KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Medicare Trims, Scaled-Back Tax Breaks Debated As Part Of Budget Fix

The Washington Post reports that President Barack Obama favors replacing the automatic cuts slated to take effect on March 1 with a combination of budget moves, including spending cuts in Medicare and Medicaid.

The Washington Post: Obama To Press For Sequester Fix
Obama favors replacing the sequester with a combination of spending cuts in automatic programs like Medicare and Medicaid and new tax revenue, raised by scaling back tax breaks that benefit the wealthy and select industries, such as energy firms. With a sweeping deal unlikely in two weeks, Obama is pushing for a short-term measure to delay the start of the sequester — such as one proposed last week by Senate Democrats that would use alternative spending cuts and tax hikes to postpone the sequester through the end of the year. Republicans argue that Obama has focused too much on raising taxes to solve the nation's debt problem and not enough on cutting spending (Goldfarb, 2/19).

Bloomberg: Van Hollen Would Weigh Medicare Cuts As Part Of Tax Deal
U.S. Representative Chris Van Hollen scoffed at House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's recent bid to remake the Republican Party as little more than public relations while expressing a willingness to consider one Republican proposal to restructure Medicare…Still, the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee said he's willing to consider combining Medicare's Part A and B, which pay for hospital and doctors' services, to wring inefficiencies out of the health-care program for the aged (Faler, 2/16).

Roll Call: House GOP To Propose Budget Balance Within A Decade Sans Medicare Cuts
A pending budget proposal from House Republicans won't be "significantly different" on Medicare despite the fact that it will balance in 10 years rather than over several decades, according to Rep. Tom Price of Georgia, vice-chairman of the House Budget Committee…The GOP's fiscal 2012 budget, which sought to achieve balance over three decades, called for a "premium support" model for those 54 and younger. Under premium support, Medicare would allow a menu of competing plans to offer coverage with government payments (Strong, 2/15).

Medpage Today: Groups Clamor For Medicare Rx Drug Savings
The battle lines are shaping up again now that President Obama has renewed his call to allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices directly with pharmaceutical companies. The plan -- referenced early in Obama's State of the Union Address Tuesday -- has been suggested by the president before, and backed by liberal lawmakers and left-leaning healthcare lobbying groups. However, it's opposed by the powerful pharmaceutical lobby. Both sides again staked their claim this week after Obama pitched the plan Tuesday night. The Medicare drug benefit, known as Part D, is delivered by private insurers through free-standing drug plans. Those plans negotiate their prices with the drugmakers. The prices are higher than what is paid by Medicaid, whose prices are more restricted by law (Pittman, 2/15).

Meanwhile, in Massachusetts where biomedical research is key to the state's economy, politicians and scientists offered a grim prognosis of the impact of sequestration's scheduled spending cuts --

Boston Globe: Mass. Officials, Scientists Warn About NIH Cuts
With little more than a week left before across-the-board federal budget cuts could go into effect, Massachusetts politicians joined scientists and the state's top health care administrators Monday to offer a grim prognosis of the impact National Institutes of Health spending cuts would have on the Bay State, and Boston in particular. NIH grants fund hundreds of millions in research annually at the Commonwealth's hospitals and colleges. Those research dollars support about 34,000 jobs in Massachusetts, said Dr. Gary Gottlieb, president and chief executive of Partners HealthCare, and about 1,700 could be lost if the automatic cuts slice tens of millions of dollars from state’s share of NIH funding for the remaining months of this year (Marquard, 2/19).

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