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Monthly Archives: January 2014

Joining GOP Trend, U.S. Chamber Of Commerce Urges Fix, Not Repeal, Of Obamacare

Some influential conservatives are now saying the health care law is too entrenched to repeal. Take the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the powerful business lobbying group. When the Affordable Care Act Passed in 2010, the Chamber got behind a major business lawsuit to fight it at the U.S. Supreme Court. And in January, 2ǡ1 during his annual State of American Business address, Chamber President Tom Donohue said, “It’s time, in my opinion, to go back to the drawing board…and thus we support legislation in the House to repeal it.”

But now, he’s striking a different tone: “We’re not going to get rid of that bill, and so we’re going to have to devise ways to make it work,” he said at a recent press conference.

While some business writers called that “a striking about-face,” and a “Nixon Goes to China moment,” Avik Roy, former health policy advisor to Mitt Romney and Forbes opinion editor says, says: Not so fast.

Tom Donohue delivering his annual State of American Business address in Washington earlier this month (Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

“He didn’t say that he opposes repeal,” Roy says about Donohue’s statement. “He just didn’t think repeal was realistic in the next several years.”

Roy says business groups like the Chamber have to be pragmatic and deal with the world as it is, not as they’d like it to be, which is why the Chamber is now focusing on changing specific parts of the health care law they don’t like, rather than repealing it.

“It’s very difficult once a law that transformative has been in effect for seven years to repeal it,” Roy says. “I think there are more attractive ways to achieve the goals of conservatives than repeal and replace.”

That doesn’t sound attractive or pragmatic to conservative talk show host Erick Erikson, who runs the Red State blog. It sounds more like capitulation.

“The lobbying groups that have open access to Republican leaders are abandoning repeal, the wonks the GOP leaders listen to are abandoning repeal. They’re laying the groundwork to bail on fighting Obamacare,” he says in a recent podcast.

The Chamber of Commerce and Roy say they remain committed to fighting the health law. The Chamber wants specific items thrown out, like the requirement, beginning in 2015, that employers with more than 50 workers provide health insurance or pay a fine.

Roy says conservatives could accomplish more by using Obamacare to push for transformation of all government-funded health care. “The ACA is really an important but smaller portion of the overall reform picture. And I think what’s happened with a lot of the more populist conservatives is that there’s not necessarily that appreciation for how much the government’s already involved in the health care system through programs like Medicare and Medicaid,” he believes.

Conservative activist Erikson says the traditional GOP needs to be taught a lesson in the 2014 primary elections. “The single biggest thing you can do to get the Republicans back on the right and straight path is to support [tea party-supported] Matt Bevin against Mitch McConnell in Kentucky,” he said.

Erickson also urges financial contributions to conservative primary challengers in Georgia, Mississippi, Nebraska and other states. That means some Republican candidates will face heat from the right for not doing more to repeal Obamacare, at the same time they’re fighting Democrats who say they aren’t doing enough to help make the law work better.

This story is part of a partnership between NPR and Kaiser Health News.

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HIV's secret life in gut revealed

One of the first things HIV does when it first enters the body is mess up the gut. Now, the open access journal PLOS Pathogens reports the first 3D ultra-structural study of the human immunodeficiency virus in a live host.The human gut has the highest concentration of HIV target immune cells, most of which the virus destroys within days of infection. This happens even before a measurable drop of immune CD4 T cells occurs in the bloodstream.

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Antioxidants may speed up lung cancer progression

Numerous studies have shown that antioxidants may halt cancer progression. But a new study from researchers at the Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden has found that antioxidants may actually speed up the progression of lung cancer.The findings are published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.Antioxidants are chemicals that are present in some pharmaceuticals, foods and nutritional supplements.In the body, antioxidants interact with free radicals and neutralize them. Free radicals are chemicals that can potentially harm cells.

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Thirdhand smoke linked to liver, lung and skin problems

While the physical evidence of secondhand smoke can be seen wafting through the air, thirdhand smoke is a more clandestine health threat. The invisible remnant of tobacco smoke that clings to surfaces and even dust, thirdhand smoke is linked to several adverse health effects in a new study published in PLOS ONE.According to the researchers, from the University of California-Riverside (UCR), tobacco smoke affects around 1.5 billion smokers worldwide, but several billion more are at an “underappreciated health risk” from cigarette smoke exposure.

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Medical Device Packaging Conference, April 28-29, 2014, Alexandria, Virginia

The inaugural Medical Device Packaging Conference will take place April 28-29 in Alexandria, Virginia, offering packaging engineers an exclusive opportunity to obtain the most up-to-date information from some of the biggest names in the industry. Conference topics such as regulatory guidelines, UDI requirements, sustainability and sterilization practices and creating easy-to-use packaging for the end user are scheduled and ample networking opportunities will be readily available.

