First Edition: August 2, 2011

Today's headlines reveal how some specific elements of the debt-ceiling deal might impact Medicare providers.

Kaiser Health News: Health On The Hill: Medicaid Untouched, Medicare Spared – For Now—In Debt Deal
Kaiser Health News' Mary Agnes Carey talks with Jackie Judd about the lack of Medicare and Medicaid cuts in the initial round of cuts tied to the debt ceiling increase, and about what sort of cuts the programs could be open to later in the year (8/1).

Kaiser Health News: Insuring Your Health: Getting Up Close And Personal With Emergency Care, Canadian Style
In her latest Kaiser Health News consumer column Michelle Andrews writes: "It had been a gorgeous day of cycling the rolling hills of Quebec's Eastern Townships. I wasn't traveling very fast when I hit a patch of gravel on the trail, but I went flying, landing hard on my left side. … As my two friends propped me up and tried to identify our location for the 911 dispatcher, I awaited my first real-life encounter with the mostly government-funded Canadian health-care system" (Andrews, 8/2).

Capsules, KHN’s News Blog: Free Birth Control For Many, Courtesy Of HHS
Now on the blog, Jenny Gold reports: "With co-payments of $10 to $35 a month, birth control pills can add up to an expensive precaution for American women, even those with private insurance. But a new rule issued today by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services makes those fees a worry of the past for many insured women. Under the health overhaul passed by Congress last year, private insurers will now be required to provide women with a whole range of preventive services, including birth control, without charging a co-payment, co-insurance or deductible" (Gold, 8/1). Also on Capsules, Jordan Rau writers that Medicare has scaled back its rule on hospitals with pricey patients, and Mary Agnes Carey reports that provider groups are not happy with the debt-ceiling compromise. Check out the blog.

The Washington Post: House Passes Historic Debt Deal On Eve Of Deadline
The Senate vote is set for noon Tuesday. Approval would send the measure to President Obama and immediately grant the Treasury $400 billion in additional borrowing authority, just hours before a midnight deadline (Kane and Montgomery, 8/1).

The Wall Street Journal: Uneasy House OK’s Debt Deal
Both liberals and conservatives were upset by parts of the deal. Democratic and Republican party leaders spent Monday trying to get them on board (Bendavid and McKinnon, 8/2).

Los Angeles Times: Debt Ceiling Deal Accomplishes Little
High-stakes negotiations force people to reveal what they really care about, and in the 11th-hour deal to stave off a federal financial default, President Obama and congressional Democrats and Republicans each made clear their top priorities. For Republicans, it was preventing any tax increase to upper-income families. For Democrats, it was ensuring no cuts to Social Security, Medicaid and a handful of other programs that aid the elderly and the poor (Lauter, 8/1).

Politico: Medicare Providers Face Cuts
Physicians, home health practitioners and other providers could see an additional 2 percent pay cut on top of double-digit Medicare reductions already slated for 2012 under the debt ceiling deal reached by the White House and congressional leaders late Sunday. There's also more general concern about a new congressional panel to be created by the deal that would have broad authority to cut federal spending on Medicare, Medicaid and even some parts of President Barack Obama's health care law, according to health care lobbyists and budget officials (Dobias, 8/1).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Advocates For Seniors And Health Care Industry Fear Big Cuts Could Flow From Debt Deal
When it comes to Medicare and Medicaid, the debt deal raises more questions than it answers. The giant health care programs serving some 100 million elderly, low-income and disabled Americans were spared from the first round of cuts in the agreement between President Barack Obama and congressional leaders. But everything's on the chopping block for a powerful new congressional committee that will be created under the deal to scour the budget for savings (8/2).

The Wall Street Journal: Health-Care Companies Are Infected By Severe Case Of Washington Jitters
A wide swath of nursing-home companies and other health-care providers are getting rattled by the political drama in Washington. On Monday, Medicare's plan to cut nearly $4 billion dollars in spending to nursing-home operators—an attempt to correct flaws in the agency's reimbursement rates—spooked a health-care industry already on edge from the increased scrutiny of government spending. The growing push to rein in health-care costs, as indicated by the debt debate, weighed on the entire health-care sector, especially those companies that would feel the bite of Medicare cutbacks most directly, such as hospitals. Affected groups warned of poorer medical care for the nation's seniors as a result of any cuts. But the biggest losers Monday were the operators of nursing homes (Korn and Kamp, 8/2).

