KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

First Edition: December 18, 2012

Today's headlines include reports about some of the health program specifics involved in offers traded in the ongoing fiscal cliff negotiations.   

Kaiser Health News: Seniors Need To Be Tenacious In Appeals To Medicare
Reporting for Kaiser Health News in collaboration with The Washington Post, Susan Jaffe writes: "Dan Driscoll used to be a smoker. During a regular doctor's visit, his primary-care physician suggested that Driscoll be tested to see if he was at risk for an abdominal aortic aneurysm, a life-threatening condition that can be linked to smoking. The doctor said Medicare would cover the procedure. So Driscoll, 68, who lives in Silver Spring, had the test done and was surprised when he got a bill from Medicare for $214" (Jaffe, 12/17). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: Study Finds Coverage To Help Kick Smoking Can Be Tricky
In her latest Kaiser Health News consumer column, Michelle Andrews writes: "Most people who smoke want to quit, and the 2010 health-care law is supposed to make it easier for them by requiring many insurance plans to cover smoking-cessation treatments with no out-of-pocket cost to members. But a recent study found that details about what's covered and who pays for it remain confusing and inconsistent" (Andrews, 12/17). Read the column.

The New York Times: Obama’s New Offer On Fiscal Crisis Could Lead To Deal
The offer is close to a plan proposed by the speaker on Friday, and both sides expressed confidence that they were closing in on a major deficit-reduction plan that could be passed well before January, when more than a half-trillion dollars in automatic tax increases and spending cuts would kick in (Weisman, 12/17).

The Washington Post: Obama, Boehner Move Closer To ‘Cliff’ Deal
Obama laid out a counteroffer that included significant concessions on taxes, reducing the amount of new revenue he is seeking to $1.2 trillion over the next decade and limiting the hike in tax rates to households earning more than $400,000 a year. … Obama also gave ground on a key Republican demand — applying a less-generous measure of inflation across the federal government. … In addition, Obama increased his overall offer on spending cuts. … Meanwhile, the possibility remains that the deal could get even more distasteful for Democrats, particularly if Republicans counter Obama's request for $1.2 trillion in new taxes with a demand for an additional concession on health care, such raising as the eligibility age for Medicare beneficiaries from 65 to 67 (Montgomery and Kane, 12/17).

Los Angeles Times: Boehner, Obama Meet Amid Optimism On 'Fiscal Cliff'
Boehner made a substantial shift over the weekend by offering to raise tax rates on those making more than $1 million a year, a significant change from Republican orthodoxy against higher tax rates. Aides described it as an optimistic overture, even though the White House did not accept the proposal. … By proposing the rate hike on the super wealthy, Boehner can be seen as offering a substantial compromise toward Obama, even though the offer falls short of the president’s preferred approach. … At the same time, the spending cuts Boehner would extract in exchange for the new tax revenue would likely be severe -- changes to Medicare, Medicaid and other social safety net reductions that Democrats would resist (Mascaro and Hennessey, 12/17).

The Wall Street Journal: With New Offers, Fiscal-Cliff Talks Narrow
The president's offer notably didn't include a Republican proposal to increase the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67, an idea opposed by many Democrats. And to blunt Democratic resistance to changing the formula for calculating Social Security benefits, his plan would include protections for beneficiaries of the program deemed "most vulnerable," people familiar with the talks said (Lee, Hook and Paletta, 12/17).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Obama Softens Stance On Taxes As He And Boehner Seek A 'Fiscal Cliff' Compromise
And in a move sure to create heartburn among some congressional Democrats, Obama is proposing lower cost-of-living increases for Social Security beneficiaries, employing an inflation index that would have far-reaching consequences, including pushing more people into higher income tax brackets. … In making his offer, Obama stiff-armed Republican demands to increase the eligibility age for Medicare from 65 to 67, a goal Democrats strongly reject. He also sought to contain cuts in Medicare and other health care programs to about $400 billion over 10 years, less than what Republicans want (12/18).

Politico: Obama Makes New Offer To Narrow Gap On Cliff
But questions remained over whether Boehner could sell the key points to Republicans at a pivotal meeting Tuesday. The progress is fragile, and the next 24 hours are critical as lawmakers from both parties and interest groups on all sides weigh in (Budoff Brown and Bresnahan, 12/18).

The Wall Street Journal: Beneath Budget Battle, A Health-Spending Juggernaut
Is all this talk of the "fiscal cliff" making you sick? Actually, it's the other way around: The biggest long-term driver of the federal budget and its eye-popping deficit is health care. The government dollars go out the door through a variety of programs: benefits for federal workers, the military and veterans; Medicaid coverage for the poor and disabled; and the biggest slice of all, Medicare, the health-care program serving the elderly (Meckler, 12/ 17).

USA Today: Poll: Public Favors Obama In 'Fiscal Cliff' Talks
According to the latest USA TODAY/Gallup Poll, 66% said the two negotiators should compromise "on their principles and beliefs" on taxes and spending to avert the year-end "fiscal cliff" … Boehner is also seeking deeper spending cuts, particularly to entitlement programs, such as Medicare and Social Security, in exchange for more revenue. … Possible entitlement reforms such as raising the eligibility age for Medicare benefits and changing the way the government calculates cost-of-living adjustments for Social Security beneficiaries have been presented by the GOP. Both proposals face strong opposition from Democrats, who have not included entitlement benefits in their spending cut proposals (Page, 12/17).

Politico: The Medicare Payment Panel Everyone Loves To Hate
Largely unspoken in the fiscal cliff Medicare fight is this fact: The Democrats' health law already includes a legally binding brake on Medicare spending. And the Republicans can't wait to get rid of it (Kenen, 12/18).

The New York Times: Amgen Expected To Plead Guilty In U.S. Case
But one person close to the investigation said Amgen would plead guilty to misbranding, a charge that usually refers to promoting drugs for uses not approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Amgen announced 14 months ago that it had set aside $780 million for a settlement of federal and state investigations and 10 separate whistle-blower lawsuits. Much of the investigations are believed to involve its anemia drugs, Aranesp and Epogen. In more recent regulatory filings, Amgen said the settlement was likely to include an 11th whistle-blower suit, one regarding the marketing of Enbrel, its blockbuster drug for rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis (Pollack, 12/17).

Los Angeles Times: Amgen Is Expected To Plead Guilty To Unspecified Charges
Biotech giant Amgen Inc. is expected to plead guilty Tuesday in a criminal case in New York federal court, according to prosecutors. The Thousand Oaks company is scheduled to enter a plea to unspecified charges, according to a notice from the U.S. attorney's office in Brooklyn. Federal prosecutors couldn't be reached for further comment. Amgen didn't respond to requests for comment late Monday (Terhune, 12/18).

The Wall Street Journal’s The Informed Patient: Ten Ways Patients Get Treated Better
Even healthy people worry about the quality of care they can expect to receive when they become ill. Will a cancerous tumor be spotted early enough? Will hospital staff move fast enough to save my life? What is the worried-looking doctor scribbling in my chart? Health-care innovations aren't limited to drugs and devices. Experts increasingly are adopting new ways to treat patients that studies show are better at healing the sick, preventing disease, improving patients' quality of life and lowering costs (Landro, 12/17).

The New York Times: Fearing A Stigma For People With Autism
Amid reports from neighbors and classmates that the gunman in the shooting rampage in, Newtown, Conn., had an autism variant known as Asperger syndrome, adults with the condition and parents of children with the diagnosis are fighting what they fear may be a growing impression that it is associated with premeditated violence. … But experts say there is no evidence that they are more likely than any other group to commit violent crimes (Harmon, 12/ 18).

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