Uninsured? Beware of the health law’s tax penalty

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The penalty for being uninsured in 2014 is $95 or 1 percent of income, whichever is greater. Next year, it’s 2 percent.

By April Dembosky, KQED and Jeff Cohen, WNPR

Are you thinking about tax day yet? Your friendly neighborhood tax preparer is.

“This year taxes and health care intersect in a brand new way. ‘

IRS Commissioner John Koskinen declared this tax season one of the most complicated ever, and tax preparers from coast to coast are trying to get ready for the first year that the Affordable Care Act will show up on your tax form.

Sue Ellen Smith manages an H&R Block office in San Francisco, and she is expecting things to get busy soon.

“This year taxes and health care intersect in a brand new way,” Smith says.

cohen hr block 570

An H&R Block office in Hartford, Conn., is decorated with cardboard cutouts from a national ad campaign on the health law’s tax implications. (Photo by Jeff Cohen/WNPR)

For most people, who get insurance through work, the change will be simple: checking a box on the tax form that says, “yes, I had health insurance all year.”

But it will be much more complex for an estimated 25 million to 30 million people who didn’t have health insurance or who bought subsidized coverage through the exchanges.

To get ready, Smith and her team have been training for months, running through a range of hypothetical scenarios. One features “Ray” and “Vicky,” a fictional couple from an H&R Block flyer. Together they earn $65,000 a year, and neither has health insurance.

“The biggest misconception I hear people say is, ‘Oh the penalty’s only $95, that’s easy,’” says Smith, but the Rays and Vickys of the world are in for a surprise that will hit their refund. “In this situation, it’s almost $450.” Continue reading

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Federal policy change may boost school-based health services

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school_nurse_clip_artBy Michael Ollove
Stateline

A recent federal policy reversal, long-sought by states and health care advocates, could enable schools to take a lead role in managing chronic childhood diseases and result in the hiring of many more school nurses.

The change, announced quietly and unexpectedly last month by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), will allow public schools to receive Medicaid money for health services they provide to eligible students for the first time since 1997.

“Children don’t park their chronic diseases outside the school doors,” – Donna Mazyck, exe. dir. National Association of School Nurses.

Once several financing and bureaucratic hurdles are cleared, advocates believe the new policy will improve the coordination of care provided to children with conditions such as asthma, diabetes and mental illness. It will be especially important, they say, for low-income kids who are less likely to have comprehensive medical coverage.

The policy change had been sought for at least 10 years by states and advocacy groups working in the area of children’s health. CMS declined to comment, beyond the letter it sent to state Medicaid directors announcing the decision.

“It’s still so early, a month into the rule changes, but this represents a tremendous opportunity to address children’s health needs,” said Mary-Beth Malcarney, an assistant research professor at the George Washington University School of Public Health, whose work was used by the coalition of advocacy groups that pushed CMS for the change. Continue reading

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Health news headlines – January 23, 2015

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Global health news – January 23, 2015

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Q & A about Public Health’s investigation of an endoscope associated outbreak

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Tcrehe Seattle Times reported this morning that there had been an outbreak of multidrug-resistant “superbug” infections spread by contaminated endoscopes between 2012 and 2014 in which at least 32 patients at Virginia Mason Medical Center were infected .

Neither the hospital nor health officials notified patients or the public, the Seattle Times reported.

In response to the paper’s report, Public Health – Seattle & King County has posted the following  Q & A on its Public Health Insider blog:

Q & A about Public Health’s investigation of an endoscope associated outbreak

Voluntary reporting by Virginia Mason Medical Center led to identification of an outbreak of multidrug resistant bacterial infections in 2013. After months of investigative work, Public Health—working with Virginia Mason Medical Center, Washington State Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control Prevention (CDC)—linked the outbreak to a procedure called endoscopic retrograde cholanCREgiopancreatography (ERCP). Since discovering the risk from this procedure, our Communicable Disease Epidemiology staff has taken a leadership role in drawing national attention to this issue in the medical community. Dr. Jeff Duchin, Interim Health Officer and Chief of Communicable Disease Epidemiology answered questions about this outbreak.

What is an ERCP used for?

The ERCP procedure uses a scope, or tube, that goes through a patient’s mouth and throat to reach their upper small bowel and bile duct system. ERCP is used in persons with serious medical problems including cancers and other diseases that cause obstruction or narrowing of the bile ducts.

What kind of bacteria caused the infections?

Infections were caused by two closely-related types of bacteria that are resistant to many antibiotics. In some cases, the bacteria were also resistant to powerful antibiotics called carbapenems.  These bacteria are referred to as CRE (carbapenem resistant Enterobacteriaceae).

Was the outbreak caused by a CRE “superbug?”

No. The type of CRE that has caused outbreaks in other healthcare facilities has been referred to as a “CRE superbug.” It usually produces an enzyme that inactivates carbapenem antibiotics. The outbreak we investigated was not caused by this type of CRE, which did not have a carbapenemase enzyme.

What is the role of Public Health in this investigation? Continue reading

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Public Health asks court to stop two hookah bars from violating smoking law

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Hookah

Photo courtesy of Solix via Wikipedia

From Public Health – Seattle & King County

Public Health – Seattle & King County has filed papers in King County Superior Court asking the court to stop two hookah bars for exposing employees and the public to tobacco smoke in violation of Washington’s Smoking in Public Places Act and local Board of Health Code.

The request for an injunction was filed against The Night Owl in Seattle’s University District and Medina Hookah Lounge in south Seattle.

A hookah is a glass pipe filled with water that is used for smoking flavored tobacco, often by several people at once.

