KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

First Edition: November 19, 2012

Today's headlines include the latest news on the ongoing "fiscal cliff" discourse.  

Kaiser Health News: Stuart Altman's Huge Challenge: Bring Down Mass. Health Costs
WBUR's Martha Bebinger, working in partnership with Kaiser Health News and NPR, spoke with Prof. Stuart Altman, a Brandeis economist who advised President Richard Nixon on health policy and President Bill Clinton on Medicare. He has responsibility for helping the state of Massachusetts control health care costs so that they stop increasing faster than that of most other goods and services (11/18). Read the interview.

Kaiser Health News: Four NYC Hospitals Still Closed By Hurricane Sandy
WNYC's Fred Mogul, working in partnership with Kaiser Health News and NPR, reports: "Three weeks after Hurricane Sandy, four New York City hospitals remain closed for inpatients, leaving thousands of patients scrambling to find other medical centers to treat everything from broken bones to brain cancer. The closures of NYU Langone Medical Center, Bellevue Hospital Center, the Manhattan VA Medical Center, and Coney Island Hospital have meant more business for some nearby hospitals and an unwelcome extra burden for others" (Mogul, 11/18). Read the story

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Florida Gov. Rick Scott Ready To Negotiate State Exchange
Now on Kaiser Health News' blog, Phil Galewitz reports on developments in Florida related to health exchanges: "Florida Gov. Rick Scott said Friday that he's open to building a state-based health insurance exchange under the health care law — but only if he can find a way to pay for it that doesn’t increase health costs or state taxes" (Galewitz, 11/16). Check out what else is on the blog.  

Kaiser Health News also tracked weekend health policy news developments, including headlines related to the continuing back-and-forth between the White House and congressional lawmakers regarding the nation's fiscal situation (11/18) and what happens if GOP governors opt against state-based health exchanges (11/18).    

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Taxes, Benefit Programs Key Flashpoints In 'Fiscal Cliff' Negotiations
There are numerous hurdles, big and small, in front of President Barack Obama and lawmakers on Capitol Hill as they seek a budget and tax agreement to avoid economy-rattling tax increases and automatic spending cuts known as the "fiscal cliff" (11/19). 

Los Angeles Times: Obama And Boehner Upbeat After 'Fiscal Cliff' Meeting
The outline of a compromise over impending tax hikes and spending cuts began to come into focus Friday after President Obama convened top congressional leaders at the White House. The first part of such a deal would be legislation this year that would commit Congress to specific revenue increases, favored by Democrats, and spending cuts, as advocated by Republicans. How those increases and cuts would be achieved would be worked out in the second stage next year by the new Congress (Mascaro, 11/16).

The New York Times: Back On Hill, Ryan Remains A Fiscal Force
Speaker John A. Boehner has tapped Mr. Ryan, who has returned to his post as the House Budget Committee chairman after an unsuccessful run for vice president, to help strike a deal to avoid big tax increases and spending cuts by the end of the year, and to bring along fellow Republicans. … The test will be whether Mr. Ryan …  can make the transition from House budget philosopher to governing heavyweight who can help negotiate a bipartisan deal and sell it to his colleagues. While President Obama and the Democrats are expected to give ground on entitlements and discretionary spending, it is likely that Mr. Ryan will be the player under the most pressure to back away from his previous conservative positions in order to form a bipartisan agreement (Steinhauer, 11/18).

NPR: In Fiscal Cliff Talks, Higher Taxes Vs. Closing Loopholes
The White House and Congress continue to work on a deal that avoids the fiscal cliff and cuts deficits in the long run. One of the biggest hurdles is President Obama's proposal to raise tax rates for the wealthy (Ydstie, 11/19).

The Wall Street Journal: What A Deal Might Look Like
North Dakota Democrat Kent Conrad, retiring chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, spoke with The Wall Street Journal's John Bussey about why he's hopeful, and what he thinks a deal could look like (Bussey, 11/19).

