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KHN First Edition: October 29, 2015


First Edition

Thursday, October 29, 2015
Check Kaiser Health News online for the latest headlines

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

Kaiser Health News: UnitedHealthcare Expands Effort To Rein In Rising Costs Of Cancer Treatment
Kaiser Health News staff writer Julie Appleby reports: "UnitedHealthCare said today it will expand its high-profile test of whether bundled payments for chemotherapy can help slow rising cancer treatment costs, part of a growing effort by insurers to find new ways to pay for care. Results from United’s initial pilot test – reported last year – were puzzling: The overall cost of cancer care for patients in the study dropped by 34 percent, even as spending on chemotherapy drugs spiked significantly." (Appleby, 10/29)

Kaiser Health News: California And Federal Government Locked In Debate Over Billions In Medicaid Funding
Kaiser Health News staff writer Anna Gorman reports: "California risks losing billions in health care dollars if the state and federal governments can’t agree this week on a plan to fund reforms of the Medicaid program, hospital officials and experts said. Public hospitals throughout the state are counting on the $7.25 billion in state and federal funds to treat large numbers of low-income and uninsured patients. The plan, known as a Medicaid waiver, also would allow the state to continue improving the efficiency, safety and quality of its Medicaid program, called Medi-Cal." (Gorman, 10/29)

Los Angeles Times: The Scramble To Get Consumers To Buy The Right Health Coverage Through Obamacare
State and federal health officials, facing growing concerns about the cost of insurance plans offered through the Affordable Care Act, are scrambling to deploy new Web-based tools to help Americans find the most economical coverage. This fall, state and federal insurance marketplaces created by the law, including in California, plan to offer consumers more comprehensive ways to compare health plans, check physician networks and estimate their total healthcare costs. (Levey, 10/29)

The New York Times: House Approves Budget, Providing ‘Clean’ Exit That John Boehner Sought
The House on Wednesday overwhelmingly adopted a crucial bipartisan budget accord that in one relatively tight 144-page bill stands to end five years of bitter clashes between Republicans and the Obama administration over fiscal policy, allowing Mr. Boehner to fulfill his metaphorical pledge. ... It also will prevent a default on the federal debt that the Treasury Department had said would occur next week without congressional action, and called for cuts in Medicare payments to doctors and other health care providers as well as changes to a Social Security disability program that supporters of the measure said would save the government billions, while preserving the program for decades to come. (Herszenhorn, 10/28)

Los Angeles Times: House Approves Two-Year Budget Deal
The $80-billion bipartisan accord between congressional leaders and President Obama reverses steep spending cuts to defense and domestic programs, and staves off hits to Medicare and Social Security disability benefits. It also raises the federal government’s borrowing limit through March 2017, well after the presidential election. The bill passed 266 to 167. Every Democrat voted for the deal, as did 79 Republicans. Most GOP lawmakers voted no. The Senate is expected to approve the deal. (Mascaro, 10/28)

The Wall Street Journal: House Passes Two-Year Budget Deal
The agreement has drawn GOP opposition in both chambers and on the presidential campaign trail from conservatives upset that it raises spending by $80 billion through September 2017 and extends the government’s borrowing authority through mid-March 2017. ... The legislation also incorporates fixes to two federal safety-net programs lawmakers wanted to address well before next year’s elections. The agreement would extend 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, 10/28)

Politico: House Passes Sweeping Budget Bill
Still, 167 Republicans voted against the bill, suggesting that many GOP lawmakers, and conservatives in particular, remained unhappy with a pact that was largely hammered out behind closed doors. ... Conservatives, on the other hand, loathe the deal. They’ve hammered leaders for negotiating the agreement in secret, without input form the rank and file, and many of them have strong, principled objections to raising the debt limit. (French, 10/28)

The Washington Post: House Passes Budget Deal, Senate Expected To Act This Week
The agreement would lift the so-called sequester spending caps to increase discretionary spending by about $80 billion over two years, an amount that would be split equally among defense and domestic programs. To offset this cost, negotiators tapped a number of sources, including by making changes to Medicare and Social Security, auctioning off spectrum controlled by the government, selling crude oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and tightening tax rules for business partnerships. (Snell, 10/28)

The New York Times: Paul Ryan Set To Take Over As Speaker, Hoping To Manage The Chaos
But before his young successor readied himself to ascend to his post, Mr. Boehner delivered Mr. Ryan from his most vexing conflicts by negotiating an $80 billion bipartisan budget agreement that would increase spending for the military and some popular domestic programs, lift the debt ceiling and avert premium increases of as much as 50 percent for millions on Medicare right before an election. That would give Mr. Ryan time to get his leadership legs before his control is tested. But the relief may be short-lived. ... But the spending bills already drafted are replete with conservative policy prescriptions, from crippling Mr. Obama’s signature health care law to blocking his climate change and financial regulations. Mr. Ryan will have to decide how far to push that clash with the president, knowing a government shutdown just before Christmas could be at stake. (Steinhauer, 10/29)

Los Angeles Times: Paul Ryan Poised To Become House Speaker After Winning Internal GOP Vote
A final floor vote is set for Thursday, almost ensuring the Wisconsin congressman will replace retiring Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), who called it quits rather than continue clashing with hard-right lawmakers. Behind closed doors, signs of GOP unrest remain. Ryan won 200 votes, well over a majority of the House GOP, but less than the 218 he will need in the upcoming floor vote. Still, even those who voted against him believe he will prevail Thursday. (Mascaro, 10/28)

