KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

First Edition: November 28, 2012

Today's headlines include reports about how party positions on entitlement programs are playing into the 'fiscal cliff' negotiations. 

Kaiser Health News: Hospitals Offer Wide Array Of Services To Keep Patients From Needing To Return
Kaiser Health News staff writer Jordan Rau, working in collaboration with The New York Times, reports: "In the past, the only thing a patient was sure to get after a hospital stay was a bill. But as Medicare cracks down on high readmission rates, hospitals are dispatching nurses, transportation, culturally specific diet tips, free medications and even bathroom scales to patients deemed at risk of relapsing" (Rau, 11/27). Read the story and check out this related story.

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Hospitals Get New Grades On Safety
Now on Kaiser Health News' blog, Jordan Rau reports: "The Leapfrog Group is out with its second round of hospital safety ratings, and what a difference a few months has made. In the results released Wednesday, 103 hospitals that Leapfrog had given a 'C' or lower in its first round of ratings in June got an 'A' in the updated Hospital Safety Score, based on more recent data and a slightly tweaked methodology" (Rau, 11/26). Check out what else is on the blog.

The New York Times: House Republican Urges Party To Yield On Tax Cuts For Most Earners
Democrats said they would not accept cuts to Medicare or Medicaid as part of the upfront "down payment" on deficit reduction that would be passed next month along with a broader framework on tax and entitlement changes to be worked over in 2013. In a speech at the liberal Center for American Progress, Mr. Durbin still expressed confidence that beneath all the public posturing, the White House and Speaker John A. Boehner, Republican of Ohio, were making progress toward averting the so-called fiscal cliff. … He made clear that the parties agreed on what a final deal would look like: an initial deficit-reduction down payment to calm financial markets and avoid most of the fiscal jolt that would otherwise hit in January; instructions to Congressional committees to draft tax, spending and entitlement legislation to save around $4 trillion over the next decade; and some form of fallback deficit plan in case Congress fails to pass those changes. Mr. Durbin said that Medicare should not be tapped for that upfront down payment but that federal health care programs should be part of next year's deliberations. And he opened the door for money-saving adjustments to Mr. Obama’s signature health care law (Weisman, 11/27).

Los Angeles Times: Senate's No.2 Democrat Calls For Cuts To Social Safety Net
A top Democrat pressured fellow progressives Tuesday to consider long-term changes to the social safety net, even as the party digs in for a fight to save Medicare and other government programs from deep budget cuts. As closed-door talks continue with the hope of a year-end deal, President Obama will travel to a Pennsylvania toy store this week to pressure Congress to extend the expiring tax cuts for the middle class, while letting those for the wealthiest 2% of Americans expire (Mascaro and Parsons, 11/27).

USA Today: Durbin Outlines Liberal Plan To Avert 'Fiscal Cliff'
Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., is optimistic President Obama and congressional leaders will reach a deal to avert the "fiscal cliff" of tax hikes and spending cuts at the end of the year only if Republicans relent on their opposition to raising individual tax rates on the wealthy (Page, 11/27).

The Wall Street Journal: Democrats Harden Budget Positions
The White House and congressional Democrats hardened their budget positions on Tuesday and signaled they are prepared for partisan jockeying before any agreement to block impending spending cuts and tax increases can be reached with Republicans. Sen. Dick Durbin (D., Ill.), a rare liberal who has supported changes in Medicare and other entitlements as part of a broad budget deal, made clear he wouldn't back them under a short-term agreement to avoid the fiscal cliff (Hook and Lee, 11/27).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Senate Democrats Divided Over Cuts To Benefit Programs, Raising Roadblock To Any Fiscal Deal
Deep divisions among Senate Democrats over whether cuts to popular benefit programs like Medicare and Medicaid should be part of a plan to slow the government's mushrooming debt pose a big obstacle to a deal for avoiding a potentially economy-crushing "fiscal cliff," even if Republicans agree to raise taxes (11/28).

Los Angeles Times: Reid, McConnell Clash On 'Fiscal Cliff,' Filibuster Rules
Asked about Sen. Richard Durbin's (D-Ill.) comments earlier in the day calling for major entitlement programs to remain open to negotiations, Reid partially agreed with his colleague. … Despite his complaints about Republican stonewalling, Reid said that he's still optimistic that a deal can be reached before the end of the year, when automatic federal tax hikes and spending cuts would kick in (Little, 11/27).

Politico: Democrats Talk Tough On Entitlements In Fiscal Cliff Debate
Congressional Democrats are starting to draw a much tougher line on entitlements in the increasingly messy fiscal cliff talks, warning Republicans to keep their hands off Social Security and Medicare benefits. Democrats also say they'll refuse to look at GOP calls to dramatically slash Medicaid. And for them to even entertain any changes to Medicare and Medicaid, they say the price is for Republicans to agree to far higher taxes than they have flirted with so far (Raju, 11/27).

Politico: Obamacare's Many Contraception Lawsuits
Dozens of lawsuits have been filed in protest of the Obama administration's policy that most employers include no-cost coverage of FDA-approved prescription contraceptives in health plans (Smith, 11/28).

Los Angeles Times: Anthem Blue Cross Seeks To Raise Individual Policyholders Rates
California's largest for-profit health insurer, Anthem Blue Cross, is seeking to raise rates an average of 18% for more than 630,000 individual policyholders, drawing scrutiny from regulators and the ire of consumers already struggling with soaring premiums. Some Anthem customers may see rates rise as much as 25% in February under the company's proposal at a time when medical inflation is running at historic lows nationwide (Terhune, 11/28).

The Washington Post's Federal Eye: Benefits Expansion For Domestic Partners Would Have Small Impact On Costs, CBO Says
Extending federal employee health insurance and retirement survivor benefits to same-sex domestic partners would have a relatively small impact on the number of people covered and on the cost of those programs, according to an analysis done for Congress. A Congressional Budget Office cost estimate released Monday examined a bill to make those partners eligible for the full range of benefits that apply to opposite-sex spouses of federal employees and retirees (Yoder, 11/27).

Los Angeles Times: AIDS Activists Stage Naked Protest On Capitol Hill
Seven protesters disrobed in the office of House Speaker John Boehner Tuesday afternoon as part of a staged protest against cuts to funding for AIDS programs. Their bodies painted with slogans such as "AIDS cuts kill," the group stood in Boehner’s office for about 20 minutes until the protest was broken up by Capitol Police, according to Sahil Kapur, a reporter for Talking Points Memo, who witnessed the protest and posted a continuous stream of tweets and photos (Geiger, 11/27).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: AIDS Activists Arrested After Disrobing In House Speaker Boehner's Office Lobby
Three women AIDS activists saying they wanted to highlight the "naked truth" about potential spending cuts in HIV programs were arrested Tuesday after taking their clothes off in the lobby of House Speaker John Boehner's office. The trio had the words "AIDS cuts kill" painted on their bodies and had linked arms with four men who also disrobed as part of the protest. The nude protesters, along with dozens of other clothed demonstrators chanted slogans, including: "People with AIDS are under attack. What do we do? Fight back" (11/27). 

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