Back-to-the-beat resources on health reform

Joanne Kenen

About Joanne Kenen

Joanne Kenen, (@JoanneKenen) the health editor at Politico, is AHCJ’s topic leader on health reform and curates related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on health reform resources and tip sheets at joanne@healthjournalism.org.

Since so many of us are in storm (or non-storm) what-are-we-going-to-do-with-all-these-batteries cleanup and back-to-school mode, I thought I’d bring some resources and interesting studies to your attention to help bring your focus back on the beat.

Confusion still reigns

You probably saw the Kaiser poll reminding us once again how confused people remain about the health reform law – including the very people who would be most helped by it, the uninsured. It got a lot of coverage but if you missed it, it’s a must read. It ties into the theme of massive national confusion – and the frustration I feel that the confusion persists despite a fair amount of good reporting – that I wrote about in the first post I did for Covering Health. I think a lot of the confusion stems from the mandate . People hear that they will “have” to buy insurance, and they panic or get angry because they can’t afford it. They don’t hear that they may well qualify for subsidies to make it affordable-and they don’t have to be dirt poor to get the subsidies; many middle class people will also benefit.

kff-graphic-aug2011

Click to enlarge this graph from the Kaiser Family Foundation Data Note found at http://www.kff.org/kaiserpolls/8217.cfm.

Most of the coverage of the KFF poll I heard or saw centered on the uninsured, but there is also a related data note looking at knowledge and expectations of people who have employer-sponsored health insurance. Asked what they would be willing to do to lower health care costs, the answer could be summed up as “not much.” They are OK with participating in a wellness program (although not necessarily actually getting “weller”) but didn’t like the idea of more generic drugs, more restrictive networks of doctors, or higher copays and deductibles.

Eating away at the doughnut hole

An AHCJ member found this report by EBRI, the Employee Benefit Research Institute, useful so I’m sharing. It’s about how the health reform law will slowly (over a decade) close the “donut hole” for Medicare drug coverage, and how repealing the health law would create a savings hole for older Americans who use a lot of prescription drugs. (The doughnut hole is the gap after you use up the basic drug benefit but haven’t hit the “catastrophic” level. Beneficiaries pay monthly premiums through the gap, but don’t get benefits until they burn through the gap. ) EBRI studies health care and retirement issues and does periodic issue briefs.

What questions do you have about health reform and how to cover it?

Joanne KenenJoanne Kenen is AHCJ’s health reform topic leader. She is writing blog posts, tip sheets, articles and gathering resources to help our members cover the complex implementation of health reform. If you have questions or suggestions for future resources on the topic, please send them to joanne@healthjournalism.org.

Staff physicians on the rise

The Center for Health System Change has been tracking health care developments in 12 communities and found that hospitals are hiring more staff physicians. In policy circles, the talk has been that the staff-physician model is a tool in creating more clinical integration, care coordination, higher quality and lower cost – but this study found that the hospitals are in it primarily for market share. Physicians like it because it’s fewer hassles. It doesn’t necessarily bring down overall health care costs. Now, this is a snapshot in a fee-for-service world; new payment models being developed by private insurers, and Medicare and Medicaid may change the dynamic. But it’s an attention-worthy snapshot. The HSC Issue Brief, “Rising Hospital Employment of Physicians: Better Quality, Higher Costs?” is available online.

Who applied to be ACOs?

There was a lot of coverage a few months back about all the health systems that were not going to apply to become Medicare Accountable Care Organizations, at least not under the original shared savings model. We aren’t hearing as much about who is applying – worth checking in your community. Medicare also created an alternative, called the pioneer ACO, to attract more plans. We won’t know until around November how many applied to be pioneers, or who they are, but here’s the story of one plan that’s ready to go.

Behind the drug shortage

There was a lot of discussion on the AHCJ electronic discussion list recently about drug shortages, particularly chemotherapy shortages. I was out of town for a few days (helping care for a relative and learning, among other things, that Medicare pays for oxygen concentrators but not for the batteries) and I haven’t caught up with all of the messages, but this essay in the Sunday New York Times a few weeks ago by Ezekiel Emanuel taught me lots I didn’t know about generic chemo drugs, pricing and shortages, and proposed solutions.

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