KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

First Edition: February 15, 2011

Today's headlines include reports about the health portion of the President's budget blueprint along with the politics that accompany it.

Kaiser Health News: Obama's Medicare 'Doc Fix' Under Fire
Kaiser Health News staff writers Mary Agnes Carey and Christopher Weaver report: "Critics quickly pounced on President Barack Obama's proposal to head off scheduled cuts in Medicare payments to doctors, saying his funding method would cause serious problems. In his fiscal 2012 budget plan released Monday, Obama proposed a two-year, $54 billion solution to stop the payment cuts, which otherwise would go into effect Jan. 1. To finance what insiders call the "doc fix," the president would reduce waste, fraud and abuse and draw on savings from a variety of sources, including the states, drug makers – even power wheelchair retailers" (Carey and Weaver, 2/14).

Kaiser Health News: Insuring Your Health: Experts Seek To Simplify Medication Labels That Often Confuse Patients
In her latest Kaiser Health News consumer column, Michelle Andrews writes: "'Take two tablets by mouth twice daily.' This printed instruction, common on prescription pill bottles, might seem straightforward. Yet in a study, nearly half of patients misunderstood what it or other common label instructions meant. Now the non-profit organization that sets quality and safety standards for drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration is aiming to simplify, clarify and standardize the labels that are affixed to those drugs" (Andrews, 2/15).

Kaiser Health News Column: An Irresponsible Roll Of The Dice
In his latest Kaiser Health News column, Jim Capretta writes: "President Barack Obama's 2012 budget is a breathtaking economic gamble -- with other people's money. The president chose to submit a profoundly unserious budget. There's no entitlement reform -- which would include addressing funding issues related to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security -- to close the long-term fiscal gap. There's no tax reform. There are some minor cuts to marginal programs for show. But, overall, it's very much a business-as-usual budget, with a few new and expensive long-term commitments thrown in for good measure" (2/14).

Kaiser Health News: Text: President Obama's Proposed 2012 HHS Budget
KHN provides the text of the President's budget blueprint, which details the administration's proposed 2012 budget, including nearly $80 billion for the Department of Health and Human Services to fund programs and implementation of the health care overhaul (2/14).

The Associated Press: Obama's Health Care Budget: ER Visit But No Cure
President Barack Obama's budget fixes a looming cut to doctors that could devastate Medicare, but it offers no cure for the underlying problem of rising health care costs that threatens to break the bank (Alonso-Zaldivar, 2/14).

The New York Times: Obama Proposes Health Agency Cut But Spares Medicare Fees
Spending by the Department of Health and Human Services would decline in 2012 for the first time in the agency's 30-year history under President Obama's budget request (Pear and Harris, 2/14).

The Washington Post: In Third Year, Obama Proposes A More Modest Course
Even as the administration said it wants to reduce the deficit by more than $1 trillion over the next 10 years, it declined to propose major changes to Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid, which combined account for more than 40 percent of federal spending. And the proposed increases in funding for education, science and research, while significant, don't match the ambition of the policies Obama pursued in his first two years in office (Bacon, 2/14).

The Washington Post: Budget 2012: Health And Human Services
The first sentence of the "funding highlights" in the White House budget document says that the $79.9 billion the president is requesting for Health and Human Services would be "slightly above the 2010 funding level." In fact, as the agency's budget figures show, the proposal would decrease HHS's discretionary funding -- the portion Congress allots each year -- by $72 million, or 0.9 percent, from fiscal 2010 (Goldstein, 2/14).

The Wall Street Journal: GOP Denounces Absence Of Entitlements Overhaul
President Barack Obama's $3.7 trillion budget plan unveiled Monday punts the most pressing fiscal issues driving up U.S. debt to at least later this year, when the White House and Republicans are expected to meet behind closed doors to tackle deficit reduction. Republicans denounced Mr. Obama's spending plan as a failure of presidential leadership-"an unserious budget," as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) put it-citing a failure to address the growth of Social Security, Medicare and other entitlement programs (Weisman, 2/15).

USA Today: Budget Battle Waged over Sliver Of Spending
Not counting what the government spends on national security and social safety-net programs such as Medicare and Social Security, spending on other domestic programs accounts for just 12% of the overall budget. Obama put off a bigger, politically riskier battle over the possibility of trillions of dollars in cuts to the popular entitlement programs. "This budget is a down payment" on restoring the nation's fiscal health, White House budget director Jacob Lew said Monday (Hall, Schouten and Wolf, 2/14).

The Wall Street Journal Washington Wire: House Tries New Rules For Spending Bill Debate
The House debate beginning Tuesday over a 2011 GOP spending measure could take on a bit of a Wild West atmosphere. The bill will be read, paragraph by paragraph, on the House floor. When a member of either party wants to offer an amendment, he or she can rise and do so-as long as it's relevant to the paragraph being read. At that point, any lawmaker can speak for five minutes - for or against the amendment (Bendavid, 2/14).

Politico: Home Care Tripped Up By Red Tape
It's common sense: It is generally better to help the disabled or elderly stay in their homes and communities than to put them in institutionalized care. At home, they have a higher quality of life and a social support system. For those who don't need around-the-clock care, home care can also be much less expensive. But Medicaid, which pays for 40 percent of long-term care in the United States, has had a hard time shifting away from its bias toward institutionalized care (Feder, 2/15).

The Wall Street Journal: Top N.J. Democrat To Propose Change In Health Spending
New Jersey's Senate president will propose an overhaul to the way the state's public workers pay for health care, requiring higher-paid employees to spend more for coverage (Fleisher, 2/15).

Los Angeles Times: Most Recalled Medical Devices Received Speedy FDA Review
A disproportionate number of medical devices recalled because of possible links to serious health problems or deaths - including external defibrillators and insulin infusion pumps - were approved under an abbreviated process that did not require advance testing on patients, according to a five-year study of such recalls (Zajac, 2/15).

The Wall Street Journal: Device Review Process Faulted
Most of the medical devices recalled in recent years because of serious or life-threatening hazards were initially cleared for market through an abbreviated approval system that doesn't require testing on patients, according to a study in the Archives of Internal Medicine (Mundy and Kamp, 2/15).

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