Politico: Lawmakers Eye Super Committee
Publicly, most lawmakers say they have no desire to be named to the so-called super committee tasked with finding an additional $1.5 trillion in cuts to the deficit by Thanksgiving. But behind the scenes, some are already beginning to jockey for seats on the 12-member bipartisan panel, which many see as a historic opportunity to overhaul the Tax Code and entitlements. … But if the committee fails to present a deficit-reduction package by Nov. 23, the day before Thanksgiving, or if Congress deadlocks and fails to pass the plan or enacts less than $1.2 trillion in cuts by Dec. 23, across-the-board spending cuts would be triggered to make up the difference between the committee number and the $1.2 trillion savings goal. Those automatic cuts would largely affect defense spending, a top priority for Republicans, and Medicare, a favorite program of Democrats, creating a strong incentive for both parties to reach a deal and pass the bill (Wong and Haberkorn, 8/1).

The New York Times: Lawmakers In Both Parties Fear That New Budget Panel Will Erode Authority
Lawmakers from both parties expressed scorn on Monday for a central feature of the deficit-reduction deal that creates a powerful 12-member committee of Congress to recommend major changes in entitlement programs and the tax code. … The stated goal of the new joint committee — composed of equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans from the House and the Senate — is to reduce federal budget deficits by a total of at least $1.5 trillion over 10 years. If Congress does not promptly enact its recommendations, the government would automatically cut spending across the board in hundreds of military and nonmilitary programs, including Medicare (Pear and Rampell, 8/1).

The New York Times: States And Cities Brace For Less Federal Money
But states did see one hopeful sign. While the deal calls for a series of large automatic spending cuts in the coming years if Congress fails to agree on how to trim the budget deficit, it exempts Medicaid — the program that is perhaps the single most important stream of federal spending for states — from those automatic cuts. Much of the uncertainty stems from the mechanics of the deal itself. The deal requires a new committee of members of Congress to meet this fall to try to come up with ways to reduce the deficit by $1.5 trillion. If they fail, the deal calls for $1.2 trillion in automatic budget cuts, divided between military and domestic spending but leaving Social Security and Medicaid alone (Nagourney and Cooper, 8/1).

The Washington Post: New U.S. Rules Require Insurance Coverage For Contraception
Marking a new milestone in long-running efforts to make health insurance more equitable for women, the Obama administration announced Monday that tens of millions of women will soon be able to get birth control, breast pumps, HIV tests and five other categories of preventive services without co-pays or other out-of-pocket insurance charges. The rules issued by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius amount to one of the most wide-reaching and potentially popular provisions of the health-care law adopted last year (Aizenman, 8/1).

The New York Times: Insurance coverage For Contraception Is Required
The Obama administration issued new standards on Monday that require health insurance plans to cover all government-approved contraceptives for women, without co-payments or other charges (Pear, 8/1).

The Wall Street Journal: Law Eases Availability Of Birth Control
The requirement is part of the broader effort in the law to make preventive benefits more accessible to insured Americans. The new regulation classifies methods of contraception approved by the Food and Drug Administration as a preventive service, opening the door for millions of women to get doctor-prescribed birth-control pills, sterilization and other means of birth control with no out-of-pocket cost. The move is a major win for those who favor broad access to birth control and will help some lower-income women get such services (Adamy, 8/2).

Los Angeles Times: Healthcare Partnership Pays Big Dividends
A rare alliance of healthcare rivals — a giant insurance company, a major hospital chain and a large doctors group — has managed to reduce healthcare costs through a radical new strategy: working together. The collaboration among Blue Shield of California, Catholic Healthcare West and Hill Physicians Medical Group shaved more than $20 million in costs last year and prevented an insurance rate hike for public sector workers in Northern California (Helfand, 8/1).

The New York Times: Reaping Millions In Nonprofit Care For Disabled
Medicaid money created quite a nice life for the Levy brothers from Flatbush, Brooklyn. The brothers, Philip and Joel, earned close to $1 million a year each as the two top executives running a Medicaid-financed nonprofit organization serving the developmentally disabled (Buettner, 8/2).

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