First Edition: July 20, 2011

Today's headlines reveal shifts in public opinion about congressional efforts to raise the nation's debt ceiling, reduce spending for Medicare and other entitlements, and raise taxes. Meanwhile, a new plan offered by the Senate's "Gang of Six" appears to be giving newfound momentum to prospects for such a deal. 

Kaiser Health News: Trends To Watch For Curbing Health Costs
Kaiser Health News staff writers Marilyn Werber Serafini and Mary Agnes Carey report: "As President Barack Obama and Capitol Hill lawmakers scramble for ways to cut federal spending, changes to federal health entitlements have been a key negotiating point. Separately, hospitals, physicians and other health care providers are already moving forward with their own efforts to aggressively test a variety of initiatives to rein in costs" (Serafini and Carey, 7/20). Watch the related video.

Kaiser Health News: Gang Of Six Deficit Plan: Executive Summary
The bipartisan group of senators' plan to reduce the deficit calls for major changes to health care programs, including Medicare, Medicaid and the CLASS act for long-term care (7/19).

KHN’s Capsules: IOM Recommends Free Birth Control For All
On the blog, Kaiser Health News staff writer Jenny Gold reports on a new Institute of Medicine report: "American women ought to be able to get their birth control for free, according to a new report from the Institute of Medicine (IOM).  The group is the latest to weigh in on which preventive services health insurers should have to offer at no cost under the new health law" (Gold, 7/19). Check out what else is on Capsules.

The Wall Street Journal: Public Tilts Toward Debt-Cap Compromise
The poll of 1,000 adults, taken July 14-17, found a dramatic shift in attitudes toward the debt-ceiling debate as the public tunes in to the issue that is consuming Washington. …  Of those polled, 58% said they supported Mr. Obama's approach, a $4 trillion deficit-reduction plan over 10 years that would cut federal spending, including on Medicare, and raise taxes on corporations and the wealthy. In comparison, 36% said they backed the leading proposal among congressional Republicans, which would reduce the federal deficit by $2.5 trillion, also over 10 years, by cutting federal spending but holding the line on taxes (Weisman and Glueck, 7/20).

The Washington Post: Post-ABC Poll: GOP TOO Dug In On Debt Talks; Public Fears Default Consequences
Majorities of Americans see both President Obama and congressional Republicans as not willing enough to compromise in their budget negotiations, but the public views the GOP leaders as particularly intransigent. … There is also growing dissatisfaction among Republicans with the hard-line stance of their congressional representatives. … Democrats, on the other hand, appear worried that Obama is too prepared to give in to Republicans. Exactly half of all Democrats say the president is "too willing" to compromise. Most Democrats oppose increasing the age for Medicare eligibility and changing how Social Security benefits are calculated, two major changes that Obama has suggested could be part of a "grand bargain" aimed at overcoming the debt-limit impasse (Balz and Cohen, 7/19).

The Wall Street Journal: Obama Backs Latest Bargain
President Barack Obama, in a last-ditch bid for a bipartisan "grand bargain" on the budget, threw his weight Tuesday behind a $3.7 trillion deficit-reduction plan unveiled by six Republican and Democratic senators. … The developments come against a backdrop of a dramatic shift in public attitudes toward the debt ceiling. … The senators backing the new proposal say 74% of the deficit reduction would come from spending cuts and 26% from new taxes. It would impose spending cuts and caps, and make changes in Social Security to make the program solvent over 75 years. It would direct congressional committees to reduce the deficit by specific levels in their areas of jurisdiction, likely including major entitlements such as Medicare and Medicaid (Hook, Bendavid and Paletta, 7/20).

The Washington Post: New Debt Plan Gains Support In Senate; House Passes Balanced-Budget Measure
President Obama and lawmakers in both parties latched on to a new strategy for reducing the federal debt Tuesday, saying an emerging plan to save $3.7 trillion over the next decade could help break a political impasse over the debt limit and avert a U.S. default. The proposal, crafted by a bipartisan group of senators known as the "Gang of Six," calls for $500 billion in immediate savings and requires lawmakers in the coming months to cut agency spending, overhaul Social Security and Medicare, and rewrite the tax code to generate more than $1 trillion in fresh revenue (Montgomery and Helderman, 7/19).

