KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

First Edition: April 4, 2012

In today's headlines, President Barak Obama goes on attack against GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney and the Republican budget blueprint; a federal court judge asks for clarifications regarding Obama's comment on judicial activism and the high court's consideration of the health law; as well as reports that doctors are stepping into the effort to curb unnecessary medical treatments.

Kaiser Health News: Revamping Medicare: A Guide To The Proposals, Politics And Timeline
Kaiser Health News staff writer Marilyn Werber Serafini reports: "Congress is unlikely to consider legislation that would fundamentally restructure Medicare until a new Congress -- and possibly a new president -- are seated in 2013. But politicians have sought to tackle the growth in Medicare costs several times in the past two years, most notably in the 2010 health care law and, then again, in last year's budget deal" (Werber Serafini, 4/3).

Kaiser Health News: Physicians Wade Into Efforts To Curb Unnecessary Treatments
Kaiser Health News staff writer Julie Appleby reports: "Nine prominent physician groups today released lists of 45 common tests and treatments they say are often unnecessary and may even harm patients. The move represents a high-profile effort by physicians to help reduce the extraordinary amount of unnecessary treatment, said to account for as much as a third of the $2.6 trillion Americans spend on health care each year" (Appleby, 4/4).

Kaiser Health News: Video: Obama Blasts GOP Medicare, Medicaid Plans
This Kaiser Health News video features clips from a speech given yesterday by President Barack Obama in which he attacked the Republican 2013 budget as a "Trojan horse" and "thinly veiled social Darwinism."  Speaking in Washington to an association of newspaper editors, Obama not only attacked Republican budget proposals, but in response to a question, he also laid out a defense of the 2010 health law and why he thinks the Supreme Court will uphold the law as constitutional (4/3).

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Hospital Group: Ditch Fast Food, Turn Down The Lights; Feds Reject Hawaii’s 10-Day Medicaid Hospital Limit
Now on Kaiser Health News’ blog, Phil Galewitz reports: "Eleven of the nation's largest hospitals systems –including Kaiser Permanente, HCA Healthcare,  and Boston-based Partners HealthCare — today called on their industry to be better environmental stewards" (Galewitz, 4/3). Also on the blog, Galewitz reports on news from Hawaii: "The Obama administration has rejected Hawaii's proposal to limit most adult Medicaid recipients to 10 days of hospital coverage per year, which would have been the strictest in the nation. Instead, Hawaii has been approved to implement a 30-day hospital coverage limit starting July 1, state and federal health officials say" (Galewitz, 4/3). Check out what else is on the blog.

The New York Times: Obama, In Talk, Calls House GOP Budget The Work Of Rightist Radicals
President Obama opened a full-frontal assault on Tuesday on the federal budget adopted by House Republicans, condemning it as a :"Trojan horse" that would greatly deepen inequality in the United States, and painting it as the manifesto of a party that has swung radically to the right. … Singling out Medicare, the president asserted that the Republican plan to shift people to a system of vouchers would drive up the cost of health care for the elderly, since private insurance companies would target the youngest and healthiest people and leave the rest to rely on Medicare (Landler, 4/3).

The Washington Post: Obama: GOP Budget Plan Would Create Form Of 'Social Darwinism'
President Obama delivered a stern and stinging rebuke of the Republican vision for the country Tuesday, castigating the GOP as a "radical" party that has strayed so far from the political middle that its policies represent an affront to core American values. … Obama said the House Republican budget plan, which has been endorsed by Romney and would slash entitlements and agency spending, is "so far to the right" on the political spectrum that it makes the Republicans’ 1994 Contract With America "look like the New Deal" (Nakamura, 4/3).

The Wall Street Journal: Obama Blasts GOP Budget As 'Trojan Horse'
For the first time the president singled out Mr. Romney by name, unprompted, to highlight the former Massachusetts governor's support for the GOP budget. He even poked fun at Mr. Romney, whom the Obama campaign has cast as out of touch with average Americans, for describing the GOP budget as "marvelous." … The GOP budget proposes, among other things, turning Medicaid into a block-grant program controlled by the states, restructuring Medicare and reducing the top individual and corporate tax rates to 25% from 35%. The Republican plan also calls for deep spending cuts (Lee, 4/3).

The Washington Post's The Fact Checker: Obama's Attack On The GOP Budget
With President Obama's speech before the Associated Press on Tuesday, one can say the 2012 presidential contest has begun in earnest. For the moment, we will ignore some of his stylistic bloopers — "the Republicans running Congress right now" ignores the fact that the Senate is still in Democratic hands — and instead concentrate on how the White House backs up some of his claims about the House Republican budget. As usual, we will not judge the politics of the speech — just the facts. We will also delve more deeply in other parts of the speech, such as the Medicare portion, later in the week (Kessler, 4/4).

