KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

First Edition: March 6, 2013

Today's headlines include big-picture reports about the impact of spending cuts and the current state of the budget impasse.  

Kaiser Health News: Minnesota Legislature Hammers Out Exchange Bill
MPR News' Elizabeth Stawicki, working in partnership with Kaiser Health News and NPR, reports: "The Democratic-majority Minnesota House has passed a key part of the Obama administration's health care law -- a state-based health insurance exchange. The bill's chief author called the measure the most significant health reform in 50 years. But abortion restrictions adopted Monday could run into trouble with Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat" (Stawicki, 3/6). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Got A Health Care Puzzle? There Should Be An App!
Now on Kaiser Health News’ blog, Capsules, KCUR’s Elana Gordon, working in partnership with KHN and NPR, reports: "Kansas City, Mo., is looking to boost its health-tech cred. So the city that’s home to Cerner Corp. and other health information firms seemed a natural to host something called the Hackovate Health Innovation Competition" (Gordon, 3/5). Check out what else is new on the blog.

The Associated Press/Washington Post: White House And Republicans Work To Ease Impact Of Spending Cuts; Fight Over Medicare Looms
The Obama administration and congressional Republicans are quietly working in tandem to blunt the impact of short-term spending cuts that kicked in with dire White House warnings a few days ago, with both sides eager to pocket the full savings for deficit reduction as they pivot to a new clash over Medicare. The overall size of the cuts remains in place: $85 billion in reductions through the end of the budget year on Sept. 30, half from defense and half from domestic programs as diverse as education, parks and payments to doctors and hospitals treating Medicare patients (3/6).

The New York Times: Trying To Revive Talks, Obama Goes Around GOP Leaders
Yet such expressions of hope are increasingly scarce in Washington. While Mr. Graham said he and Mr. Obama agreed that a comprehensive deal could be reached to both slow the growth of the entitlement programs like Medicare and raise revenues by curbing costly tax breaks, that optimism is not the prevailing sentiment. Proponents in both parties have all but given up on a grand bargain in view of the chasm between Mr. Obama, who insists that revenues be part of the equation, and Republican leaders, who are just as adamant against raising taxes further (Calmes and Weisman, 3/5).

The Washington Post: Seeking A Budget Deal, Obama Reaches Out To Republican Rank And File
In a flurry of meetings and phone calls over the past few days, Obama has courted more than half a dozen Republicans in the Senate, telling them that he is ready to overhaul expensive health and retirement programs if they agree to raise taxes to tame the national debt. Graham has repeatedly said he could support the White House's goal of raising $600 billion in new revenue over the next decade in exchange for reforms to health and retirement programs. Now, he said, "what I see from the president is probably the most encouraging engagement on a big issue I’ve seen since the early years of his presidency." Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said she, too, welcomed Obama's call (Montgomery and Helderman, 3/5).

The Wall Street Journal: Ryan Budget Plan Draws GOP Flak
House Republican leaders, faced with the daunting task of writing a budget that would eliminate deficits within 10 years, are backing away from a proposal to revamp Medicare for more Americans than previously suggested. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) has in recent weeks floated the idea of rolling back the GOP promise that people 55 and older would be exempt from his signature plan to offer future retirees a subsidy to buy private health insurance as an alternative to traditional Medicare (Hook, Peterson and Boles, 3/5).

Politico: Sources: No Medicare Age Shift In Paul Ryan Budget
Rep. Paul Ryan's budget is now expected to exempt seniors 55 years old and above from his Medicare overhaul — despite his personal preference to raise that age to 56 — according to several GOP sources familiar with his plans. For years, the House Budget Committee chairman has sought to transform Medicare from its current fee-for-service format to one in which the government would give seniors limited subsidies to buy private insurance. The key political caveat: No one within a decade of the Medicare eligibility age of 65 would have been affected by the overhaul the Wisconsin Republican envisioned (Sherman and Allen, 3/5).

Politico: Feds Plan Pitch To Uninsured
The Obama administration will begin reaching out to people who could get insurance through the health reform law this July, less than three months before they can sign up for new coverage. "If we get too much of a head start with beneficiaries about what they can expect in 2014, … but say that it's not available to you for six months or seven months, then folks tend to lose interest," Marilyn Tavenner, the acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, told the Federation of American Hospitals at its Washington conference Tuesday (Haberkorn, 3/6).