During a typical 45-minute session of hookah use, a person may inhale as much smoke, tobacco and carcinogens as smoking 100 cigarettes or more.

Smoking in public places law

Washington’s Smoking in Public Places law was passed by voters in 2005 and prohibits smoking in public places and places of employment. The local Board of Health code mirrors the state law and includes provisions that prohibit the use of electronic smoking devices.

Hookah bars have claimed that they are exempt from the indoor smoking law because they are private clubs. However, smoking is prohibited by law if an establishment has employees and/or the club is open to the public.

A previous ruling by a King County Hearing Examiner on February 12, 2014 found that both the Night Owl and Medina are open to the public, operating similarly to night clubs that charge a cover for admission.

“Hookah smoke is as addictive as traditional cigarettes”, said Patty Hayes, Interim Director, Public Health- Seattle & King County. “Asking the court for an injunction is a measure of last resort, but it is necessary now to ensure all our businesses are protecting the health of employees and the public.” Continue reading

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Texas prisons try telemedicine to curb spending | Dallas Morning News

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200px-Flag-map_of_TexasThe high-tech medical consultation, known as telemedicine, uses technology to connect prisoners, who are often housed in remote areas, with medical experts throughout the state.

It’s just one way that the Texas Department of Criminal Justice is trying to control spending on prison health care. But while telemedicine has shown some success in curbing spending, it hasn’t been enough to stem rising costs due to an aging prison population.

via Texas prisons try telemedicine to curb spending | Dallas Morning News.

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States continue war over Obamacare | Center for Public Integrity

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Center for public integrity logoIn Washington, there’s been little consensus on modifying the health reform law—short of repeated votes in the House to kill or cripple it.

That might change as Republicans take control of the House and Senate, though what fixes, if any, Congress might prescribe—and whether any can get a signature from the President— aren’t clear.

But in state capitals around the country, from Albany and Columbia to Austin and Sacramento, lawmakers have been mulling over hundreds of proposals that reflect a myriad of starkly different views on Obamacare as settled law.

via States continue war over Obamacare | Center for Public Integrity.

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Renewing customers urged to take immediate action to continue 2015 coverage

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Washington Healthplanfinder Urges Renewing Customers to Take Immediate Action to Continue 2015 Health Coverage

Thousands of Customers Have Not Yet Taken Action; Next Deadline to Enroll is Jan. 23

 The Washington Health Benefit Exchange is urging 2014 customers who have not yet renewed their coverage for 2015 to return as soon as possible to continue their health plan this year.

“There is still time to come back and get enrolled, but time is running out.”

Customers who were unable to renew by the Dec. 23 deadline or were unaware of additional action needed on their account may be eligible for a special 60-day enrollment opportunity. These customers should fill out an online form to initiate eligibility for retroactive coverage that begins on Jan. 1.

Up to 4,000 customers have completed an application for 2015 coverage but did not submit payment by the Dec. 23 deadline for coverage that began on Jan. 1. 

These applications will be reviewed by Exchange staff to ensure that eligible individuals are able to receive retroactive coverage.

“There is still time to come back and get enrolled, but time is running out,” said Richard Onizuka, CEO for the Washington Health Benefit Exchange. “Customers should contact us as soon as possible if they need assistance with their application.” Continue reading

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High court considers if providers can sue states for higher Medicaid pay

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Top row (left to right): Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Associate Justice Stephen G. Breyer, Associate Justice Samuel A. Alito, and Associate Justice Elena Kagan. Bottom row (left to right): Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy, and Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Top row (left to right): Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Associate Justice Stephen G. Breyer, Associate Justice Samuel A. Alito, and Associate Justice Elena Kagan. Bottom row (left to right): Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy, and Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

By Phil Galewitz
KHN

The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday in a case that could block hospitals, doctors — or anyone else — from suing states over inadequate payment rates for providers who participate in the Medicaid program for low-income Americans.

Many doctors avoid seeing Medicaid recipients, saying the program pays too little. That can lead to delays and difficulties in getting care for millions of poor people.

Federal law requires Medicaid, which covers 70 million people, to provide the same access to care as that given to people with private insurance. But many doctors avoid seeing Medicaid recipients, saying the program pays too little. That can lead to delays and difficulties in getting care for millions of poor people.

In Armstrong vs. Exceptional Child Center, several providers for developmentally disabled Medicaid patients sued the state of Idaho after officials failed to increase Medicaid payments as required under a formula approved by the federal government.

An appellate court upheld a judgment in favor of the providers last year, noting that Idaho had conceded that it held rates flat since 2006 for “purely budgetary reasons.”

The issue before the high court is whether the U.S. Constitution gives providers the right to sue the state to increase their pay. And the court appeared split on that issue based on their remarks Tuesday. Continue reading

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Health news headlines – January 21, 2015

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Global health news – January 21, 2015

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Sen. Hatch vows to dismantle health law but predicts bipartisan success on other issues

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Screen Shot 2015-01-20 at 2.54.48 PMBy Mary Agnes Carey
KHN

While Republicans cannot expect a full repeal of the health law while President Barack Obama remains in office, the GOP intends to “strike away at it, piece by piece,” Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said Tuesday.

But in a speech at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Hatch also said he expected that Republican and Democratic lawmakers would work together on several other key pieces of health legislation.

Hatch said there may be more bipartisanship in some “must pass items,” including continued funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program and overhauling the way Medicare pays physicians, known as the “sustainable growth rate.”

On CHIP, Hatch said the Finance Committee has “heard from a number of governors from red states and blue stakes alike that they want to see this program extended. It has been a marvelous program. It has worked very, very well. I’m optimistic that we can work on a bipartisan, bicameral basis to extend CHIP in a responsible way.” Continue reading

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