Committee reached an agreement last week on the status of their coverage. That news may come as a surprise to some of the 850 athletes and 225 dependents enrolled in the special health plan through USOC, who already had been receiving an array of health benefits under it. (Radnofsky, 8/29)

5. Judge Says Alaska Gov. Can Go Forward With Enrollment Plan For Medicaid Expansion

The decision was a rebuke to Republican state legislators, who had asked for a temporary injunction to stop enrollment while the court heard their lawsuit against Gov. Bill Walker's decision to expand the health program for low-income residents. The legislators quickly appealed to the Alaska Supreme Court.

Alaska Dispatch News: Judge Says Alaska Medicaid Expansion Can Go Ahead Tuesday
A state judge said Friday that Alaska Gov. Bill Walker’s administration could expand the Medicaid health care program beginning next week, dismissing a request by the state Legislature to temporarily block enrollment while attorneys argue lawmakers’ underlying legal challenge. The ruling by Judge Frank Pfiffner was a decisive victory for the Walker administration, but it may only be temporary: By the end of the day, the Alaska Supreme Court had already received the Legislature’s request for emergency review and ordered Walker’s attorneys to respond by Monday at noon. (Herz, 8/28)

Alaska Public Radio: Judge Denies Injunction; Medicaid To Roll Out Sept. 1
Judge Pfiffner spoke for more than 45 minutes in court, unpacking the complicated legal arguments each side presented to make its case. To win a restraining order to stop Medicaid expansion, the Legislative Council had to prove the legislature would face “irreparable harm” if the program went ahead on September 1. In denying that argument, the judge made several points, including the fact that the state won’t spend any money expanding Medicaid. (Feidt, 8/28)

The Washington Post: Judge Allows Alaska Governor To Move Ahead With Medicaid Expansion
Alaska’s governor won a legal victory Friday that, at least for now, will allow the state to begin next week to sign up more low-income residents for Medicaid — despite objections from state lawmakers. The dispute in Alaska has emerged as the latest political and legal skirmish over the Affordable Care Act, lingering even after the Supreme Court two months ago upheld the constitutionality of a core aspect of the law that requires most Americans to have health insurance. (Goldstein, 8/28)

The Associated Press: Judge Rejects Call To Block Walker From Expanding Medicaid
In a statement, House Speaker Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, said the lawmakers who supported the lawsuit "continue to feel very strongly about our constitutional argument that was presented. We are by no means looking for a way to stop Medicaid expansion; we are trying to do it the right way so that we have a reliable, sustainable system." ... Pfiffner's ruling "ensures 20,000 working Alaskans will have access to health care on September 1st," Walker said in a statement. State-commissioned estimates released earlier this year indicate that nearly 42,000 Alaskans would be eligible for coverage under expanded Medicaid the first year and about 20,000 would enroll. (Bohrer, 8/29)

Capitol Hill Watch

6. Planned Parenthood Funding On Lawmakers' Post-Break Agenda Amidst Heavy Lobbying

As the women's health organization has been holding rallies, commissioning polls and running ads, Republican congressional leaders debate the legislative options for holding a vote to try to defund Planned Parenthood.

The Washington Post: Planned Parenthood’s Aggressive Defense
Planned Parenthood is using virtually every tool in its lobbying arsenal to defend against attacks from conservatives and anti-abortion activists. Lawmakers will raise the stakes when Congress returns next week by threatening to defund the group through the federal appropriations process. (Ho and Snell, 8/31)

Bloomberg: Planned Parenthood Restrictions Could Be Kept Off Funding Bill
Republican leaders in Congress are considering a pledge to hold a separate vote on defunding Planned Parenthood as a way to keep the issue from derailing legislation to keep the government running, said congressional aides with knowledge of the discussions. In private discussions, the leaders are looking at using reconciliation procedures to let a Planned Parenthood bill come up for a filibuster-proof Senate vote, the aides said. (Rowley, 8/28)

Marketplace

7. NLRB Ruling Could Alter Relations Between Health Care Facilities And Temporary Workers

The ruling states that staffing agency workers are jointly employed by both the agency and the organization -- such as hospitals -- where they are working. That means the health care employers may become involved in collective bargaining with the temporary workers, Modern Healthcare reports. Other news coverage explores whether nurse practitioners could be an alternative to physicians in efforts to address workforce shortages.

Modern Healthcare: NLRB Ruling Could Shake Up Healthcare Staffing Industry
A ruling Thursday by the National Labor Relations Board could complicate relations between healthcare organizations and their workers employed by staffing agencies. The board ruled that workers employed by a staffing agency are jointly employed by the agency and the organization where they're working. That means those organizations should be involved in any collective bargaining with the temporary workers and could be held liable for unfair labor practice cases filed with the federal government. (Rubenfire, 8/28)

NBC News: In Physician Shortage, Can Nurse Practitioners Replace Doctors?
Patients are increasingly turning to nurse practitioners instead of physicians for a less expensive healthcare alternative. Some experts say the trend is a solution to the staggering cost of medical treatments and the shortage of physicians, which is expected to exceed 46,000 within the next decade, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. (Fryer, 8/29)

Meanwhile, online doctor visits gain popularity.

Los Angeles Times: The Doctor Is Online: Remote Video Medical Exams Gain Popularity
When Tom Essenpreis first signed up for his company's Anthem Blue Cross health plan, he checked out its website and came across a service that enables him to visit with a doctor online 24 hours a day. He downloaded it right away. "I immediately saw the utility of it," said the 35-year-old aerospace engineer from Hawthorne. The service came in handy one Saturday when his 2-year-old daughter had what he said was "goopy stuff clogging up the corner of her eye." (Zamosky, 8/28)

8. Insurers Evaluate New Expensive Cholesterol Drugs For Possible Preferred Designation Deals

Meanwhile, Modern Healthcare and NBC report on surprise out-of-network charges and balance billing while The Fiscal Times writes about 2016 Medicare premium jumps.

Modern Healthcare: Insurers To Begin Review Of Coverage For Costly Cholesterol Drugs
Now that the Food and Drug Administration has given the OK to two pricey drugs that treat high cholesterol, health insurers and pharmacy benefit managers are evaluating if one drug should receive preferred coverage over the other. In exchange for the preferred designation, drugmakers offer price discounts on their products. A flurry of these types of deals occurred this year with high-cost hepatitis C drugs. (Herman, 8/28)

Modern Healthcare: Billing Squeeze: Hospitals In Middle As Insurers And Doctors Battle Over Out-
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