KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

First Edition: March 1, 2013

Today's headlines include a story suggesting that the health law's implementation will proceed amid the sequester.  

Kaiser Health News: Hospital Executive Bracing For Budget Cuts Says 'We Need To Deal With Medicare'
Kaiser Health News staff writer Mary Agnes Carey reports: "David P. Blom is one of thousands of hospital executives across the country who are bracing for a reduction in Medicare payments as part of a series of federal spending cuts that begin Friday. Blom, 58, is president and chief executive officer of OhioHealth, a Columbus, Ohio, based not-for-profit health care system that includes 18 hospitals, 23 health and surgery centers, home-health providers and other facilities" (Carey, 3/1). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Hospital Consolidation Dance Heats Up In NYC; Mass. Weighs Governor's Plan To Tax Candy And Soda
Now on Kaiser Health News' blog, Jenny Gold reports on developments in the New York City hospital markets: "The health care game of musical chairs is picking up speed in New York City, one of the most competitive markets in the country. The Mount Sinai Medical Center and Continuum Health Partners announced today that their boards of trustees have reached a tentative agreement on a possible merger" (Gold, 2/28).

Also on Capsules, WBUR's Martha Bebinger, working in partnership with KHN and NPR, reports on legislation in Massachusetts to tax candy and soda: "Are candy and soda food? In Massachusetts, candy and soda are considered food and are exempt from the state’s 6.25 percent sales tax. But Gov. Deval Patrick wants to change that. He's proposing that the legislature tax every bag of M&M’s and bottle of Pepsi bought in the state" (Bebinger, 3/1). Check out what else is on the blog.

The Wall Street Journal: Cuts Roll In As Time Runs Out
The federal government enters a controversial new phase of deficit cutting Friday, as an automatic trigger begins slicing budgets in some areas while leaving programs such as Medicare and Medicaid—among the largest drivers of future debt—largely untouched (Paletta and Hook, 2/28).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Obama Still Betting On A Big Fiscal Deal As Automatic Cuts Kick In, But Odds Weigh Against Him
A fiscal deadline all but blown, President Barack Obama says he once again wants to seek a big fiscal deal that would raise taxes and trim billions from expensive and ever growing entitlement programs. But with automatic federal spending cuts ready to start taking their toll, the path toward that grand bargain Obama campaigned on last year has significantly narrowed. The president has summoned the top bipartisan congressional leadership to the White House, a meeting designed to give all sides a chance to stake out their fiscal positions with a new threat of a government shutdown less than four weeks away. There were no expectations of a breakthrough (3/1).

The New York Times: Boehner Halts Talks On Cuts, And House GOP Cheers
Speaker John A. Boehner, the man who spent significant portions of the last Congress shuttling to and from the White House for fiscal talks with President Obama that ultimately failed twice to produce a grand bargain, has come around to the idea that the best negotiations are no negotiations (Parker, 2/28).

USA Today: Senate Rejects Sequester Alternatives
The Democratic alternative would have replaced the cuts, known as the sequester, with a combination of a minimum 30% tax on millionaires and cuts to defense and farm programs. It failed 51-49. The Republican alternative would have transferred sweeping authority to President Obama to force him to determine how to implement $85 billion in cuts instead of the across-the-board spending cut affecting most reaches of the federal government. The sequester exempts military personnel accounts and the social safety net including Social Security and Medicare. The GOP measure also failed, 38-62 (Davis, 2/28).

USA Today: Interest Groups Barrage Congress With Sequester Pleas
Hematologists are sending tweets to members of Congress, warning that looming cuts to federal research funding threaten to slow medical advances for diseases such as sickle-cell anemia and lymphoma. … Hundreds of elected officials from cash-strapped counties will swarm Capitol Hill in the coming days to decry reductions to federal grant programs that help fund everything from libraries to sewage systems. Public-sector unions began running television ads in in seven cities Thursday that target Republicans and warn of financial pain for millions. Lobbyists and interest groups representing almost every corner of the country have spent months and millions trying to forestall what now seems inevitable: automatic across-the-board cuts totaling an estimated $85 billion that will kick in starting Friday without action by Congress and the White House (Schouten, 2/28).

The Wall Street Journal: Another Big Step In Reshaping Health Care
Hospitals and health insurers are locking horns over how much health-care providers will get paid under new insurance plans that will be sold as the federal health law is rolled out. The results will play a major role in determining how much insurers will ultimately charge consumers for these policies, which will be offered to individuals through so-called exchanges in each state. The upshot: Many plans sold on the exchanges will include smaller choices of health-care providers in an effort to bring down premiums (Mathews and Kamp, 2/28).

Politico: Friends And Foes Expect Obamacare Rollout Amid Sequestration
The Obama administration has issued ample warnings how the sequester can have dire effects on health programs. Official talk about fewer vaccines, cuts in medical research grants, less money to treat HIV, fund cancer screenings or respond to outbreaks. But they haven't been issuing a lot of warnings about how it's slowing down the rollout of Obamacare. Because sequester or no sequester, the administration is trying to keep work on the core elements full steam ahead (Norman, 3/1).

The Washington Post's WonkBlog: Interview: Sen. Rockefeller On The Future Of Obamacare
On Tuesday, Sen. John J. Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) chaired a Commerce Committee hearing on the Affordable Care Act's summary of benefits and coverage provision, which requires insurance companies to summarize all benefits in a standardized, four-page document. It’s something akin to a nutrition label for health insurance. We spoke afterward about that part of the law, as well as the Medicaid expansion, the possibility of rate shock and why he isn't worried about getting Americans enrolled in health law programs. What follows is a transcript of our conversation, edited for length and clarity (Kliff, 2/28).

Politico: Tom Corbett May Be On Verge Of Medicaid Reversal
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett is feeling the Medicaid squeeze. A Republican governor of a Democratic state, Corbett has railed against the health law's massive Medicaid expansion and omitted it from his proposed budget. But all around him, governors are opting in — including Republicans John Kasich just west of him in Ohio and Chris Christie just east in New Jersey (Cheney, 2/28).

Los Angeles Times: J&J Gambled On Hip Implant Safety, Lawyer Alleges
Healthcare giant Johnson & Johnson played "Russian roulette" with patient safety by ignoring high failure rates and surgeons' complaints about its once-popular artificial hip, a Los Angeles jury was told during closing arguments at a high-stakes medical trial for the company. Jurors heard arguments from both sides Thursday in a case that pits the world's biggest seller of medical products against Loren Kransky, a 65-year-old former prison guard in Montana who claims he suffered metal poisoning and other health problems from the company's ASR XL hip implant he received in 2007 (Terhune, 2/28).

The Washington Post: Children's, Inova Form New Group Of Pediatric Specialists In Northern Virginia
Children’s National Medical Center and Inova Health, two of the Washington area’s largest health systems, are forming a new organization to give families in Northern Virginia more direct access to doctors who treat specialized children’s illnesses, including cancer, genetic disorders and bone problems, officials said (Sun, 2/28).

Politico: Anti-Abortion Group Susan B. Anthony List Endorses Ken Cuccinelli
The anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List endorsed Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli in the state’s gubernatorial race, committing $1.5 million to the Republican candidate’s campaign and in the process drawing criticism from Democrats. The SBA List's $1.5 million is the biggest financial commitment so far in the race, and could give Cuccinelli a boost with more than eight months to go until Election Day (Schultheis, 2/28).

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