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KHN First Edition: September 18, 2015


First Edition

Friday, September 18, 2015
Check Kaiser Health News online for the latest headlines

Today's early morning highlights from the major news organizations.

Kaiser Health News: How One Home Health Agency Earned Five Stars
WFAE's Michael Tomsic, working in partnership with Kaiser Health News and NPR, reports: "Home health agencies are a segment of the medical industry that you may not know about if you or a loved one has never needed one. The companies send therapists and nurses into the homes of Medicare patients to help them recover from an illness or surgery. This summer the federal government started rating home health agencies – doling out one to five stars – to give consumers a better picture of the job they do. The top grades were elusive: only 239 agencies out of 9,000 nationwide earned five stars, according to a Kaiser Health News analysis." (Tomsic, 9/18)

The Associated Press: Appeals Court Upholds Injunction Halting Health Mandate
A federal appeals court ruled Thursday that President Barack Obama's health care law unjustly burdens religiously affiliated employers by forcing them to help provide insurance coverage for certain contraceptives, even though they can opt out of directly paying for it. The ruling by a three-judge 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel in St. Louis upheld lower court decisions that sided with plaintiffs who included three Christian colleges in Missouri, Michigan and Iowa. (9/17)

The Wall Street Journal: Appeals Court Rules Against Obama Administration’s Contraception Compromise
Opponents of a compromise arrangement for providing birth-control coverage to workers at religiously affiliated employers won their first major federal-appeals-court victory Thursday, increasing the chance the contentious issue could find its way back to the Supreme Court. The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis said the Obama administration didn’t go far enough to accommodate employers with religious objections when creating an alternative system to cover contraception for their workers. (Radnofsky and Kendall, 9/17)

The Washington Post: Congress Inching Ever Closer Toward Government Shutdown
Reid and Pelosi met with Obama for about 90 minutes to prepare for negotiations. They said they are willing to back a continuing resolution to keep the government open, but insisted that such a stopgap measure be a short-term one and include the same size increases for military and non-military spending. They said that they will also demand that it not include any language about ideological issues, such as funding for Planned Parenthood. (Mufson and Snell, 9/17)

Politico: House, Senate Leaders Still Lack Plan To Avoid Shutdown
The same Republicans who campaigned on doing away with legislative crises are careening toward government shutdown in less than two weeks with still no concrete plan to stop it. It’s not that Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) leadership team is hiding their best hand. They have no trick up their sleeve, no ace in the hole — pick your cliché. Nearly everyone in House and Senate leadership recognizes a simple reality: At some point in the next two weeks, they will move on a bill free of provisions to strip Planned Parenthood of its government funding. It just depends how long it takes, how painful it is and whether Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) team stumbles into their second government shutdown in three years. (Sherman and Palmer, 9/17)

Politico: Boehner, Pelosi Huddle To Talk Shutdown Strategy
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi huddled with Speaker John Boehner Thursday evening to discuss the looming government funding crisis. The roughly 20-minute meeting came after Pelosi had been pressuring him for weeks to start negotiations on legislation that would keep the government open past Sept. 30. ... Congressional Republicans are currently logjamed over funding for Planned Parenthood with a group of more than 30 conservatives refusing to vote for any spending bill that doesn't strip the health care organization of its federal money. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said that proposal is unlikely to pass the Senate meaning that Boehner may have to rely on Democratic votes to pass a continuing resolution. (French, 9/17)

Politico: Senators Weigh Planned Parenthood Options
Two weeks before the government is due to run out of money, the Senate is laying the groundwork for a potential end game if the House stumbles. The Senate will vote on Tuesday to ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Lawmakers and aides sketched out a path from there: First, the Senate would take up a government spending bill that cuts Planned Parenthood funding, knowing that it will fail. They would be most likely to schedule that vote if the House appears to be struggling to pass its own funding bill denying money for the group. (Everett and Haberkorn, 9/17)

