Kaiser Health News Original Stories

2. Answering Your Questions On The 'Cadillac Tax'

The excise tax will be levied on health insurance plans costing more than $10,200 for an individual or $27,500 for a family. Any value over those thresholds will be taxed at 40 percent, and that's likely to affect consumers' benefits, share of health care costs or their coverage entirely. (9/2)

4. Political Cartoon: 'Mr. Brightside'

Kaiser Health News provides a fresh take on health policy developments with "Political Cartoon: 'Mr. Brightside'" by Bill Thomas.

Here's today's health policy haiku:

LEGIONNAIRE'S IN SAN QUENTIN?

At this state prison
It's an outbreak -- not break out --
raising health alarms.

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.

Marketplace

5. Health Care Co-Ops Could Play Role In UAW Contract Negotiations

Interest by the United Auto Workers is reportedly in part the result of the success of a $61 billion fund started in 2010 that provides medical coverage for more than 750,000 retired auto workers.

The Wall Street Journal: UAW Pitches Health-Care Co-Op To Car Makers
The United Auto Workers union is pushing Detroit car makers to put all their employees under one health-care umbrella, creating a powerful purchasing group that could upend traditional health care markets. The union’s idea would create a joint purchasing group for the three largest U.S. auto makers that would cover factory and white-collar workers and union-affiliated retirees. The group could total nearly 1 million members, a scale it believes would have unprecedented leverage in negotiating directly with hospitals, drug companies and others. (Rogers and Wilde Mathews, 9/2)

Bloomberg: Bill Ford Says Health Care Co-op Possible In Union Negotiations
Ford Motor Co. Executive Chairman Bill Ford said the company is considering a health-care co-op, an issue the United Auto Workers union has raised in negotiations on a new contract. The UAW has turned its attention to a health-care pool based on the success of a $61 billion fund started in 2010 that provides medical coverage for more than 750,000 retired auto workers. The UAW Retiree Medical Benefits Trust has cut drug costs, added preventive care and restored benefits such as dental and vision while also increasing assets. (Naughton, 9/2)

6. Digital Stethoscope Gets FDA Nod, Clears Way For Easier Patient Info Sharing

Elsewhere, new smartphone apps let you book doctor house calls, and a closer look at the construction boom of cancer treatment centers.

Los Angeles Times: Stethoscope Meets Smartphone And The Heart Knows It's Right
Call it a winter-spring romance: The oldest tool in a doctor's kit -- a stethoscope -- meets the youngest -- a smartphone. Together, they make (and hear, see, analyze and record) heartbeats race. The Food and Drug Administration has cleared for the U.S. market a digital stethoscope, the Eko Core, that aims to bring auscultation -- the ancient medical practice of listening to a patient's heartbeat -- squarely into the 21st century. (Healy, 9/2)

The Kansas City Star: Bringing Back The House Call: Apps In Some Big Cities Let You Summon A Doctor
If you’re old enough, childhood memories include being able to get your family doctor to come to your house — even if pizza delivery didn’t exist yet in your town. Now, thanks to a new batch of smartphone apps, people under the weather in and around Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York can summon a doctor, sometimes faster than they can get a double pepperoni with extra cheese. (Hack, 9/2)

The Washington Post: A Cancer Building Boom, Fueled By Economics And An Aging Population
Had she faced breast cancer years ago, Gail Brown might have ended up traveling hours to one of the renowned cancer research hospitals in New York or Boston. But when the 68-year-old retiree received her diagnosis this spring, a $40 million, 70,000-square-foot cancer center was opening its doors on a wooded hilltop here. Leaders of the center, the Hartford HealthCare Cancer Institute, had formed a partnership with New York’s Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, part of an alliance aimed at bringing the most up-to-date cancer care to smaller communities. (Dennis, 9/2)

Health Law Issues And Implementation

7. Alaska's GOP Legislators Continue Suit Against Medicaid Expansion Despite Court Setbacks

The committee that brought a lawsuit against Gov. Bill Walker met but announced no changes in strategy. Alaska officials say they have approved 27 people for Medicaid since enrollment in the expansion program began Tuesday and more than 350 people have applied already.

