First Edition: March 5, 2014

Today's headlines include reports about President Barack Obama's 2015 budget as well as the latest state-level Medicaid expansion developments.

Kaiser Health News: HHS Seeks $600 Million For Health Law Enrollment Efforts
Kaiser Health News staff writer Mary Agnes Carey reports: "Just in case Congress doesn't pass President Barack Obama's fiscal 2015 budget plan, officials at the Department of Health and Human Services say they have other options for finding the money they need to implement the health care law" (Carey, 3/5 ). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: Health Workers' Union Pushes Hospital Cost Control In California
Capital Public Radio's Pauline Bartolone, working in partnership with Kaiser Health News and NPR, reports: "A California health care workers' union is collecting signatures to get two measures onto the ballot that it says would lower health care costs. United Health Care Workers West, or SEIU-UHW, wants to cap what hospitals can charge to 25 percent above the actual cost of services. SEIU-UHW says on average, hospitals charge 320 percent above the cost of care" (Bartolone, 3/5). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Washington State's Insurance Ads: Quirky And Hip Or Offensive?
Now on Kaiser Health News' blog, The Seattle Times' Lisa Stiffler writes: "Are the new ads promoting health insurance for Washington state's young people quirky, hip and funny -; or are they insulting and offensive? Michael Marchand says it doesn't matter. 'I don't care if people like or hate what I'm doing, so long as they get the URL right,' said Marchand, director of communications for the Washington Healthplanfinder, the website where people can buy subsidized health insurance plans" (Stiffler, 3/4). Check out what else is on the blog.

The Washington Post: Americans May Be Able To Keep Old Insurance Plans Longer Under Rewrite Of Health-Care Rules
The Obama administration is preparing to announce that Americans who want to keep their old health plans may do so for at least one year longer than they expected, even if the policies don't comply with law, according to insurance industry officials familiar with the latest rewrite of federal health-care rules (Goldstein, 3/4).

The Wall Street Journal: Extension Expected On Health Policies Not Meeting Law
he Obama administration plans to let insurers sell policies that don't comply with the federal health law for at least 12 more months-;a second delay aimed at averting another furor over canceled plans, insurance-industry officials said. Millions of Americans received notices last fall saying their health-insurance policies would be canceled because they didn't meet the Affordable Care Act's stricter coverage standards. In November, President Barack Obama said state insurance commissioners could let health plans reinstate such policies for 12 months since many consumers were unable to use the balky website to obtain replacement coverage (Radnofsky and Mathews, 3/4).

The Washington Post: Four States Maneuver On Medicaid Expansion
Faced with the prospect of tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions, in federal funding, states are racing to find politically palatable ways to expand Medicaid. Here are the four states moving this week toward -; or in one case away from -; expanding Medicaid to cover those earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty line (Wilson, 3/4).

The New York Times: Arkansas House Votes To Extend Health Insurance Program
The Arkansas House of Representatives voted Tuesday to let the state keep taking federal money for the expansion of Medicaid under President Obama's health care law and using it to buy private insurance for poor people. The measure, which failed in four previous votes, extended coverage for another year under the so-called private option, which the state's Republican-controlled legislature devised last year as a politically acceptable alternative to expanding traditional Medicaid. Nearly 100,000 people have enrolled in the coverage so far, which allows them to choose among plans offered by four companies on the state's new health insurance exchange (Goodnough, 3 4).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Ark. Medicaid Plan Opponents Hit Pause On Fight
Ending a budget standoff reminiscent of the fight that shuttered the federal government last year, Arkansas lawmakers have spared the state's first-in-the nation plan to use Medicaid funds to purchase private insurance for the poor. But opponents said they're merely hitting the pause button on debating a program that has extended health coverage to nearly 94,000 people (3/5).

The Wall Street Journal: Arkansas Lawmakers Pass 'Private Option' Health-Care Law
Arkansas last fall became the first state to offer a "private option" to extend coverage to lower-income residents, the result of a compromise between state Republicans and Democrats over how to implement a crucial provision of the health law. The program, endorsed by the Obama administration, was seen by supporters in Arkansas as a way to accept federal dollars and cut the number of uninsured residents without enlarging Medicaid (Campoy and Radnofsky, 3/4).

The Washington Post: Va. House Republicans Up Political Anti, Call For Special Session On Medicaid Expansion
House Republicans on Tuesday called for a special legislative session on Medicaid expansion, a surprise move meant to extricate the issue from the state budget, avert a potential government shutdown -; and put Democrats on the defensive. With just days left in the regular session, the evenly split Senate and GOP-dominated House are deadlocked on whether to expand Medicaid under the federal health-care law known as Obamacare (Vozzella, 3/4).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: McAuliffe Stumps For Medicaid Expansion In SW Va.
Gov. Terry McAuliffe went to the heart of coal country in one of the state's poorest regions Tuesday to make the case that Virginia needs to expand Medicaid eligibility to about 400,000 low-income residents (3/4).