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Inaugural Pharmaceutical Multi-Channel Marketing Strategy Conference, April 24-25, 2014, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The first-ever Pharmaceutical Multi-Channel Marketing Strategy Conference is set to take place in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on April 24-25, 2014, fulfilling the demand among healthcare marketing professionals for an industry-specific meeting featuring top leaders and latest trends in the pharmaceutical space.

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ACOs' Efforts To Coordinate Patient Care Saved $380 Million

In their first results of the heralded program — which was set up in the health law — federal officials say about half of the accountable care organizations slowed spending but few met the requirements to qualify for bonuses.

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: ACOs Saving Some Money, But Medicare’s Short On Details
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced Thursday that overall, provider groups involved in Medicare ACO programs saved a total of $380 million in the first year. Sounds like a lot of money, but CMS declined to explain which hospitals were winners and which were losers, how it compared to expectations and how much the participants invested in coordinating care. Also missing is the scale of the savings; CMS did not provide the context of total spending by the ACOs (Gold, 1/31). 

The Wall Street Journal: Coordinated Health Care Program Saves Millions
Nearly half of the 114 hospitals and doctor groups that began Accountable Care Organizations under the health law in 2012 managed to slow Medicare spending in their first year, but only 29 of them saved enough money to qualify for bonus payments, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said Thursday. CMS called the results “very promising”—particularly for the first year of a program that involved significant changes in the delivery of health care. But the fact that more than half the ACOs didn’t achieve savings underscores the challenges that remain in curbing health-care costs this way (Beck, 1/30).

USA Today: New Care Organizations Save $380 Million In First Year
The section of the Affordable Care Act aimed at changing the treatment of Medicare beneficiaries saved the program more than $380 million in its first year of operation, a top Medicare official said Thursday. Accountable Care Organizations were created as part of the 2010 health care law and started in a series of pilot programs around the country. Instead of paying health care providers for each service they perform, ACOs focus on keeping patients out of the hospital (Kennedy, 1/30).

Reuters: U.S. Says Results Encouraging For Healthcare Delivery Reforms
The Obama administration on Thursday reported what it called encouraging results from efforts to reduce healthcare costs and improve the quality of care for more than 5 million Medicare beneficiaries under Obamacare. As part of President Barack Obama’s healthcare reform law, the efforts center around more than 360 accountable care organizations (ACOs), which are networks of doctors, hospitals and other providers specially organized to help move Medicare away from traditional fee-for-service medicine (Morgan, 1/30).

Modern Healthcare: Providers Net Uneven Results From ACO Experiment
The first results for Medicare’s biggest accountable care experiment under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act underscore the uneven progress so far by hospitals and doctors trying to curb healthcare costs by coordinating treatment and reducing unnecessary care. Slightly more than half of the 114 organizations to join one of two Medicare accountable care efforts in 2012 did not reduce health spending below targets during their firstಌ months trying to do so, newly released CMS data show (Evans, 1/30).

CQ HealthBeat: New Savings Figures Buoy Hopes For Potential Of Medicare ACOs
Federal officials delivered an upbeat report Thursday on experiments launched under the health care law to re-engineer health care, reporting a “strong start” to programs to establish accountable care organizations and “bundled payment” contracts in which doctors and hospitals coordinate to deliver more efficient care (Reichard,Ł/30).

Related KHN Coverage: FAQ On ACOs: Accountable Care Organizations, Explained (Gold, 8/23/2013).

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For Many, Chronic Illness Sets Up Difficult Financial Choices

Reuters: Many Chronically Ill Americans Unable To Afford Food, Medicine
One in three Americans with a chronic disease such as diabetes, arthritis or high blood pressure has difficulty paying for food, medications or both, according to a new study. People who had trouble affording food were four times more likely to skip some of their medications due to cost than those who got plenty to eat, researchers found. …  The findings are based on data collected by the 2011 National Health Interview Survey, a questionnaire that offers a snapshot of the U.S. population as a whole. Nearly 10,000 people age 20 and up filled out the survey and reported having one or more chronic illnesses like cancer, asthma, emphysema or a psychiatric illness (Bond, 1/30).

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Calif. Anthem Upping Rates For Some 'Grandfathered' Plans

Anthem’s planned rate increase would affect certain California individual policy holders.    

Los Angeles Times: Anthem To Raise Some Premiums As Much As 25%
Thousands of Anthem Blue Cross individual customers with older insurance policies untouched by Obamacare are getting some jarring news: Their premiums are going up as much as 25%. These increases, 16% on average, are slated to go into effect April 1 for up to 306,000 people — unless California regulators persuade the state’s largest for-profit health insurer to back down (Terhune, 1/30).

