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KHN First Edition: September 30, 2015


First Edition

Wednesday, September 30, 2015
Check Kaiser Health News online for the latest headlines

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

Kaiser Health News: Workplace Wellness Programs Put Employee Privacy At Risk
As part of it's Wellness In The Workplace coverage, Kaiser Health News staff writer Jay Hancock reports: "Houston workers who checked the fine print said they weren’t sure whether they were joining an employee wellness program or a marketing scheme. Last fall the city of Houston required employees to tell an online wellness company about their disease history, drug and seat-belt use, blood pressure and other delicate information. The company, hired to improve worker health and lower medical costs, could pass the data to 'third party vendors acting on our behalf,' according to an authorization form. The information might be posted in areas 'that are reviewable to the public.' It might also be 'subject to re-disclosure' and “no longer protected by privacy law.'” (Hancock, 9/30)

Kaiser Health News: Privacy Advocates Urge Stronger Protection Of Employee Health Data
As part of its Wellness In The Workplace coverage, Kaiser Health News staff writer Julie Appleby reports: "Like millions of Americans, Michelle Muckenthaler joined her workplace wellness program this year, answering a bunch of questions about her health habits: What did she eat? How often did she exercise? Next year, she’ll also face a wellness exam, including tests to measure her cholesterol level, blood sugar and weight. Worried about the privacy of her personal information, she says she’ll opt out, even though she will lose a discount off her premium. 'A $40 a month penalty is not enough for me to want to tell my employer what I’m doing with my health,' said Muckenthaler, 37, who lives near Denver." (Appleby, 9/30)

Kaiser Health News: 7 Questions To Ask Your Employer About Wellness Privacy
As another part of the Wellness In The Workplace feature, Kaiser Health News staff writers Jay Hancock and Julie Appleby report: "If your company hasn’t launched a wellness program, this might be the year. As benefits enrollment for 2016 approaches, more employers than ever are expected to nudge workers toward plans that screen them for risks, monitor their activity and encourage them to take the right pills, food and exercise. ... Standards to keep such information confidential have developed more slowly than the industry. That raises risks it could be abused for workplace discrimination, credit screening or marketing, consumer advocates say. Here’s what to ask about your company’s plan." (Hancock and Appleby, 9/30)

Kaiser Health News: Think Health Prices Are High Near You? Maybe Yes — And No
Kaiser Health News staff writer reports: "A long-established belief about health costs is that some areas of the country, like McAllen, Texas, are expensive, while others like San Francisco are cheap. But an analysis released Wednesday provides evidence that prices can be exorbitant for some medical services and bargains for others—all in the same place." (Rau, 9/30)

Kaiser Health News: Airports’ Backscatter Security Scanners Easily Meet Radiation Standards, Panel Says
Kaiser Health News staff writer Julie Appleby reports: "Before they were removed following an outcry over privacy, backscatter X-ray security scanners at airports also raised worries among some travelers and scientists about exposure to potentially harmful radiation. After all, the machines use ionizing radiation to produce those very graphic body images. Now, with the TSA considering redeploying a second generation of such scanners, a new report allays some concerns while leaving other questions unanswered." (Appleby, 9/30)

Politico: GOP Full Throttle On Obamacare Repeal
Congressional Republicans have agreed on a plan to use a fast-track budget procedure to send an Obamacare repeal to the president’s desk, a largely symbolic move – given an expected veto – but one conservatives have been pushing for since the GOP took control of Congress. House Republican leaders are planning to put the bill – which is being crafted in three committees this week – up for a vote as early as next month, according to House aides. After it is approved, Senate leaders are expected to put the legislation on the floor in the upper chamber. (Haberkorn and Kim, 9/29)

The Wall Street Journal: U.S. To Give Almost $700 Million In Grants To Improve Patient Care
Dozens of hospital groups, health departments, doctor associations and others will get almost $700 million to improve patient care as part of the Obama administration’s initiative to overhaul payment methods for medical providers. The grants, unveiled Tuesday and funded under the Affordable Care Act, coincide with discussions between Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell and congressional lawmakers on changing health-care delivery. (Armour, 9/29)

The Wall Street Journal: Republicans, White House In Fresh Budget Talks
The preliminary talks are geared at finding a way around discretionary spending caps outlined in a 2011 budget law that many lawmakers see as draconian. ... The House and Senate are expected Wednesday to pass a stopgap spending measure to keep the government running through Dec. 11. ...The chances of a two-year deal are uncertain and could depend on whether House conservatives balk at negotiating an agreement with Democrats. Conservative suspicion that establishment GOP leaders are too willing to give in to Democrats has already delayed passage of an interim spending bill. Social conservatives don’t have the votes to stop the short-term bill, which is a plain-vanilla measure that extends government funding at current levels and doesn’t include language to end funding for Planned Parenthood. (Hughes and son, 9/29)