The Washington Post: Judge Tells Justice Dept.: Clarify Remarks On Judicial Activism Amid Health-Care Debate
A federal judge on Tuesday expressed concern over President Obama's comments on the Supreme Court’s consideration of the health-care law and demanded a letter explaining whether Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. believes federal judges have the authority to strike down federal laws (Markon, 4/3).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Federal Judge Troubled By Obama’s Comments On High Court's Review Of Health Care Law
A federal appeals court judge on Tuesday seemed to take offense to comments President Barack Obama made earlier this week in which he warned that if the Supreme Court overturned his signature health care overhaul it would amount to overreach by an "unelected" court. … During oral arguments in Houston in a separate challenge to another aspect of the federal health care law, U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Jerry Smith said Obama's comments troubled a number of people who have read them as a challenge to the authority of federal courts (4/3).

The Wall Street Journal’s Washington Wire: Judge Pokes Obama Over Court Comment
On Tuesday, a three-judge panel in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ordered the Justice Department to explain whether courts indeed have the right to strike down a federal law. It's been well-established since the 1803 case of Marbury v. Madison that they do, and the Justice Department is expected to say as much in its response. The answer is due by Thursday. The order came during a proceeding on a separate challenge to the health law by physician-owned hospitals (Meckler, 4/3).

Politico: Report: Federal Judge Hits Back At Obama
The request — from 5th Circuit Judge Jerry E. Smith, a Ronald Reagan-appointee — seemed to be a direct shot at Obama, who said Monday that the Supreme Court would be guilty of an "unprecedented" act of "judicial activism" if it strikes down the health care reform law. Obama's comments have "troubled a number of people who have read it as somehow a challenge to the federal courts or to their authority or to the appropriateness of the concept of judicial review," Smith told a Justice Department attorney during oral arguments in a case involving the health reform law's limits on physician-owned hospitals. "And that's not a small matter" (Haberkorn, 4/3).

The New York Times: Looking Ahead, Republicans Examine Options In Health Care Fight
Republican lawmakers who have spent two years railing against President Obama’s health care law are beginning to devise alternatives so they can be ready if the Supreme Court forces the issue of the uninsured back into the center of political debate (Pear and Weisman, 4/3).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Culture Change? Medical Groups Identify 45 Tests And Treatments Doctors Should Avoid Ordering
Old checklist for doctors: order that test, write that prescription. New checklist for doctors: first ask yourself if the patient really needs it. Nine medical societies representing nearly 375,000 physicians are challenging the widely held perception that more health care is better, releasing lists Wednesday of tests and treatments their members should no longer automatically order (4/4).

The New York Times: Doctor Panels Recommend Fewer Tests For Patients
In a move likely to alter treatment standards in hospitals and doctors’ offices nationwide, a group of nine medical specialty boards plans to recommend on Wednesday that doctors perform 45 common tests and procedures less often, and to urge patients to question these services if they are offered (Rabin, 4/4).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: WellPoint CEO Braly's Compensation Slipped In 2011, As Health Insurer's Earnings Also Fell
WellPoint Inc.’s earnings sank last year, as the health insurer struggled with losses in its Medicare Advantage business, and the total compensation delivered to Chairwoman and CEO Angela Braly slipped as well. Braly, 50, received 2011 compensation valued at $13.2 million, according to an Associated Press analysis of the Indianapolis company’s annual proxy statement. That represents a 2 percent drop compared to 2010 (4/3).

Reuters/Chicago Tribune: Catholic University In Ohio Ends Birth-Control Coverage
Xavier University, one of the oldest Roman Catholic colleges in the United States, will cut off birth-control coverage for its employees in July, a move that has divided faculty members and students on the Cincinnati campus. The abrupt cancellation of insurance benefits at the Jesuit university in Ohio comes amid a furious dispute between the Obama administration and the nation's Catholic bishops over contraception (Simon, 4/3).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Fla-Based Health Care Provider Agrees To $137.5M Settlement Of Medicare, Medicaid Fraud Claims
Federal prosecutors say a Tampa-based health care provider has agreed to pay $137.5 million to settle four lawsuits involving fraudulent Medicare and Medicaid claims in nine states. … The suits claimed WellCare Health Plans Inc. falsely inflated the amount it claimed to be spending on medical care to avoid returning the money to Medicaid and other programs. The suits also accused the company of knowingly retaining overpayments received and falsifying data that misrepresented the medical conditions of patients and treatments they received (4/3).

The Wall Street Journal: Troubled Firm Wins Health Exchange Bid
The company the Cuomo administration has hired to design a state health-insurance exchange has been dogged by critical audits and lawsuits in the U.S. and abroad. The state Department of Health awarded the five-year contract to Virginia-based Computer Sciences Corp. CSC -1.53%in mid-March, state officials said. Its main duty will be developing a major local element of President Barack Obama's medical care overhaul: an online New York marketplace of insurance plans (Gershman, 4/3).

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