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Today’s Headlines – Jan. 7, 2013

Today’s early morning highlights from the major news organizations, including news about entitlement spending in the context of the debt debate, as well as reports regarding the health insurance industry.

The Associated Press/Washington Post: White House, GOP Draw Red Lines In Debate On US Debt Limit, Vow Not To Budge
Republicans say they are willing to raise the debt ceiling but insist any increase must be paired with significant savings from Medicare, Medicaid and other government benefit programs. President Barack Obama has said he’s willing to consider spending cuts separately but won’t bargain over the government’s borrowing authority (1/7).

The Wall Street Journal: Battle Lines Drawn On Budget
Many conservative House Republicans opposed last week’s fiscal-cliff measure, which raised income-tax rates for the first time in almost two decades and contained no long-term spending cuts of any significance. That bill would reduce the deficit by some $620 billion over 10 years, far short of the $4 trillion in deficit reduction that some leaders had hoped to negotiate. “Now, it’s time to pivot and turn to the real issue, which is our spending addiction,” Mr. McConnell said Sunday. He said any cuts should target entitlements such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, which Democrats have been reluctant to cut (Gorman and Nicholas, 1/6).

For more headlines …

Bloomberg News/The New York Times: Letter From Washington: U.S. Fiscal Talks Made No One Look Good
Tougher still is the substance. House Republicans are all for big spending cuts, though other than some easy ones, including going after programs for the poor, they duck specifics. They are fierce deficit hawks in principle, yet when specific cuts to Medicare, a health insurance program for the elderly, or Social Security, a retirement fund, are raised, they turn into pacifists. And the president, who wouldn’t play for keeps when he had the leverage, vows this time will be different. He won’t negotiate over the debt ceiling; that would be tantamount, he proclaims, to negotiating with terrorists. Mr. Obama demands that any spending cuts be accompanied by revenue increases (Hunt, 1/6).

The New York Times: Health Insurers Raise Some Rates by Double Digits
Health insurance companies across the country are seeking and winning double-digit increases in premiums for some customers, even though one of the biggest objectives of the Obama administration’s health care law was to stem the rapid rise in insurance costs for consumers. … Under the health care law, regulators are now required to review any request for a rate increase of 10 percent or more … The review process not only reveals the sharp disparity in the rates themselves, it also demonstrates the striking difference between places like New York, one of the 37 states where legislatures have given regulators some authority to deny or roll back rates deemed excessive, and California, which is among the states that do not have that ability (Abelson, 1/5).

Politico: Hospitals Flex Lobbying Muscle To Bypass Some Cuts
For all the hits the hospital industry took in the final fiscal cliff deal, it managed to persuade Congress to avoid some of the biggest cuts that had been looming over it for years: cuts to outpatient payments, graduate medical education and “bad debt” payments. The hospitals aren’t celebrating — Congress still cut the industry elsewhere, and hospital lobbyists insist those savings will be painful. But the fact that hospitals escaped the most widely expected cuts shows that the industry still holds real power with lawmakers (Haberkorn, 1/7).

Bloomberg/The Washington Post: Weapons Makers Try Health Care Amid Defense Cuts
Top weapons makers Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics are pursuing and winning health-care projects as the Pentagon weighs hundreds of billions of dollars in cuts. Lockheed Martin, the top federal contractor, won $472 million in awards from the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Health and Human Services in the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, about five times more than in 2002. General Dynamics, the No. 3 U.S. vendor, won almost nine times as much work, or $398 million, from the two health-focused agencies last year compared with fiscal 2002 (Miller, 1/6).

The Washington Post’s Wonkblog: The Breast Pump Industry Is Booming, Thanks To Obamacare
Tucked within the Affordable Care Act is a provision requiring insurance companies to cover breast pumps and visits to lactation consultants at no cost to the patient. Other mandated benefits, including the requirement to pay for contraceptives, drew far more attention and controversy. But when health insurance plans began resetting Jan. 1 under the new terms, it was the breast- pump clause that took off with consumers. … Insurance companies are figuring out the best way to navigate the federal regulation and provide a benefit that, until now, they had not routinely covered (Kliff, 1/4).

The New York Times: Pregnancy Centers Gain Influence in Anti-Abortion Arena
With free pregnancy tests and ultrasounds, along with diapers, parenting classes and even temporary housing, pregnancy centers are playing an increasingly influential role in the anti-abortion movement. While most attention has focused on scores of new state laws restricting abortion, the centers have been growing in numbers and gaining state financing and support. … Abortion rights advocates have long called some of their approaches deceptive or manipulative. Medical and other experts say some dispense scientifically flawed information, exaggerating abortion’s risks (Belluck, 1/4).

The New York Times: Massachusetts Plans Stricter Control of Compounding Pharmacies
New laws to strengthen state control of compounding pharmacies were proposed on Friday by Gov. Deval Patrick, in hopes of preventing another public health disaster like the current outbreak of meningitis caused by a contaminated drug made in Massachusetts. … The legislation would establish strict licensing requirements for compounding sterile drugs; let the state assess fines against pharmacies that break its rules; protect whistle-blowers who work in compounding pharmacies; and reorganize the state pharmacy board to include more members who are independent of the industry and fewer who are part of it (Goodnough and Grady, 1/4).

Los Angeles Times: Vast Cache Of Kaiser Patient Details Was Kept In Private Home
Federal and state officials are investigating whether healthcare giant Kaiser Permanente violated patient privacy in its work with an Indio couple who stored nearly 300,000 confidential hospital records for the company (Terhune, 1/5).

The Associated Press/Wall Street Journal: NYers To Save $500M On Health Insurance Premiums
Governor Andrew Cuomo says new state power to limit rate hikes will save New Yorkers more than $500 million on health insurance premiums in 2013. Cuomo announced Sunday that health insurers requested average increases of about 12.4 percent, but the state Department of Financial Services cut the average increase to 7.5 percent (1/6).