Today’s Headlines – Jan. 2, 2013

Today’s early morning highlights from the major news organizations, including a number of reports about congressional efforts to avert the “fiscal cliff.”

The New York Times: Amid Pressure, House Passes Fiscal Deal
Ending a climactic fiscal showdown in the final hours of the 112th Congress, the House late Tuesday passed and sent to President Obama legislation to avert big income tax increases on most Americans and prevent large cuts in spending for the Pentagon and other government programs. … In approving the measure after days of legislative intrigue, Congress concluded its final and most pitched fight over fiscal policy, the culmination of two years of battles over taxes, the federal debt, spending and what to do to slow the growth in popular social programs like Medicare (Steinhauer, 1/1).

The Wall Street Journal: Congress Passes Cliff Deal
But the compromise bill, which blocked most impending tax increases and postponed spending cuts largely by raising taxes on upper-income Americans, left a host of issues unresolved and guaranteed continued budget clashes between the parties. … At the same time, the bill defers some of America’s toughest spending problems—in particular the ballooning cost of health care—and it doesn’t come close to the kind of $4 trillion deficit-reduction deal the country’s leaders had hoped to negotiate (Hook, Boles and Hughes, 1/2).

For more headlines …

USA Today: Divided GOP House Approves Senate ‘Fiscal Cliff’ Plan
A divided Republican House passed the Senate’s “fiscal cliff” agreement Tuesday night, following a tense day of GOP protests that the plan does not do enough to rein in federal spending. … Spending cuts totaling $24 billion over two months aimed at the Pentagon and domestic programs would be deferred. That would allow the White House and lawmakers time to regroup before plunging very quickly into a new round of budget brinkmanship certain to revolve around Republican calls to rein in the cost of Medicare and other government benefit programs (Davis and Jackson, 1/2).

Los Angeles Times: ‘Fiscal Cliff’ Plan Clears House With GOP Divided
Speaking at the White House before leaving to rejoin his family on vacation in Hawaii, Obama called the compromise “just one step in the broader effort” to reduce the deficit, and specifically pointed to spending on Medicare for an aging population as the major force driving the red ink. “I am very open to compromise,” he said. But, he added, “we can’t simply cut our way to prosperity.” Solving the problem will (Mascaro and Hennessey, 1/1).

Politico: The Fiscal Cliff Deal That Almost Wasn’t
But the failure to address several big issues sets up another fiscal showdown in late February, when the two-month delay in the sequester coincides with the deadline to raise the country’s $16.4 trillion debt limit. The pact also does little to reduce trillion-dollar-plus deficits, shore up entitlement programs, overhaul the tax code or stimulate the U.S. economy — the casualty of a polarized political culture that scorns compromise (Bresnahan, Budoff Brown, Raju and Sherman, 1/2).

The New York Times: Insurance Program Is Cut To Help Reach An Accord
The bill, the American Taxpayer Relief Act, also freezes Medicare payments to doctors, which otherwise would have been cut by at least 26.5 percent in 2013. The Congressional Budget Office said the freeze would cost $25 billion over 10 years, with most of that coming in 2013-14. Congress offset the cost with changes in Medicare and other federal health programs. For example, it reduced Medicare payments to hospitals by $10.5 billion over 10 years after finding that many hospitals had increased their Medicare revenue by describing the severity of patients’ illnesses in more detail (Pear, 1/1).

The Wall Street Journal: Senate Cliff Bill Would Avert Cuts For Doctors
The Senate’s fiscal cliff package would avert a steep cut in payments to doctors and officially wipe out a contentious piece of the health overhaul law. The bill would delay for one year a cut in reimbursements to physicians who treat patients on Medicare, the federal insurance program for the elderly and disabled. The cost: $25.2 billion (Adamy, 1/1).

The Wall Street Journal: Companies Prepare For Health Law
One of the biggest decisions for many companies this year will be what to do about their health benefits. They have just 12 months before the major provisions of the federal overhaul law take effect on Jan. 1, 2014, reshaping health coverage in the U.S. Employers with at least 50 workers will owe penalties if they don’t cover full-time employees. Most Americans will face a parallel “individual mandate” to obtain insurance. And new online marketplaces called exchanges will sell insurance plans in each state, paired with federal subsidies for lower-income people (Mathews, 1/1).

The Wall Street Journal: Under Health Law, Employers Must Insure Workers’ Dependents
Large employers who are subject to the health overhaul law’s requirement to provide insurance or pay a fee must also extend coverage to their workers’ dependent children, according to federal regulations released Friday. The 144-page proposed regulation that the Obama administration unveiled late Friday offered new details for how employers will have to comply with the health overhaul law, which is set to take full effect in 2014. The law is designed to expand insurance coverage to about 30 million Americans, in part by requiring businesses with 50 or more full-time workers to offer insurance or pay a penalty (Adamy, 12/28).

NPR: Pete Stark, Health Policy Warrior, Leaves A Long Legacy
The 113th Congress will be the first one in 40 years to convene without California Congressman Pete Stark as a member. Stark was defeated in November by a fellow Democrat under new California voting rules. Stark may not be a household name. But he leaves a long-lasting mark on the nation’s health care system (Rovner, 1/2).

The New York Times: Study Suggests Lower Mortality Risk For People Deemed To Be Overweight
The report on nearly three million people found that those whose B.M.I. ranked them as overweight had less risk of dying than people of normal weight. And while obese people had a greater mortality risk over all, those at the lowest obesity level (B.M.I. of 30 to 34.9) were not more likely to die than normal-weight people (Belluck, 1/1).

The Wall Street Journal: A Few Extra Pounds Won’t Kill You—Really
In a finding that could undermine many New Year’s resolutions, a new government study shows that people who are overweight are less likely to die in any given period than people of normal weight. Even those who are moderately obese don’t have a higher-than-normal risk of dying (Beck, 1/1).

NPR: Research: A Little Extra Fat May Help You Live Longer
Being a little overweight may tip the odds in favor of living a long life, according to a new study. Researchers say there may be some benefit to having a little extra body fat (Aubrey, 1/2).

The New York Times: Energy Drinks Promise Edge, But Experts Say Proof Is Scant
Energy drinks are the fastest-growing part of the beverage industry, with sales in the United States reaching more than $10 billion in 2012 — more than Americans spent on iced tea or sports beverages like Gatorade. … The drinks are now under scrutiny by the Food and Drug Administration after reports of deaths and serious injuries that may be linked to their high caffeine levels. But however that review ends, one thing is clear, interviews with researchers and a review of scientific studies show: the energy drink industry is based on a brew of ingredients that, apart from caffeine, have little, if any benefit for consumers (Meier, 1/1).