The Wall Street Journal's Washington Wire: Kevin McCarthy: Conservative Push To Oust Boehner ‘a Distraction’
Mr. Boehner of Ohio was elected speaker on the House floor in January with the most opposition in a speaker election since 1923. Since then, a series of fights over spending bills, President Barack Obama’s immigration policy, and the nuclear deal with Iran have generated further friction with his party’s right flank. This month, conservatives angered by videos showing Planned Parenthood officials discussing fees for procuring fetal tissue for medical researchers have tangled with GOP leaders over whether to use a must-pass spending bill as leverage to seek to strip federal funding from the women’s health organization. Such a move could lead to a stand-off resulting in a partial government shutdown if no stopgap spending measure is passed by the Oct. 1 start of the next fiscal year. Rep. Matt Salmon (R., Ariz.) said conservatives are watching Mr. Boehner and that his behavior this month will affect his standing among House Republicans. (son, 9/17)

The New York Times: Abortion Bills Advance, Setting Up A Showdown
Senate Republicans said on Thursday that they would take up legislation outlawing all abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, and the House voted to move forward with a bill that would end government financing for Planned Parenthood, intensifying a fight over abortion that threatened to paralyze budget talks and force a government shutdown at the end of the month. (Herszenhorn, 9/17)

The Associated Press: House Bills Hit Planned Parenthood, Some Abortion Doctors
Republican leaders hope House passage of bills targeting Planned Parenthood and curbing some abortion procedures will mollify fractious conservatives demanding a face-off with President Barack Obama that could trigger a federal shutdown. The GOP-run chamber was on track to approve the two measures Friday, despite White House veto threats and opposition from most Democrats. One would block Planned Parenthood’s federal funds for a year. The other would inflict criminal penalties on doctors who don’t try saving infants born alive during abortions. (Fram and Taylor, 9/18)

Politico: Rubio Avoids Cruz's Planned Parenthood-Shutdown Push
Many of the Republican candidates on the debate stage Wednesday night joined in a full-throated endorsement of Ted Cruz's damn-the-torpedoes strategy to defund Planned Parenthood, even if it means shutting down the federal government. But two candidates who’ll soon be casting votes on the matter were noticeably silent: Sens. Marco Rubio and Rand Paul. (Everett, 9/17)

The Wall Street Journal's Washington Wire: At Debate, Carly Fiorina Described Scenes Not In Abortion Videos
Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina won applause in Wednesday’s debate for her vivid description of a live fetus she said was shown in an antiabortion group’s undercover video about Planned Parenthood Federation of America. But the image she described isn’t in any of the videos released by the antiabortion group. Instead, one video from the group depicts a former employee of a tissue procurement company stating what she says she saw at a Planned Parenthood clinic. There was never any video that depicted, as Ms. Fiorina stated, a live fetus on a table being prepared for organ harvesting. (Armour, 9/17)

Politico: Vaccine Phobia Infects GOP Race
When New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie suggested seven months ago, at the height of the Disneyland measles outbreak, that parents should have “a measure of choice” about whether to vaccinate their children, he was widely condemned — and quickly reversed himself. On Wednesday, two GOP presidential candidates who are both medical doctors, Ben Carson and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), waded into similar territory. This time, the fury rained down from a medical establishment that felt betrayed by its own. (Allen, 9/17)

The Associated Press: Novel Plan To Curb Drug Costs Seeks Candidates' Attention
Consumer-friendly ratings of the benefits of new drugs. Limits on what patients pay. Requiring drug companies to disclose how much they actually spend on research. With the public concerned about the high cost of new medications, these are some of the proposals from a policy center often aligned with the Obama administration. The multi-step plan from the Center for American Progress aims to get the attention of the 2016 Democratic presidential candidates. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders are both on record advocating action against overpriced medications. A copy of the 45-page plan was provided to The Associated Press ahead of its release Friday. (9/18)

