Weekly Dose of Health News

In this summary, you’ll find new info on taxes and Medicaid under the ACA, how insurance exchanges will impact companies, how drug innovation and research can ease the country’s fiscal woes, and more!

Affordable Care Act

The New York Times examines new taxes that will roll out under the Affordable Care Act.  The taxes, which take effect in January, include an increase in the payroll tax on wages and a tax on investment income, including interest, dividends and capital gains. These measures are expected to raise $318 billion over 10 years, or about half of all the new revenue collected under the health care law. The Department of Health and Human Services released proposed regulations to enforce the taxes last week (Pear, 12/8).

The Washington Post writes that a number of Republican governors had asked President Obama and the Department of Health and Human Services for permission to expand Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act in a more limited way than envisioned in the law. The Affordable Care Act would expand the program to people with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. The governors were pushing for a more modest approach want to get the enhanced federal match for a partial expansion — covering people with incomes of up to, say, only 100 percent of the poverty line. On Monday, the Obama administration told states that they could not do a partial expansion of Medicaid and still receive the full federal funding (Aizenman, 12/10).

The Wall Street Journal  writes that the Affordable Care Act may give individuals more job flexibility. The article focuses on individuals who are reluctant to leave their current jobs for fear they won’t be able to find health insurance at a new job. Older employees in particular—who are likelier than younger workers to have health problems and who don’t qualify for Medicare until age 65—see that uncertainty barrier to changing jobs or retiring (Coombes, 12/10).

The Los Angeles Times reports on how efforts in Massachusetts to reform how healthcare is paid for could be a model for the rest of the country as the federal government and states try and implement provisions of the Affordable Care Act (Levey, 12/12).

Health Insurance Exchanges

Bloomberg reports that insurance companies will face a varied regulatory environment under the first state-run healthcare exchanges that will be operating in 2014. Rules for the six state insurance exchanges that have won conditional approval from the Department of Health and Human Services this week are split evenly between those with strict criteria for insurance companies that want to participate and states that have opened their exchanges to all companies (Wayne, 12/12).

The Times Union writes that insurance companies in New York State have begun preparing for the development of insurance exchanges by rolling out their own versions of the online marketplaces. MVP, an insurer based in the Capital Region launched its own exchange late last month. The MVP exchange, called NuOptions, allows employers to give workers a set amount of money to shop for insurance online. Employees who want more affordable plans with basic benefits pay less, and those who want a robust plan pay more (Crowley, 12/13).


PhRMA Chairman John C. Lechleiter writes in Forbes that pharmaceutical innovation can help solve the nation’s long-term budget deficit by driving economic growth and helping reduce health care costs. However, he argues that ideas like applying Medicaid controls to Medicare Part D prices could undermine that potential. Drugs are often the most cost-effective treatments and prevention measures, and continued innovation is necessary to address medical needs that are not met by today’s treatments and interventions, he writes. Innovative drugs provide economic strength to the U.S., which had a 57% share of new drugs from 2001 to 2010.

A new report published this week showed that life expectancy has risen around the world. The report found a significant decline in deaths from malnutrition and infectious diseases like measles and tuberculosis that has caused a shift in global mortality patterns over the past two decades. The study credits the declining death rate with improvements in medical services and access to food throughout the developing world, as well as the success of broad public health efforts like vaccine programs.

-Jaime Venditti, 12/14/12