First Edition: February 8, 2012
Today's health policy headlines include reports about the continuing fracas over the Obama administration's birth control rule and Capitol Hill impasse surrounding the Medicare 'doc fix' as well as the extension of the payroll tax break.
Kaiser Health News: Minnesota Plans For Exchange, Even Without New Law
Minnesota Public Radio's Elizabeth Stawicki, working in partnership with Kaiser Health News, NPR and MPR, reports: "Minnesota lawmakers are grappling with a new question: How close can they get to setting up a health insurance exchange without passing a new state law? The state, which has a Democrat in the governor’s mansion and Republicans in control of both houses of the legislature, saw exchange legislation fail in the last session. And prospects for a law’s passage are not much better in the current session" (Stawicki, 2/7).
Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Alzheimer's Research Gets Funding Boost; Teen Pregnancies Are Down, But Disparities Remain
Now on Kaiser Health News' blog, Christian Torres reports: "The Obama administration announced plans Tuesday for a two-year, $156 million cash infusion for Alzheimer’s research and care. The money will help solidify a still-developing national plan to better treat and even prevent the illness by 2025" (Torres, 2/7).
Also on Capsules, Shefali S. Kulkarni writes about a new report on teen preganancy rates: "The good news: Teen pregnancies are at their lowest rate in nearly 40 years, resulting in fewer abortions and births, according to data from the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization focused on sexual and reproductive health. ... The bad news: While overall rates have dropped, there is still a major gap among white, Hispanic and black teenagers" (Kulkarni, 2/8). Check out what else is on the blog.
The New York Times: Talks Stall On How To Pay For Extending Payroll Tax Cut
Any hope for a fast and quiet resolution to the Congressional battle over a payroll tax cut seemed to dim Tuesday as members of a bipartisan negotiating committee clashed over how to pay for the extension. … Republicans became increasingly frustrated as Democrats shooed away one Republican proposal after the next. … Democratic negotiators rejected $70 billion worth of spending cuts the House wanted to use to offset the cost of the package, including a … measure to raise Medicare premiums on some people and a proposal that would allow the government to claw back some subsidies for the purchase of health insurance under the new health care law (Steinhauer and Weisman, 2/7).
The Washington Post: It’s Déjà Vu As Congress Tackles Payroll Tax Cut Extension Again
It's Groundhog Day in Congress, where lawmakers appear to have glimpsed their shadows and are entering a newly intense period of negotiations over whether to extend the payroll tax cut that is shaping up to be remarkably similar to a bruising December fight over the same issue. On Tuesday, there was a meeting of the 20 lawmakers appointed by the House and Senate to broker a bipartisan a deal to extend the tax holiday through the end of the year. They are also tasked with finding a way to extend unemployment benefits and avert scheduled cuts in payments to doctors who treat Medicare patients through this year (Helderman, 2/7).
The Associated Press/Washington Post: House-Senate Payroll Tax Cut Talks Adrift On Capitol Hill As Deadline Looms
In a contentious negotiating session Tuesday, Democrats came out against House GOP proposals to partially pay for the two percentage point payroll tax holiday through freezing federal workers’ pay and requiring more affluent seniors to pay higher Medicare premiums (2/7).
The Wall Street Journal: Talks Bog Down On Extending Payroll-Tax Cut
Congress is poised for another 11th-hour standoff over extending the payroll-tax cut, foiling an effort to avoid the kinds of bitter confrontations that engulfed lawmakers last year. Congress's deadline is tighter than it appears because lawmakers begin a weeklong recess Feb. 20. After that, they will have only a few days until the expiration of the popular tax cut. … The package being debated also could extend enhanced unemployment benefits, which currently last as long as 99 weeks for jobless workers. And it would adjust the Medicare-payment system to avoid a drop in doctors' fees (Bendavid, 2/8).
The Washington Post: Frustrated GOP Freshmen Target Gimmicks That Make It Hard To Cut The Budget
Ending adjustments for inflation in agency budget projections is unlikely to have much immediate impact. Budget caps were adopted during last year’s fight over the federal debt limit, and agency spending is actually projected to fall over the next decade, from $1.34 trillion in 2011 to $1.2 trillion in 2015. Agency spending would not return to last year's levels until 2021. Spending on giant federal health and retirement programs, however, would keep rising, as would interest payments on the growing national debt (Montgomery, 2/7).
