KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

First Edition: January 27, 2012

Today's headlines include reports about how health policy issues fit in to last night's GOP presidential primary debate fray:

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Health Law Is A Family Affair For CMS’ Tavenner
Now on Kaiser Health News’ blog, Christian Torres reports on a speech given at the Care Innovation Summit in Washington, D.C., by Marilyn Tavenner, the president’s nominee to head the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, about the health law’s accomplishments: "Tavenner will likely make some of the same arguments for the law and CMS initiatives when – or if – she encounters a grilling at her yet-to-be scheduled Senate confirmation hearing. … Among the other health law highlights that made Tavenner's list were the funds provided to close Medicare's prescription drug 'doughnut hole;' the expanded coverage of preventive services for Medicare beneficiaries; and the creation of state-run, high-risk insurance pools, which she described as 'one of the things I'm most proud of'" (Torres, 1/26). Check out what else is on the blog.

Politico: Health Care Reform: House GOP Waits For Supreme Court
House Republicans have tried to repeal various pieces of President Barack Obama's health reform law, but they haven't touched the least popular piece: the individual mandate. One reason for that: They don't want to give the Supreme Court a reason not to strike it down (Haberkorn, 1/26).

Los Angeles Times: Senate Blocks GOP Attempt To Deny Debt-Ceiling Increase
The nation's debt limit held steady at about $5.9 trillion during 1990s, when the Clinton administration was balancing the budget. But it virtually doubled under President George W. Bush to $11.3 trillion after the federal government put the Iraq and Afghanistan wars as well as an expanded Medicare prescription drug benefit on the national credit card. Debt continued to rise after Obama took office, with increased government spending on the federal stimulus and a decline in tax revenues as the economy struggled to recoup from the recession (Mascaro, 1/26).

Politico: Ron Wyden Gives GOP Cover On Medicare Reform
Republicans believe they have a 6-and-a-half-foot shield to fend off attacks that they want to end Medicare. And his name is Sen. Ron Wyden. To the thrill of Washington wonks and the irritation of fellow Democrats, the lanky Oregonian has been collaborating with the man Democrats hoped to use as an election year battering ram: Rep. Paul Ryan (Allen and Raju, 1/26).

The Washington Post: Mitt Romney And Newt Gingrich Square Off In Republican Debate
Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich sparred here Thursday night over immigration, taxes and wealth, lobbying, and colonizing the moon in a debate that underscored the potential consequences of a loss for either of the leading Republican presidential candidates in Tuesday's high-stakes Florida primary. … Santorum was aggressive again in pressing Romney to defend his Massachusetts health-care plan. When Romney defended the law — which, like President Obama's health-care law, includes a mandate that people buy insurance — Santorum shot back, "What Governor Romney just said is that government-run top-down medicine is working pretty well in Massachusetts and he supports it" (Balz and Gardner, 1/26).

Los Angeles Times: Santorum: Romney, Obama Healthcare Mandates One And The Same
Rick Santorum took on Mitt Romney for his embrace of a universal healthcare mandate in Massachusetts, saying Romney would be an ineffective opponent against President Obama because both had backed "government-run, top-down medicine." … Santorum zeroed in like a prosecutor: "So ... everybody is mandated as a condition of breathing in Massachusetts to be able to buy health insurance, and if you don't you have to pay a fine. What's happened in Massachusetts is people are not paying the fine.... Free ridership has gone up five-fold in Massachusetts" (Abcarian, 1/26).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Pro-Gingrich Group Hits Romney On His Venture Firm's Ties To Company Fined For Medicare Fraud
A political action committee backing Newt Gingrich is opening up a new line of attack against Mitt Romney, questioning his connection to a company that paid a multimillion-dollar fine for Medicare fraud. Winning Our Future released a clip on Thursday of a seven-minute online documentary they plan to unveil on Friday labeled "blood money." It takes aim at the acquisition by Romney’s private equity firm, Bain Capital, of the medical testing company Damon Corp (1/26).

Politico: Adam Rapp's Insurance Status Questioned After SOTU Speech
Remember that 23-year-old cancer patient sitting in Michelle Obama’s box at the State of the Union? The one who the White House said got covered under the young adult dependent provisions of President Barack Obama's health care reform law? Well, Adam Rapp may have actually been covered by a similar law from his home state of Illinois. Or maybe not (Kenen, 1/26).

The Wall Street Journal: An Rx? More To Family Doctors
The nation's second-largest health insurer is shaking up its approach to paying doctors, putting a major investment behind the idea that spending more for better primary care can save money down the road. Starting this summer, WellPoint Inc., which insures some 34 million Americans, will offer primary-care doctors a fee increase, typically of around 10%, with the possibility of additional payments that could boost what they get for treating the patients it covers by as much as 50 (Weaver and Mathews, 1/27).

The Wall Street Journal: Scrushy Pressed For Cash
Richard Scrushy is getting out of jail earlier than expected following a 2006 bribery conviction, but the founder of HealthSouth Corp. won't be free of creditors any time soon. A $2.88 billion civil judgment in 2009 against Mr. Scrushy for fraud at the rehabilitation chain, where he served as chairman and chief executive, will continue to loom over him for many years after he is released to a Texas halfway house in the coming weeks (Esterl, 1/27).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Aging America: Prisons Struggle With Challenges Posed By The Surging Numbers Of Older Inmates
In corrections systems nationwide, officials are grappling with decisions about geriatric units, hospices and medical parole as elderly inmates — with their high rates of illness and infirmity — make up an ever increasing share of the prison population. At a time of tight state budgets, it's a trend posing difficult dilemmas for policymakers. They must address soaring medical costs for these older inmates and ponder whether some can be safely released before their sentences expire (1/27).

The Associated Press/Los Angeles Times: Judge Won't Delay Order In Lawsuit Against Tobacco Industry
A federal judge said Thursday that she won't delay an order in a 12-year-old lawsuit against the tobacco industry while other courts decide newer cases challenging tobacco marketing restrictions and graphic cigarette warning labels. U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler in Washington issued the decision in a case in which the largest U.S. cigarette makers — including Philip Morris USA, maker of top-selling Marlboro cigarettes — were found to have concealed the dangers of smoking for decades (1/26).

The Bay Citizen/New York Times: Nursing Home Investigation Finds Errors By Druggists
Pharmacists responsible for reviewing the medication of patients in California nursing homes routinely allowed inappropriate and potentially lethal prescriptions of antipsychotic medications, and failed to correct other potentially dangerous drug irregularities, according to recent state investigations (Udesky, 1/27).

The Washington Post: Virginia To Transform System Of Caring For Developmentally Disabled
Virginia will close all but one of its large institutions for the developmentally disabled and move thousands of people into their own homes, their family’s homes or group homes as part of a 10-year, $2.1 billion settlement announced Thursday with the U.S. Justice Department (Kumar, 1/26).

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