KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

First Edition: February 2, 2012

Today's health policy headlines include reports from Capitol Hill about ongoing efforts to reach a deal on the "doc fix" as well as the latest on the flap between the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation and Planned Parenthood. 

Kaiser Health News: States Under Pressure As Health Law Deadlines Approach
Kaiser Health News staff writer Marilyn Werber Serafini reports: "The health law's biggest changes don't take effect until 2014, when states and insurers must be ready to begin signing up an estimated 32 million people in Medicaid and private insurance. But a successful rollout in two years hinges on critical decisions that states must make – and take quick action on – this year" (Werber Serafini, 2/1).

Kaiser Health News: Health On The Hill: War Savings May Be Key To Long-Term 'Doc Fix' Deal
Kaiser Health News' staff writer Mary Agnes Carey talks with Jackie Judd about the congressional conference committee trying to hammer out a bargain on a payroll tax cut extension and the Medicare "doc fix." If the conferees — who are now discussing the possibility of a permanent "doc fix" — fail to agree to a proposal, doctors who see Medicare patients are in line for a 27 percent cut slated to take effect in March. Listen to the audio of the interview or read the transcript.

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Is HHS Medicare Advantage Celebration Premature?
Now on Kaiser Health News’ blog, Marilyn Werber Serafini reports: "Enrollment is up and prices are down in Medicare Advantage, which offers Medicare beneficiaries private health plan alternatives – mostly managed care – to the traditional fee-for-service program. The Department of Health and Human Services is hailing the numbers as proof that predictions that the 2010 health law would damage Medicare Advantage were wrong" (Werber Serafini, 2/1).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Payroll Tax, Jobless Benefits Negotiations On Capitol Hill Off To Slow Start As Deadline Nears
Negotiators on Capitol Hill agreed Wednesday to try to extend a payroll tax cut worth about $1,000 this year for a typical worker through the end of the year. But they remain far apart on how to pay for the extension, and for jobless benefits for millions, without swelling the national debt. At the same time, the panel is grappling with how to address almost a 30-percent scheduled cut in the fees that Medicare pays to doctors. The cut is the product a flawed funding-formula that dates back to 1997, but the rapidly growing cost of fixing the mess is now in the range of $300 billion over 10 years. Lawmakers in both parties are grabbing at war savings to claim the fix won’t add to deficits still exceeding $1 trillion a year (2/1).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: House Votes To Repeal Long-Term Care Program In Health Care Law
The Republican-led House on Wednesday voted to repeal a financially troubled part of the 2010 health care law that was designed to provide affordable long-term care insurance. The House vote comes months after the Obama administration suspended the Community Living Assistance Services and Support program, known as the CLASS Act (2/1).

The Wall Street Journal: Congress's Number Cruncher Comes Under Fire
Republican staffers on three Senate committees are pressing a congressional office that scrutinizes federal budget issues and proposed legislation over how its assessments are compiled. The inquiries of the Congressional Budget Office, which haven't been made public, concern the CBO's analyses of some of Washington's most complex and controversial measures, including bills on financial regulation, health care, small-business lending and efforts to aid the housing market, said people familiar with the matter (Strasburg, 2/2).

Los Angeles Times: Sen. Feinstein Backs Health Insurance Rate Controls
A high-stakes ballot measure to give state regulators the power to approve health insurance rates in California has landed a heavyweight supporter: U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein. One of California's most respected politicians, Feinstein has come forward as the chief spokeswoman and No. 1 booster of a proposed initiative to regulate hikes in health premiums (Lifsher, 2/1).

Los Angeles Times: Blue Shield Agrees To Cover Autism Therapy
A major health insurance company has settled an enforcement action with state regulators over providing special therapy for autism patients. California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones on Tuesday said that Blue Shield of California Life & Health Insurance Co. agreed to immediately cover the cost of applied behavior analysis therapy, which Jones described as a well-recognized and effective treatment (Lifsher, 2/1).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Governors' Speeches: Glimmers Of Hope, Lots Of Caution, Few Grand Proposals
Glimmers of economic optimism. Deep concerns about jobs and health care costs. These are among the recurring themes as governors across the nation deliver their annual State of the State addresses. And the speeches have this in common, too: a striking absence of grand and costly proposals (2/1).