The Wall Street Journal: As Speaker, Paul Ryan Stands To Get Bigger Spotlight For Policy Ideas
Mr. Ryan also could highlight more of his party’s vision for strengthening the fraying federal safety net, particularly Medicare and the troubled Social Security Disability Insurance program. But those changes are politically fraught. In the face of liberal criticism, Mr. Ryan’s own ideas for revamping Medicare have evolved in recent years from establishing an individual voucher system to enacting a less-sweeping change known as “premium support” in which the government pays insurers on behalf of enrollees. He has also delayed some cost controls in recent versions of his Medicare overhaul. (McKinnon, 10/29)

The Washington Post: GOP Hopes Paul Ryan, Presumptive Speaker, Can Unite A Splintered Party
Among the party’s larger group of mainstream conservatives, there was widespread relief that weeks of uncertainty over who would succeed Boehner ended with Ryan agreeing to take the job. There was also open excitement about the type of leader Ryan might be. Ryan has spent much of the past decade burnishing his credentials as a conservative ideas man, from his 2008 “Roadmap for America’s Future” though his four-year tenure as House Budget Committee chairman, his 2012 vice-presidential nomination and his ascent earlier this year to chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. (DeBonis, 10/28)

The New York Times: ‘It’s Been A Good Run,’ Boehner Says As His 25 Years In Congress Draw To A Close
But despite criticism that he was a weak speaker who had to regularly cajole his conference rather than dictate marching orders, Mr. Boehner, a longtime fiscal conservative, can claim significant success in influencing federal budgetary policy even if it took a rolling series of near economic calamities to do so. He won $2 trillion in spending reductions in a 2011 budget deal, set Medicare on a course to save $3 trillion over the long term with a bipartisan deal earlier this year and helped preserve most of the tax cuts enacted during the George W. Bush administration. (Hulse, 10/29)

Reuters: Cost-Cutting Helps Walgreens Beat Profit Estimates
Two influential U.S. senators called for close scrutiny of Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc's plan to buy Rite Aid Corp for $9.4 billion, a deal that would unite two of the three biggest U.S. drugstore chains. Walgreens Chief Executive Stefano Pessina said the company had analyzed the antitrust aspect of the deal but would not speculate on the number of drugstores it might need to divest in order to win regulatory approval. (10/28)

The Associated Press: Walgreens, Rite Aid Combo To Spread Drugstore Health Kick
Walgreens will use its $9.41 billion takeover of rival Rite Aid to spread its philosophy on making drugstores destinations for customers looking to stay healthy or buy beauty products. The nation's largest drugstore chain also is expected to flex its beefed-up negotiating muscle to wring better deals from drugmakers and other suppliers. But experts say those discounts won't automatically trickle down to consumers. (10/28)

Los Angeles Times: What Customers Need To Know About Walgreens' Takeover Of Rite Aid
Change is coming to local drugstores after Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. said Tuesday it is buying rival Rite Aid Corp. for about $9.4 billion. The deal combines two of the nation's largest drugstore chains, helping them to better compete in the rapidly consolidating healthcare industry. Drugstore chains face increased competition from mail-order pharmacy services and pharmacies inside grocery store chains. (Masunaga, 10/28)

The Associated Press: Anthem Reports Increase In Profit As Customer Base Grows
Anthem increased third-quarter profit by 4 percent and beat Wall Street forecasts as the number of people the health insurer covers edged slightly higher, driven by enrollment in government health plans. The Blue Cross-Blue Shield insurer also boosted its adjusted 2015 net income forecast for the third time this year, to $10.10 to $10.20 per share. That's up from its July forecast for more than $10 per share, but still below the $10.20 Wall Street is anticipating. The company cited lower profit margins expected in the fourth quarter. (10/28)

The Wall Street Journal: HealthSouth Earnings Miss Expectations
HealthSouth Corp. cut its 2015 outlook and reported third-quarter earnings rose 1.2% as higher costs masked revenue growth. Shares fell 9.1% to $33 in recent after-hours trading as per-share earnings missed expectations and the company cut its 2015 guidance to reflect expenses related to recent acquisitions and expectations that pricing pressures, rising costs and bad-debt expense trends in its inpatient rehabilitation segment will continue in the current quarter. (Stynes, 10/28)

The Wall Street Journal: Pharmacy’s Sales Tactics Disclosed
A mail-order pharmacy used by Valeant Pharmaceuticals International Inc. had a simple message for staffers charged with getting health insurers to pay up: Don’t take no for an answer. If a health insurer wouldn’t work with Philidor Rx Services LLC, the pharmacy instructed staff to try again using the identification number of a partner pharmacy to secure payment. “We have a couple of different ‘back door’ approaches to receive payment from the insurance company,” a Philidor training manual said. (Rockoff and Whalen, 10/28)

The Washington Post: Some New Doctors Are Working 30-Hour Shifts At Hospitals Around The U.S.
Some first-year doctors are working 30 hours in a row at dozens of hospitals around the country in a test of work-hour limits that were imposed in 2011 because of fears that inexperienced, sleep-deprived physicians might jeopardize patients. The 30-hour shifts, which were banned four years ago, are one element of a $9 million research project partly funded by the National Institutes of Health to determine the best way to train novice physicians while maintaining patient care. (Bernstein, 10/28)

The Associated Press: Judge Blocks Alabama From Ending Planned Parenthood Funding
A federal judge on Wednesday ordered Alabama to restore Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood, money the state tried to cut off in the wake of undercover videos shot by abortion opponents. U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson issued an order that temporarily bars Alabama from cutting off Medicaid contracts with the group's clinics in Alabama. Planned Parenthood Southeast and a Medicaid recipient filed suit in August, days after Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley announced he was ending the Medicaid agreements with the two clinics. (Chandler, 10/29)

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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