First Edition: November 30, 2010

Today's headlines include reports on congressional action on the Medicare doc 'pay fix' as well as results from a new poll related to how the public thinks Medicare should be addressed in the context of deficit reduction.  

Deficit Reduction Plans Would Squeeze Medicare
Kaiser Health News staff writer Mary Agnes Carey writes: "Spurred by growing concerns about the federal deficit, plans to curb Medicare spending are proliferating -- setting the stage for potentially bruising battles between seniors’ advocates and budget cutters" (Kaiser Health News).

Insuring Your Health: In New Insurance Model, Costs Are Based On Value Of The Treatment
In her latest Kaiser Health News consumer column, Michelle Andrews writes: "What if, instead of making a $10 insurance copayment for your cholesterol lowering drug, your employer provided it and other drugs to manage chronic conditions for free? What if your company also paid for weight management and smoking cessation classes? You'd probably give your employer high marks for looking out for your health" (Kaiser Health News).

In Emergency Rooms, It's Getting Tougher To Say 'No' To CT Scans
Kaiser Health News staff writer Amita Parashar reports: "Anyone who has made a recent trip to the emergency room knows the visit is likely to set off a round of routine diagnostic tests: blood work, electrocardiogram, urine sample. And a routine CT scan? A new study shows that the emergency department use of these scans – also known as computerized tomography -- has increased nearly six-fold since 1995 and shows no sign of tapering off. Is it too much?" (Kaiser Health News).

AP-CNBC Poll: Cut Services To Balance The Budget
To ease surging budget deficits, Americans prefer cutting federal services to raising taxes by nearly 2-1 in a new poll. Yet there is little consensus on specific, meaningful steps — and a wariness about touching two gargantuan programs, Social Security and Medicare (The Associated Press).

Medicare Advantage Provision Going Smoothly So Far
One of the most significant savings envisioned in the new health-care law - limiting payments to the private health plans that cover 11 million older Americans under Medicare - is, so far, bringing little of the turbulence that the insurance industry and many Republicans predicted (The Washington Post).

Senate Widens Its Probe Of Bare-Bones Health Plans
A congressional committee is widening its investigation of bare-bones health-insurance policies to encompass potentially hundreds of plans offered by low-wage employers (The Wall Street Journal).

HHS Cost Rules Put States In Middle
With pressure mounting from lobbyists for insurance agents, state regulators are scrambling to decide whether they want to apply for exemptions from the new federal rules stating how much insurers must spend on medical costs (Politico).

Congress Puts Off Cuts to Doctor Medicare Payments
Congress agreed Monday to a one-month delay in Medicare payment cuts to doctors, giving a short-term reprieve to a looming crisis over treatment of the nation's elderly (The Associated Press).

House Passes 'Doc Fix'; Medicare Cuts Now Due To Kick  In Jan. 1
The House of Representatives today passed a so-called doc fix to stave off cuts to Medicare physician payments — good thing, too, since the cuts were due to kick in Wednesday. This matches the Senate's action earlier this month (The Wall Street Journal's Health Blog).

Senate Blocks Repeal Of Tax-Filing Requirement
The Senate on Monday rejected an effort to reduce tax-related paperwork for businesses when lawmakers couldn't agree on whether they would make up the revenue the new requirement was expected to produce. The filing requirement is part of President Barack Obama's health care overhaul but not related to health care itself. It is expected to help the government collect an estimated $19 billion in taxes on underreported income over the next decade, and that revenue has been slated to help pay for changes in the health care system (The Associated Press).

UnitedHealth Sees Drop In Net
UnitedHealth Group Inc. projected lower earnings next year, becoming the second big insurer to signal caution recently as the companies start to anticipate the sting from the federal health overhaul (The Wall Street Journal).

California's Largest Health Plans Are Fined Nearly $5 Million
California's seven largest health plans were fined nearly $5 million in total Monday for failing to properly pay medical claims submitted by thousands of doctors and hospitals over the last three years (Los Angeles Times).

Plastic Surgery Centers That Fail State Standards Still Allowed To Accept Patients
Two years ago Marcia Garcia, a 39-year-old mother of five, came to a suburban office park in Anaheim Hills for outpatient plastic surgery. By day's end, she had bled to death from a puncture wound (Los Angeles Times).

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