Archive for December, 2011

Reversal On Health Mandate Came Late For Gingrich And Romney

This story comes from our partner NPR‘s Shots blog.

Opposition to the administration’s overhaul of health care has almost become an article of faith with every Republican running for president.

Candidates promise to repeal the law and its less-than-popular requirement for most Americans to either have health insurance or to pay a penalty starting in 2014.

“It is wrong for health care. It’s wrong for the American people. It’s unconstitutional. And I’m absolutely adamantly opposed to ObamaCare,” former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said at a debate in Des Moines, Iowa, earlier this month.

“I am for the repeal of Obamacare,” former House Speaker Newt Gingrich echoes in a video on his website. “And I’m against any effort to impose a federal mandate on anyone, because it is fundamentally wrong and I believe, unconstitutional.”

By now, it’s pretty common knowledge that both candidates once supported the so-called individual mandate that’s at the heart of the federal health law. That kind of mandate is also at the heart of the law that Romney signed as governor of Massachusetts in 2006.


Wednesday, December 28th, 2011

Holiday Reading: Manufacturing Killer Flu; The Ironies Of The Individual Mandate; When The Elderly Refuse Help

Every week, reporter Jessica Marcy selects interesting reads from around the Web.

TIME: Should Journals Describe How Scientists Made A Killer Flu?
In experiments conducted at the University of Wisconsin in Madison and Erasmus University in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, researchers engineered a strain of H5N1. … The next logical step would be for the researchers to publish studies in major scientific journals, describing the newly created flu, including its genetic makeup. And that would mean that anyone with the proper scientific training — from another researcher to a terrorist — would likely be able to read the studies and potentially make the new H5N1 themselves. Cognizant of that risk, on Tuesday the U.S. government did an unprecedented thing: it asked scientific journals not to publish the details of the H5N1 experiments, for fear that the information could fall into the wrong hands and be used to create a bioweapon (Walsh, 12/21).


Friday, December 23rd, 2011

Survey Finds One In Five Americans Juggling Medical Bills

Americans continue to struggle to pay their medical bills, and even the 2010 health care overhaul may not ease their financial burden.

A new survey from the Center for Studying Health System Change and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation shows the percentage of American families having difficulty paying their medical bills did not increase from 2007 to 2010, despite the economic downturn during that period. But the proportion with medical bill-paying difficulty in 2010 was more than one-third higher than in a similar survey in 2003. Overall, the national study shows that one in five Americans reported trouble paying medical bills last year.


Friday, December 23rd, 2011

Today’s Headlines – December 23, 2011

We won’t publish KHN’s First Edition the week of December 26, but we’ll be back in action on January 3. Happy holidays!

Here are your morning headlines:

The New York Times: House G.O.P. Leaders Agree To Extension Of Payroll Tax Cut
Under a deal reached between House and Senate leaders, the House will now approve as early as Friday the two-month extension of a payroll tax holiday and unemployment benefits approved by the Senate last Saturday, and the Senate will appoint members of a House-Senate conference committee to negotiate legislation to extend both benefits through 2012. ,,, In addition, under the agreement, Medicare will continue paying doctors at current rates for two months, averting a 27 percent cut that would otherwise occur on Jan. 1 (Steinhauer, 12/22).

The Washington Post: House GOP Agrees To 2-Month Extension Of Payroll Tax Cut
The agreement represented a remarkable capitulation on the part of House Republicans, who had two days earlier rejected such a deal with Democrats as the kind of half-measure that their new majority was elected to thwart. … The two-month arrangement had been crafted by (Sen. Mitch) McConnell and (Sen. Harry) Reid after talks fell apart in the Senate over how to pay for a $200 billion year-long package. Republicans had sought to impose higher Medicare premiums on upper-income senior citizens while Democrats wanted to close tax loopholes for the wealthy. They will return to that impasse in January (Helderman, 12/22).

For more headlines … (more…)

Friday, December 23rd, 2011

Feds Bolster High Risk Insurance Funds In Two States

The federal government this month increased funding to New Hampshire and California to make sure their new high-risk pools that provide coverage to uninsured people with pre-existing condition don’t run out of money before 2014.

