KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Democrats Resist Significant Changes To Medicare, Other Entitlement Programs

Efforts to avert the looming "fiscal cliff" have revived talk of raising Medicare's eligibility age. Some Republicans also suggest that spending to carry out the health law should be viewed as a source for savings. Meanwhile, an important meeting is scheduled for Wednesday.

The Wall Street Journal: 'Cliff' Wranglers Weigh Medicare Age
The fiscal cliff has revived an old idea that long seemed unfeasible: gradually raising the Medicare eligibility age to 67 from 65. Proponents of the idea point out that the health-overhaul law makes it easier, beginning in 2014, for seniors to buy private insurance, by banning insurance denials based on pre-existing conditions. Opponents caution that the change could raise premiums for younger people who buy private plans alongside these seniors in the law's new marketplaces, and on large employers who would be required to cover seniors in company plans (Radnofsky, 11/26).

The New York Times: Efforts To Curb Social Spending Face Resistance
President Obama's re-election and Democratic gains in Congress were supposed to make it easier for the party to strike a deal with Republicans to resolve the year-end fiscal crisis by providing new leverage. But they could also make it harder as empowered Democrats, including some elected on liberal platforms, resist significant changes in entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare (Pear, 11/26).

The Washington Post: On 'Fiscal Cliff,' Both Sides Lay Groundwork For Debate's Next Phase
Ahead of the Wednesday meeting, GOP aides noted that Bowles offered a debt-reduction plan last fall in line with Republican principles. That plan called for $800 billion in fresh revenue through an overhaul of the tax code and significant spending cuts, including major changes to Medicare and other federal health programs (Goldfarb and Montgomery, 11/26).

Los Angeles Times: Much Talk, Little Action On 'Fiscal Cliff' As Congress Returns
Congress returned to a lame-duck session with no signs of quick compromise to ease the nation's budget deadlock, and the White House rolled out a strategy Monday to marshal popular support for raising taxes on the wealthiest tier of income earners. … In the days since, however, talks have become "slow," according to one congressional aide. Republicans insist that new revenue must come from economic growth, which they believe would be produced by revamping the tax code to lower all tax brackets — an approach Democrats reject as "fairy tale" economics. Democrats are unwilling to discuss cuts to Medicare, Medicaid or other government programs unless Republicans put upfront revenue on the table, aides said (Mascaro and Parsons, 11/27).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: GOP Senator Offers Plan To Avert 'Fiscal Cliff': Spending Cuts, Entitlement Curbs, Tax Hikes
A freshman GOP senator is jumping into the debate on how to avoid a "fiscal cliff" of tax hikes and automatic spending cuts, advocating a mix of tax increases with curbs on Social Security and Medicare benefits. Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker is circulating a 10-year, $4.5 trillion plan loaded with controversial proposals, including a less generous inflation adjustment for Social Security, and a gradual increase in the regular Social Security retirement age to 68 and the Medicare eligibility age to 67 (11/27).

CQ HealthBeat: A House Of Cards In Deficit Talks
Talk of finding health care savings in the federal budget inevitably involves making changes to Medicare. But some lawmakers are starting to suggest that President Barack Obama's signature health care overhaul also imposes costs that must be borne by taxpayers and that could be pared back. In its entirety, the law is expected to reduce the deficit over time, according to the Congressional Budget Office. At the same time, it contains individual provisions that, by themselves, cost money. Some observers, especially Republicans on the lookout for ways to constrain the 2010 law, say negotiators trying to avoid upcoming tax increases and spending cuts — known collectively as the fiscal cliff — should take a hard look at those provisions. The problem is, the two most costly parts of the law — setting up subsidies to help people buy insurance and expanding Medicaid to provide care to more uninsured Americans — are also two of the pillars upon which the law is built. If lawmakers start scraping money away from either, they risk weakening the law (Attias, 11/26).

Minnesota Post (Video): Cantor: Put Health Care Law, Device Tax On Fiscal Cliff Negotiating Table
House Republican leaders are now calling for President Obama to put the Affordable Care Act — "Obamacare," the legislative highlight of the president's first term — on the fiscal cliff negotiating table, including, according to Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a provision hiking taxes on medical device companies. Cantor told Fox News on Monday that the Affordable Care Act, "the largest expansion of government programs we've ever seen," should be subject to the same fiscal cliff negotiations as other areas of the government if lawmakers are to avoid the year-end cocktail of spending cuts and tax increases. Specifically, he said lawmakers should look at the law's Independent Payment Advisory Board and averting a tax increase on the medical device industry (Henry, 11/26).

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