The San Francisco Chronicle: Anthem Blue Cross Raises Rates … Again
Josh Libresco of San Rafael opened his mail to find out Anthem Blue Cross is again raising his rates, this time by 19.3 percent effective April 1. He’s among the nearly 300,000 Anthem Blue Cross customers in California facing rate increases averaging 16 percent, and some as high asಙ percent. These increases do not affect policies that comply with the federal health law and that are sold through Covered California, the state health exchange. Rather, these are what are known as “grandfathered” policies, those that existed before March 2010 and do not meet the requirements of Obamacare (Colliver, 1/30).

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Report Finds That Health Exchange Insurance Purchases Are A Good Deal; Healthcare.gov Has New Section

A new PricewaterhouseCoopers report finds that the average premium on an exchange is lower than the average premium of an employer-sponsored health plan. Meanwhile, the federal health online marketplace has added a new section to allow consumers who have already signed up for insurance to report life changes. Finally, news outlets provide updates on state exchanges in California, Hawaii, Connecticut, Maryland and Minnesota.

CQ HealthBeat:  New Section On Healthcare.Gov Will Let Consumers Update Their Info
A long-delayed function on the health law’s federal enrollment website is expected to be operational next week, allowing consumers who have signed up for insurance to report life changes, such as marriage, according to insurance industry officials (Adams, 1/30).

Marketplace: Americans Who Have Bought Obamacare Are Getting A Good Deal
Over the past several months, some 3 million Americans have bought health insurance through a state or federal exchanges. According to a new report out this morning from PricewaterhouseCoopers, contrary to many initial concerns, consumers might actually be getting a pretty good deal. PWC’s Ceci Connolly says the average premium on an exchange is lower than the average premium of an employer-sponsored health plan, and that when the exchanges opened in October, there was concern these new products might be flimsy and expensive. “That’s one of the misperceptions out there. That somehow they are barebones or you are not really getting adequate medical insurance,” she says (Gorenstein, 1/30).

Kaiser Health News: California Marketplace Among First to Post Customer Health Plan Ratings
Covered California assigned star ratings to the health plans based on member survey responses. The surveys were taken before the insurance marketplace opened, so they only compare plans that had a track record beforehand (Gorman, 1/30).

The Associated Press: State Health Exchange Costs Likely To Fall
The cost of running Hawaii’s health insurance marketplace is likely to fall below its original projection of $15 million annually because of low enrollment, its executive director told lawmakers Wednesday. Tom Matsuda of the Hawaii Health Connector said at a hearing that the exchange is working on a business plan that should be ready in two months (Eifling, 1/30).

The CT Mirror: Anthem Making Progress, But Some Customers Still Waiting
After nearly a month of customer frustration and monitoring from state regulators, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield has made progress in getting health care coverage set up for its January customers, according to state officials. “I would say that in the last couple of days, I feel like there really has been a logjam broken,” Deputy Insurance Commissioner Anne Melissa Dowling said Wednesday. Some customers who signed up for insurance that was scheduled to start Jan. 1 are still waiting for proof that they have coverage. But Dowling said the company has been making progress in getting insurance ID cards mailed to members.

The Baltimore Sun: Hearings On Md. Health Exchange Woes Put Off
The head of the state Senate committee that is leading an inquiry into what wrong with Maryland’s health exchange is planning to turn the probe over to state auditors — who would not release a report until summer at the earliest. Sen. Thomas M. Middleton, who chairs the Finance Committee, said this week that the panel is unlikely to hold further hearings on the matter this legislative session (Cox and Wheeler, 1/30).

The Star Tribune: Minnesota Legislative Auditor To Probe MNsure Launch
With Minnesotans still experiencing problems with the MNsure website, the state’s legislative auditor said Monday he is planning a full-throttle investigation, starting with the vendors that received tens of millions of dollars to build the state’s new health insurance exchange. Jim Nobles said the first phase will focus on whether the IT contractors delivered on their promises and whether the state kept a close enough eye on their work. “It’s fine to question the performance of the contractor,” Nobles said in an interview. “We’ll do that. But one of the worst things you can do in managing these contracts is to stand on the sidelines with the hope that things will go well. You’ve got to be actively managing and verifying” (Crosby, 1/30).

Meanwhile, on the Medicaid expansion front –

The Associated Press: Democrats Propose Medicaid Expansion
House and Senate Democrats on Thursday proposed legislation that would expand Medicaid coverage in Alaska after Gov. Sean Parnell last year refused calls to do so. The proposal would extend eligibility to those up to 138 percent of the federal poverty line. State participation would be contingent upon the federal government paying at least 90 percent of costs, the lowest level to which they are currently expected to fall (1/30).

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