First Edition: August 5, 2011

In the news today... The cost of premiums for Medicare's prescription drug program won't rise in 2012. Meanwhile, Medicare data reveal a gap in hospital performance and perception.

Kaiser Health News: Insurance CEO Says Prevention, Collaboration Are Key To Controlling Costs – The KHN Interview
Reporting for Kaiser Health News, Russ Mitchell recently spoke with Blue Shield of California CEO Bruce Bodaken.  In this wide-ranging interview, Bodaken talked about future, the impact of the cap, criticism of his $4.6 million salary last year and one of his favorite subjects – Blue Shield’s partnership with CalPERS on an accountable care organization (Mitchell, 8/4).

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: HHS: Millions Of Seniors Taking Advantage Of The Health Law
Now on KHN’s news blog, Phil Galewitz reports: "The number of Medicare beneficiaries being helped by the 2010 health care overhaul continues to pile up, Obama administration boasted today." Check out the blog.

The Wall Street Journal's Washington Wire: House Democrats Attack GOP Members Over Medicare
The debt-ceiling deal preserved one line of attack for Democrats: They can still claim House Republicans for voting to change Medicare. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee today announced a campaign attacking 44 House Republicans, with the theme that Republicans want to cut Medicare. It includes radio ads, billboards, gas station ads, door-to-door efforts and phone banks. … If nothing, it shows the DCCC is trying to regain its footing after the bruising debt fight. Last month, President Barack Obama announced he would be willing to make changes to entitlement programs, including Medicare, in exchange for increased tax revenues as part of a “grand bargain” on debt reduction (Yadron, 8/4).

The New York Times: Panetta Pleads No More Cuts In Defense Spending
Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta effectively told Congress on Thursday to raise taxes and cut Social Security and Medicare before taking another swipe at the Pentagon budget beyond defense cuts already called for in the debt-ceiling deal (Bumiller, 8/4).

The Washington Post: Defense Secretary Leon Panetta Warns Against More Cuts In Pentagon Budget
Senior Pentagon officials have launched an offensive over the past two days to convince lawmakers that further reductions in Pentagon spending would imperil the country's security. Instead of slashing defense, Panetta said, the bipartisan panel should rely on tax increases and cuts to nondiscretionary spending, such as Medicare and Social Security, to provide the necessary savings (Jaffe and Ukman, 8/4).

The Associated Press: Angst In Military Over Pentagon Cuts
From the helicopters they fly to the base housing where their children sleep at night, U.S troops and their families are directly affected by the prospect of deep cuts in the Pentagon's budget. … And the troops' concerns don't end when they take off the uniform: Many retirees are dependent on the military's health insurance. … One of the most costly programs for the Defense Department is health care coverage for some 10 million active duty personnel, retirees, reservists and their families. The cost has jumped from $19 billion in 2001 to $53 billion now. Obama proposed increasing the fees for working-age retirees enrolled in the decades-old health program known as TRICARE, but has encountered resistance from lawmakers and various associations for military retirees. Debt-limit negotiators looked at changes in TRICARE for possible savings, and the special bipartisan committee is likely to consider the program in its calculations (8/5).

Los Angeles Times: Cost Of Medicare's Part D Drug Plan Is Dropping
Even as health costs continue to rise, Medicare beneficiaries will see the average price of a Part D drug plan decline slightly next year, the Obama administration announced Thursday, offering some relief amid pressure to cut the federal health insurance program for the elderly (Levey, 8/5).

The Associated Press: Medicare Prescription Premiums Won't Rise In 2012
The Obama administration had good news for seniors Thursday: The average monthly premium for Medicare's popular prescription program won't go up next year. Many seniors may even see a dip in their costs, particularly if they shop around during open enrollment season this fall (Alonso-Zaldivar, 8/4).

The Hill’s Healthwatch: Healthcare Law Has Saved Seniors $460 Million On Drugs, HHS Says
Seniors have saved more than $460 million on prescription drugs because of healthcare reform, the Health and Human Services Department said Thursday. As part of the reform law, the pharmaceutical industry agreed to offer a 50 percent discount for brand-name prescription drugs in the Medicare "doughnut hole" — the coverage gap in which seniors pay for their drugs out of pocket (Baker, 8/4).

USA Today: Medicare Data Show Gap In Hospital Performance, Perception
More than 120 hospitals given top marks by patients for providing excellent care also have a darker distinction: high death rates for heart attack, heart failure or pneumonia, a USA TODAY analysis of new Medicare data has found (Sternberg and Schnaars, 8/5).

The Hill's Healthwatch: California Stakeholders Urge Feds to Reject Gov. Brown's Medicaid Cuts
Some 20 members of a broad coalition of California healthcare stakeholders met with Medicaid agency chief Don Berwick on Thursday and urged him to reject the state's request for deep cuts to the state-federal program for low-income people (Pecquet, 8/4).

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