KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

First Edition: March 13, 2013

Headlines include highlights of the budget unveiled yesterday by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and previews of what to expect from the Senate Democrats' blueprint, which will be released today.  

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Difference In What Medicare Spends On Cancer Care May Not Affect Survival Rates
Now on Kaiser Health News' blog, Alvin Tran writes: "Although Medicare spending for patients with advance cancers varies regionally, a new study suggests that those differences are not related to survival rates" (Tran, 3/12). Check out what else is on the blog.

The New York Times: 2 Parties' Budgets Show Big Rift As GOP Renews 2012 Proposals
Senate Democrats and House Republicans on Tuesday outlined vastly divergent approaches to shoring up the government’s finances, a reminder of how far apart they remain on fiscal policy even as both sides insist publicly that a bipartisan compromise is possible. … The Republican plan sets out to balance the budget in a decade and would cut spending by $4.6 trillion through 2023, in large part by rolling back many of Mr. Obama's signature legislative accomplishments. It would repeal the health care overhaul of 2009, eliminate the subsidized insurance exchanges and Medicaid expansion that make up the core of the law, and turn Medicare into a system of private insurance plans financed by federal vouchers (Peters and Weisman, 3/12).

Los Angeles Times: Two Sides Still Far Apart In Budget Proposals
Just before Obama arrived for the latest installment of his Capitol Hill charm offensive, House Republicans, led by Rep. Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, unveiled an austere budget proposal that looks a lot like one they approved last year that Democrats quickly dismissed. Republicans revived plans to overhaul Medicare, slash the social safety net for the poor and bolster defense — all while lowering corporate and individual tax rates to no more than 25%. … Senate Democrats, meanwhile, sitting down to lunch with the president, offered a counterproposal that would raise nearly $2 trillion toward deficit reduction, with equal parts coming from taxes and spending cuts. But their plan does not balance the budget for the foreseeable future (Mascaro and Memoli, 3/12).

The Wall Street Journal: GOP Budget Establishes Contrast With Democrats
Republican budget standard-bearer Paul Ryan on Tuesday offered his party's most provocative fiscal framework in years, calling for Medicare and Medicaid overhauls and new limits on defense spending not previously endorsed by party leaders. The White House criticized Mr. Ryan's budget proposal Tuesday, calling it the "wrong course" to reduce the deficit. The House Republican plan would burden the middle class by slashing spending without raising taxes on upper-income households, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said in a written statement (Paletta, 3/12).

The Washington Post: Ryan Sets Stage For A Budget Duel, Targets Health-Care Law
On Tuesday, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) rolled out a 10-year spending plan that would revive the most controversial prescriptions from last year's GOP budget, including a partial privatization of Medicare and a repeal of the health-care law that is Obama's signature policy achievement. Meanwhile, Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) briefed her colleagues on a competing plan, to be released Wednesday, that would raise taxes by nearly $1 trillion over the next decade and spend nearly $100 billion on a new jobs package — ideas Republicans have firmly rejected (Montgomery, 3/12).

NPR: Ryan Budget Proposal Echoes Obamacare While Rejecting It
Health policy watchers might have been amused reading the latest blueprint for the federal budget, out today. That's because once again House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan proposes a full repeal of the Affordable Care Act, which Republicans refer to as "Obamacare." But this time, the proposal describes the changes it envisions to the Medicare program in very Obamacare-like terms (Rovner, 3/12).

The Wall Street Journal: Democrats' Budget Mixes Tax Increases, Spending Cuts
Senate Democrats will propose raising $975 billion in new taxes over the next decade in the budget they will release this week, setting up a sharp contrast with a House Republican plan to balance the budget over 10 years without new tax increases. … Democrats would lower domestic spending in part by saving $275 billion through changes to federal health-care programs that are smaller in scale than Republicans have proposed for Medicare and Medicaid (Peterson, 3/12).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Obama Says He Won't 'Chase A Balanced Budget Just For The Sake Of Balance'
President Barack Obama is criticizing a proposed House Republican budget, saying it would turn Medicare into a voucher-like program, cut deeply into programs such as Medicaid and increase tax payments by the middle class in order to achieve promised lower tax rates. Asked in an ABC World News interview Tuesday whether he will propose a budget that balances in 10 years, Obama said he would not (3/12).