Because nationwide enrollment has been far less than expected, overall federal funding for the program established under the health overhaul appears plentiful– $5 billion was set aside and less than $500 million has been spent in the first 16 months. The program is scheduled to end in 2014 when insurers will no longer be allowed to deny people coverage for pre-existing health conditions.

But funding allotments for a few states are beginning to run low, largely because the health costs have been higher than expected.

Officials in both California and New Hampshire feared they might start running out of funds by early next year. California, which was allotted, $761 million initially, was given an additional $118 million by the Department of Health and Human Services.

New Hampshire, which was allotted $20 million, was given another $30 million. New Hampshire, which has 260 people enrolled in the program, had spent $12 million on the program through September. “The people who enrolled were sicker than anticipated,” said Roland Lamy, assistant director of the New Hampshire Health Plan, a nonprofit group that is administering the high risk pool.

Several other states are believed to be waiting for more money from HHS, though a spokesman could not provide details on Thursday.

Since June 2009, nearly 42,000 people nationally have signed up for the new Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plans as of Oct. 31 — up from 25,000 in May, according to HHS. The program was initially expected to sign up between 200,000 to 400,000 people. Enrollment has increased since the summer, after premiums fell in some states by as much as 40 percent and some states stepped up advertising. To qualify for the program, people have to be uninsured for at least six months and either have been turned down for coverage by an insurer or have a doctor’s note certifying they have a chronic health condition.

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011

Lack Of Autopsies After Elderly Die Conceals Health Flaws

This story comes from our partner NPR‘s Shots blog.

Abuse in nursing homes and suspicious deaths among seniors often go undetected because postmortem examinations are becoming few and far between.

Photo by Vancouver Coastal Health via Flickr

Earlier this year, an NPR News investigation found that many jurisdictions stopped doing autopsies on people who died over the age of 60, unless it was obvious that a violent death occurred. A lack of resources, both financial and staffing, was often to blame.

Since then, NPR’s reporting partners ProPublica and PBS Frontline have continued the investigation and uncovered more than three dozen cases in which alleged abuse, neglect and murder of seniors eluded authorities. It was only after a whistle-blower or relative pushed medical and law enforcement officials for answers that the cases were reopened.

Take the case of a 76-year-old man described in the latest report. His death was tied to a combination of ailments related to poor care, and he also received an “inappropriate administration of powerful antipsychotic drugs, which have potentially lethal side effects for seniors.” His original death certificate said “heart failure brought on by clogged arteries.” The real reasons for his death only came to light after a nursing-home staffer spoke up.

The story published also on PBS Frontline’s website, continues the Post Mortem series about deep flaws in the U.S. death investigation system. The reporting reveals that the number of U.S. autopsies performed on seniors dropped from 37 to 17 percent between 1972 and 2007. It also found other “systemic flaws” in the many overlooked cases:

“When treating physicians report that a death is natural, coroners and medical examiners almost never investigate. But doctors often get it wrong. In one 2008 study, nearly half the doctors surveyed failed to identify the correct cause of death for an elderly patient with a brain injury caused by a fall.

In most states, doctors can fill out a death certificate without ever seeing the body. That explains how a Pennsylvania physician said her 83-year-old patient had died of natural causes when, in fact, he’d been beaten to death by an aide. The doctor never saw the 16-inch bruise that covered the man’s left side.”

Continue reading the full report on why suspicious elder deaths are rarely investigated.

In Shots last week, we also reported on the continuation of the Post Mortem series, which focused on the lack of autopsies taking place in hospitals.

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011

Today’s Headlines – December 22, 2011

Here are your morning headlines for the first day of winter! Stay warm.

The Los Angeles Times: U.S. Leaders Say They Are Hard At Work On Payroll Tax
With no endgame in sight to prevent a looming payroll tax hike, President Obama and congressional leaders took turns trying to convince Americans that they were hard at work to save the tax break — even though Congress has essentially closed for the holidays. … But finding consensus is easier said than done. Republicans and Democrats remain at odds over how to pay for the legislation, which would cost $200 billion for a full year. The package would extend the 2-percentage-point reduction on the payroll tax workers contribute to Social Security that has been in place all year and that expires Dec. 31. It also would continue unemployment insurance for 3 million jobless Americans and shield doctors who treat Medicare patients from a 20% pay cut (Mascaro and Hennessey, 12/21).

