First Edition: November 22, 2010

Today's headlines offer a range of health policy stories, including more reports on deficit reduction issues, the continuing politics swirling around the health law repeal effort and employers' soaring health care costs.

As Hospital System Expands, Patients Advocates Worry
Kaiser Health News staff writer Jordan Rau, working in collaboration with KQED and NPR, reports: "Sutter Health's gleaming $618 million Mills-Peninsula Medical Center, scheduled to open here in February, is filled with doctor- and patient-friendly features. … Although Sutter executives say these developments will improve patient care, some analysts and patient advocates worry about the growing leverage the nonprofit hospital system has in negotiating rates paid by insurers, employers and patients. Sutter already is the priciest health system in California" (Kaiser Health News). Read the related interview with Sutter Health's CEO Patrick Fry.

Big Hospital Clout Dictates Premiums
In a story for KQED, done in partnership with Kaiser Health News, Sarah Varney reports: "Over the last decade and a half, Sutter has gradually accumulated hospitals and amassed a roster of doctors who contract exclusively with the company. Sutter is now one of the largest hospital chains in California with 24 acute care hospitals" (KQED/NPR).

KHN Column: The Roadmap Lives
In his latest Kaiser Health News column, James Capretta writes: "Last year, Rep. Paul Ryan's 'Roadmap' -- his far-reaching plan to restore long-term budget balance through tax and entitlement reform -- was the subject of relentless attacks by those favoring a larger government role in American life. New York Times columnist Paul Krugman called Ryan the 'Flimflam Man' in a widely cited opinion piece in which he tried to dismiss the Roadmap as not a credible solution to the nation's budget problems. The congressional Democratic leadership followed up with an organized campaign aimed at demonizing the plan as a callous assault on Social Security and Medicare beneficiaries. … None of it worked. In fact, not only did the Roadmap survive the 2010 mid-term campaign, the election results -- and the dominoes that have fallen since -- have made it far safer politically for Roadmap proponents to advance the plan's ideas in the public square" (Kaiser Health News).

'Don't Litigate, Innovate.' How To Implement A Fully Funded Alternative To The New Health Care Overhaul – And It's Already In The Law 
In his latest Kaiser health News column, Robert Laszewski writes: "What if a Republican governor and a Republican legislature had the ability to implement their version of health insurance reform and the federal government would have to pay for it? It's a great idea. And I'm thrilled to say that a bi-partisan bill has already been introduced in the Senate by Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Scott Brown, R-Mass., that would help facilitate exactly this end" (Kaiser Health News).

Consensus Is Forming On What Steps to Take In Cutting The Deficit
After an election dominated by vague demands for less debt and smaller government, the sacrifices necessary to achieve those goals are coming into sharp focus. Big cuts at the Pentagon. Higher taxes, including those on home ownership and health care. Smaller Social Security checks and higher Medicare premiums (The Washington Post).

Letter From Washington: Vow To Repeal Health Care Holds Little Promise
Republicans won a smashing victory in U.S. national elections this month; no issue resonated more with the party’s base than President Barack Obama’s health care legislation (The New York Times).

Bipartisan Bill Would Accelerate State Opt-Out Provision In Health Law
Democrat Ron Wyden (Ore.) and Republican Scott Brown (Mass.) may have found a way to take the partisan venom out of the healthcare reform debate, according to some state officials and policy experts (The Hill).

Some States Weigh Unthinkable Option: Ending Medicaid
Huge budget shortfalls are prompting a handful of states to begin discussing a once-unthinkable scenario: dropping out of the Medicaid insurance program for the poor (The Wall Street Journal).

More Baby Boomers Enroll In Medicare Part D Plans
It's open enrollment time and seniors will find changes this year when they sign up for Medicare prescription drug benefits, called Part D plans. About two million new baby boomers are expected to enroll this year (NPR).

Long-Term Care Insurance Worries Baby Boomers
Kathy Kozakiewicz, 59, of Phoenix, decided to buy long-term care insurance after her father-in-law was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. He had to wait 18 months until space opened at a local Veterans Affairs nursing home, and during that period, the family was responsible for his care. Kozakiewicz and her husband, both retired federal workers, were determined to spare their children from that experience. But now, the Kozakiewiczes fear that their insurance could become unaffordable (USA Today).

Employers' Health-Care Costs Soar
The cost to employers of providing health benefits soared 6.9 percent on average this year, according to a national survey released last week, an increase some experts say was driven by the growing use of expensive imaging devices in hospitals and an expanding population of aging and obese patients suffering from chronic conditions (The Washington Post).

Dependents Under Scrutiny
More employers are scrutinizing employees' health-insurance dependents in order to weed out ineligible beneficiaries (The Wall Street Journal).

Healthcare Sector Loses Steam In California
Healthcare has long been one of the most reliable generators of new jobs in California. But a lousy economy has caught up with an industry once considered virtually immune to downturns (Los Angeles Times).

State's Stem Cell Agency Seeks More Time, Money
When millionaire Silicon Valley real estate developer Bob Klein launched his ballot drive to create a $3-billion state fund for stem-cell research in 2004, he pitched it as a way of taking politics out of science and focusing on cures. One particularly heartbreaking campaign ad showed former big screen Superman Christopher Reeve paralyzed in a wheelchair, struggling for breath and imploring California voters to "stand up for those who can't" (Los Angeles Times).

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This is part of Kaiser Health News' Daily Report - a summary of health policy coverage from more than 300 news organizations. The full summary of the day's news can be found here and you can sign up for e-mail subscriptions to the Daily Report here. In addition, our staff of reporters and correspondents file original stories each day, which you can find on our home page.