KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

First Edition: October 15, 2012

Today's headlines include the latest developments and polling news from the presidential campaign trail as well as details about how Medicare and other health issues are shaping up in House and Senate races.  

Kaiser Health News: Chemo IV Vs. Pill Decision Can Come Down to Cost (Video)
Kaiser Health News consumer columnist Michelle Andrews writes answers a reader's question about whether insurance companies cover chemotherapy pills at a lower rate -- if at all -- compared to intravenous treatment (10/14). Watch the video.

Kaiser Health News: Safety-Net Hospitals Brace For Cut to Federal Subsidies
Minnesota Public Radio's Elizabeth Stawicki, working in partnership with Kaiser Health News and NPR, reports: "At the Hennepin County Medical Center about 50 men and women are wedged in cubicles, talking on headsets. The scene looks like a telemarketing boiler room, but here the employees aren't making the calls; they are taking requests from people who wish to see a doctor" (Stawicki, 10/14). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Enrollment Season Opens For Medicare Advantage Plans
Now on Kaiser Health News' blog, Susan Jaffe writes about Medicare's open enrollment season: "Today, Medicare beneficiaries can begin choosing their drug and medical coverage for 2013, and most seniors are expected to stick with the same policies they have already, despite price changes and a rating system that shows some plans may be better than others" (Jaffe, 10/15).

Also on Capsules, Andrew Villegas files this Blog Watch on the blogosphere's take on last week's vice presidential debate: "Last night's vice presidential debate provided contentious contrast on the issues of abortion and Medicare between Vice President Joe Biden and the Republican nominee, Rep. Paul Ryan. The candidates sparred over the role their faith plays in their positions on abortion and laid out their tickets' visions for Medicare reform” (Villegas, 10/12). Check out what else is on the blog.

Kaiser Health News also tracked weekend headlines related to Medicare's open season (10/14) and the Romney campaigns effort to clarify its abortion policies (10/14).

The Washington Post: Presidential Contest Tight Nationally Ahead Of Second Debate
On the eve of their second debate, President Obama and challenger Mitt Romney remain locked in a virtual dead heat nationally, with Republicans showing increased enthusiasm for their nominee after his big win in the first debate, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll (Balz and Cohen, 10/15).

The Wall Street Journal: Town-Hall Format Could Dull Barbs In Second Debate
Mr. Romney propelled himself into a slim lead in some national polls after the first debate and opened up a race that had seemed to be moving decisively in the president's favor. Mr. Romney has held dozens of town-hall events over the past year and a half, but has invariably faced admiring crowds. The scenario on Tuesday puts him in front of a crowd that will include some fans of the president. … Democrats caution the president can't afford a second subpar showing, and Mr. Obama has promised to show more vigor at the debate. … Obama campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Mr. Obama is focused on "making a passionate case" for why he is the right choice in the election, noting the candidates' differences on tax cuts, Medicare and women's health issues (Nicholas and Lee, 10/14).

Los Angeles Times: Obama And Romney Working Two Different Angles
New Obama campaign ads in battleground states are hitting at Romney's plan to cut Medicaid. … The ads warn that Romney would "burden families with the cost of nursing home care," while assuring voters that Obama "won't let that happen." The latest commercials follow months of earlier Obama ads designed to drive up negative impressions of Romney and feed the notion that he lacks understanding or concern for the problems of everyday Americans. … But Romney's strong debate showing last week helped improve his favorable ratings in the polls. And Republicans are counting on dissatisfaction with Obama to overcome any residual doubts that voters may have about Romney (West, 10/12).

Los Angeles Times: Central Issues Of Election 2012
Whoever wins the presidential elec­tion in November will confront urgent problems. ... What follows is our best ef­fort to make clear where Obama and Romney stand on several major domestic and foreign policy issues that will face whichever man wins. ... Medicare poses knottier problems. Not only has the number of recipients increased, but the costs per person have gone up as medical care has gotten pricier. The Congressional Budget Office projects that Medicare spending will go up more than 6% a year for the next decade. That's why the most consequential disagreements between the candidates regarding federal spending involve healthcare (Lauter, 10/13).

The Wall Street Journal: To the Winner: Good Luck—You'll Need It
Social Security and Medicare, most agree, are on unsustainable fiscal ground. Taxes will have to be raised, and spending reined in, to ensure the systems stay solvent. This is a major item on your to-do list. But here's the problem. There's only so much you can cut, because 80 million baby boomers are starting to retire (Arends, 10/13).

Politico: Contraception Rule Opponents Feel 'Momentum' After VP Debate
Joe Biden and Paul Ryan tangled over the Obama administration's contraception coverage requirement Thursday night, but the real fight has headed to the courts — and the rule's opponents say they're gaining steam. They're certainly piling up lawsuits. But whether that’s real momentum — or just a growing stack of legal briefs — remains to be seen (Smith, 10/13).