The New York Times: Trial For Robert Menendez, New Jersey Senator, Is Delayed
The defense lawyers’ central argument is that Mr. Menendez’s actions on behalf of Dr. Melgen cannot be prosecuted because they were part of the legislative process, and therefore protected under the speech or debate clause of the Constitution. Mr. Menendez went to health officials in a bid to change future policy, they argued, not to help Dr. Melgen escape repayment of nearly $9 million that the federal government said he had overbilled Medicare. Prosecutors failed to tell the grand jury, for example, that Kathleen Sebelius, then the secretary of health and human services, had told investigators that she could not recall the senator’s seeking any remedy; her “sense” was that he was hoping only to change policy on prospective cases. (Zernike, 9/17)

NPR: CDC Says Flu Vaccine Should Be More Effective This Season
Last year's flu vaccine didn't work very well. This year's version should do a much better job protecting people against the flu, federal health officials said Thursday. An analysis of the most common strains of flu virus that are circulating in the United States and elsewhere found they match the strains included in this year's vaccine, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. (Stein, 9/17)

The Associated Press: Things To Know About The Flu Shot: Lots Of Options This Year
Give flu vaccine another chance: This year's version got a recipe change that should make it more effective after last winter's misery from a nasty surprise strain of virus. Don't let a fear of needles stop you. Beyond the traditional shots, the squeamish for the first time could try a needle-free injection, or choose the nasal spray or tiny skin-deep needles that have been around for a while. (9/17)

The Wall Street Journal: Rite Aid Profit Falls, And Company Cuts Outlook
Rite Aid Corp. said profit in its latest quarter plummeted as the drugstore chain integrated recently acquired Envision Pharmaceutical Services and recorded a loss on retired debt. Meanwhile, the Camp Hill, Pa.-based company further cut its earnings outlook for the year, reflecting sales trends and additional expenses stemming from the recent deal. (Beilfuss, 9/17)

Los Angeles Times: More People Are Being Illegally Billed For Charges Not Paid By Medi-Cal
Balance billing is particularly prevalent among a vulnerable subset of Medi-Cal recipients — those who also qualify for Medicare, the federal health program for seniors and disabled people. Folks who qualify for both are referred to as dual eligibles. A recent report by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services revealed a nationwide trend of healthcare providers illegally billing these individuals for charges not covered by either type of insurance. In California, Lee said, the call volume on her organization's help line doubled in the last year in large part because of complaints about balance billing among people with Medi-Cal. (Zamosky, 9/18)

The New York Times: Immigrants Fight Texas’ Birth Certificate Rules
At the Republican debate on Wednesday and throughout the campaign, candidates led by Donald J. Trump have assailed illegal immigration, and some have questioned whether children who are born to immigrants in this country illegally should be considered American citizens. But here on the Texas border some local officials are engaged in activities that go beyond talk, enforcing some of the toughest rules in the country limiting the types of ID parents can show to receive copies of birth certificates. The result has been a refusal to issue birth certificates to many of the Texas-born children of immigrants here illegally. ... Without a birth certificate, illegal immigrants say they cannot have newborns baptized, have had difficulty enrolling their children in day care and school and have lost or fear losing Medicaid coverage and other government services and benefits for their families. They said officials required birth certificates for these programs, as proof of parenthood or the child’s Texas birth. (Fernandez, 9/17)

The New York Times: Montana Republican Leaders Shocked To Find Moderates In Their Ranks
The legislative leaders insisted their agenda was set fairly by a questionnaire that Republican lawmakers answered. But Senator Ed Buttrey of Great Falls, a Republican who bucked the party in a successful fight to expand Medicaid, said the questions were simplistic, allowing no nuanced alternative to simply opposing Obamacare. “They took some yes-or-no answers and they decided what that means for all Republicans in Montana,” he said without apology for scandalizing his party leaders with his independence. (Clines, 9/17)

The Associated Press: Communities Making Efforts To Become ‘Dementia Friendly’
The hope in Watertown is to have as many businesses as possible learn more about how to better serve people whose decline in memory or other thinking skills is affecting their everyday activities. The goal is to train 75 percent of the community’s businesses by 2016, said Jan Zimmerman, director of dementia outreach and education for The Lutheran Home Association, which runs retirement communities in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Florida. (Antlfinger, 9/18)

Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent operating program of the Kaiser Family Foundation. (c) 2014 Kaiser Health News. All rights reserved.

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