KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

First Edition: November 14, 2011

In today's headlines, reports about the Supreme Court's expected health law announcement; about where things stand with the super committee and its fast-approaching deadline; and other health policy news.

Kaiser Health News: Affluent Seniors Could Take A Hit On Medicare
Kaiser Health News staff writers Mary Agnes Carey and Marilyn Werber Serafini report: "In the scramble to come up with a deficit-reduction deal by Thanksgiving, members of Capitol Hill's super committee appear to have one group squarely in their cross hairs: high-income Medicare beneficiaries" (Carey  and Werber Serafini, 11/13). A sidebar explores how various deficit-reduction plans would impact more affluent beneficiaries.

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: 'Death Is Always Cheaper'
Now on Kaiser Health News' blog, Capsules, Christopher Weaver reports: "Conventional health care wisdom says that a less invasive procedure will be less expensive: Fewer days in the hospital and an easier recovery should reduce costs, right? Well, it's complicated. A new heart valve device and procedure approved by the FDA last week costs less than the standard treatment, but it can’t replace that procedure. Instead, it will allow an estimated 20,000 more patients — who would otherwise be inoperable due to frailty — to get the new valve. So the money that will be spent on these patients is in addition to the dollars already being spent. The new technology shows promise to extend the lives of very sick patients, but it doesn't save money (11/11). Check out what else is on the blog.

Kaiser Health News also tracked weekend health policy news coverage, including reports about the super committee and about a new recommendation that children's cholesterol be tested.

Los Angeles Times: A Buoyed Healthcare Law Reaches Supreme Court
After a year and a half of legal skirmishing, President Obama's embattled healthcare law has arrived at the Supreme Court riding a surprising winning streak and carrying a constitutional stamp of approval from prominent conservative judges. … The Supreme Court is expected to announce as soon as Monday that it will hear the Florida case, the largest and broadest challenge to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Savage and Levey, 11/13).

The New York Times: Supreme Court Memo: Health Law Puts Focus On Limits Of Federal Power
If the federal government can require people to purchase health insurance, what else can it force them to do? More to the point, what can’t the government compel citizens to do? Those questions have been the toughest ones for the Obama administration's lawyers to answer in court appearances around the country over the past six months. And they are likely to emerge again if, as expected, the Supreme Court, as early as Monday, agrees to be the final arbiter of the challenge to President Obama's signature health care initiative (Liptak, 11/13).

The Washington Post: The High Court: What Does Supreme Court Decision On Social Security Mean For Health-Care Act?
Today, there are unmistakable comparisons to the court’s action on the Social Security Act of 1935 as the current justices consider whether to accept a constitutional challenge of the 2010 Affordable Care Act. A decision could come as early as Monday morning (Barnes, 11/13).

The Washington Post: Obama Administration To Announce Effort To Expand Health-Care Workforce
The Obama administration will announce Monday as much as $1 billion in funding to hire, train and deploy health-care workers, part of the White House’s broader "We Can’t Wait" agenda to bolster the economy after President Obama’s jobs bill stalled in Congress (Kliff, 11/14).

The Wall Street Journal: Deficit Deal Might Delay Tax Overhaul
The approach could ease the path to an agreement, by allowing Congress to reach the outlines of an agreement on tax revenues and spending cuts this year, while postponing the difficult details of a tax overhaul until next year, and handing the issue back to the congressional tax-writing committees (McKinnon, 11/14).

Politico: Deficit Panel Ponders Endgame
If the supercommittee is going to act, this is the week. That's the narrative gripping Washington as the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction sits less than 10 days before its statutory Nov. 23 deadline to report a plan to cut the nation’s burgeoning deficit by at least $1.2 trillion over the next decade (Sherman and Bresnahan, 11/13).

