KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

As Clock Runs Down, ‘Fiscal Cliff’ Negotiations Stall

Speaker John Boehner pledged to bring his alternative option to a House vote as early as today. Meanwhile, the issue of savings in the Medicare program continue to be examined.

The New York Times: Obama And Boehner Diverge Sharply On Fiscal Plan
Hopes for a broad deficit-reduction agreement faded on Wednesday as President Obama insisted he had offered Republicans "a fair deal" while Speaker John A. Boehner moved for a House vote as early as Thursday on a scaled-down plan to limit tax increases to yearly incomes of $1 million and up, despite Senate opposition and Mr. Obama's veto threat (Calmes and Weisman, 12/19).

The Washington Post: 'Cliff' Standoff: Boehner Works To Wrangle Votes For 'Plan B'; Obama Threatens Veto
House GOP leaders scrambled to rally their members Wednesday behind a plan to extend tax cuts on income up to $1 million, defying President Obama’s veto threat and setting up a showdown that could send Washington over the year-end "fiscal cliff." ... If Boehner's limited proposal were to be enacted, the economy would still take a hit: Jobless benefits would begin to expire for the long-term unemployed; physicians with elderly patients would see a sharp drop in Medicare reimbursements; and $100 billion in across-the-board cuts to federal agencies would begin (Kane and Helderman, 12/19).

The Wall Street Journal: Boehner's 'Plan B' Gets Pushback
House Republicans hustled Wednesday to build support for a fallback proposal that would eliminate most of the tax impact of the "fiscal cliff," providing a test of Speaker John Boehner's leadership as the year-end deadline approached. ... Some lawmakers suggested the Obama-Boehner budget negotiations—currently stalled—could resume if Plan B passes the House. Messrs. Boehner and Obama still appear to want a broader deal than Plan B, which doesn't address across-the-board spending cuts set to take effect next year and does little for the budget's long-term problems, such as health-care costs (Favole and Paletta, 12/19).

Los Angeles Times: Boehner Seeks Support For Tax Increase On The Wealthiest
As President Obama and House Speaker John A. Boehner took turns blaming each other for the sudden lull in the budget talks, the action continued off-camera Wednesday as the Ohio Republican focused on building support from his conservative majority to increase tax rates on the wealthy. ... Conservatives railed against Boehner's proposal, which he calls Plan B, as an affront to the party's core values, but Boehner received a crucial lifeline Wednesday from Grover Norquist. The influential anti-tax activist's Americans for Tax Reform said voting for the measure would not violate the pledge most GOP lawmakers had taken not to raise taxes (Mascaro, Parsons and Memoli, 12/19).

Politico Pro: House GOP Spending Cuts Target Obamacare, Medicaid
The House is about to recycle Paul Ryan's sequester replacement bill — most of it, anyway — and put it up for a vote so Republicans can vote for spending cuts along with the "Plan B" tax bill that they’ll be asked to pass Thursday. The spending-cuts bill is almost identical to Ryan's sequester replacement bill, which the House passed this spring, when it comes to the extra health savings it would achieve to prevent the sequester’s defense cuts. Like Ryan's previous bill, the new one would take several bites out of Obamacare, although not out of its major provisions. It would repeal unlimited funding for exchange-planning grants under the Affordable Care Act, get rid of the Prevention and Public Health Fund and defund the CO-OP program (Nather, 12/19).

The Associated Press: Medicare Premiums Could Rise For Many Retirees
It's a health care change that President Barack Obama and Republicans both embrace: Expand a current, little-known law so more retirees the government considers well-off are required to pay higher Medicare premiums. That plan is likely to be part of any budget deal to reduce the overhang of federal debt, raising $20 billion or more over 10 years. It could come as a shock to many seniors who will have to pay the higher premiums even though they consider themselves solidly middle-class, and by no means wealthy (Alonso-Zaldivar, 12/20).

Fiscal Times: Medicare May Be Silent Killer In Budget Battles
Taxes may be taking the lion's share of the spotlight right now in the fervor to negotiate a fiscal cliff deal, but Medicare looks more and more like the major obstacle to putting the federal budget on a stable course. ... Structural changes to Medicare – the spending bomb set to detonate as the grand bargain's 10-year window closes – have mostly been offstage in this D.C. drama. Boehner has proposed gradually raising the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67, a change Obama has resisted while calling for savings on prescription drugs (Boak, 12/20).

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