The New York Times: Obama Gets A Lift From Tax Battle With Republicans
After a long stretch of high unemployment, legislative turmoil and, in turn, slipping public approval, President Obama seemed to regain his political footing this week with the help of House Republicans, whose handling of a standoff over payroll taxes had even leading conservatives accusing them of bungling the politically charged issue (Calmes, 12/21).

For more headlines … (more…)

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011

Public Can Be Swayed On Health Law’s Mandate, Survey Finds

The individual mandate is the Affordable Care Act’s least popular provision and lies at the heart of the legal challenge to the law before the U.S. Supreme Court. But a new poll finds that public opinion can be swayed by how the mandate’s implications are described.

In general, only 33 percent of Americans support the individual mandate, while 65 percent oppose it. Opposition swells to 74 percent after people are told the mandate is being challenged as unconstitutional, according this month’s tracking poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation. (KHN is an editorially independent program of the foundation.) Opposition spikes to 80 percent when people are told the mandate “could mean that some people would be required to buy health insurance that they find too expensive or did not want.”

But opinions change when poll respondents are told that without the mandate, people might wait until they are seriously ill to obtain coverage, driving up insurance costs for everyone. Forty-seven percent support the mandate after being told this, while 45 percent oppose it. A larger plurality (49 percent) backs the mandate when told that without it, insurers could refuse to cover sick people and when told people would be excused from having to buy insurance if the cost would “consume too large a share of their income.”

One pro-mandate argument tilts the public decisively in favor of  the individual mandate. Sixty-one percent of those surveyed support it when told most Americans would still get their coverage through their employers and thus wouldn’t be affected by the mandate.

Overall, the public remains ambivalent about the law, with 43 percent opposing it, 41 favoring it, and 17 percent undecided or refusing to answer. The poll’s margin of error was +/- 3 percent, and it was conducted from December 8 through December 13 among 1,212 adults.

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

Today’s Headlines – December 21, 2011

Good morning!

Los Angeles Times: With Payroll Tax Cut Unresolved, Congress Packs Up
After weeks of bitter partisan wrangling, the Capitol emptied for the holidays with no sign of negotiation toward a compromise that would save an expiring tax break. As of Jan. 1, the payroll tax cut that has been in place all year is scheduled to return to 6.2% from its current 4.2%, meaning that biweekly paychecks on average will be $40 smaller. Long-term unemployment benefits for some 3 million people also are poised to expire, and doctors face an estimated 20% cut in Medicare payments (Mascaro and Hennessey,12/20).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Holiday Stalemate Over Increase In Payroll Taxes Tests Obama, Republican Lawmakers
The tax increases, as well as cuts to Medicare doctors’ fees and a lapse in jobless benefits, are due Jan. 1. They are looming even though the combatants agree that they shouldn’t happen. Instead, the warring factions have painted themselves into a corner (12/21).

For more headlines … (more…)

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

Today’s Headlines – December 20, 2011

Good morning! Here are your morning headlines to get you up and at ‘em:

The New York Times: House Set To Vote Down Payroll Tax Cut Extension
A core group of conservative House members … have balked all year at short-term spending agreements, including proposed legislation to raise the debt ceiling and bills to increase disaster funding. It remained far from clear Monday night how, or whether, the tax cuts would be extended for 160 million workers and millions of unemployed Americans would continue to get jobless benefits next year. … The impasse began over the weekend when House Republicans said they would reject the Senate measure, which passed 89 to 10. It would, for two months, extend the payroll tax cut, continue unemployment benefits and prevent a cut in fees paid to doctors who accept Medicare, and would allow lawmakers and the White House time to work out their differences on how to pay for a yearlong extension (Steinhauer and Pear, 12/19).

Los Angeles Times: House GOP Postpones Vote To Extend Payroll Tax Cut
Fellow Republicans are increasingly anxious with their House colleagues’ position — especially after the Senate overwhelmingly approved the compromise package in a rare Saturday vote. Many Americans are strapped for cash this holiday season, and the package included the tax break as well as an extension of unemployment benefits that also expire at the end of the year and prevents a pay cut for doctors who treat Medicare patients (Mascaro and Hennessey, 12/19).

For more headlines … (more…)

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

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