KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

Congress Returns To Work On D.C. With ‘Doc Fix,’ Tax Cuts

The Associated Press reports that in order to prevent a 27 percent cut in Medicare payments to doctors, negotiators are trying to find $39 billion in cuts elsewhere in health spending. A deal could be reached faster than initially expected.

The Washington Post: 84% Of Americans Disapprove Of The Job Congress Is Doing, Poll Finds
Lawmakers will return to Washington on Tuesday to begin an election-year work session with low expectations for any significant legislative action, while also receiving low approval ratings for themselves. ... This year’s legislative business, however, will take place in the shadow of $5 trillion in deficit reduction achieved through tax increases and spending cuts that are scheduled to take effect next Jan. 1 . The move was triggered by an unsuccessful effort by a congressional “supercommittee” last fall to reach a compromise (Kane and Cohen, 1/16).

The Associated Press/The Washington Post: House Republicans Map Election-Year Strategy In Wake Of Political Debacle Over Payroll Tax Cut
In the coming year, House Republicans remain doubtful about accomplishing anything more than the must-do spending bills and a year-long extension of the Social Security tax cuts, unemployment benefits and a reprieve in the cuts to doctors for Medicare payments. Congress faces a Feb. 29 deadline to agree on a new extension, no easy task after last year's deep divisions but politically inevitable as lawmakers would be loath to raise taxes in an election year (1/16).

The Associated Press: Tax Cut Talks Focus On Budget Cuts, New Fees
House and Senate negotiators are drawing on Obama's budget and the work of the defunct congressional supercommittee on deficit reduction to come up with the $160 billion or so needed to continue the tax cut and federal jobless benefits. Both of are set to expire Feb. 29. ... Health care remains part of the equation. To prevent a 27 percent cut in Medicare payments to doctors under an outdated 1997 formula, negotiators are trying to find $39 billion in cuts elsewhere in health care spending. That would fix the problem for two years (Taylor, 1/16).

Politico: Payroll Tax Cut Deal May Come Faster Than Expected
The one-year payroll tax deal that eluded Congress last month — and set off a nasty brawl that bloodied Republicans who opposed Democrats' short-term fix — could get wrapped up surprisingly quickly in the new session. … Congress must pass a full-year extension of the payroll tax holiday, unemployment benefits and Medicare payments for doctors before they expire at the end of February (Wong, 1/16).

Roll Call: GOP Ready To Combat Payroll Tax Narrative
With the House returning this week for a short session and with one week to go before the president's State of the Union address, Republicans are on the clock to unite around a message on a package to extend a payroll tax holiday, unemployment benefits and Medicare payments. President Barack Obama, facing a tough re-election, has been campaigning actively against Congress. (Shiner, 1/17).

The Hill: Medicare Panel's Payment Recommendations Pit Hospitals Against Doctors
Hospitals and other healthcare providers are worried that a Medicare panel has painted a target on their backs just as lawmakers return to Capitol Hill to prevent a payment cut to physicians. The Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC), which advises Congress on Medicare payments, voted last week to recommend cuts to hospital outpatient departments that could save the government between $1 billion and $5 billion over the next five years (Pecquet, 1/16).

Bloomberg: Debt-Limit Debate To Return To Congress While Budget Decisions Will Wait
Congress will joust over a symbolic vote on the U.S. debt limit this week while a decision on whether to extend $3 trillion in tax cuts into 2013 probably will wait until after the November election. Democrats and Republicans will debate Medicare cuts that wouldn’t take effect for years, though are unlikely to resolve what to do about spending reductions set for next January. The only major bill to clear Congress before the elections may be a plan to extend a payroll tax cut through the rest of 2012 (Faler, 1/17).

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