The New York Times: Deficit Panel Seeks To Defer Details On Raising Taxes
Under this approach, the panel would decide on the amount of new revenue to be raised but would leave it to the tax-writing committees of Congress to fill in details next year, well beyond the Nov. 23 deadline for the panel itself to reach an agreement. That would put off painful political decisions but ensure that the debate over deficit reduction stretched into the election year. … If the panel falls short, a series of automatic cuts, split evenly between military and civilian programs, would take effect, starting in 2013. Some fear that such a failure could lead to the kind of stock market slide and loss of investor confidence that accompanied stalled efforts to raise the federal debt limit earlier this year (Pear, 11/13).

Los Angeles Times: 'Super Committee' Well Short Of A Deal, Members Say
With a week remaining for the congressional "super committee" to strike a deficit-reduction deal, a top Democrat said his party is not in agreement on an offer. … The committee is deadlocked as it struggles to overcome deep partisan divisions on tax and spending proposals to reduce federal deficits. The committee faces a Thanksgiving deadline to reduce deficits by $1.5 trillion over the next decade, and most members remained in Washington this weekend as the largely secretive panel continued closed-door negotiations (Mascaro, 11/13).

The Washington Post: On Supercommittee, Growing Doubts About Reaching A Deal
The public debate has grown more divisive since both sides laid out their latest offers last week. Negotiators, already under attack from the left, are facing fresh pressure from the anti-tax right. And charges of betrayal are expected to intensify Monday when the House returns from a week-long break, fueling concerns that a deal could emerge from the supercommittee only to die in the House or the Senate (Montgomery and Helderman, 11/13).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Report Shows Federal Health Officials Struggle To Monitor Myriad Of Medicare Fraud Contractors
Contractors paid tens of millions of taxpayer dollars to detect fraudulent Medicare claims are using inaccurate and inconsistent data that makes it extremely difficult to catch bogus bills submitted by crooks, according to an inspector general’s report released Monday (11/14).

Los Angeles Times: Red Tape Hampers Care For Patients Who Are Poor And Disabled
These patients — 1.1 million in California alone — are some of the country's priciest government healthcare consumers. Called dual eligibles, they accounted for close to 40% of Medicaid spending in California in 2009, nearly $10 billion, but constitute only about 15% of enrollees. Nationwide, the nearly nine million dual eligibles have similarly (Gorman, 11/13).

NPR: Veterans To Create World’s Largest Medical Database
What makes this possible is that the Department of Veterans Affairs has been keeping computerized medical records for more than two decades. This puts the VA way ahead of the curve, compared with most hospitals and doctors' offices. The VA is now turning that information into a gold mine for medical research (Standen, 11/14).

Los Angeles Times: Cancer Drug Doxil Joins Growing List Of Drugs In Short Supply
A crucial cancer drug has been in short supply since midsummer — and its maker, Johnson & Johnson Inc., has not been able to remedy the situation since. The medicine, Doxil, is used to treat patients with ovarian cancer, multiple myeloma or Kaposi's sarcoma after first-line treatments have failed (Adams, 11/14).

The Washington Post: New Maryland Health Program Promotes Care For The Whole Patient
The state initiative is among dozens of public and private experiments across the country that are trying to fundamentally change the way doctors practice medicine. Federal policymakers are watching closely to see whether the strategy can improve care and reduce costs, one of the pillars of the health-care overhaul law (Sun, 11/13).

The Washington Post: GE Capitol Healthcare Has Loaned $5 Billion This Year
The full breadth of health care reform has yet to be felt, but GE Capital Healthcare Financial Services is reaping the benefits. The Bethesda-based specialty finance firm is witnessing an upturn in business that has it on track to surpass its 2010 lending activity by roughly 15 percent. … Through the first nine months of the year, the company, which provides financing to some 40 sectors of the health care industry, deployed more than $5 billion in loans (Douglas, 11/13).

The Associated Press/Wall Street Journal: More Courts To Focus On Malpractice Claims
New York courts specializing in the state's 4,000 medical-malpractice cases filed each year have begun expanding following the success of a Bronx judge in settling cases early. The approach, shown to cut court backlogs and save money, has been extended to Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan, with some Erie County judges getting trained (11/12).

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