Politico: Smokers Can Evade Insurance Surcharge
Under the health law, insurers next year will be able to charge smokers up to 50 percent more than nonsmokers. Unless smokers don't tell the truth (Norman, 3/6).

The New York Times: Anger And Kudos As Florida Governor Tacks Left
A few days after Gov. Rick Scott of Florida endorsed a Medicaid expansion, a U-turn so sharply executed that it flabbergasted his supporters, the head of a local Tea Party group typed up a "breakup note." … Mr. Scott, 60, a former health care executive who won the governorship by calling for deep budget cuts and fiercely criticizing President Obama's health care bill, has, in his third year in office, marched toward the political center, a necessity in this diverse swing state (Alvarez, 3/5).

NPR: Infections With 'Nightmare Bacteria' Are On The Rise In U.S.
Federal officials warned Tuesday that an especially dangerous group of superbugs has become a significant health problem in hospitals throughout the United States. These germs, known as carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, or CRE, have become much more common in the last decade, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And the risk they pose to health is becoming evident (Stein, 3/5).

The Associated Press/ Wall Street Journal: Arkansas Senate Overrides Abortion-Ban Veto
The Arkansas Senate voted Tuesday to override Gov. Mike Beebe's veto of legislation that would ban most abortions from the 12th week of pregnancy onward and would give the state the most restrictive abortion laws in the country (3/5).

Politico: Arkansas Backs 12-Week Abortion Ban – Earliest In Nation
The Arkansas Senate voted Tuesday to override Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe's veto of a bill that could become the earliest abortion ban in the nation. The bill now goes to the Republican-controlled House, which could vote as early as Wednesday. If a majority votes to override the veto — as advocates on both sides expect — the bill will become law (Smith, 3/5).

Los Angeles Times: Officials consider Adding More Beds To County/USC Medical Center
Faced with severe overcrowding and emergency room wait times that average 12 hours, Los Angeles County officials are considering adding 150 more beds to County/USC Medical Center. The county opened a new state-of-the-art hospital in 2008 to replace an aging general hospital tower. But even before the doors opened, officials worried that it wouldn't be big enough. The new hospital has 600 inpatient beds, 224 fewer than its predecessor (Gorman, 3/5).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: McDonnell, Under Fire From GOP Right, Sends Sebelius Stern Letter On Va. Medicaid Expansion
Under fire from the conservatives in his own Republican Party, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell sent the Obama administration a letter Tuesday ruling out Medicaid expansion in the 10 months left in McDonnell’s four-year term. In the seven-paragraph letter, McDonnell bluntly states to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius that the expansion of the federal-state health program for the poor, elderly and disabled is his prerogative, not that of a commission. He also lectures her on shortcomings he sees in the President Barack Obama's Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (3/5).

The Washington Post: McDonnell To Feds: No Medicaid Expansion
The governor wrote the letter at a time when conservative critics are accusing him of giving ground on Medicaid expansion in order to bolster his legacy with a sweeping transportation funding plan (Vozzella, 3/5).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: In Oklahoma And Other GOP States, Lawmakers Form Special Panels To Fight Federal Powers
One bill would make it a felony to enforce the new federal health care law, punishable by up to five years in prison. Another prohibits a physician from asking a patient about firearms. Yet another is designed to curb the possible influence of the United Nations in local government. While provocative bills aren’t particularly unusual in state legislatures, so many have been offered by conservatives in Oklahoma this year that GOP leaders have established a special committee to handle what is now a major category of business: measures to combat the federal government's influence in the states (3/5).

NPR: For Elderly Midwife, Delivering Babies Never Gets Old
Increasingly, people are continuing to work past 65. Almost a third of Americans between the ages of 65 and 70 are working, and among those older than 75, about 7 percent are still on the job. In Working Late, a series for Morning Edition, NPR profiles older adults who are still in the workforce. Sometimes you can't retire even if you want to. For Dian Sparling, a certified nurse midwife in Fort Collins, Colo., there's no one to take over her practice. But at 71, she's finding that staying up all night delivering babies is harder than it used to be (Jaffe, 3/6).

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