Politico: At VP Debate, Biden Mixed Up Medicare And Medicaid
Vice President Joe Biden said Thursday night that Rep. Paul Ryan's budget would mean 19 million people would be thrown off Medicare. A lot of big numbers get thrown around in the Medicare debate, but that one doesn't crop up a lot. Some conservatives said flat out that Biden made it up in the debate with Ryan. But the Obama campaign says Biden just misspoke. He meant Medicaid, according to campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith (Kenen, 10/12).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: As Election Nears, Political Ads Are Bombarding TV Viewers; Campaigns Risk Turning Off Voters
There's no doubt that TV advertising has the power to shift voter perceptions, particularly when a candidate is not well known. Romney prevailed in the Republican primaries after he and his allies buried his two main rivals with negative advertising in early voting states. Obama's team tagged Romney as a ruthless corporate raider with a flood of negative advertising in the early stages of the general election. The ads may have shaped perceptions in states such as Ohio, where Obama has held a narrow lead in polling for weeks (10/15).

The Washington Post: In Senate Race, Northern Virginia Seniors Look Beyond Medicare, Social Security
For most campaigns, the equation is simple: Seniors care about Medicare and Social Security — and often vote — so candidates vow loudly and frequently to protect the programs. But for U.S. Senate contenders Timothy M. Kaine (D) and George Allen (R), this year's election is a bit more complicated, as they learned while courting older Virginia voters last week (Pershing, 10/13).

The Associated Press/Wall Street Journal: Some Candidates Mum On Tough Policy Questions
Curious what Virginia Republican Senate candidate George Allen thinks about his own party's law that forces women seeking abortions to have ultrasounds? Too bad. He refused to say during a recent debate (10/15).

Los Angeles Times: Long Beach Congressional Race Has National Import
The fight over a local congressional seat may look like a dust-up between two men who share a Long Beach base and little else. But the contest is a high-stakes rumble that could figure in the battle for control of the House. This particular war zone is one of 10 competitive congressional districts in California, the largest number in more than a decade, courtesy of new political maps. The Republican candidate, City Councilman Gary DeLong, and the Democrat, state Sen. Alan Lowenthal, may emphasize their local ties and accomplishments, but the national parties want the race to be a referendum on the economy and federal budget, Social Security, Medicare and the Affordable Health Care Act (Merl, 10/15).

Los Angeles Times: Ventura County Congressional District Is A Battleground
Brownley supports Obama's healthcare overhaul and his push to roll back Bush-era tax cuts to help lower the deficit. Strickland calls Obama's stimulus package a failure that has resulted in too few jobs and too much debt. He backs a cut in corporate taxes and doesn't want the Bush tax cuts to expire. The testiest issue in the contest has been Medicare. Brownley said she would not cut benefits for seniors and would oppose any effort to replace Medicare with a voucher system, as proposed by GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan (Saillant, 10/15).

The Associated Press/USA Today: Social Security Benefits To Rise 1% To 2% In 2013
Some of next year's raise could be wiped out by higher Medicare premiums, which are deducted from Social Security payments. The Medicare Part B premium, which covers doctor visits, is expected to rise about $7 per month for 2013, according to government projections (Ohlemacher, 10/14).

The Wall Street Journal: U.S. Ties Hospital Payments To Making Patients Happy
Nearly $1 billion in payments to hospitals over the next year will be based in part on patient satisfaction, determined by a 27-question government survey administered to patients. Hospitals with high scores will get a bonus payment. Those with low ones will lose money (Adamy, 10/14).

Bloomberg News/Los Angeles Times: WellPoint To Reorganize Into 4 Unites
Health insurer WellPoint Inc. will reorganize into four business units in the first major move undertaken by interim Chief Executive John Cannon. In a memo sent to employees Friday, Cannon said the changes will help smooth the integration of Amerigroup Corp., the insurer Indianapolis-based WellPoint agreed to buy in July for $4.9 billion. The reorganization will put Amerigroup CEO James Carlson in charge of the combined company's Medicaid business, while Chief Financial Officer Wayne DeVeydt remains in his job (10/12).

The Wall Street Journal: Pharmacies Fought Controls
How these firms escaped closer regulation shows how little happens in Washington absent an emergency. Top lawmakers and federal officials tried for years to increase regulation. A countereffort by the industry and a series of court decisions helped beat that back. Federal agencies debated about who should crack down on the industry. Lawmakers eventually abandoned their push after deciding the issue wasn't important enough (Burton, Grimaldi and Martin, 10/14).

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