KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

First Edition: December 7, 2012

Today's early morning highlights from the major news organizations includes articles on the talks between President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner on the "fiscal cliff."

Kaiser Health News: Governors Weigh Options On Health Insurance Exchanges
Kaiser Health News reporter Julie Appleby writes: "To partner with the federal government or not. That is the question facing many of the nation’s governors as crunch time approaches to carry out the 2010 health care law. Their decisions about whether to set up state-run online markets to offer health insurance will affect whether millions of individual consumers and small businesses shop for coverage on state or federally operated websites starting in 2014. Consumers are likely to see some differences – possibly around the number of insurers offering plans, the scope of coverage and the marketing campaigns to persuade people to enroll (Appleby, 12/6). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Advocates Sue To Change The ‘Nursing Cliff’ In California; Smoking Prevention Funds Run Short Despite Tobacco Settlement
Now on Kaiser Health News' blog, Sarah Varney writes about the differences in Medicaid coverage for children and adults: "It was some 21st birthday present.  When Pablo Carranza turned 21 in September, California’s Medicaid agency notified him that the around-the-clock nursing care he receives at the Chula Vista, Calif., home he shares with his mother would be sharply cut back. Carranza has muscular dystrophy and can only move his left thumb and his eyes. The nurses, paid for by Medi-Cal, the joint federal-state program for low income people and those with disabilities in California, have long monitored Carranza’s ventilator and feeding tube. They also cleared fluids from his lungs and lifted him into his wheelchair. But like many other states, California’s Medicaid benefits are much more generous for disabled children than for adults" (Varney, 12/6).

In addition, Ankita Rao reports on a study about state efforts to curb smoking: "In 1998, big tobacco companies settled a landmark lawsuit and agreed to pay states $246 billion over 25 years for smoking prevention efforts.  Fourteen years later – with smoking still the country’s leading cause of preventable death – most states use only a fraction of the money for its intended purpose. An annual report found that less than 2 percent of the $25.7 billion collected by states this year from the tobacco settlement and tobacco taxes will be spent on prevention and cessation programs" (Rao, 12/6). Check out what else is on the blog.

The Washington Post: Some In GOP Urge Lawmakers To Back Tax Hikes For Changes In Safety-Net Programs
A growing chorus of Republicans is urging House leaders to abandon their staunch opposition to higher tax rates for the wealthy with the aim of clearing the way for a broad deal that would also rein in the cost of federal health and retirement programs (Montgomery and Helderman, 12/6).

The New York Times: Participants In Talks On A Budget Deal Shrink To Two
At House Speaker John A. Boehner’s request, Senate leaders and Representative Nancy Pelosi have been excluded from talks to avert a fiscal crisis, leaving it to Mr. Boehner and President Obama alone to find a deal, Congressional aides say. All sides, even the parties excluded, say clearing the negotiating room improves the chance of success. It adds complexity as the two negotiators consult separately with the leaders not in the room. But it also minimizes the number of people who need to say yes to an initial agreement (Weisman and Baker, 12/6).

The Wall Street Journal: Some See Hope As Talks Resume Over 'Fiscal Cliff'
After days of public posturing, budget talks resumed Thursday between the staff of House Speaker John Boehner and the White House. The talks broke a nearly weeklong lull since administration officials had traveled to Capitol Hill for contentious, unproductive meetings with Republicans. Mr. Boehner (R., Ohio) and President Barack Obama spoke by phone Wednesday and committed to renewing negotiating efforts, according to people familiar with the call (Hook, 12/6).

Los Angeles Times: Little Movement On 'Fiscal Cliff' Budget Talks
Congress and the White House appear no closer to an agreement on the year-end budget crisis, although House Speaker John A. Boehner and President Obama have opened lines of communication that could produce a deal later this month. ... The president and his Democratic allies in Congress maintain that wealthier Americans should pay more, saying the country can no longer afford the estimated $900-billion cost of continuing the Bush-era tax rates for another decade. Several influential Republicans have suggested the GOP should accept the president's offer to extend the tax rates for most Americans while the broader budget battle continues. ... Top Republicans are seeking steep cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security in exchange for producing some new tax revenue (Parsons and Mascaro, 12/7).

Politico: W.H. To House GOP: We're Not Moving
If Wednesday’s phone call between Speaker John Boehner and President Barack Obama seemed like a hopeful sign in the fiscal cliff standoff, think again. On Thursday, with the House out of session, White House congressional liaison Rob Nabors trekked to Capitol Hill and delivered a firm message: We aren’t moving. In a meeting with leadership staff, Nabors reiterated the administration’s hard line that tax rates on top earners must go up, according to Republican sources with knowledge of the meeting. The White House is also insisting that Congress give it power to raise the debt limit on its own. Furthermore, in a development that could signal a step closer to the fiscal cliff, Nabors said the White House’s offer stands on mandatory spending on entitlement programs, the sources said (Sherman, Bresnahan and Budoff Brown, 12/6).