The New York  Times: Obama Discusses Entitlement Changes With Senate Democrats
Mr. Obama expressed hope of reaching a "grand bargain" in the next few months, according to the senators at the meeting, and said he was optimistic about an immigration bill. The president arrived at 1:30 p.m. and stayed until 2:45 p.m., which was a half-hour longer than scheduled, largely because he was peppered with so many questions. While the tenor of the discussion was civil, several senators voiced concerns about cuts in popular programs like Medicare and Social Security, according to people at the meeting. "He clearly shares our concern that we're not going to do this deal on the backs of needy Medicare and Social Security recipients," said Senator Christopher S. Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut (Landler and Steinhauer, 3/12).

Politico: President Obama To Democrats: Entitlements May Have To Change
But Obama acknowledged that Social Security and Medicare — big drivers of federal spending — wouldn't survive without some changes to save money. Obama added that Republicans must first agree to more revenue hikes before the White House would concede on changes to entitlement programs, senators attending the luncheon said. Obama seemed to be opening the door a crack toward a way forward: if the White House is seen as willing to put entitlements on the table, some Republicans may reconsider their staunch opposition to new revenue (Gibson, 3/13).

The Wall Street Journal: Obama, Democrats Discuss Safety-Net Programs
President Barack Obama, meeting behind closed doors with Senate Democrats on Tuesday, indicated he was open to negotiating changes to entitlement programs, something that Republicans have demanded, according to lawmakers who attended the meeting. Mr. Obama met with Senate Democrats as he was making a new push with lawmakers to reach a broad deficit-reduction deal. Lawmakers emerging from the meeting said Mr. Obama had a wide-ranging conversation with Senate Democrats on sensitive party issues surrounding federal safety-net programs (Hughes, 3/12).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Will Nation’s Uninsured Get Lost In Long Application For Obama Health Care Plan?
Applying for benefits under President Barack Obama's health care overhaul could be as daunting as doing your taxes. The government's draft application runs 15 pages for a three-person family. An outline of the online version has 21 steps, some with additional questions (3/13).

NPR: Aging Homeless Face More Health Issues, Early Death
If aging is not for sissies, that's especially true if you're homeless. You can be on your feet for hours, forced to sleep in the frigid cold, or seriously ill with no place to go. But increasingly, the nation's homeless population is getting older. By some estimates, more than half of single homeless adults are 47 or older (Fessler, 3/13).

The New York Times’ The Caucus: Arizona Governor Introduces Bill To Expand Medicaid
In her brief remarks, Ms. Brewer twice used the word "conservative" to describe Arizona's Medicaid program, a managed-care system whose cost per patient is $680 less than the national average, and the bill she was endorsing, which would extend Medicaid coverage to anyone who made up to 133 percent of the federal poverty line (Santos, 3/12).

The New York Times: Legal Battle Over Limits On Sugary Drinks May Outlast Mayor's Tenure
But if the case over the soda wars was shaping up as a landmark of the Bloomberg administration, the timing of the legal battle suggested that a definitive ruling was not likely to come before Mr. Bloomberg leaves office on Dec. 31 (Glaberson, 3/12).

The Wall Street Journal: Health Merger in Idaho Challenged
The Federal Trade Commission and Idaho's attorney general have challenged the acquisition of a physician group by a Boise, Idaho-based hospital system, in the latest sign of antitrust regulators' close focus on health-care mergers. The antitrust complaint, filed Tuesday under seal in U.S. District Court in Boise, says that the merger between St. Luke's Health System and Saltzer Medical Group gave the combined entity an approximately 60% share of the primary-care physicians in Nampa, Idaho, the state's second-largest city (Mathews, 3/12).  

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