Politico: White House, GOP Weighing Big Budget Talks
A major budget deal could be elusive, however. Democrats and many Republicans are eager for a broader agreement that would lift federal spending for domestic programs — the top demand of congressional Democrats — while hawkish GOP lawmakers want more money for defense programs. But many conservatives want to keep strict spending caps in place, praising them as a measure of fiscal discipline. In exchange for increasing some key spending levels, McConnell will insist on offsetting those costs and will take a hard line against any tax hikes. (Kim, 9/29)

Politico: How McConnell Outfoxed Ted Cruz
McConnell may not like to talk about Cruz, but he and his leadership lieutenants have quietly and methodically worked to isolate the conservative senator and minimize his effect on the critical fall spending debate. The end result, in spite of Cruz’s invective toward Republican leaders, is music to McConnell’s ears: no government shutdown. ... By moving to quarantine Cruz from the rest of the conference over the past three months, the majority leader demonstrated that he’s learned the lessons of the Cruz-backed government shutdown in 2013 and the Texas senator’s rogue strategy last winter that helped Democrats confirm a raft of judges in the lame duck session. (Everett, 9/29)

Los Angeles Times: McConnell's Old-School Style Could Make Him GOP Conservatives' Next Target
But with the abrupt resignation of House Speaker John A. Boehner, McConnell's pragmatic goals are suddenly looking like political liabilities. ... The GOP leader's old-school strategy of getting the Senate back to "regular order" with committee hearings and amendment votes is too timid for conservatives who just kicked his top colleague out the door and prefer bold, unconventional methods. ... In many ways, McConnell, like Boehner, rose to the job just as the political ground shifted beneath him. ... And despite the pressure, Boehner and McConnell are expected this week to shepherd a temporary spending bill through Congress, bypassing conservatives who want a veto showdown with Obama over Planned Parenthood funding. That will assure the government stays open past Wednesday's fiscal year deadline. (Mascaro, 9/29)

The Wall Street Journal: Planned Parenthood Head Testifies On Capitol Hill
Ms. Richards defended Planned Parenthood’s practices and management throughout her testimony, largely avoiding missteps that could be quoted later by opponents. In her first appearance on Capitol Hill since the release of the videos, she described allegations that clinics profited from the use of fetal tissue as “outrageous” and untrue, and said they were part of a broader campaign aimed at rolling back abortion rights. (Armour and Radnofsky, 9/29)

The Washington Post: House GOP Hard-Liners Agitate To Have One Of Their Own In A Leadership Role
A generation of House Republicans who have spent the past five years trying to shake up Washington spent Tuesday trying to shake up their party’s leadership contests that have moved coolly toward reinforcing the status quo. They had little success. A campaign to draft one prominent, relatively young conservative, Rep. Trey Gowdy (S.C.), into the race for majority leader was extinguished before day’s end, leaving restless conservatives to continue their search for a standard-bearer. (DeBonis and Costa, 9/29)

USA Today: Planned Parenthood's Cecile Richards Mounts Defense Before Congress
Richards argued that most of the federal funding Planned Parenthood receives is reimbursement under Medicaid and other programs for health care services like birth control, cancer screenings, and testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections."No federal funds pay for abortion services, she said in written testimony. "except in the very limited circumstances permitted by law — when the woman has been raped, has been the victim of incest, or when her life is endangered." But Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, said it appears to him "this is an organization that doesn't need federal subsidy." He said the group has its own revenue streams, and "Planned Parenthood is an organization with massive salaries... (and) exorbitant travel expenses." (Singer, 9/29)

The Associated Press: House Chair: Planned Parenthood Doesn't Need Federal Money
A House committee chairman is using Planned Parenthood's first congressional appearance since being embarrassed by surreptitiously recorded videos to say the organization does not need federal money. Utah Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz lashed out at the organization for what he called "exorbitant" spending for salaries, travel, parties and lobbying. He said that money was being spent on political activity, not on providing health care to women. (9/29)

Politico: GOP Chair Attacks Planned Parenthood President's Salary
Committee Democrats labeled the hearing as the latest in a long GOP war against women and abortion rights. The lengthy hearing broke little new ground but is unlikely to quiet calls from House Republicans to eliminate the organization's federal funding. While the organization will be spared from cuts in the latest stopgap government spending bill expected to pass Congress this week, both opponents and proponents know that defunding efforts will return. The hearing started just hours before the House approved a bill that would let states block Medicaid funds to providers who perform abortions. (Haberkorn, 9/29)