The New York Times: Bipartisan Plan For Budget Deal Buoys President
The bipartisan proposal from the so-called Gang of Six senators to reduce deficits by nearly $4 trillion over the coming decade — and its warm reception from 43 other senators of both parties — renewed hopes for a deal days after talks between Mr. Obama and Congressional leaders had reached an impasse. … And Republicans increasingly are showing signs of splintering. Some conservatives within Congress and outside have become increasingly vocal in asserting that the party is at risk of putting ideological purity ahead of the chance for a major deficit reduction that includes substantial Democratic concessions, including cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid spending (Calmes and Steinhauer, 7/19).

Politico: Gang Of Six Plan Looks To Health For Savings
The bipartisan proposal to end the debt-limit crisis that was seemingly gaining traction on Capitol Hill and at the White House Tuesday would look to cuts and reforms in health care spending to save more than $200 billion. The plan unveiled by the Senate's newly revived "Gang of Six" would pay for a complete overhaul of the flawed Medicare physician payment formula, erase a long-term-insurance program created under last year's health reform law and enact medical malpractice reform (Haberkorn and Dobias, 7/19).

Los Angeles Times: House Republicans Pass Symbolic Measure On Debt Ceiling
House Republican leaders pulled out all the stops Tuesday to pass legislation tying a debt ceiling increase to a tight, long-term cap on federal spending — a vote that appealed to conservatives but also underscored the GOP's difficulty in controlling its rambunctious majority. … Intensifying pressure on Republicans were new surveys showing a shift in public opinion against GOP positions on the debt ceiling. A majority of Americans prefer Obama's approach for combining more tax revenue with spending cuts in exchange for the debt ceiling vote, according to an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll. And a USA Today/Gallup poll showed more Americans think Obama, rather than the GOP, is acting in the country's best interests. Conservatives oppose more tax revenue. … Catering to conservatives at this moment could backfire on GOP leaders as they prepare newcomers for the inevitable compromise. Behind the scenes, Senate leaders and others are working on a backup plan that would allow Obama to raise the debt ceiling on his own in exchange for a much smaller package of spending cuts — a plan that conservatives dislike (Mascaro and Hennessey, 7/20).

The New York Times: Panel Recommends Coverage For Contraception
A leading medical advisory panel recommended on Tuesday that all insurers be required to cover contraceptives for women free of charge as one of several preventive services under the new health care law (Pear, 7/19).

Los Angeles Times: Panel Recommends That Health Plans Cover Contraception For Women Without Co-Pays
An independent panel of doctors and health experts is recommending that health plans cover a variety of contraceptives for women without co-pays, setting the stage for another debate over the effect of the healthcare overhaul. The law that President Obama signed last year requires new health plans to cover a basic set of preventive health services without co-pays or deductibles for patients, a key provision of the new law that experts believe will encourage more Americans to get recommended immunizations, cancer screenings and other services (Levey, 7/20).

The Washington Post: Birth Control Coverage Proposed For Most Health Insurance Plans
Virtually all health insurance plans could soon be required to offer female patients free coverage of prescription birth control, breast-pump rentals, counseling for domestic violence, and annual wellness exams and HIV tests as a result of recommendations released Tuesday by an independent advisory panel of health experts (Aizenman, 7/19).

The Wall Street Journal: Report Backs Contraception
The report was released Tuesday by the Institute of Medicine, which advises the U.S. government on health issues. It was commissioned by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to identify gaps in the department's list of preventive health services already covered for women. It recommends that insurers cover "the full range" of contraceptive methods approved by the Food and Drug Administration as well as sterilization and patient counseling as a way to prevent unintended pregnancies and to help women space their pregnancies over time (Hobson, 7/20).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: ‘Medical Home’ Health Care Model, Focusing On Prevention, Shows Results And Cuts Costs
A budding model for primary care that encourages the family doctor to act as a health coach who focuses as much on preventing illness as on treating it has shown promising results and saved insurers millions of dollars (7/20).

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