First Edition: November 18, 2010

In today's headlines, reports about CMS Administrator Donald Berwick's Senate testimony and more details about how the Rivlin-Domenici deficit reduction panel would address health care costs.

Vulnerable Democrat Looks For Alternatives To Health Insurance Mandate
Reporting for Kaiser Health News, Bara Vaida writes: "Under political pressure as a result of the new health law, Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., has asked the Government Accountability Office to study alternatives to the controversial mandate requiring most Americans to obtain coverage. The request is significant in that it could signal that Nelson is willing to work with Senate Republicans who want to repeal and replace unpopular parts of the health law, like the individual mandate that takes effect in 2014" (Kaiser Health News).

Berwick Pushes Quality Of Health Care, Defends Reform Law
Kaiser Health News staff writer Mary Agnes Carey talks about the Wednesday's Senate testimony by Donald Berwick, the administrator of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Read the transcript or listen to the audio.

Compared To Other Countries, U.S. Patients Have More Access To Specialists, Less To Primary Care
Kaiser Health News' Amita Parashar reports: "A new international survey finds that U.S. consumers report greater access to specialty health care but also have a tougher time seeing a doctor on the day they need help and in paying their medical bills than consumers in many of other developed nations" (Kaiser Health News).

KHN Column – The Medicare Doc Fix: Physicians Again Are Staring Into The Abyss
In a Kaiser Health News column, Gail Wilensky writes: "What used to be an annual exercise -- waiting to see whether and by how much Congress would increase payments to physicians under Medicare -- has now become a more frequent and even more frustrating activity for physicians. At the end of November the latest financial 'fix' for these payments expires and, if nothing is done, physicians who see Medicare patients will face an across-the-board 23 percent reduction in their fees. If nothing happens by January, physicians would face an additional 7 percent reduction" (Kaiser Health News).

New Deficit Report Recommends Seniors Pay More For Medicare
Kaiser Health News staff writers Phil Galewitz and Jordan Rau filed this update: "Backers of the latest plan said they hoped it would spur a reluctant public and elected leaders to grapple with painful choices needed to get the country's spending under control. But others warned the political prospects of the plan seemed doubtful — particularly for some of the more far-reaching ideas, such as limiting the amount the government would spend on Medicare beneficiaries" (Kaiser Health News).

Deficit Panels Go Where Politicians Won't
The sponsors of the plans say that the scale of the nation's fiscal problem is too great to resolve without both raising taxes and cutting projected spending on Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, all popular entitlement programs (The New York Times).

Rivlin-Domenici Put Medicare On A Weight Loss Diet
The latest entry in the deficit reduction sweepstakes from the Bipartisan Policy Center calls for a major overhaul of Medicare financing that would turn most of the program over to the private insurance industry and cap government support (The Fiscal Times).

Deficit Commission Debates Rep. Ryan's Proposal For Dramatic Changes To Medicare
President Barack Obama's deficit commission on Wednesday debated a dramatic plan to gradually turn Medicare from a system in which the government pays most beneficiaries' medical bills into a program in which seniors would purchase health insurance with government-issued vouchers (The Associated Press/Los Angeles Times).

Deficit Proposal Draws Mixed Review
A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll shows Americans skeptical of deficit-cutting proposals laid out by the chairmen of a commission appointed by the White House (The Wall Street Journal).

Medicare And Medicaid Chief Defends Health Care Law
Dr. Donald M. Berwick, the new chief of Medicare and Medicaid, survived his first confrontation with Republican lawmakers on Wednesday, brushing aside criticism of the new health care law and denouncing efforts to repeal it (The New York Times).

Republicans Grill Obama's Medicare-Medicaid Chief
Previewing the partisan healthcare battle to come next year, the Obama administration's new head of Medicare and Medicaid squared off against irritated Republicans on Capitol Hill for the first time Wednesday in a renewed debate over the healthcare overhaul (Los Angeles Times).

In Rushed Senate Hearing, Medicare Chief Dodges GOP Blows
Donald Berwick, the man who came to embody everything the GOP hates about the new health care law, finally got his first hearing before Congress (NPR).

Medicare Head Appears Before Senate
Donald Berwick made his much-anticipated first appearance before the Senate on Wednesday and told lawmakers it wasn't his choice that his confirmation as head of Medicare and Medicaid bypassed Congress (The Wall Street Journal).

Medicare Chief Makes 1st Appearance Before Senate
As a physician and thinker, Donald Berwick was known as one of the nation's leading health care innovators. As President Barack Obama's Medicare chief, he's been a mystery man — until Wednesday (The Associated Press/Washington Post).

Scott Brown, Ron Wyden Offering Health-Care Revision
Sens. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) will introduce legislation Thursday allowing states to opt out of the controversial individual-mandate requirement of the health care reform law far sooner than they would under the law passed by Democrats earlier this year (Politico).

California Employers' Healthcare Costs Rose 8.4% This Year
California employers that provide health insurance benefits for their workers have seen their costs rise 8.4% this year, outpacing increases for businesses nationally, and fees could climb 11.4% next year, a study showed Wednesday (Los Angeles Times).

Survey: Average Health-Insurance Deductible Is Now $1,200
Close your eyes and take yourself back to 2005 for a minute: George W. Bush had his second inauguration, "Star Wars: Episode III–Revenge of the Sith" was burning up the box office and health-insurance deductibles were only about $770. But in 2010, the average deductible for PPOs, the most common employer-provider health plan, hit a whopping $1,200, according to a Mercer survey of 2,836 employers with 10 or more employees (The Wall Street Journal's Health Blog).

Cancer Drug Wins Support From Panel
A new treatment for prostate cancer called Provenge won a vote of confidence from a Medicare coverage advisory committee Wednesday, suggesting the federal program is likely to pay for the $93,000-per-patient medicine (The Wall Street Journal).

Mass. Aims To Cut Drug Overuse For Dementia
State regulators and the Massachusetts nursing home industry are launching a campaign today to reduce the inappropriate use of antipsychotic medications for residents with dementia — a practice that endangers lives and is more common here than in most other states (The Boston Globe).

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