Today’s Headlines – December 13, 2011

Good morning! Here are your early morning headlines:

The Washington Post: House To Vote On Extension Of Payroll-Tax Reduction
A Republican aide said conservative lawmakers have been persuaded to support the bill because of how its costs would be covered. The bill, which would also extend unemployment benefits and avert deep scheduled cuts in Medicare reimbursement rates for doctors for two years, would be paid for through spending cuts (Helderman and Sonmez, 12/12).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Republicans Plan To Push Payroll Tax Cut Bill Through House, Despite Objections From Obama
The bill prevents extra benefits for the long-term unemployed from expiring on Jan. 1, but would gradually wind down maximum coverage to 59 weeks, well below the current 99-week ceiling. … The measure would make other changes in the unemployment program, including giving states the right to administer drug tests to applicants for benefits. … The legislation would also prevent an automatic 27 percent cut in Medicare reimbursements for doctors in January, a reduction that could force some to stop treating Medicare patients. Instead, their reimbursements would rise by 1 percent each of the next two years (12/13).

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Politico: Payroll Tax Faces A Bumpy Finish
The payroll tax cut is becoming increasingly treacherous for both parties, as House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid are stuck in an impasse before Congress tries to adjourn for the year Friday (Raju and Sherman, 12/12).

NPR: Congress At Impasse Over Must-Pass Measures
On the line are extended unemployment benefits for millions who have been out of work more than six months, and a payroll tax holiday that if it isn’t extended would mean $1,000 less in take-home pay next year for the average family. Before the end of the year, Congress also has to act on the so-called doc fix, otherwise Medicare reimbursements for doctors would drop drastically. And there are numerous tax fixes that add up to billions of dollars (Keith, 12/13).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Plan To Raise Medicare Premiums For Upper-Income Retirees Would Affect Middle Class As Well
Raising taxes on millionaires may be a non-starter for Republicans, but they seem to have no problem hiking Medicare premiums for retirees making a lot less. The House is expected to vote Tuesday on a year-end economic package that includes increasing premiums for “high-income” Medicare beneficiaries, currently those making $85,000 and above for individuals, or $170,000 for families (12/13).

The New York Times: GOP Bill Would Benefit Doctor-Owned Hospitals
The House Republican bill to hold down payroll taxes and extend unemployment benefits, coming up for a vote on Tuesday, offers a special dispensation to doctors who invest in hospitals (Pear, 12/12).

Politico: GOP Eyes Health Funds For Tax Cut
House Republicans hope to dip into a big but complicated pot of money in the health reform law to pay for payroll tax relief and Medicare payments to physicians. Less than two years after the health law passed, it’s the third time Congress has considered tapping into this portion of the health law funds — the subsidies that will help low and some middle-class families buy health insurance in the new state exchanges starting in 2014 (Haberkorn, 12/12).

USA Today: Health Care Case Adds Pressure For Cameras In Supreme Court
Now that the Supreme Court has agreed to hear a dispute over the federal health care law, the justices are facing the strongest challenge to their ban on televised hearings. Members of Congress and news industry leaders have asked the court to allow the televising of oral arguments, to be held over five and a half hours during two days in March. A USA TODAY/Gallup Poll found that 72% of the people surveyed think the justices should allow cameras for those arguments (Biskupic, 12/12).

Politico: Rule Could Hit Insurance Brokers
A new federal health insurance rule in President Barack Obama’s health care law was supposed to crack down on wasteful administrative expenses, but insurance agents and brokers say they’re about to become unintended casualties. And so far, they haven’t been able to get the Obama administration or Congress to do much about it (Millman, 12/12).

The Wall Street Journal’s Deal Journal Blog: Sen. Grassley: Hedge Funds May Have Gotten ‘Special Treatment’ From Medicare Administrator
Sen. Chuck Grassley sent a letter on Monday to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, saying he believes the organization may have given special treatment to information requests from hedge funds and political intelligence brokers “who seek to profit from government information.” A representative for CMS didn’t immediately comment Monday (Eder and Burton, 12/12).

Los Angeles Times: Fact Check: Would Mitt Romney Have Won His $10,000 Bet?
Say what you will about the political wisdom of making a $10,000 wager with one of your GOP rivals at a time of economic distress. As far as the fact-checkers are concerned, Rick Perry would be writing Mitt Romney a check today if he had taken him up on his wager on healthcare reform (Memoli, 12/12).

Politico: Newt Gingrich Played Key Role In Medicare Drug Benefit
It was a challenge suited for a dynamic orator, a politician who could captivate doubters with his command of the subject matter and ability to articulate a grand vision for the future. But eight years later, as Gingrich has cemented his status as the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, memories of his advocacy for a major expansion of the health care entitlement are sending up yellow caution flags among some hard-core conservatives (Allen, 12/12).

The Wall Street Journal: Medtronic To Pay $23.5 Million To Settle Kickback Allegations
Medtronic Inc. has agreed to pay $23.5 million to resolve allegations that it paid illegal kickbacks to physicians who participated in its postmarket studies and device registries to induce doctors to implant the company’s pacemakers and defibrillators, the Department of Justice said Monday (Tadena, 12/13).

The Associated Press/New York Times: Medtronic Agrees To $23.5 Million Settlement In Kickback Case
Medtronic, the world’s largest maker of medical devices, has agreed to pay $23.5 million to settle accusations that it paid kickbacks to doctors to implant its pacemakers and defibrillators, the Justice Department said Monday (12/12).