Kaiser Health News Original Stories

5. Political Cartoon: 'Processed Meats Deadly?'

Kaiser Health News provides a fresh take on health policy developments with "Political Cartoon: 'Processed Meats Deadly?'" by Steve Sack, Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Here's today's health policy haiku:


Boehner deal is done?
Not "grand" but bargain should work.
Ryan in his debt.

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Capitol Hill Watch

6. Budget Deal Stops Medicare Premium Increases For Most Seniors

The measure also prevents a deep cut in Social Security disability benefits. However, some hospital Medicare payments will be reduced.

The New York Times: Agreement Is Seen As Short-Term Relief For Medicare And Social Security
The budget agreement reached by congressional leaders and the White House this week will prevent a sharp increase in Medicare premiums for more than 15 million older Americans and a deep cut in Social Security benefits for nine million disabled workers, but it will not alter the long-term financial outlook for either program, lawmakers and budget experts said Tuesday. (Pear, 10/27)

The Wall Street Journal: Budget Deal Tackles Disability, Halts Medicare Premium Increase
The budget deal hammered out between the White House and congressional leaders Monday would stave off an unprecedented increase in 2016 Medicare premiums for millions of seniors and prevent a Social Security program for the disabled from becoming insolvent next year. Both are issues that have vexed Congress in recent months. Legislators had wanted to shore up the disability fund before its expected depletion at the end of next year, given the difficulty of addressing entitlements in an election year. The White House achieved its goal of keeping the program solvent and House Republicans won sought-after reforms. (Armour, 10/27)

Los Angeles Times: No 'Grand Bargain,' But The Budget Pact Is A Big Deal For Millions Of Americans
The two-year budget deal that congressional leaders negotiated with the White House may not be the kind of sweeping accord that House Speaker John A. Boehner and President Obama once tried to hammer out, but its provisions will directly affect the lives of millions of Americans. Senior citizens will be spared a 52% increase in Medicare premiums that would otherwise have taken effect next year. ... And rather than being cut once again, spending will increase at the Pentagon and on domestic programs, including medical research and Head Start preschool programs. That last point, in particular, represents a setback for congressional Republicans, who have campaigned for a steady shrinking of most government functions. (Mascaro, 10/27)

The Fiscal Times: Seniors Exhale As Congress Blocks Huge Medicare Increase
Without intervention by Congress, roughly 15 million seniors and chronically ill people currently claiming both Medicare and Medicaid coverage would have seen their premiums increase from $104.90 per month to $159.30 for individuals, according to Medicare actuaries. The actuaries also predicted an increase in the annual deductible for Part B of Medicare, from $147 in 2015 to $223 next year. (Pianin, 10/27)

Bloomberg: Hospitals Face Payment Cuts At Outpatient Sites In Budget
Hospitals could see some Medicare payments reduced as part of a U.S. budget agreement, a change that may reduce the incentive for hospitals to buy more outpatient facilities. The deal, brokered with the Obama administration by outgoing Republican House Speaker John Boehner, lowers payments for care delivered at hospital-owned outpatient centers, but only at newly opened or acquired ones. Hospitals would have to bill for that care under the fee schedule for doctors’ offices or outpatient sites, rather than at the higher levels allowed for care delivered in the hospitals themselves. (Tracer and Lauerman, 10/27)

CQ Healthbeat: Budget Deal Would Equalize Medicare Rates For Physicians
The pending budget deal would clamp down on a strategy that hospitals have used in recent years to expand their Medicare payments -- physicians' practices newly acquired by hospitals would not quality for higher reimbursements than independent physicians. Many lawmakers and Congress’ advisers on the Medicare program have been concerned about the trend of hospitals acquiring doctors’ practices with an aim of securing higher federal payments. The purchased practices can bill Medicare for routine services through the program's hospital outpatient system, which generally receives more generous rates than independent practices. A routine 15-minute office visit for an elderly person, for example, cost about $72.50 at an independent doctors’ office in 2013, but $123.38 if billed through the hospital outpatient system, according to the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission. (Young, 10/27)

7. House Vote On Budget Package Expected Today

The measure, which will prevent the federal government from reaching its debt limit, has drawn anger and opposition from some lawmakers on the right.

The Wall Street Journal: Budget Deal Stirs Anger On The Right
Congressional leaders worked Tuesday to marshal support for a sweeping budget and debt deal that offered an end to fiscal fights with President Barack Obama but opened up top Republicans to criticism from conservatives, including GOP presidential hopefuls. ... For Republicans, the deal offered a path for the GOP-controlled Congress to avert blame from a potential default, instead securing at least some policy goals as a condition for raising the borrowing limit. ... The agreement incorporates measures aimed at extending the solvency of the Social Security program used to help support disabled people. The deal also would prevent an expected 52% increase in premiums for roughly 30% of the people enrolled in Medicare Part B, which covers outpatient care such as doctor visits. (son and Timiraos, 10/27)

The Washington Post: House Advances Budget Bill Ahead Of Potential Wednesday Vote
The deal hit a snag Tuesday night after many Republicans raised questions about whether the $80 billion in spending increases in the legislation would be fully offset by spending cuts and other revenue. Conservatives continued to fight the bill throughout the night, including attempting to kill the bill in a late-night hearing of the House Rules Committee. But Republican leaders worked out last-minute fixes that cleared the way for a Wednesday vote. (Snell, 10/27)

Health Law Issues And Implementation

8. As Enrollment Period Approaches, Consumers And Advocates Prepare

Several outlets offer tips for consumers who will be shopping on the health law's insurance marketplaces. Others look at the efforts to get more people to enroll.

Georgia Health News: Modest Rise Expected In 2016 Exchange Enrollment
Federal health officials are predicting little growth in sign-ups as Year Three of open enrollment for the health insurance exchanges begins Monday. U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell said the administration expects that exchange enrollment nationally will reach about 10 million people by the end of 2016, up from 9.9 million announced in late June of this year. (Miller, 10/27)

The Connecticut Mirror: Obamacare Q&A: Signups Start Next Week
Sunday marks the start of the third open enrollment period for insurance under the federal health law. That means the nearly 170,000 Connecticut residents who buy their own health insurance will have a chance to shop for new plans – and many will need to take action to keep the coverage they have. Here’s what you need to know. (Levin Becker, 10/28)

And in Wisconsin, a carrier is moving out of part of the market.

WBAY (Green Bay, Wis.): Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield Cuts Individual Plans From Health Exchange In Parts Of Wisconsin
Anthem, the Blue Cross and Blue Shield (BCBS) licensee in Wisconsin, has decided to completely pull out of the health care exchange (individual plans) market place in Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha counties starting January. Anthem is also significantly cutting back on the number of available exchange plans in 34 Wisconsin counties, which include the Fox Valley, according to Scott Larrivee, Public Relations Director at Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Wisconsin. (Schuster, 10/26)