First Edition: July 29, 2014

Today's headlines include coverage of the latest Medicare trustee report and the details of the veterans care legislation on Capitol Hill.

Kaiser Health News: Good News For Boomers: Medicare's Hospital Trust Fund Appears Flush Until 2030
Kaiser Health News staff writer Julie Rovner reports: "Medicare's Hospital Insurance Trust Fund, which finances about half the health program for seniors and the disabled, won't run out of money until 2030, the program's trustees said Monday. That's four years later than projected last year and 13 years later than projected the year before the passage of the Affordable Care Act" (Rovner, 7/28) Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: Insuring Your Health: Medicare Experiment Could Signal Sea Change For Hospice
Kaiser Health News consumer columnist Michelle Andrews writes: "Diane Meier is the director of the Center to Advance Palliative Care, a national organization that aims to increase the number of palliative care programs in hospitals and elsewhere for patients with serious illnesses. Meier is also a professor of geriatrics and palliative medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. We spoke about a recently launched pilot program under the health law that allows hospice patients participating in the pilot to continue to receive life-prolonging treatment. This is an edited version of that conversation" (Andrews, 7/29). Read the column.

The New York Times: Gains Seen From Medicare, But Social Security Holds Steady
Medicare's financial condition improved significantly in the last year, thanks in part to the Affordable Care Act, but the outlook for Social Security is basically unchanged, the Obama administration said Monday (Pear, 7/28).

The Washington Post: Medicare Finances Improve Partly Due To ACA, Hospital Expenses, Trustee Report Says
The annual report, issued Monday by trustees overseeing the government's two largest entitlement programs, found little change overall in the finances of Social Security. The trustees warned, however, that the part of Social Security that pays monthly benefits to people with disabilities is especially fragile and, without changes, will start to run short of money for benefit checks in 2016 (Goldstein, 7/28).

Los Angeles Times: Medicare Finances Improve As Healthcare Inflation Slows, Trustees Say
Medicare Part B premiums are expected to remain the same through 2015 because of that improvement, Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell told reporters as the report was released. Medicare is "considerably stronger than it was just four years ago," she said (Lauter, 7/28).

The Wall Street Journal: Medicare, Social Security Disability Fund Headed In Different Directions
The slowdown in Medicare spending over the past few years-;mirroring slower growth in health costs reported by private insurers-;has stumped economists, lawmakers and hospital administrators. Many believe it stems from the recent economic downturn, but the lower spending growth has persisted throughout the recovery. Sylvia Mathews Burwell, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, said Medicare's rapid improvement since the 2010 passage of the Affordable Care Act suggests a direct link to the health law. Her agency cited provisions of the law that give hospitals incentives to avoid readmitting patients, saying that led to 150,000 fewer readmissions in 2012 and 2013 (Paletta, 7/28).

The Associated Press: Medicare's Own Health Looking Better, Report Says 
Trustees issued their annual report Monday on the financial health of the government's two largest benefit programs, which together accounted for 41 percent of all federal spending last year. Though both are "fundamentally secure," said Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, "The reports also remind us of something we all understand: We must reform these programs if we want to keep them sound for future generations" (7/28).

Politico: Medicare Financial Outlook Brightens
White House officials emphasized the importance of cost-control measures woven into Obamacare, though the trustees said they weren't prepared to say which of the factors was most important (Faler, 7/28).

The Washington Post's The Fact Checker: Would Boosting The Eligibility Age For Medicare Save It From Bankruptcy?
Rep. Scalise made these remarks in response to host Chris Wallace's observation that House Republicans have proposed to raise the eligibility age for Medicare over the next 10 years from 65 to 70. We've explained to readers before about the error-;by politicians in both parties-;of saying Medicare is going "bust" or into "bankruptcy." Let's have a refresher course on that, and also explore Scalise's suggestion that boosting the eligibility age would save the program, "for future generations" (Kessler, 7/29).

Los Angeles Times: Employer Health Insurance Mandate A Political Orphan
When President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act, its requirement that large employers provide health coverage or pay a penalty seemed to many supporters a key pillar of the effort to guarantee health coverage to Americans. Four years later and after repeated delays, the so-called employer mandate has become something of an orphan, reviled by the law's opponents and increasingly seen as unnecessary by many of its backers. Twice in the last two years, the Obama administration has put off the penalties, citing difficulties enforcing the mandate (Levey, 7/28).

NPR: After 5 Weeks Of Haggling, Congress Inks Bipartisan VA Bill
Congress has reached a bipartisan deal to reform the Department of Veterans Affairs, after nearly two months of tense negotiations (Lawrence, 7/28).

The New York Times: Deal Allots $17 Billion For Overhaul of V.A. Health Care System
House and Senate negotiators announced an agreement Monday on legislation that would allocate about $17 billion to overhaul the Department of Veterans Affairs' sprawling and beleaguered health care system. But the deal does not give the department everything that officials there have said is needed to fix its problems (Schleifer and Oppel Jr., 7/28).

