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GOP Attacks Government Order On Health Care Mailers

Republicans on Capitol Hill continue to express their outrage over an order from a federal agency to bar private insurers from sending information to elderly customers about the possible effects of the health care overhaul plan on their benefits.

The controversy stems from a mailer sent to some seniors by Louisville-based Humana that said the overhaul could result in the slashing of benefits in the Medicare Advantage plan.

Democratic Senator Max Baucus requested a federal investigation of the Humana mailers by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which has since told insurers not to send what it termed potentially  “misleading”  mailers regarding health care overhaul legislation.

Baucus and other Democrats have called the mailers inaccurate and no more than scare tactics, but Republicans say they contain information compiled by the Congressional Budget Office.

Republican Indiana Congressman Dan Burton took to the House floor Friday in opposition to what he called a government gag order.

 “That is a violation of the First Amendment, and secondly, I don’t know of any rule that would allow Senator Baucus to do this,”  Burton said.

Senate Republican leaders have threatened to block the nominations of candidates for government health posts unless the order is withdrawn.

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Local News

Humana Waiting On TRICARE Ruling

Louisville-based heath insurer Humana is still waiting on a ruling from the Government Accountability Office is a dispute over a large military contract.

The GAO has until late October to respond to Humana’s protest, which concerns the Department of Defense’s TRICARE insurance plan for active-duty and retired personnel. Director of Legislative and Public Affairs Julie Ice says Humana filed the complaint after losing the contract to the Minnesota-based UnitedHealth Group.

“The protest was basically filed on questions with areas of concern on how they rated the proposals,” she says.

Ice says the ruling could be appealed.

“There are avenues you can take should the company choose to do that,” she says. “We have not, obviously, made that decision at this point.”

The protest was filed in July. Humana has held the TRICARE contract for the south since 1996. Last year, it generated about 3.3 billion dollars for the company. It expires in March 2010.

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Local News

Dozens Gather For Healthcare Rally

singlepayer-008Advocates for a single payer healthcare system gathered in Louisville Thursday for what’s become an annual rally.

This is the second year the group has gathered outside of the Humana building. Protestor Dr. Ewell (Yule) Scott with Physicians for a National Health Plan says he favors a government-provided insurance program because it would cut down on the paperwork he and his patients have to file.

“If we went to a single payer plan, the efficiencies would be so great; it makes so much more sense to do it that way,” he says.

Jim Turner with Humana says the company is in favor of health care reform, but not a single payer system. He says the first thing that should be changed about health care is the cost.

“If we don’t get costs down, if we don’t get the health care inflation rate more in line with the overall inflation rate, it’s going to be really tough for any health care reform to be effective and work over the long-term,” he says.

Congress is expected to begin debating health care reform this summer.

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Arts and Humanities In-Depth News Local News

Givers, Nonprofits Feel Pinch of Financial Turmoil

The turmoil on Wall Street has more than banks and businesses on alert. Foundations and nonprofits here in Louisville are bracing themselves for the fallout. WFPL’s Elizabeth Kramer reports.

It was just days after Lehman Brothers filed for the biggest bankruptcy case in U.S. history when the Association of Small Foundations held its annual conference.

The association’s Tim Walter took a survey of the attendees.

“Ninety-four percent of them said that they felt that the recent turmoil was more serious than previous shocks such as the collapse of Enron, the bursting of the dot-com bubble or the decline following the nine eleven attacks,” Walter says. “And actually eighty-four percent of the respondents said that their endowments were down this year, some dramatically.”

Louisville’s foundations are considered small, but, each year, they give away millions of dollars to local nonprofit organizations.

The current financial crisis has local foundations thinking about their investments and how nonprofits they support will weather the storm.

Mason Rummel is paying close attention. She’s with the area’s largest foundation, the James Graham Brown Foundation.

“We’re going to sit and watch it and we’re going to keep talking to our managers about their strategies and why they’re staying where they are,” Rummel.

Rummel and other local foundation leaders say these days they have conservative and highly diversified investment portfolios they hope can counter market shocks. But they point out that any sharp downturn will surely affect future grants.

The news comes at a time when many arts and social service organizations are already dealing with substantial cuts in government funding. The Humana Foundation’s Virginia Judd says that has implications for foundations.

“There’s been a reduction in state funding and national resources are more limited and so I think there’s an expectation that foundations need to step up to the plate,” Judd says.

So, how much money do local foundations give away? In 2007, the Brown Foundation gave more then $20 million, and The Humana Foundation gave more than $8 million. Actors Theatre of Louisville and Brooklawn Child & Family Services both got money.

Brooklawn has programs for emotionally troubled boys, and here Humana Foundation money underwrites drumming classes. Staff member Dennis Roach.

“It helps teach discipline and they enjoy coming in and doing it,” Roach says. “And so they work hard and they work on that level of working on themselves.”

Brooklawn’s president, David Graves, says that the agency has had to scale back because of cuts in government funding and it’s been a clarion call.

“We’ve got to be more efficient,” Graves says. “We’ve got to combine our resources to meet the growing needs. So, we will be in dialogue with other agencies, a way of sharing operations, a way to collaborate.”

In recent years, Brooklawn and other nonprofits have merged staff and programs. It’s a strategy local foundations find encouraging, says the Brown Foundation’s Mason Rummel.

“The pressure’s on now and so the nonprofits are going to have to get very creative, because, while we recognize what’s happened in the whole philanthropic world, we can’t make up for it, even as large as we are,” Rummel says.

Leaders of local foundations and arts and social services say they will be working to tap into that creativity to deal with any future decreases in government and foundation funding that could cut into the bone of their core missions.

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Local News

Humana Drops Medicare/Medicaid Drug Plan Members

In a Securities and Exchange Commission filing this week, Louisville-based insurer Humana announced it needed to drop prescription drug care coverage for hundreds of thousands of people in order to make profit goals.  The company reported it was spending too much on a particularly vulnerable population, who will be reassigned to other drug coverage plans. They include more than 300,000 Humana customers who receive both federal assistance through Medicare and state assistance through Medicaid.  These so-called “dual eligibles” are low income people who don’t pay premiums but often a small co-pay.  Humana will notify participants that their coverage is changing as of January 2009.  Kaiser Family Foundation medicare expert Tricia Neuman says the problem people will face is not a lack of other insurance plans.

“The challenge is really trying to understand how these plans work, making sure the plans cover the drugs that they need, and that’s not necessarily a sure thing,” Neuman says.

Neuman also says that this population tends to be older, taking many medications, and in poor health.  And she says the concern is that changing plans could be stressful.  However, she says they should check to make sure their new plan covers all the medications they take.