Kaiser Health News Original Stories

2. Political Cartoon: 'No Accounting For Taste'

Kaiser Health News provides a fresh take on health policy developments with "Political Cartoon: 'No Accounting For Taste'" by Roy Delgado.

Here's today's health policy haiku:

SEEING A SILVER LINING IN DIABETES PREVALENCE STATS

Half of the U.S.
Is diabetic or pre
And that’s a good sign.

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Health Law Issues And Implementation

3. Nearly 10M People Paid For New Health Law Insurance Plans

This tally, released as part of the federal government's midyear report, shows a dip from a previous count.

The Associated Press: Health Insurance Signups Near 10 Million In Midyear Report
About 9.9 million people have signed up and paid for health insurance under President Barack Obama's health care law, the administration said Tuesday, a slight dip from a previous count but on track toward the administration's year-end goal of 9.1 million. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said that 84 percent of those, or more than 8.3 million, were receiving tax subsidies to help with the cost. A Supreme Court decision earlier this summer upheld insurance subsidies in all 50 states, a major victory for the White House. (9/8)

USA Today: Nearly 10 Million People Have Paid For Obamacare Plans
HHS said the 10 states with the highest rate of consumers who received tax credits were: Mississippi (95.4%), Wyoming (92.2%), North Carolina (91.6%), Florida (91.3%), Alabama (90.9%), Louisiana (90.7%), Georgia (90.0%), Arkansas (90.0%), Wisconsin (89.6%) and Alaska (88.8%). The states with the lowest rate of consumers who received credits are: District of Columbia (10.2%), Minnesota (54.8%), Colorado (55.3%), Hawaii (61.4%), New Hampshire (62.8%), Vermont (64.2%), Utah (65.6%), Kentucky (69.8%), Maryland (70.7%) and New York (71.4%). (O'Donnell, 9/8)

Los Angeles Times: Obamacare Enrollment Drops Slightly To 9.9 Million
The new numbers were released Tuesday by the Obama administration in the latest quarterly report on the insurance marketplaces created by the federal health law. The tally was a drop from the 10.2 million people who were enrolled in plans by the end of March.Such attrition has been a regular process since the marketplaces opened in the fall of 2013, as consumers who select health plans during the annual open enrollment period drop coverage through the year or fail to pay premiums. (Levey, 9/8)

The Wall Street Journal: About 9.9 Million Enrollees Pay For Health Insurance On State, Federal Sites
Data-matching issues caused some of the decline. Overall, as of June 30, 2015, the exchange has ended coverage for approximately 423,000 people with plans in 2015 who failed to produce sufficient documentation on their citizenship or immigration status. The exchange has also adjusted tax credits or financial assistance for about 967,000 households, in some cases because of incorrect information on family income. (Armour, 9/8)

The Dallas Morning News: Immigration Status Stifles Enrollment For Obamacare
The Affordable Care Act does not permit unauthorized immigrants to use the online health insurance marketplaces, which the federal government operates in Texas and 36 other states. Also, immigrants in the country illegally cannot qualify for subsidies. About 84 percent of marketplace consumers receive tax credits to help pay premiums on their private plans. (Garrett, 9/8)

Bloomberg: Obamacare Marketplace Enrollment Falls To 9.9M, U.S. Says
About 9.9 million people got health insurance coverage through the marketplaces set up by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act as of June 30, a decline from earlier in the year though still higher than the Obama administration’s target. About 84 percent got government subsidies to buy the coverage, getting an average of $270 a month, according to data released by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Enrollment had been 10.2 million at the end of March. (Tracer, 9/8)

In other local coverage and cost news -

The Associated Press: Nearly 330K Virginians Sign Up For Coverage Under Health Law
President Barack Obama’s administration says that nearly 330,000 Virginia residents have signed up and paid for health insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act. The administration said Tuesday that 327,026 residents had enrolled through the end of June. Of those, nearly 84 percent, or more than 274,000, were receiving financial assistance from the federal government. (9/8)

The Connecticut Mirror: Anthem Individual Rates To Rise 2.4%, ConnectiCare’s By 8.5%
Premiums for the 55,000 people who buy Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield health plans through the state’s individual market will rise by an average of 2.4 percent next year, while ConnectiCare Insurance Company’s 34,400 customers will see an average rate hike of 8.5 percent. Both companies sought higher increases, but the Connecticut Insurance Department deemed their proposed rates excessive and required the companies to revise their proposals. (Levin Becker, 9/8)

Capitol Hill Watch

4. As Budget Impasse Centers On Planned Parenthood, Cuts To Other Health Programs Possible Too

With some House Republicans threatening to vote against any spending bill that provides federal money to the women's health organization, the threat of another shutdown grows. Budget negotiations could also impact other health groups' funding as well.