The Associated Press/Washington Post: Appeals Court Rules That Seniors Receiving Social Security Can't Reject Medicare Eligibility
A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that seniors who receive Social Security cannot reject their legal right to Medicare benefits, in a rare case of Americans suing to get out of a government entitlement. Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey is among the five senior citizens who sued to stop their automatic eligibility for Medicare. But the appeals court ruled in a split decision that the law gives them no way to opt out of their eligibility if they want to keep their Social Security benefits (2/7).
Los Angeles Times: White House Says It Will Work With Religious Groups On Birth Control Rule
Faced with continued blowback from a new rule on health insurance coverage for birth control, the White House on Tuesday emphasized that the details of the mandate were not yet settled. … But the comments were more a shift in emphasis than substance. Carney said the president remained committed to the policy – which requires some religious institutions to provide their employees with health insurance that covers contraceptives (Hennessey, 2/7).
The New York Times: Obama Tries To Ease Ire On Contraception Rule
Facing vocal opposition from religious leaders and an escalating political fight, the White House sought on Tuesday to ease mounting objections to a new administration rule that would require health insurance plans — including those offered by Catholic universities and charities — to offer birth control to women free of charge (Cooper and Seelye, 2/7).
NPR: White House: 'Ways To Resolve' Contraception Issue
Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney has joined the chorus criticizing President Obama over a controversial policy that would require most employers, including Catholic hospitals and universities, to include birth control in their employees' health insurance. Catholic opinion leaders have denounced the policy as an assault on their religious freedom (Horsley, 2/7).
The Associated Press/Washington Post: In Shift, White House To Seek To Allay Concerns Of Religious Employers On Birth Control Order
Hammered by Republicans and the Catholic Church, the White House hinted at compromise Tuesday as it struggled to calm an election-year uproar caused by its rule requiring religious schools and hospitals to provide employees with access to free birth control (2/7).
The Wall Street Journal: Obama Seeks Deal On Birth Control
Aides to Mr. Obama met with women's groups Tuesday at the White House to shore up support for the initial decision. At the same time, the administration is looking to move more quickly on a potential compromise aimed at satisfying religious groups that say the requirement violates their religious principles, these people said (Lee and Radnofsky, 2/8).
Politico: White House Tries To Quell Birth Control Storm
Polls show a new Obama administration rule that requires faith-based employers to offer workers free contraceptive coverage is popular, even among Catholics — but the actions of the president’s top advisers Tuesday showed just how worried they are about a backlash (Budoff Brown and Feder, 2/8).
Politico: Senate GOP Ramps Up Drive Against Contraceptive Rule
Senate Republicans late Tuesday stepped up their assault on the White House’s politically volatile contraceptive coverage mandate, vowing to find some way of striking it if the administration didn’t roll back the rules itself. Using unusually strong language in a floor speech, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called the new policy "abhorrent" and said the administration had crossed a "dangerous line" with its decision to require employers to offer birth control for free as a preventive health benefit in health plans, a decision that was part of the implementation of the 2010 health care reform law (Kenen, 2/7).
Los Angeles Times: Before Caucuses, Romney Joins Attack On Birth Control Rules
At a morning rally in this town on the northern Colorado front range, the former Massachusetts governor echoed rival Rick Santorum's fierce attack Monday on an Obama administration rule that will force many religious employers to include birth control in the health plans of their workers (Finnegan, 2/7).
The Washington Post: The Fact Checker: Romney And Plan B: The Santorum And Gingrich Claims
With GOP front-runner Mitt Romney attacking President Obama over the administration's new rule requiring many Catholic institutions to offer birth control and other contraception services as part of employees' health care coverage, his Republican rivals have begun attacking Romney for allegedly doing the very same thing when he was governor of Massachusetts. We seem forever doomed to delve deep into ancient Bay State political tussles (Kessler, 2/8).
Los Angeles Times: Komen Executive Quits As Questions Persist
The Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation took another step toward rehabilitating its standing in the breast cancer community with the resignation of the executive at the center of the Planned Parenthood funding controversy. In a largely conciliatory letter, Karen Handel, senior vice president for public policy, said Tuesday that she would step down immediately so the organization could "refocus its attention and energies on its mission" (Roan and Brown, 2/7).
NPR: Controversial Komen Policy Official Resigns
A high-ranking official at the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation has resigned amid fallout from the charity's move, since reversed, to halt funding for breast cancer screening by Planned Parenthood. Karen Handel, a former Republican candidate for governor in Georgia, resigned her job, effective immediately, as senior vice president for public policy (Hensley, 2/7).
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