Alaska Dispatch News: Alaska Lawmakers Meet On Medicaid Challenge But Don't Drop Lawsuit
The legislative committee that voted to sue Alaska Gov. Bill Walker over Medicaid expansion met Wednesday but took no action and offered no indication it would back away from its lawsuit -- even after two unfavorable rulings from state courts. The meeting, held on short notice and out of public view in an "executive session" in the Legislature’s Anchorage offices, was informational, with lawmakers hearing from their nonpartisan staff attorneys about legal questions surrounding Walker’s decision to expand the Medicaid health care program without legislative approval. (Herz, 9/2)

Alaska Dispatch News: State Approves 27 Alaskans For Benefits On First Day Of Medicaid Expansion
Twenty-seven Alaskans were approved for benefits under Medicaid expansion Tuesday, the first day of the broadened health care program, the state Department of Health and Social Services announced Wednesday. At least 252 people submitted paper applications Tuesday related to Medicaid expansion at Division of Public Assistance offices, said Sarana Schell, public information officer for the health department. Another 104 Alaskans submitted Medicaid applications online, though the state could not say whether they were taking advantage of the expanded program or were filing under the old rules, said Tammie Walker, acting chief of field services for the state's Division of Public Assistance. (Hanlon, 9/2)

Medicare

8. White House Urges HHS To Be 'More Aggressive' In Fighting Overpayments In Medicare, Medicaid

The message came in a letter from budget director Shaun Donovan. Meanwhile, in North Carolina, a whistleblower is alleging that a major health system fraudulently billed the government.

NPR/Center For Public Integrity: White House Takes Aim At Medicare And Medicaid Billing Errors
White House budget director Shaun Donovan called for a "more aggressive strategy" to thwart improper government payments to doctors, hospitals and insurance companies in a previously undisclosed letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell earlier this year. Government health care programs covering millions of Americans waste billions of tax dollars every year through these improper payments, Donovan said in the Feb. 26, 2015 letter. (Schulte, 9/3)

The Charlotte Observer: Lawsuit: Carolina Hospitals Cheated Medicare Out Of Millions
A newly unsealed lawsuit alleges that Carolinas Medical Center and N.C. Baptist Hospital have fraudulently obtained tens of millions of dollars from Medicare and Medicaid through an arrangement that artificially inflated their expenses. The federal suit, filed by Forsyth County whistleblower Joe Vincoli, contends that the two hospitals overstated their costs – and thereby extracted more money from Medicare – by using a company that they own to provide health benefits to their employees. (Alexander, 9/2)

Veterans' Health Care

9. VA Can't Track How Many Of 867,000 Pending Cases Are Active Or If Patients Are Alive, Inspector General Finds

With the Department of Veterans Affairs' open applications going back nearly 20 years, and with many records undated, the report estimates that a third of those who applied for health care are now dead. Meanwhile, in another hit to veterans seeking care, a torrential storm damaged the Phoenix VA hospital, forcing patients to be moved and appointments postponed.

The Associated Press: Watchdog: 900,000 Vets May Have Pending Health Care Requests
Nearly 900,000 military veterans have officially pending applications for health care from the Department of Veterans Affairs, the department's inspector general said Wednesday, but "serious" problems with enrollment data make it impossible to determine how many veterans were actively seeking VA health care. About one-third of the 867,000 veterans with pending applications are likely deceased, the report says, adding that "data limitations" prevent investigators from determining how many now-deceased veterans applied for health care benefits or when. The applications go back nearly two decades, and officials said some applicants may have died years ago. (Daly, 9/2)

CNN: 307,000 Veterans Died Awaiting Veterans Affairs Health Care, Report Says
Hundreds of thousands of veterans listed in the Department of Veterans Affairs enrollment system died before their applications for care were processed, according to a report issued Wednesday. The VA's inspector general found that out of about 800,000 records stalled in the agency's system for managing health care enrollment, there were more than 307,000 records that belonged to veterans who had died months or years in the past. (Devine, 9/2)