First Edition: February 17, 2011

In today's news, reports about a "potential escape hatch" for states struggling with their ever-increasing Medicaid rolls.

Kaiser Health News: States Seeking To Cut Medicaid Rolls Get Some Help – From The Feds
Kaiser Health News staff writer Marilyn Werber Serafini reports: "By telling Arizona Tuesday it can effectively end Medicaid coverage of a quarter million people, the Obama administration has pointed out a potential escape hatch for other financially strapped states seeking to cut people from the program. It’s just not clear how big the hatch is" (Werber Serafini, 2/16).

Los Angeles Times: CBS News Poll: Most Americans Don't Want To Strip Healthcare Law Of Its Funding
Even as Republicans attempt to de-fund the president's healthcare overhaul on the House floor this week, a new poll suggests that they should proceed with caution (Oliphant, 2/16).

Politico: Ken Cuccinelli Spreads Love For Mass. Mandate
Hotshot Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has no trouble with the individual mandate to buy health insurance enacted by Mitt Romney in Massachusetts. The Virginia lawman said the Massachusetts law is perfectly legitimate because of the sovereignty of the commonwealth (Nocera, 2/16).

The Washington Post: Obama Administration Likely To Block Arizona Plan To Cut 250,000 From Medicaid Rolls
The Obama administration would permit a controversial plan by Arizona's governor to cut an estimated 250,000 impoverished adults from Medicaid, despite a provision in the new health-care law barring states from tightening their eligibility standards for the program, federal officials said Wednesday (Aizenman, 2/16).

The New York Times: Sebelius Clears The Way For Arizona To Shed Adults From Medicaid
The Obama administration gave a green light on Tuesday to Arizona's plan to remove about 250,000 adults from its Medicaid rolls, instructing the state that it could circumvent a requirement in the new health care law that prohibits reductions in eligibility (Sack, 2/16).

The Wall Street Journal: Deficit Plan Details Emerge
A bipartisan group of senators is considering legislation that would trigger new taxes and budget cuts if Congress fails to meet a set of mandatory spending targets and other fiscal goals aimed at reducing federal deficits. The plan would break the task of deficit reduction into four pieces: a tax code overhaul; discretionary spending cuts; changes to Medicare, Medicaid and other entitlements; and changes to Social Security, aides said. The Social Security system is on firmer financial footing than other major entitlement programs and raises political sensitivities that lawmakers want to deal with separately (Weisman, 2/17).

The New York Times: Four States Get Waivers To Carry Out Health Law
The Obama administration said Wednesday that it had granted broad waivers to four states allowing health insurance companies to continue offering less generous benefits than they would otherwise be required to provide this year under the new federal health care law (Pear, 2/16).

The New York Times: Political Memo: Christie, In Washington, Chides Everyone On Debt
The assessment from Mr. Christie, a first-term Republican, added another voice to the debate unfolding this week about whether leaders are addressing the long-term budget problems with sufficient seriousness and urgency. He joined what has become a steady procession of Republican governors coming to Washington, offering pointed warnings that tiptoeing around Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid spending is no longer acceptable. Gov. Mitch Daniels of Indiana presented a similar admonition a few days ago, arguing that the country’s fiscal condition is a new "red menace" (Zeleny, 2/16).

The Washington Post: Bipartisan 'Gang Of Six' In Senate Developing Framework For Deficit Reduction
That group hopes to advance the [Obama's fiscal] commission's recommendations, which would reduce deficits by $4 trillion over the next decade. Doing so would require lawmakers to embrace some politically perilous policies, however, including raising the retirement age, charging wealthy seniors more for Medicare and closing cherished but expensive tax breaks that riddle the tax code (Montgomery, 2/17).

Politico: Paul Ryan Vows To Target Medicare And Medicaid
The top House budget writer vowed this week to craft a blueprint for the nation's fiscal future that proposes significant reforms to Medicare and Medicaid — but not necessarily to Social Security — as he criticized President Barack Obama for choosing not to address entitlement spending in his fiscal 2012 budget (J. Allen and M. Allen, 2/17).

Politico: House Judiciary Approves Tort Reform
The House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday approved a medical malpractice reform bill by an 18-15 party-line vote after turning aside several Democratic attempts to amend it, including one which mirrored the concerns of two Republican members of the panel (Coughlin, 2/16).

Los Angeles Times: 7 States Get Grants To Develop Online Shopping Systems For Health Insurance
The Obama administration awarded $241 million in grants to seven states to develop new Internet-based systems that would let many Americans shop for health insurance online. These so-called exchanges, a key foundation of the health overhaul that President Obama signed last March, are intended to make buying a health plan comparable to shopping the Internet for an airline ticket or a hotel room (Levey, 2/17).

The Washington Post: Gates Defends Health-Care Fee Increase For Retirees
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates on Wednesday defended his plan to increase by $5 a month the fee retired working-age military personnel pay for family health-care coverage, after a member of Congress called it a "breach of trust" (Pincus, 2/16).

The Wall Street Journal: Wisconsin Public Workers Protest Governor's Proposal
For a second straight day, thousands of Wisconsin public employees converged on the state capitol in Madison to protest Gov. Scott Walker's plan to close the state's projected $3.6 billion budget shortfall by increasing the cost of their pensions and health benefits and taking away their collective bargaining rights (Maher and Belkin, 2,17).

The Wall Street Journal Health Blog: Reined-In Demand For Health Care Is Here To Stay: Moody's
Americans have been using fewer and less expensive medical services due to a sluggish economy and a drive by employers to push onto workers a larger share of health costs. A report out from Moody's Investors Service today says some of that toothpaste isn’t going back in the tube: analysts see a "more permanent shift in consumer behavior" that will "continue to constrain health-care demand" (Hobson, 2/16).

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