KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

First Edition: August 3, 2011

Today's headlines showcase continuing reports about the impact the debt deal might have on health care providers, as well as how the agreement's "super committee" will be charged with finding spending reductions in Medicare, Medicaid and a range of other government programs.

Kaiser Health News: Help On The Way For Patients Considering Surgery Or Other Options
Reporting for Kaiser Health News, in collaboration with the Philadelphia Inquirer, Guy Gugliotta writes: "In an era when many patients are eager to look up their latest diagnosis online, this is not an unusual conversation. Patients want to be partners with their doctors in determining their care. For many conditions, however, there are no good guideposts. The authors of the 2010 federal health-care overhaul wanted to help. The law established an independent nonprofit organization called the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute. Its mission is to compare treatments to determine which options make the most sense for particular people" (Gugliotta, 8/3).

Kaiser Health News: Community Hospital In Rural Arizona Finds Innovative Ways To Survive
Kaiser Health News staff writer Jenny Gold, working in collaboration with NPR, reports: "Rural hospitals in Arizona rarely give tPA because they don't have stroke specialists; instead, they transfer patients immediately by helicopter to Tucson or Phoenix. But physicians at Copper Queen have a protocol that allows them to work with specialists remotely. So for Porter, that meant doctors 200 miles away at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale diagnosed his condition over a video link, allowing Copper Queen physicians to administer the drug on the spot, saving precious time" (Gold, 8/2).

Kaiser Health News: Health Care Recommendations From Previous Bipartisan Deficit-Reduction Groups (Documents)
The debt-ceiling agreement that President Barack Obama signed into law Tuesday calls for a bipartisan "super committee" – 12 members of Congress, selected by the leadership – to come up with $1.2 trillion to $1.5 trillion in cuts to the federal budget deficit over 10 years. This is not the first effort to find a bipartisan agreement on reducing the federal deficit; over the past year, there have been four bipartisan proposals. None made it close to being enacted. Here is a guide to their recommendations about health care, drawn from their summaries or the final report (8/2).

Kaiser Health News: Different Takes: What's Next For Medicare Cost Controls? Vladeck And Wilensky Offer Their Views
From Kaiser Health News -- During the course of negotiations to raise the debt ceiling, proposals to reduce Medicare costs had an on-again, off-again presence at the table. We asked Bruce Vladeck and Gail Wilensky which of these ideas could have a positive or negative impact on the program (8/2).

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Blogwatch: Challenges For The Debt Deal's 'Super Committee'
Now on Capsules, KHN's news blog, the latest installment of Blogwatch – Andrew Villegas rounds up what bloggers are saying about what might be at stake for Medicare, Medicaid and the health law. Check out the blog.

Los Angeles Times: Debt Deal Raises Pressure On Medicare Providers
Washington policymakers demanded more savings from hospitals, doctors and other medical providers in the debt deal President Obama signed Tuesday, a move designed to protect seniors and others who rely on Medicare. But the budget cutting may end up hurting some of the neediest seniors as the federal cuts take a disproportionate toll on family physicians with many elderly patients and on hospitals that serve them (Levey and Cloud, 8/3).

The Washington Post: President Obama Signs Debt-Limit Bill Into Law
With the immediate crisis averted, Obama and congressional leaders quickly turned their attention to the next front in the war over the federal budget: a new legislative committee that will have the job of developing a broader plan to control the government's debt. … The bipartisan panel, to be named this month, is likely to confront the same ideological divide that caused an almost crippling impasse in the debt-limit debate. Republican leaders are warning that they will not include anyone on the panel who is willing to raise taxes, prompting Democrats to threaten a hard line against cuts to Social Security and Medicare benefits (Montgomery, 8/2).

The Associated Press: Lucky Dozen Lawmakers To Tackle Hard Stuff On Debt
The agreement enacted Tuesday calls for $917 billion in discretionary spending to be cut over a decade from Cabinet-level agencies and the thousands of programs they administer. The new committee will scour the so-called mandatory side of the budget - programs whose spending levels run on autopilot. They include Medicare and Medicaid, the government's health care for seniors and the poor, as well as Social Security and veterans' retirement benefits (Kellman, 8/3).

The Wall Street Journal: Deficit Battle Shifts To Panel
The panel's six Democrats and six Republicans are to make recommendations by Nov. 23, with Congress voting on the package by Dec. 23. Congress won't be able to amend the proposal, and Senate approval will take 51 votes instead of the usual 60 needed to avoid a filibuster. If the panel deadlocks, or Congress doesn't accept its recommendations, an array of cuts totaling $1.2 trillion would kick in. The White House and Republicans were already battling Tuesday over what budget projections the committee would use to forecast future deficits, a decision with major implications for how the tax code could be changed as part of any plan (Bendavid and Lee, 8/3).

The New York Times: Spending Cuts Seen As Step, Not As Cure
There is something you should know about the deal to cut federal spending that President Obama signed into law on Tuesday: It does not actually reduce federal spending. By the end of the 10-year deal, the federal debt would be much larger than it is today. …The problem facing the nation has been clear for some time. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the federal debt is likely to exceed 100 percent of the nation's annual economic output by 2021, largely because of the rising cost of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security (Applebaum, 8/2).

NPR: Medicare, Medicaid Advocates Cast Wary Eye On Budget Deal
Medicare and Medicaid have so far dodged the budget knives wielded by the GOP. But those who depend on the programs know that their luck may soon be running out, thanks to the budget deal signed by President Obama on Tuesday (Rovner, 8/2).

The Wall Street Journal: Deal Clears Path To More Disability Reviews
The deficit-reduction deal's spending caps contain an exemption for the Social Security Administration that could allow the agency to quickly ramp up its reviews of recipients' continuing eligibility for disability benefits. … The Social Security Disability Insurance program-which provides payments and Medicare eligibility to qualified workers unable to perform substantial, gainful employment-had 10.4 million beneficiaries as of this month, up from 6.9 million in 2001 (Paletta, 8/3).

USA Today: Medicare, Medicaid Tab Keeps Growing
The costs of the government's big health care programs are soaring again, expenses not tackled in the agreement President Obama signed into law Tuesday to raise the nation's debt limit and cut federal spending. Medicare and Medicaid spending rose 10% in the second quarter from a year earlier to a combined annual rate of almost $992 billion, according to new data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA). The two programs are on track to rise $90 billion in 2011 and crack the $1 trillion milestone for the first time (Cauchon, 8/3).

Los Angeles Times: U.S. Employers Expand Health Benefits Coverage Under Reform
Nearly 18 months after passage of the national healthcare overhaul, American employers say they are providing health benefits for growing numbers of people as they extend coverage to their workers' adult children, a new survey finds. The federal healthcare law allows young adults up to age 26 to stay on their parents' health plans (Helfand, 8/2).

The Washington Post: Washington Hospital Center Safety Program Seeks To Catch 'Near-Misses'
As hospitals across the country are under growing pressure to reduce medical mistakes, the Hazard Alerting Loop system is designed to catch "near misses" before they turn into serious hazards. The shocking errors, such as operations on the wrong limb, get everyone's attention. What's harder to catch are the close calls that could hurt patients. The alert system encourages front-line personnel to report, anonymously if they prefer, even the smallest issues (Sun, 8/2).

The Wall Street Journal: Nursing-Home Firms Aim To Cut Expenses
Nursing-home companies Sun Healthcare Group Inc. and Skilled Healthcare Group Inc. said Tuesday they are aiming to cut expenses to help offset the impact of a severe Medicare reimbursement cut coming in two months (Kamp, 8/3).

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