The Wall Street Journal: Lawmakers Unveil $17 Billion Fix For Veterans Affairs
The agreement still needs the green light from a committee of House and Senate lawmakers, after which it will need to be approved by both chambers before being sent to the White House for the president's signature. About $12 billion of the total is considered emergency funding, which doesn't need to be offset by cuts elsewhere in the budget-;a decision that could still bring objections from more conservative Republicans. Mr. Miller said he was optimistic Congress would act this week to pass the bill (Kesling and Crittenden, 7/28).

The Washington Post: Negotiators Predict Easy Passage Of Bill To Overhaul Department Of Veterans Affairs
A sweeping proposal to revamp the Department of Veterans Affairs and the nation's medical care for military veterans should have enough support to pass the House and Senate this week before lawmakers leave town for a summer recess, lead negotiators said Monday. The assurances provided a hopeful start to a week in which congressional leaders are expected to resolve several lingering issues before lawmakers head home for their five-week summer break. In addition to approving changes to veterans' medical care, negotiators are working on deals to continue federal funding for the nation's major road projects and whether to grant President Obama's request for billions of dollars to deal with the historic influx of illegal immigrants along the U.S.-Mexico border (O'Keefe, 7/28).

The Associated Press: Deal To Improve Veterans' Health Care Costs $17B
The bill includes $10 billion in emergency spending to make it easier for veterans who can't get prompt appointments with VA doctors to obtain outside care; $5 billion to hire doctors, nurses and other medical staff; and about $1.5 billion to lease 27 new clinics across the country, lawmakers said. The bill also would expand a scholarship program for veterans, allow all veterans to qualify for in-state college tuition and grant the VA secretary authority to immediately fire senior executives, while providing employees with streamlined appeal rights (7/28).

Politico: How The VA Deal Came Together
Top negotiators on a deal to reform the Department of Veterans Affairs turned to an unusual strategy that helped them arrive at Monday's agreement: knock-down, drag-out arguing. Just last week, talks appeared on the verge of collapse as the leaders of a conference committee -; Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) -; publicly slugged it out over differences on how to pay for the bill. Miller said Sanders was hurling "grenades" at Republicans rather than negotiating while Sanders called the GOP's behavior "sad" (French and Everett, 7/28).

USA Today: Bipartisan Deal Would Add Billions For Veterans' Care 
Key members of Congress have reached a bipartisan deal to use $10 billion in emergency money to allow veterans to seek private care if they face long wait lines at facilities run by the Department of Veterans Affairs. The deal opens the door for Congress to pass a bill this week before departing for a month-long recess (Kennedy, 7/28).

The Wall Street Journal: Aetna Beats Estimates, Raises Outlook
Aetna Inc. said its second-quarter profit rose as the insurer posted record medical membership and revenue, while it continued to enjoy benefits from its acquisition of Coventry Health Care Inc. The results surpassed analysts' expectations (Calia, 7/29).

The Wall Street Journal: HealthSouth Profit Nearly Halved, But Beats Expectations
HealthSouth Corp.'s second-quarter profit was cut nearly in half, but results beat expectations as the provider of rehabilitative and surgical health care benefited from an expanded ownership stake in UMass Memorial Health Care and a settlement with the Internal Revenue Service. … HealthSouth, like other health-care companies, is expected to benefit from an improving economy and a wave of newly insured patients who have begun to seek treatment. … Under the Affordable Care Act, up to 26 million people are expected to gain coverage over the next few years through expanded state-run Medicaid programs and through the new, online marketplaces that allow consumers to buy coverage. Many who were previously uninsured already received hospital care, but sometimes racked up bills that were never paid (Armental, 7/28).

The Wall Street Journal's Pharmalot: Docs Complain To CMS About 'Sunshine' Data Disclosures
A group of medical societies and pharmaceutical industry trade groups is pushing the government to flesh out data that will be published next month showing how much drug makers pay doctors. They sent a letter today to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to ask the agency to explain what context will be provided to help the public understand the justification for payments, such as speaking fees and grants used to bankroll clinical research (Loftus, 7/28).

The New York Times: Advocates Shun 'Pro-Choice' To Expand Message
That shift might seem surprising in this political season, when there has been a renewed focus on reproductive issues like access to abortion and birth control. Yet advocates say that the term pro-choice, which has for so long been closely identified with abortion, does not reflect the range of women's health and economic issues now being debated (Calmes, 7/28).

The Wall Street Journal: Court Ruling Discouraging Doctors From Asking About Guns Sparks Concerns
A court ruling upholding a Florida law that discourages doctors from asking patients about gun ownership is stoking alarm among some medical professionals, who view such questions as part of basic patient care. Last Friday, in a 2-1 ruling, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta reversed a federal judge in Miami, who struck down the law in 2012 saying that the statute infringed on doctors' free-speech rights (Jones, 7/28).

The Associated Press: NC Mayor Walks To DC To Protest Hospital Closure
A North Carolina mayor fighting for the hospital that closed in his rural North Carolina town finished his two-week protest march to the nation's capital, where he told a crowd that his community's problems are part of a larger health care struggle. "The story of Belhaven is bigger than the trials of a single small town," Mayor Adam O'Neal said at a news conference Monday in Washington, D.C. The 45-year-old registered Republican started his two-week march of more than 200 miles to protest the closing of Vidant Pungo Hospital in Belhaven on July 1 (7/28).

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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