Los Angeles Times: Obama Issues A Campaign-Ready Budget Proposal
Obama's current plan would cut the deficit by adjusting the way the government means-tests Medicare, requiring higher premiums for some wealthy seniors. He would include measures to force down the cost of prescription drugs, which also reduces federal spending, and would count on the deficit-reducing impact of his proposed immigration reform measure (Hennessey and Parsons, 3/4).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Obama's Budget: Election-Year Themes To Rally Dems
The Obama budget projects a 2015 deficit of $564 billion and a shortfall this year of $649 billion. If those come true, it would mark three straight years of annual red ink under $1 trillion. … Overall, the 2015 budget projects a $250 billion increase in spending over the record $3.65 trillion expected for the current year. Spending actually dropped to $3.46 trillion in the 2013 fiscal year completed last Sept. 30. Republicans instead want Obama to join them in taking on expensive benefit programs like Medicare and Social Security, whose growth is driving future deficits and squeezing other priorities like defense, education, transportation and research. Medicare costs are projected to almost double over the coming decade. … The plan relies on tax increases and modest spending cut such as curbing payments to Medicare providers to bring the budget deficit to sustainable levels of below 2 percent of the size of the economy by 2023 (3/4).

The Washington Post: Obama Sends $3.9 Trillion Budget Plan For Fiscal 2015 To Congress
Congress will again be required to address the federal debt limit next March. Lawmakers will face the prospect of full-strength sequester cuts in fiscal 2016 and beyond. And after three years of rapidly declining, deficits once again will begin to rise in 2016, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, creating new concern about the sustainability of federal health and retirement programs as the American population ages (Goldfarb, 3/4).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Health Care Agency Passes $1 Trillion Milestone
President Barack Obama's budget pushes Health and Human Services spending over $1 trillion for the first time, reflecting an aging population adding to the Medicare rolls, as well as expanded coverage for younger people through the new health law. Released Tuesday, the HHS budget for the 2015 fiscal year calls for just over $1 trillion, which budget officials said is a new milestone for the department (3/4).

The Wall Street Journal: Obama Health Budget Seeks Funds For Health-Law Rollout, Doctor Training
The Obama administration has asked Congress for about $600 million in new funds to continue implementing the Affordable Care Act in 2015, including work on the insurance-enrollment website Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Tuesday that it will cost about a total of $1.8 billion to keep rolling out the president's signature health-care law. However, the administration estimates that about $1.2 billion will come from various taxes and fees that were created by the health law. Part of the law's funding comes from fees imposed on the pharmaceutical and health-insurance industries (Corbett Dooren and Burton, 3/4).

Los Angeles Times: Republicans Draw Election-Year Battle Line Over Obama Budget
House Republicans have promised to respond with their own 2015 budget proposal, even though their document, and the president's, are largely theoretical exercises this year. Thanks to a budget accord reached in December between Ryan and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), his counterpart in the Senate, spending levels for this year and next have already been approved by Congress and signed into law. Ryan's budget is expected to revisit his ideas for cutting Medicaid and Medicare, including his own signature proposal to cap healthcare spending for the next generation of Medicare recipients with a voucher program (Mascaro, 3/4).

The Wall Street Journal's Washington Wire: Poll: Support Rises For Lawmakers Who Back Obamacare
Support for candidates who voted for the health-care law has improved dramatically in recent months, a Washington Post/ABC News poll released Tuesday shows. The survey found respondents almost exactly split on the question of whether they would be more or less likely to vote for a congressional candidate who supports the Affordable Care Act, with 34% saying they would be more likely to vote for the candidate and 36% saying they would be less likely to do so. Some 27% said it would not make a difference (Ballhaus, 3/4).

Politico: Chris Christie: Tired Of Obamacare? Elect New President
Chris Christie had some advice Tuesday for a constituent worried about Obamacare: "Elect a new president." The exchange occurred during a town hall-style event the same day that the GOP New Jersey governor, a potential White House hopeful, came under fire for his own support for Medicaid expansion under the health care law (Titus, 3/4).

The New York Times: Repurposing Closed Hospitals As For-Profit Medical Malls
New Jersey has been losing hospitals for more than two decades; 26 have closed in that time, many in poor, urban neighborhoods that are left with an empty shell where a hospital once stood. But in recent years, a few developers have purchased some of these abandoned structures, reopening them as private medical complexes that offer many of the services the hospitals once provided (Kaysen, 3/4).

The New York Times: Texas G.O.P. Beats Back Challengers From Right
The primary served as a kind of referendum on Mr. Cornyn. He faced seven challengers, a sign of the frustration among some Tea Party activists and conservative groups with him for failing to back Mr. Cruz in his efforts to shut down the government over Mr. Obama's health care law and to block a vote to raise the federal debt ceiling. But Mr. Cornyn's main challenger, Representative Steve Stockman, made few campaign appearances, and Mr. Cornyn beat him easily (Fernandez, 3/4).

Los Angeles Times: L.A. County Orders Audit Of Department Over Nursing Home Complaints
Los Angeles County supervisors ordered an audit Tuesday of how the county's Public Health Department investigates complaints about health and safety issues at nursing homes. Members of the county board sharply criticized health officials over a report that complaints were not always thoroughly investigated. An investigation by Kaiser Health News found that public health officials told inspectors to close certain cases without fully investigating them in an effort to reduce a backlog (Sewell and Brown, 3/4).

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.



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