Today’s Headlines – December 6, 2011

Good morning! Today’s early morning highlights from the major news organizations, including a story detailing how the health law is helping Medicare beneficiaries save money on their prescription drug costs.

Politico: 2011 Policy Report Cared: Health Care Forecast
With a presidential election and a Supreme Court ruling, 2012 will be the year that could determine whether the health reform law moves forward, is stripped of big pieces or gets (mostly) shut down. The elections will set the course for the law — if the Supreme Court doesn’t strike down the individual mandate before then. Health and Human Services and the states will move ahead — some of the states, anyway — and Congress will be in a holding pattern (Kenen and Nather, 12/5).

The Wall Street Journal: GOP Rejects Democrats’ New Payroll-Tax Bill
Despite criticism from rank-and-file conservatives, House Republican leaders are trying to craft a $200 billion plan that also would extend jobless benefits for long-term unemployed beyond Dec. 31. In addition, the GOP bill would preserve current Medicare payments to doctors by renewing a law that has blocked cuts from taking place.  The biggest difference between the parties, however, is in how they propose to offset the cost of those extensions. Republicans want to extend a current federal employee pay freeze, and possibly require upper-income people to pay more for Medicare (Hook, 12/6).

For more headlines …

Los Angeles Times: Payroll Tax Debate Dominates Capitol Hill Agenda This Week
Both sides are angling for the political advantage as the deadline looms for approving the tax break extension. Two attempts to pass the payroll holiday last week drew widespread resistance from the GOP. Republicans in the Senate shot down a proposal to pay for an enhanced tax break with a surtax on those earning beyond $1 million a year. The GOP also shot down the Republican proposal to pay for the tax break with budget cuts and by asking the wealthy to pay more for Medicare (Mascaro, 12/5).

USA Today: Health Care Law Changing Behavior
More than 2.65 million Medicare recipients have saved more than $1.5 billion on their prescriptions this year, a $569-per-person average, while premiums have remained stable, the government plans to announce today. That’s because of the provision of the health care law that put a 50% discount on prescription drugs in the “doughnut hole,” the gap between traditional and catastrophic coverage in the drug benefit, also known as Part D (Kennedy, 12/6).

The Associated Press/Los Angeles Times: Medicare To Allow Using Its Data To Rate Doctors, Hospitals
Picking a specialist for a delicate medical procedure like a heart bypass could get a lot easier in the not-too-distant future. The government announced Monday that Medicare will allow its extensive claims database to be used by employers, insurance companies and consumer groups to produce report cards on doctors and hospitals (12/5).

The New York Times: Concerns Over Merger In Pharmacy
Express Scripts’ proposed $29 billion acquisition of Medco Health Solutions is expected to face intensified scrutiny on Tuesday when a Senate panel examines potential antitrust concerns raised by the merger of two of the country’s largest pharmacy benefit managers (Abelson and Singer, 12/5).

The Washington Post: Battle Over Military Health-Care Premiums Slows – For Now
Now that the sweeping defense authorization bill for 2012 has passed the Senate and House, the fight over Tricare, the health insurance plan for the military, has reached a truce — for the moment. House and Senate negotiators are working out differences in the defense authorization bill before it goes to President Obama, but Tricare is not among the contested issues (Rein, 12/5).

The New York Times: Many Workers In Public Sector Retiring Sooner
As states and cities struggle to resolve paralyzing budget shortfalls by sending workers on unpaid furloughs, freezing salaries and extracting larger contributions for health benefits and pensions, a growing number of public-sector workers are finding fewer reasons to stay. But increasingly workers fear a permanent shift away from the traditional security of government jobs, and they are making plans to get out now, before salaries and retirement benefits retreat further (Davey, 12/5).

NPR: Young People Put Dent In Nursing Shortage
You know that shortage of nurses people have been warning about for about the last decade or two? Fuhgeddaboudit! That’s the upshot of a study in the latest issue the policy journal Health Affairs. The authors, economists from RAND Health and Dartmouth College and a nursing professor from Vanderbilt University, found a surprising upswing in the number of young women (aged 23-26) choosing nursing as a career between 2002 and 2009 (Rovner, 12/5).

The New York Times: Graying Town Builds Life Beyond Bingo
Elderly people are now a greater portion of the nation’s population than at any time since the government began keeping track, and the Northeast, not warm-weather retirement destinations like the South and Southwest, has the largest percentage of people 65 and older, according to the Census Bureau (Applebome, 12/5).

The Associated Press/Wall Street Journal: Bill Would Make Drug Price Gouging A Federal Crime
Price gouging on prescription drugs already in short supply would become a federal crime under legislation about to be introduced. Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said he’s proposing a bill that that would give the U.S. Department of Justice authority to crack down on “unscrupulous drug distributors” who sell hospitals life-saving prescription medicines in short supply at huge markups (12/6).