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Polls: People Like Their Own Insurance But Want Reform, Heart Patients' Cost Worries

Two polls were released about American attitudes about health coverage and costs. Lancaster Online : "Most Americans who have health insurance are pleased with their coverage, a new national Franklin & Marshall College poll shows. But many of those same people are worried about those who can't afford insurance, and overwhelmingly believe the health care system needs to be reformed, according to a survey of 920 adults. ... The survey found that 75 percent of Americans who have insurance rate their coverage as good or very good - the same percentage who believe the health-care system is in need of reform. ... But they are divided over whether the proposals are good for the country.

Community Health Centers Step In To Provide Care For Newly Uninsured

Community Health Centers are providing a growing number of newly uninsured people with primary and preventive care. These centers are being tested by the growing patient load, MarketWatch reports. "They've been serving primarily low-income and uninsured patients for more than 40 years, but they're being put to the test as newly uninsured people discover they can go there for care regardless of their ability to pay. ... It's a mixed picture for many health centers because money from the federal stimulus package has enabled them to hire more staff and expand facilities. Even so, the funds may not be enough to meet the heightened demand for services." There has been a 21 percent jump in the number of patients served nationally at health centers between midyear 2008 and midyear 2009.

Administration Rejects Anthem Blue Cross' Defense Of Premium Hike

WellPoint Inc., the parent company of Anthem Blue Cross of California, is defending its rate hike for customers with individual health insurance, but critics, including the Obama administration, are dubious. "In a letter to the administration, health insurance giant WellPoint Inc. of Indianapolis said that increases of as much as 39%, set to take effect March 1, reflect soaring medical costs and an exodus of healthy consumers from its ranks, " the Los Angeles Times reports. "Company executives said that less than a quarter of affected Anthem customers in California will see rate increases of 35% to 39%. The average will be about 25%, while some customers will see rates fall, they said.

GOP Looks To Make Its Case At Health Summit While Democrats Remain Skeptical

Politico reports that the White House's Feb. 25 health care summit with Democrats and Republicans "gives the GOP a venue to accomplish something it hasn't been able to do since President Barack Obama took the oath of office: Sell voters on Republican solutions to big problems." But Republicans have so far failed to capitalize because of the lack of a visible figure to champion their causes. Candidates to do so for the GOP include Sen. Olympia Snowe, Rep. Paul Ryan or Rep. Tom Price, each with a unique position on health reform. "Republican insiders say the GOP leaders must approach the event carefully " and do their best to tilt the odds in their favor, which can be difficult to do when facing the president on his own turf about one of his top issues" (O'Connor and Budoff Brown, 2/11).

Kansas Bill Would Restrict Abortion Coverage In Private Health Insurance Plans

A bill ( HB 2564 ) in the Kansas Legislature would prohibit insurance providers from covering elective abortion unless the customer purchases a separate rider for the coverage, the Kansas City Star reports. The coverage ban would not apply to procedures needed to save the woman's life, or in cases of incest or rape if a police report is filed (Klepper, Kansas City Star, 2/12). During a state House Insurance Committee hearing on Thursday, supporters of the bill said they believe a majority of Kansans find abortion morally objectionable and do not want to cover the cost of insurance premiums for the procedure. Jeanne Gawdun, a lobbyist for Kansans for Life, claimed that the "current situation of automatically covering abortion has infuriated many individuals, including private businesses that do not want to include this for their employees" (Milburn, AP/Fort Scott Tribune, 2/12).

Payments, Pricing Info, Paperwork May Contribute To Costs, Confusion

The way doctors, hospitals and other health care providers are paid creates a so-called "perverse incentive" to order more and more medical services, even when those services do not contribute to better health, according to researchers for Dartmouth's Atlas of Health, CNN 's investigations unit reports. The report explores a lawsuit filed against a physician-owned hospital in McAllen, Texas, by one of the physician-owners. The suit says the hospital barred the doctor from seeing patients there after he complained about the hospital's business practices, which include performing unnecessary tests on neonatal patients, he says. Some of the tests drive up costs and increase the hospitals earnings, but do nothing for the patients, the doctor told CNN.

Health Companies Criticized For Deceptive Marketing While Anthem Rate Hikes Continue To Draw Attention

"Minnesota's attorney general on Wednesday sued two Texas companies she said falsely represented their discounted health care plans as medical insurance to thousands of customers, " The Associated Press/Washington Post report. "The companies used words such as 'premium' and 'copay, ' and promised to cover 80 percent of medical expenses from a vast network of hospitals and doctors to persuade 4, 600 customers in Minnesota they were buying an insurance policy, " according to Attorney General Lori Swanson. The two insurers, "Direct Medical Network Solutions Inc. of Southlake, Texas, and Houston-based Association Healthcare Management Inc., provide limited discounted medical services through certain doctors and clinics, but their plans are not insurance policies, Swanson said.

KHN Column -- Don't Stop Now: Lawmakers Should Pass The Senate Bill

In her latest column for Kaiser Health News, Judy Feder writes: "Veterans of health reform battles know all too well that enacting health reform is as challenging to the nation's political system as it is important to the nation's well-being. We also know that perseverance pays off. Despite several dips in the legislative roller coaster over the past 12 months, we greeted the new year having passed historic, transformative legislation in both houses of Congress. The fact that we still need a little heavy political lifting to take it over the finish line would hardly surprise Sen. Edward Kennedy, whose death ironically set in motion the political obstacles we now face.

Wyoming Lawmaker Pushes For Reform, Mississippi Governor Bans Certain Over-The-Counter Drugs

Associated Press/CNBC : "A veteran Wyoming state senator for the third time is pushing a bill he says would offer health insurance to people who couldn't afford it on the open market and also serve as an example to the rest of the nation of how to tackle rising health care costs. Sen. Charles Scott, R-Casper, has proposed a pilot program that calls for allowing 500 participants to enroll in Medicaid beginning in July. It would be limited to people whose family income is below 250 percent of the federal poverty level - $55, 125 for a family of four. Enrollment could rise to 3, 000 participants by 2014. ... It would establish personal health accounts for each participant in which the state would match participant contributions.

Draft Of Senate Jobs Bill Extends COBRA Subsidy

Business Insurance: "Federal COBRA health insurance premium subsidies would be extended and expanded under a draft jobs bill being put together by top Senate Democrats, sources say." The bill "would extend the current COBRA premium subsidy provided to involuntarily terminated employees another three months so employees laid off in March, April and May of this year would be eligible for the 65% subsidy for up to 15 months. Under current law, employees involuntarily terminated from Sept. 1, 2008, through Feb. 28, 2010, are eligible for a 15-month premium subsidy. ... The White House earlier proposed extending for 12 months COBRA premium subsidies for employees laid off from March 1 through Dec.

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