Today’s Headlines – December 19, 2011

Good morning! Here are your A.M. headlines to get you going:

The New York Times: Extension Of Tax Cut Stalls In House As GOP Objects
The once-seemingly sure deal, which allowed the Senate to recess for the year, was for a $33 billion package of bills to keep the Social Security tax paid by most workers at 4.2 percent rather than 6.2 percent, extend unemployment benefits for those already receiving them, and avoid reductions in Medicare payments to doctors. The measure would be effective through February (Steinhauer, 12/18).

The Washington Post: Boehner: House Republicans Oppose Senate Payroll Tax Cut  Deal
Boehner’s comments came a day after the Senate agreed to a two-month extension in a payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits that will expire Jan. 1, top priorities for President Obama and congressional Democrats. The White House and congressional Democrats responded that if the House does not proceed on the compromise that overwhelmingly passed the Senate, Republicans will be to blame (Sonmez and Helderman, 12/18).

For more headlines …

Los Angeles Times: Boehner Rejects Tax Cut Deal
The Republican-controlled House was expected to vote down the Senate’s two-month extension of the tax break Monday in a largely symbolic demonstration that the stopgap deal is unacceptable. The tax break expires Dec. 31. … Democrats think they have the political advantage in highlighting the GOP’s obstruction of the tax package, which also extends long-term unemployment benefits and ensures that doctors who treat Medicare patients do not see their pay cut by more than 20% in 2012. Their House campaign arm will begin targeting politically vulnerable GOP lawmakers Monday. Returning to the issue in two months would give Democrats another chance to reinforce that message (Mascaro and Hennessey, 12/18).

The Wall Street Journal: House Balks At Payroll Tax Deal
Both sides want to extend a program that provides for longer unemployment benefits while the economy remains weak. Republicans, however, favor eventually reducing the maximum benefits for workers to 59 weeks from 99 weeks. Both sides also agree that a Medicare payment formula must be adjusted so doctors don’t see a drop in payments next year (Bendavid and Meckler, 12/19).

Politico: First Crack At Essential Benefits Dodges Backlash
The Obama administration’s first crack at defining minimum health benefits did exactly what consumer groups hoped it wouldn’t do: It gave states a choice of “benchmark” plans rather than spelling out the details. But the administration seems to have pulled it off — because there was no backlash to be found from groups that championed the law (Millman, 12/18).

The Washington Post: Aided By Referral Bonuses, Hospice Industry Booms
Hospice care, once chiefly a charitable cause, has become a growth industry, with $14 billion in revenue, 1,800 for-profit providers and a base of Medicare-covered patients that doubled to 1.1 million from 2000 to 2009 (Waldman, 12/17).

USA Today: Congress Approves $10 Million For Gulf War Illness Research
Congress has approved dedicating $10 million to research the mysterious Gulf War illness, ending concerns from veterans’ groups that the money would disappear because of budget problems (Kennedy, 12/18).

The New York Times: Digital Data On Patients Raises Risk Of Breaches
So began a nightmare that cost Mr. Tripathi’s small nonprofit health consultancy nearly $300,000 in legal, private investigation, credit monitoring and media consultancy fees. Not to mention 600 hours dealing with the fallout and the intangible cost of repairing the reputational damage that followed (Perlroth, 12/18).

The Wall Street Journal: Hospital Faces Scrutiny
On two separate occasions this year, Brookdale Hospital Medical Center—a once-venerable institution that serves some of the city’s most impoverished patients—has been threatened with expulsion from public-health insurance programs after flunking multiple government safety inspections. The hospital relies heavily on Medicaid and Medicare for financial support (Gershman, 12/19).