Politico: Appropriations Panels Quietly Work On Omnibus
Talks on the giant labor, education and health chapter are lagging because the chief House Republican negotiator, Rep. Denny Rehberg, was preoccupied so long with his Senate campaign in Montana. But enough progress has been made overall that even a reluctant White House is beginning to take notice of the committees' persistence. Indeed, if the fiscal cliff debt talks end up requiring more cuts from discretionary spending, an updated omnibus would be a far better vehicle for implementing new savings than the six-month stopgap bill that is keeping the government funded (Rogers, 11/18).

The Wall Street Journal: Remaking Health Care: Change The Way Providers Are Paid
In the debate over the nation's finances, health care is one of the biggest items on the agenda. How do we bring down soaring costs as more people get coverage and more baby boomers head into retirement? The Wall Street Journal's Laura Landro moderated the task-force discussion on remaking health care (Landro, 11/19).

Politico: McClellan: Public Needs Education On Obamacare
Mark McClellan, who helped implement the Medicare prescription drug benefit for President George W. Bush, says the two parties should separate their political battles over Obamacare from the need for broad public education about how the law will affect ordinary people. Now at The Brookings Institution, McClellan was the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services administrator when the largely GOP-designed drug benefit was rolled out from 2003 to 2006. He says the two parties had very strong differences over the prescription drug law but were able to have two parallel tracks — one fighting about the policy and one helping to explain what it would mean to a constituent (Kenen, 11/19).

The Associated Press/New York Times: Medicare Premiums To Rise By $5 A Month
Medicare premiums will rise by $5 a month next year, the government said Friday. That is less than expected, but enough to consume about a fourth of a typical retiree’s cost-of-living raise in Social Security payments next year (11/16).

Los Angeles Times: California works to Get Word Out On Health Insurance Exchange
With the presidential election over and the nation's healthcare overhaul moving forward, California officials have less than a year to clear up widespread uncertainty about future medical coverage options (Gorman and Terhune, 11/ 19).

Los Angeles Times: Companies Go Surgery Shopping
It's all part of a growing movement by employers fed up with wildly different price tags for routine operations. In response, businesses are showering workers with generous incentives — including waiving deductibles or handing out $2,500 bonuses — to steer them to these top-performing providers offering bargain prices (Terhune, 11/17).

The New York Times: In Wyoming, Conservatives Feeling Left Behind
People said their worries about the next four more years had little to do with Mr. Obama's race, or even Democratic policies on abortion, same-sex marriage and birth control. Wyoming’s conservatism has some strong libertarian hues. What worries conservatives here is that an increasingly diverse and Democratic polity will embrace health care mandates, higher domestic spending and a bigger government role in people's economic lives (Healy, 11/18).

The New York Times: How Back Pain Turned Deadly
Randall Kinnard's legal clients had steroids injected into their backs last summer for a wide range of reasons. ... Now the 25 — or their survivors — have engaged Mr. Kinnaird, one of Nashville’s leading lawyers, to sue the New England Compounding Center. ... But, experts say, the now notorious Compounding Center has a nationwide network of unwitting enablers and accomplices: There are the doctors who overprescribe an invasive back-pain therapy that, in studies, has not proved useful for many of the patients who get it. And there are the patients, living in an increasingly medicalized society, who want a quick fix for life’s aches and pains (Rosenthal, 11/17).

The New York Times: Drug Shortages Persist In U.S., Harming Care
From rural ambulance squads to prestigious hospitals, health care workers are struggling to keep vital medicines in stock because of a drug shortage crisis that is proving to be stubbornly difficult to fix. Rationing is just one example of the extraordinary lengths being taken to address the shortage, which health care workers say has ceased to be a temporary emergency and is now a fact of life. In desperation, they are resorting to treating patients with less effective alternative medicines and using expired drugs. ... the shortage has prompted Congressional hearings, a presidential order and pledges by generic drug makers to communicate better with federal regulators (Thomas, 11/16).
                                           
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