KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Deficit Panel Weighs Suggestions, Battles Doubts

Last week the super committee received a slew of recommendations from across Capitol Hill on how to tame the nation's deficit problems. The input evidenced partisan differences and intra-party fissures. All the while, questions persist about the committee's ability to actually reach a deal.

The Associated Press: Many Suggestions But Little Time For Debt Panel
Conservative senators are urging the debt-cutting super committee to raise the eligibility age for Medicare and require many retirees to pay more. The top Senate Republican on defense is endorsing some of President Barack Obama's proposed benefit curbs for the military. Even farm state lawmakers are offering cuts to agriculture subsidies and food programs. Friday's deadline for lawmakers to offer ideas to Congress' bipartisan 12-member panel brought out a flood of advice. Some lawmakers offered up sacred cows. Others just restated political talking points. Whether it will help the super committee make actual progress remains to be seen (Taylor, 10/15).

The Fiscal Times: Super Committee Battles Deadlines And Doubts
By the end of last week, the super committee had received the last of a flood of recommendations from other permanent congressional committees on how to tame the nation's deficit problems. … From Republican and Democrat members of the House and the Senate House Armed Services Committee: … Establish an annual enrollment fee for TRICARE, the military health care program, as supported by Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona. … From Democrats on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee: … Restructure the U.S. Postal Service obligation to prepay its retiree health benefits and refund the $6.9 billion overpayment to the retirement program. … From the Congressional Progressive Caucus: … Allow Medicare to negotiate prices with pharmaceutical companies to save $160 billion (DePaul, 10/16).

Reuters: Chances Of Deficit Panel Success Unclear
Whether the special super committee of Congress will succeed in its mission to slash U.S. deficits is up in the air, a panel member said on Friday, as some lawmakers tried to fence off large budget items like defense. Representative Chris Van Hollen, a Democratic member of the special panel, said he was "absolutely convinced" the six Democrats and six Republicans would try hard to reach agreement on a plan by its November 23 deadline (Smith and Cowan, 10/14).

Politico: Hope Rests On Super Committee's Odd Couple
Yet for all the pessimism about dealmaking, lawmakers and staff working on the super committee express wonderment at how Murray and Hensarling are getting along, saying it makes their chance at getting a deal more likely. But the history of fast friends with admirable compromises that failed to pass congressional muster — like McCain-Kennedy or Simpson-Bowles — still lingers in the hive mind of Capitol Hill, making the Murray-Hensarling bond that much more important in the coming weeks (Cogan and Bresnahan, 10/16).

National Journal: Senate Finance Republicans Want Health Savings Without Specifics
Senate Finance Committee Republicans sent the super committee broad recommendations on Friday on how to reduce the deficit: largely by cutting Medicare and Medicaid spending. The consensus recommendations from Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, the ranking member of the Finance Committee, and fellow Republicans on the powerful Senate panel don’t include many surprises. They ask the super committee to recommend repeal of the 2010 health reform law — an act that would actually increase the deficit, according to the Congressional Budget Office — and include several broad recommendations but few specifics on how to bring down costs (McCarthy, 10/14).

Politico Pro: Snowe Splits With GOP On Health Care
Sen. Olympia Snowe, the most moderate Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, parted ways with her GOP colleagues over their calls for tighter Medicare eligibility and Medicaid block grants, according to aides. Snowe was one of two GOP committee members who didn't sign onto the Finance Committee Republican recommendations to the deficit super committee. The other was Jon Kyl of Arizona, and his absence was less notable because he's a member of the debt panel. The recommendations — part of a series of letters that congressional committees sent to the deficit reduction panel — call for repealing the health care law, tightening Medicare eligibility and turning Medicaid into a block grant (Dobias, 10/17).

CQ HealthBeat: Finance Republicans Urge Deficit Panel To Look At Medicare Changes
Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee want the joint deficit panel to consider ideas that enjoy little support among Democrats, including repeal of the new health care law and converting Medicaid into block grants. The vague and unaggressive language in some parts of the letter the GOP senators sent to the deficit panel — including a call for protecting the benefits of current Social Security recipients — suggests there may be room for compromise. But most of the suggestions reflect traditional GOP health care goals, including altering the medical malpractice system and repealing the health care overhaul (Ethridge and Harrison, 10/14).

Politico: GOP Leaders Prepare For Deficit Deal
With the super committee racing toward a Nov. 23 deadline to produce $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction, Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy will begin rounding up support when the chamber returns from its week off, as GOP leaders are hoping to avoid yet another divisive internal fight over the party's vision for spending and deficit reduction by laying out far in advance what the chamber could have to vote on (Sherman and Bresnahan, 10/16).

Kaiser Health News: Many Health Programs Face Sharp Automatic Cuts If Super Committee Deadlocks
Federal funding for medical research, disease prevention and a host of public health initiatives could be sharply reduced if the congressional super committee fails to agree on a deficit-reduction package, triggering automatic cuts (Werber Serafini and Carey, 10/16).

Reuters: Lobbyists Circle Drug Makers Over Deficit Talks
With pressure mounting for a deficit-reduction deal in Congress, the $300 billion pharmaceutical industry is looking a little like a ship at sea with danger in the water below. Drug makers have begun to emerge as a favorite target for cost-cutting proposals from others in the health care sphere who hope to avoid the fiscal knife themselves, lobbyists and analysts say (Morgan, 10/16).

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