The Wall Street Journal: Planned Parenthood Fight Threatens To Bring Shutdown
Rising conservative anger against Planned Parenthood is upending congressional GOP leaders’ plans to avoid a government shutdown when federal funding runs out at month’s end. Republicans in full control of Congress for the first time since 2006 are eager to keep the government running when the next fiscal year starts on Oct. 1. But they face mounting resistance from some House Republicans who won’t vote for any government funding bill unless it cuts off funding for Planned Parenthood. Their opposition follows a string of videos purporting to show the group profiting from the sale of fetal tissue to medical researchers. Planned Parenthood has denied the allegations. (son and Armour, 9/8)

Kaiser Health News: Planned Parenthood Isn’t The Only Health Program At Risk Of Losing Funds
Federal funding for Planned Parenthood will clearly be a flash point when Congress returns this week from its summer break. But the fate of many other health programs, from the National Institutes of Health to efforts to reduce teen pregnancy, hang in the balance as well, as lawmakers decide whether and how to fund the government after the current fiscal year expires Sept. 30. (Rovner, 9/8)

Meanwhile, Congress begins Planned Parenthood hearings -

The Associated Press: Congress Starts Planned Parenthood Hearings, Accusations Fly
A prominent abortion foe is accusing Planned Parenthood of violating federal laws barring for-profit sales of fetal tissue, while a defender of the group says it's done nothing illegal as Congress begins long-awaited hearings that are already weaving accusations, emotion and politics. Clandestinely recorded videos show that Planned Parenthood "violates various federal laws," and only banning research using fetal tissue from abortions or abortion itself "will prevent the inevitable abuse," James Bopp Jr., general counsel for National Right to Life, said in testimony prepared for Wednesday's House Judiciary Committee hearing. (9/9)

Reuters: Group Urges Republican Candidates To Defund Planned Parenthood
An influential conservative group is calling on Republican presidential candidates to vow they will veto any future funding for women's healthcare provider Planned Parenthood, which is under fire from abortion opponents. In a letter seen by Reuters that is being sent to all party hopefuls in the 2016 White House race, the ForAmerica advocacy group asks candidates to make "a firm commitment" to starve Planned Parenthood of federal funding. (Gibson, 9/8)

5. Efforts To Repeal Health Law's 'Cadillac' Tax Spotlight Threat To Flexible Spending Accounts

Opponents of the tax, which would apply to generous employer health plans, say that one of the first moves companies would make to avoid the tax is jettison flexible spending accounts for workers. Meanwhile, a legislative fix to another provision that expands the small group market covered by the law could be derailed because of complicated politics.

The Wall Street Journal: 'Cadillac’ Health Tax Fight Heats Up
A looming tax on generous employer health plans could imperil flexible spending accounts, a popular benefit that lets employees set aside tax-free money for certain medical expenses. The Affordable Care Act’s tax on high-cost employer health insurance is scheduled to start in 2018, when it will impose a 40% levy on benefits that exceed a government-set threshold. Employers already are reviewing or trimming health plans to minimize the effect of this “Cadillac tax,” benefit experts say. (Armour, 9/8)

Politico Pro: Congress Faces Pressure To Push Back Obamacare's Small Group Expansion
There's growing bipartisan support to roll back a looming Obamacare provision that could raise health insurance costs for thousands of midsized businesses, but the law's complicated politics could derail congressional efforts to approve a fix. Starting next year, the Affordable Care Act expands the definition of the “small group” insurance market .... That means a broader swath of companies will have to live under new Obamacare coverage rules — most notably, a prohibition on charging employers more money based on their medical claims history or the ages of their workers. (Demko, 9/8)

Marketplace

6. AMA: Insurance Company Mergers Threaten Competition

The American Medical Association said the proposed merger deals involving the nation's four largest insurers could do harm to consumers and doctors.

Bloomberg: Anthem, Aetna Deals Threaten Competition Across U.S., AMA Says
The market for health-insurance in the U.S. is already so highly concentrated that pending tie-ups among four of the country’s largest insurers risk hurting both consumers and doctors, the American Medical Association said. Anthem Inc.’s proposed takeover of Cigna Corp. and Aetna Inc.’s bid for Humana Inc. would reduce competition among insurers in 154 metropolitan areas, worsening already concentrated markets, the organization said in studies released Tuesday. The mergers could cause premiums to go up and decrease payments to doctors, the AMA said. (McLaughlin, 9/8)

CNN Money: AMA Says Insurance Mergers Will Raise Premiums And Hurt Quality Of Care
The American Medical Association says the proposed mergers between four of the nation's largest health insurers will drive up costs for patients and hurt the quality of care. In a study released by the physicians' trade association, the AMA argues that insurance competition would be significantly reduced in 97 metropolitan areas spread across most states. It's calling for the mergers to be blocked. (Isidore, 9/8)