KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

First Edition: November 22, 2011

Today's early morning highlights from the major news organizations, including news and analysis about the collapse of the super committee talks Monday.

Kaiser Health News: Health On The Hill: Why The Super Committee Struck Out
Kaiser Health News staff writer Mary Agnes Carey talks to Politico Pro reporter Matt DoBias about what led to the super committee's failure to cut a deal and discuss what it means for hopes of a permanent "doc fix."

Kaiser Health News: Health Programs Facing Cutbacks After Super Committee’s Failure
Kaiser Health News staff writers Marilyn Werber Serafini and Mary Agnes Carey examine the health policy repercussions of the super committee's failure to reach a deal and how the automatic cuts in discretionary programs could affect health issues (Serafini and Carey, 11/21).

Kaiser Health News: Local California Republicans Quietly Embrace Medicaid Expansion
KQED reporter Sarah Varney, reporting as part of a partnership that includes Kaiser Health News, NPR and KQED, filed this story: "Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the number three Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives, has a very clear record on the Affordable Care Act. He has repeatedly called for its defeat ... But back in his hometown of Bakersfield, Calif., local officials are welcoming one aspect of the health overhaul law. Earlier this year, the Kern County Board of Supervisors -- all Republicans -- voted to accept federal money to expand insurance coverage for low-income adults" (Varney, 11/21).

Kaiser Health News: Despite Deep Opposition To Health Law, Ga. Contemplates Insurance Exchange
Guy Gugliotta, reporting for Kaiser Health News in collaboration with The Washington Post, writes: "In Georgia, like many other Southern states, opposition to the federal health overhaul runs deep. Yet an overwhelmingly conservative committee of experts carefully, and without rancor, has outlined a plan to give the state a health insurance exchange, a cornerstone of the sweeping health care law passed by Democrats in Congress and signed by President Obama last year" (Gugliotta, 11/21).

Kaiser Health News: N.Y. Malpractice Program May Offer Model For Medical Liability Cases
In her weekly column for Kaiser Health News, Michelle Andrews reports: "Medical malpractice lawsuits can be complicated, expensive and emotionally wrenching for patients, doctors and hospital officials alike. Now a program pioneered by a Bronx judge that speeds up the resolution of these cases is expanding into other parts of New York" (Andrews, 11/22).

Kaiser Health News: Officials Looking To Cut Federal Spending Eye Medigap Policies
Susan Jaffe, reporting for Kaiser Health News and The Washington Post, writes: "Officials looking for ways to cut the federal deficit are suggesting that these Medigap policies help explain why the government's Medicare bill is rising so fast" (Jaffe, 11/22).

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: HHS Flags First ‘Unreasonable’ Premium Increase; Commonwealth Fund Leader Stepping Down
Now on Kaiser Health News’ blog, Capsules, Julie Appleby reports: "Everence Insurance of Pennsylvania on Monday became the first insurer flagged by federal regulators for having an unreasonable rate increase" (11/21). Also on the blog, Shefali S. Kulkarni reports on a change at a major health care policy foundation: "Karen Davis, the president of The Commonwealth Fund since 1995, announced today that she plans to leave her post at the health care foundation by the end of  2012." Check out what else is on the blog (11/21).

The Washington Post: Supercommittee Announces Failure In Effort To Tame Debt
A special congressional committee created to try to curb the national debt abandoned its work and conceded failure Monday. ... Although Republicans offered to raise taxes by $300 billion over the next decade, they insisted on conditions that all but guaranteed that the wealthy would not be hit hard. And Democrats refused to agree to deep cuts in spending on health care for the poor and the elderly unless the rich were forced to make greater sacrifices (Montgomery and Kane, 11/21).

The New York Times: Panel Fails To Reach Deal On Plan For Deficit Reduction
The president noted pointedly after the talks failed that he had sent Congress his proposal to trim the deficit. “It’s a plan that would reduce the deficit by an additional $3 trillion, by cutting spending, slowing the growth of Medicare and Medicaid and asking the wealthiest Americans to pay their fair share.” Republicans, he said, “simply will not budge” from their refusal to consider tax increases on the wealthy. “That refusal continues to be the main stumbling block that has prevented Congress from reaching an agreement to reduce our deficit” (Steinhauer, Cooper and Pear, 11/21).

The New York Times: For Deficit Panel, Failure Cuts Two Ways
By law, the panel’s failure triggers new caps on spending, cutting $1.2 trillion from the military, education, health care and other priorities over 10 years beginning next fall. The combined impact of higher tax rates and less spending would reverse the growth of annual deficits beginning in 2013, reducing by more than half the current $1.3 trillion gap between annual revenue and spending (Appelbaum and Lowrey, 11/21).