Politico: Catholics Cross With Obama Over Birth-Control Coverage
President Barack Obama and his senior aides were more than a little concerned before he announced his controversial decision requiring Catholic hospitals and universities to provide contraception in employee health plans. Obama — in recognition of the issue’s sensitivity to the church — picked up the phone to personally break the news to two influential Catholic leaders: New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan and Sister Carol Keehan, head of the largest Catholic health association in the country and a pivotal supporter of Obama's Affordable Care Act (Thrush, 2/2).

Los Angeles Times: Planned Parenthood Supporters Denounce Komen's Funding Halt
Komen's decision, made quietly late last year and made public Tuesday, has ignited fury in some and jubilation in others, depending upon their stance on abortion. Public message boards, Twitter and Facebook are flooding with posts supporting or decrying the move (Khan, 2/1).

The New York Times: Uproar As Breast Cancer Group Ends Partnership With Planned Parenthood
When the nation's largest breast cancer advocacy organization considered in October cutting off most of its financial support to the nation's largest abortion provider, the breast cancer group was hoping for a quiet end to an increasingly controversial partnership. Instead, the organization, the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation, is now engulfed in a controversy that threatens to undermine one of the most successful advocacy campaigns (Harris and Belluck, 2/1).

NPR: Planned Parenthood Vs. Komen: Women's Health Giants Face Off Over Abortion
Two of the nation's most iconic women's health groups are engaged in a nasty fight that's raising a lot of eyebrows. The breast cancer charity Susan G. Komen For the Cure is pulling about $700,000 in breast cancer screening and service grants from the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (Rovner, 2/1). NPR also has a Q & A on this development.

The Wall Street Journal's Law Blog: The Daily Writing Sample: Why Judges Dread Medicare Cases
"Picture a law written by James Joyce and edited by E.E. Cummings," begins a recent opinion by Chief Judge Royce Lamberth of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. "Such is the Medicare statute, which has been described as 'among the most completely impenetrable texts within human experience.'" The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit described it that way in a 1994 opinion (Palazzolo, 2/1).

The Washington Post: The Fact Checker: Ron Paul's Claims About Life Without Medicare And Medicaid
The libertarian congressman suggested people should embrace personal responsibility, and he described Blitzer's hypothetical as implausible, since hospitals don't turn people away for lack of money or insurance coverage. Paul has said repeatedly that life before Medicare and Medicaid wasn't so bad. We wondered about the state of health care for the elderly and poor just before those social programs took effect in the mid 1960s. Let's take a tour down memory lane (Hicks, 2/1).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Santorum Leans Into Harsh Criticism Of His GOP Rivals As He Eyes Upcoming Contests For Rebound
Sharpening his criticism, Rick Santorum on Wednesday laid into Mitt Romney's health care overhaul in Massachusetts and Newt Gingrich's shifting policy positions as he sought to deny either rival the Republican presidential nomination (2/1).

The Washington Post: VA: Buying Medications Outside Of Contracts Was Just An Effort To Help Veterans
The Department of Veterans Affairs' purchase of $1.2 billion in pharmaceuticals since 2004 in violation of federal law and regulations was the result of "a team failure" at the department, VA Deputy Secretary W. Scott Gould told the House Veterans Affairs Committee on Wednesday (Vogel, 2/1).

USA Today: Combat Troop Ailments Drive Medical Backlog
Tens of thousands of combat troops who undergo routine health checks before returning home need treatment for ailments ranging from bad backs to mental illness, helping to drive a backlog of troops waiting for medical retirements, new Pentagon data show (Zoroya and Overberg, 2/1).

NPR: How One Hospital Entices Doctors To Work In Rural America
Recruiting doctors to live and work in rural America is a chronic problem. Most health centers try to attract workers with big salaries and expensive homes (Lowe, 2/2).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Cuccinelli, Mass's Coakley Face Off At National Press Club In DC Over Health Care Overhaul
Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli will square off against Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley on the constitutionality of the federal health care overhaul. The Feb. 9 event at the National Press Club in Washington will serve as a prelude to the U.S. Supreme Court’s consideration of challenges to the law in March. A decision could be reached by June (2/2).

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