The Washington Post: Planned Parenthood Leader: Video Allegations Are ‘Offensive’ And ‘Untrue’
Meanwhile, several House committees began taking steps to implement a separate legislative strategy that could draw President Obama into the dispute. Later this week, they will begin assembling a budget-reconciliation bill that would cut off Planned Parenthood’s funding, as well as repeal Obama’s Affordable Care Act. Because legislation moved through the reconciliation process cannot be filibustered, it is likely to be approved by both chambers, forcing Obama to veto the bill. The wrangling could keep the congressional debate over Planned Parenthood alive into next year, keeping the organization — and the abortion issue — in the spotlight through the Republican presidential primaries. (Somashekhar, 9/30)

The Washington Post's Morning Mix: In Planned Parenthood’s Cecile Richards, GOP Faces Formidable Fan Of ‘Kick-Butt’ Politics
Republican lawmakers have an incentive to make these hearings as contentious as possible: abortion rights and Planned Parenthood’s funding are likely to be sticking points in budget negotiations this December and major election issues after that. The account of Richard’s performance and who came out on top depended on who was reporting the hearing. “Planned Parenthood blasted over salaries, expensive parties,” was the headline at the Washington Examiner. “Planned Parenthood boss clashes with lawmakers over taxpayer $$, videos,” reported Fox News. But according to MSNBC, it was a triumph for Richards. “Planned Parenthood chief embarrasses GOP rep.” (Kaplan, 9/30)

The Washington Post's Fact Checker: The Stale Claim That ‘one In Three’ Women Will Have An Abortion By Age 45
UltraViolet, a women’s rights advocacy group, published this video about abortion myths, and cited a series of statistics about women’s access to abortion. One statistic piqued our curiosity: one in three women will have an abortion by age 45. This is a ubiquitous statistic, and an abortion rights campaign is even named after the figure. What are the underlying data, and are there any important caveats? (Kim, 9/30)

The Washington Post: Carly Fiorina Emerges As The Right’s New Champion On Abortion Issues
On the facts, Carly Fiorina has been proved wrong. But on the politics, her impassioned condemnation of a Planned Parenthood video has turned her into a champion of the antiabortion movement and given her outsider candidacy new momentum. Republicans have rallied to her side, not just to defend one of their own against fact checkers and attacks from Democrats for misrepresenting what was in the video, but also because she brings a fresh voice and perspective to what has long been a predictable debate over abortion. (Rucker, 9/29)

Politico: Paul On Cruz: He's Pretty Much Done For In The Senate
Rand Paul on Tuesday had a blunt message for his presidential rival and fellow Republican senator Ted Cruz: You're a hack. In no uncertain terms, Paul called out Cruz for trying — and failing — to disrupt GOP leadership's efforts to fund the government without attacking Planned Parenthood, as well as past name-calling from the Texas senator. (Collins, 9/29)

The New York Times: Hillary Clinton To Propose Scrapping Health Law’s ‘Cadillac Tax’
Hillary Rodham Clinton will in the coming days speak out against the so-called Cadillac tax on certain health care plans, a move that is part of a series of reforms she’s suggesting for the Affordable Care Act, according to a union official briefed on her plans. Mrs. Clinton’s campaign aides informed Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, of her intentions in the last few days, according to a senior official with the labor group. The union made an early endorsement of Mrs. Clinton in July. (Haberman, 9/29)

The Associated Press: Clinton Calls For Repeal Of Health Care Law's 'Cadillac Tax'
Hillary Rodham Clinton is calling for the repeal of part of President Barack Obama's health care law, the so-called "Cadillac tax" on health insurance that's unpopular with large corporations and unions alike. Critics say the tax will raise costs for consumers, while supporters see it as a brake on wasteful health care spending. (9/29)

The Wall Street Journal: Hillary Clinton Supports Repealing ‘Cadillac Tax’ On Health Plans
Mrs. Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, has attempted to strike a balance on the 2010 health law. She has vigorously defended the law while also promising to address what are seen as its shortcomings. Last week, she proposed new caps on out-of-pocket costs on private insurance plans. On Tuesday, she described repealing the tax as “strengthening” the law while reiterating her view that the law is working well. (Meckler and Armour, 9/29)

The New York Times: Nursing Homes Bill For More Therapy Than Patients Need, U.S. Says
Nursing homes receive far more in Medicare payments than it costs them to provide care, exploiting the billing system in some cases by giving patients more therapy services than they need, federal investigators said in a new report. The report, to be issued on Wednesday by the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services, said that nursing homes regularly filed claims for the highest, most expensive level of therapy, regardless of what patients required. (Pear, 9/30)

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