Los Angeles Times: Super Committee Fails To Agree On Deficit-Reduction Plan
Republicans refused to substantially raise taxes and wanted to cut federal deficits largely by reducing spending on Medicare and other domestic programs. Democrats wanted a more equal balance of new taxes and spending cuts -- a level of taxation the GOP could not accept (Mascaro, 11/21).

The Wall Street Journal: Deficit Panel Folds Its Tent
Congress's special deficit-cutting committee bowed to reality Monday and called it quits, with both sides having concluded it was easier to swallow failure than any of the possible compromise deals offered. Because the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction couldn't come to an agreement, $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts are on track to begin in 2013. ... That clears the way for a yearlong legislative battle over whether to block those cuts or to replace them with another broad deficit-reduction plan (Hook and Bendavid, 11/22).

USA Today: Panel's Inability To Cut Debt Deal Reflects Divide
For now, the panel's inability to reach a deal leaves Congress with a range of unfinished budget items that could have been part of a larger bargain over federal taxes and spending. Social Security payroll tax cuts expire at the end of the year, meaning taxes could go up nearly $1,000 annually for someone who makes $50,000. More than 1 million unemployed workers could lose their jobless benefits beginning in January, when those benefits are scheduled to expire. Medicare reimbursement rates for doctors will be cut 27% unless Congress steps in by the end of the year, leaving many seniors without a doctor. And Congress has three weeks to pass nine spending bills to keep most of the federal government operating (Korte, 11/22).

Politico: Supercommitee’s Failure: Obama Blames GOP
Blaming Republicans for the supercommittee’s failure to craft a debt-cutting plan, President Barack Obama on Monday warned that he won’t allow Congress to wriggle out of the $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts it agreed to make if the 12-member panel failed to reach agreement (Gerstein, 11/21).

Politico: The End Of The Road On Health Entitlements?
It would be easy to conclude that the supercommittee’s failure means that the big, expensive health care entitlement programs — Medicare and Medicaid — are untouchable.
It would also be wrong. The real lesson of the supercommittee’s collapse is that the political elements have to line up just right to put the brakes on Medicare and Medicaid spending. It can be done, budget and health care analysts say (Nather, 11/22).

Politico: Recession One Way To Curb Health Costs
The economic slump has put the brakes on health spending, which may bolster a conservative truism: When consumers become more sensitive to the cost of health care, they cut back. Or maybe it supports a progressive one: Forcing consumers to have more “skin in the game” means they will cut back on needed care, not just elective or unnecessary care. And neither side can tell for sure yet whether people have changed spending patterns for good or just postponed seeing doctors or getting tests or treatment until the economy improves or they get too sick to wait any longer (Feder, 11/21).

Los Angeles Times: Obama Administration Calls On Health Insurer To Reduce Rate Hike
The Obama administration called on a health insurance company to reduce a planned rate increase in Pennsylvania, using a tool in the new healthcare law for the first time to pressure insurers to restrain rising premiums (Levey, 11/21).

Los Angeles Times: More U.S. Firms Using High-Deductible Insurance Plans
U.S. employers, struggling to contain rising healthcare costs, are expanding their use of high-deductible insurance plans, which help reduce monthly insurance premiums by shifting a greater share of medical expenses to workers, a new survey shows (Helfand, 11/22).

The Washington Post: AIDS Deaths And New Infections Continue To Fall In Most Parts Of The World
The number of people dying of AIDS around the world declined last year for the third year in a row, at the same time that the fraction of people getting treatment for the infection reached almost 50 percent (Brown, 11/21).

The Wall Street Journal: Doctor Revolt Shakes Disability Program
Earlier this year, senior managers at the Social Security Administration in Baltimore, frustrated by a growing backlog of applications for federal disability benefits, called meetings with 140 of the agency's doctors. The message was blunt: The number of people seeking benefits had soared. Doctors had to work faster to move cases. Instead of earning $90 an hour, as they had previously, they would receive about $80 per case—a pay cut for many cases which can take 60 to 90 minutes to review—unless the doctors worked faster. ... Some doctors ... quit following the changes. Others were fired. In all, 45 of the 140 left within months, the agency said (Paletta, 11/22).

The New York Times: Low-Tax Cigarettes, Made in Store, Draw City Lawsuit
The city filed suit last week against a “roll your own” cigarette shop in Chinatown and a related one on Staten Island, where a pack of cigarettes can cost less than $5, because the stores are not collecting cigarette taxes. The stores, both called Island Smokes, do not sell packs of Marlboros and Newports. Instead, they sell loose tobacco and cigarette papers, and have machines that let customers fabricate their own cigarettes (Roberts, 11/21).

Los Angeles Times: Retired Public Workers Can Count On Promised Benefits, Court Says
Health benefits for government retirees may not be eliminated if state and local governments had clearly promised workers those benefits, the California Supreme Court ruled in an Orange County case Monday (Dolan, 11/21).

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