Los Angeles Times: Q&A: What Would It Mean To Raise Medicare's Eligibility Age?
As they debate ways to control the federal deficit, President Obama and congressional Republicans have both acknowledged the need to rein in federal spending on healthcare programs such as Medicare, which provides health insurance to about 50 million elderly and disabled Americans. Among the leading proposals to slow Medicare spending — a key ingredient of a budget deal — is to raise the eligibility age for the program, an option frequently championed by conservatives. Here are answers to some basic questions about the concept and its potential effects (Levey, 12/7).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Raising Medicare Age Saves Money For Taxpayers But Could Lead To Higher Premiums For Seniors
Americans are living longer, and Republicans want to raise the Medicare eligibility age as part of any deal to reduce the government’s huge deficits. But what sounds like a prudent sacrifice for an aging society that must watch its budget could have some surprising consequences, including higher premiums for people on Medicare (12/6).

The Wall Street Journal: Christie Rebuffs Health Exchange
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on Thursday joined a string of Republican state leaders in turning down a key component of the Obama health-care overhaul, a move freighted with political consequences for GOP governors eyeing potential presidential runs. Some Republican governors have made a show recently of rebuffing President Barack Obama's chief domestic initiative, but Mr. Christie struck a softer tone. He rejected a bill Thursday that was designed to establish a state-run health insurance exchange, while leaving open the possibility he might change his mind later (King and Radnofsky, 12/6).

Politico: Chris Christie Nixes State-Run Insurance Exchange
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie rejected a state-run health insurance exchange Thursday, paving the way for the federal government to step in and run one. Christie — who was in Washington on Thursday pushing for Hurricane Sandy aid — rejected a bill passed by the Democratic state Legislature that would have built an exchange, a key part of the president’s health care law that makes available subsidies to help low- and middle-income individuals purchase coverage in new health insurance markets starting in 2014 (Millman, 12/7).

Texas Tribune/The New York Times: Likely Increase In Births Has Some Lawmakers Revisiting Cuts
When state lawmakers passed a two-year budget in 2011 that moved $73 million from family planning services to other programs, the goal was largely political: halt the flow of taxpayer dollars to Planned Parenthood clinics. Now they are facing the policy implications — and, in some cases, reconsidering. The latest Health and Human Services Commission projections being circulated among Texas lawmakers indicate that during the 2014-15 biennium, poor women will deliver an estimated 23,760 more babies than they would have, as a result of their reduced access to state-subsidized birth control. The additional cost to taxpayers is expected to be as much as $273 million — $103 million to $108 million to the state’s general revenue budget alone — and the bulk of it is the cost of caring for those infants under Medicaid (Ramshaw, 12/6).

Los Angeles Times: Stem Cell Agency Board Criticized For Conflicts Of Interest
The board of California's stem cell funding agency is rife with conflicts of interest and should be restructured to improve the integrity of its grant-making process, according to a new report from independent experts convened by the national Institute of Medicine. The committee found that "far too many" of the board members are from organizations that stand to benefit from the $3 billion the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine is supposed to dole out to researchers over 10 years. Making matters worse, the panel said, the 29 board members are too closely involved in the agency's day-to-day decisions (Brown, 12/7).

NPR: Post-Election, 'Morning After' Pill Advocates Want Age Rules Revisited
Friday marks a not-so-happy anniversary for some of President Obama's biggest supporters: It's exactly one year since Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius decided not to lift the age restrictions on availability of the so-called morning-after pill, Plan B. But now, with the election safely behind them, backers of the pill are hoping the administration may be willing to revisit the issue (Rovner, 12/7).

The New York Times: Administration Weighs Legal Action Against States That Legalized Marijuana Use
Senior White House and Justice Department officials are considering plans for legal action against Colorado and Washington that could undermine voter-approved initiatives to legalize the recreational use of marijuana in those states, according to several people familiar with the deliberations (Savage, 12/7).

The New York Times: States Cut Antismoking Outlays Despite Record Tobacco Revenue
Faced with tight budgets, states have spent less on tobacco prevention over the past two years than in any period since the national tobacco settlement in 1998, despite record high revenues from the settlement and tobacco taxes, according to a report to be released on Thursday (Tavernise, 12/6).

The New York Times: Rules Eased for Veterans’ Brain Injury Benefits
The Department of Veterans Affairs will propose new regulations on Friday that will make it easier for thousands of veterans to receive health care and compensation for certain illnesses that have been linked to traumatic brain injury. The regulations, which will be published on Monday in the Federal Register, lists Parkinsonism, unprovoked seizures, certain dementias, depression and hormone deficiency diseases related to the hypothalamus, pituitary or adrenal glands as eligible for the expanded benefits (Dao, 12/7).

The Wall Street Journal: New Waves of Meningitis-Related Cases Emerge
Health officials in at least two states are reporting waves of new infections from contaminated steroids linked earlier this fall to a deadly outbreak of fungal meningitis, but say the latest cases aren't life-threatening. The new infections are mostly abscesses in the spines of patients who received steroids produced by a specialized Massachusetts pharmacy that were recalled this fall after they were found to be contaminated with fungal material, officials said. The infections haven't developed into fungal meningitis, but could if left untreated, they said (Martin, 12/6).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Federal Agreement Aims To Increase Access To Health Care For Native American Veterans
Native American military veterans will be able to access health care closer to home thanks to an agreement between the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs and the Indian Health Service. The agreement allows for Veterans Affairs to reimburse IHS for direct health care services provided to eligible American Indian and Alaska Native veterans (12/6).

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