First Edition: June 12, 2012

Today's headlines include news about the pressure health costs are placing on state budgets.

Kaiser Health News: Tom Scully: Even If Health Law Survives Court Challenge, Congress Could Delay Timetable (Video)
Thomas Scully, who ran Medicare and Medicaid under President George W. Bush (2001-2003), believes that the 2014 implementation of the Affordable Care Act will have to be delayed, even if the Supreme Court upholds it. Next year, Congress will have to negotiate a major deficit reduction deal, and could find savings by postponing the law. Scully, an attorney, is now a health care consultant. This interview is part of KHN's video series "Supreme Uncertainty: What's Next After The Court Rules," which solicits views from public officials and policy experts about the upcoming Supreme Court ruling on the health law and its implications for the future of health care (6/11). Watch the video or read the transcript.

Kaiser Health News: Insuring Your Health: Mass. Biggest Insurer Tightens Rules On Some Painkillers
In her latest Kaiser Health News consumer column, Michelle Andrews writes: "Officials at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts say the policy, which begins July 1, will prevent doctors from prescribing 60 days of a painkiller such as OxyContin, for example, for a minor problem such as a sprained ankle. Patients with such serious or chronic conditions as cancer or those who are terminally ill will be permitted to continue to receive opioid painkillers" (Andrews, 6/11). Read the column.

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Seniors Missing Out On Some New Medicare Benefits; Secrets And Electronic Health Records: A Privacy Concern
Now on Kaiser Health News' blog, Phil Galewitz reports: "Nationally, about 3.6 percent of beneficiaries, or 1.1 million seniors, have used the visits since January. The wellness visit is not a physical exam. Instead, it's a time for the doctor to draw up an individual health plan for the patient, including setting up a schedule to get certain screenings and updating a patient's family and medical history" (Galewitz, 6/11).

In addition, David Schultz reports: "The issue of how to ensure that psychotherapy notes remain private, even from other doctors, was one that troubled many at the second annual Health Privacy Summit in Washington last week. 'Psychotherapists are often the canaries in the coal mine' when it comes to health privacy, said James Pyles, an attorney who specializes in health law" (Schultz, 6/11). Check out what else is on the blog

The Wall Street Journal: Insurers Stand Firm On Benefits
Three of the biggest U.S. health insurers said they plan to keep offering some benefits now required under the federal health overhaul legislation, even if the Supreme Court strikes down the entire law. Humana Inc., Aetna Inc.and UnitedHealth Group Inc. all said they would continue to allow young people to stay on their parents' plans until the age of 26, offer a third-party appeals process for coverage denials, and provide preventive benefits such as immunizations without any out-of-pocket expense for consumers (Mathews, 6/11).

Politico: Insurers Could Take Heat Off GOP To 'Replace'
On Monday morning, UnitedHealthcare said it would voluntarily give its customers some of the most popular protections in the law -; like coverage for young adults -; no matter what the Supreme Court says when it rules on the law later this month. Within hours, Aetna and Humana said they were on board, too. Those announcements could help the insurers head off a major backlash if the Supreme Court strikes down the law. They don't solve the biggest challenges of health care: how to restrain costs and cover people with pre-existing conditions who are already running up big health bills (Kenen and Allen, 6/11).

The Washington Post: As State Revenues Recover, Health Costs Remain A Burden
State revenues are finally returning to pre-recession levels, but the growing cost of providing health care for the poor is leaving most governments in dire fiscal straits, according to a report to be released Tuesday. The biggest culprit has been Medicaid. State spending on the joint federal-state health-care program for the poor surged by 20 percent this year, following a rise of 23 percent in fiscal 2011 (Fletcher, 6/12).

Reuters/Chicago Tribune: Revenues Recover But States Still Tight-Fisted
Medicaid, the healthcare program for the poor, is consuming larger shares of the increased spending by states. As part of the 2009 economic stimulus plan, the federal government pitched in extra funding for the program, which the states operate with partial reimbursements from the U.S. government. Now, that money is gone and states are having to cover more of the program's costs. State spending on Medicaid rose 20.4 percent in fiscal 2012, and federal spending dropped 8.2 percent. The projected rate of growth for states is much slower for fiscal 2013, 3.9 percent (Lambert, 6/11).

Politico: Does Mitt Romney Need 'Obamacare'?
There's fear in some GOP circles that if the court wipes the Affordable Care Act off the books Romney will lose a rallying point for the movement conservatives he has been struggling to inspire (Allen, 6/12).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Romney: 'Right Thing' Would Be For Supreme Court to Strike Down Obama's Health Care Law
Mitt Romney says he hopes the Supreme Court does "the right thing" and strikes down President Barack Obama's health care overhaul. The presumptive Republican presidential nominee tells donors at a fundraising reception in Atlanta that the health care law hurts small businesses and costs too much (6/11).

Los Angeles Times: California Health Insurers Propose Raising Rates For Small Firms
Some California health insurers are proposing to raise small-business rates more than 10% next month, drawing scrutiny from state regulators. Aetna Inc., which drew the ire of state insurance officials for a rate hike earlier this year, wants to increase premiums 10% on average, and as high as 24% for some employers. Anthem Blue Cross, the state's largest for-profit insurer and a unit of WellPoint Inc., has proposed boosting rates 13%. Blue Shield of California is looking to charge some small employers up to 6% more (Terhune, 6/12).

Los Angeles Times: One-Third Of Small Firms In Calif. Offer Benefits, Survey Finds
One in three small businesses in California say they offer health coverage to workers, a new survey shows, and 44% say they are likely to provide benefits once a California insurance exchange opens in January 2014. The survey released Tuesday by nonprofit health plan Kaiser Permanente and Small Business Majority, an advocacy group that supports the federal healthcare law, shows some of the challenges to expanding health coverage and the lack of awareness about some of the assistance available. The survey of 386 small-business owners was taken in April and May (Terhune, 6/12).

Los Angeles Times: State Lawmakers Will Start Moving Budget Plan Through Legislature
Although Democratic legislators have consented to most of the spending plan released by Gov. Jerry Brown in May, a proposal released by the Assembly on Monday reflects opposition to some of the cuts in welfare, healthcare and college financial aid. … The lawmakers are also pushing back on Brown's plan to cut in-home care for the elderly and disabled (Megerian and York, 6/11).

The Associated Press/Wall Street Journal: NY Lawmakers OK Electronic Drug Prescription Bill
New York lawmakers unanimously approved legislation Monday that will require doctors to issue drug prescriptions electronically within three years, meanwhile establishing tighter restrictions on painkillers and other addictive drugs on the state list of controlled substances (6/11).

The New York Times' Well Blog: The Reward For Donating A Kidney: No Insurance
Like most other kidney donors, Mr. Royer, a retired teacher in Eveleth, Minn., was carefully screened and is in good health. But Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota rejected his application for coverage last year, as well as his appeals, on the grounds that he has chronic kidney disease, even though many people live with one kidney and his nephrologist testified that his kidney is healthy. Mr. Royer was also unable to purchase life insurance (Rabin, 6/11).

http://www.kaiserhealthnews.orgThis article was reprinted from with permission from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent news service, is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health care policy research organization unaffiliated with Kaiser Permanente.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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