First Edition: March 25, 2011

Today's headlines include reports about strategies surrounding the health law and stumbling blocks lawmakers face regarding the budget.

Kaiser Health News column: Is Medicaid Real Insurance?
In his latest Kaiser Health News column, John Goodman writes: "As governors across the land struggle with fiscal pressures and pepper the federal government with requests to scale back Medicaid – many people are losing sight of the fact that health care reform requires a huge expansion of Medicaid" (3/25).

Politico: Senate Democrats Plan Health Law Strategy
It may be uphill for Democrats to hold the Senate in 2012, but they're eyeing an opportunity on the health care law: They believe the Republican candidates might be forced to push so hard for repeal that they lose swing voters (Nather, 3/24).

The Wall Street Journal: More Lawmakers Questions Health-Care Waivers
Lawmakers on the House Small Business Committee want to know if smaller firms were among more than 1,000 entities granted health-care reform waivers last year by the Department of Health and Human Services. …  In a letter this week to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, committee chair Sam Graves (R., Mo.) said he wanted to "ensure that all entities, particularly small businesses, have been treated fairly and equitably in the waiver process." The letter went on to ask 13 questions about the exemption process, including the number of small-business owners requesting waivers and the reasons for approving or denying their requests (Loten, 3/24).

The Washington Post: Social Security Splinters Democrats In Debate Over Reining In Budget Deficits
With momentum building to rein in record budget deficits, Democrats are sharply divided over whether to tackle popular but increasingly expensive safety-net programs for the elderly, particularly Social Security. … Meanwhile, Third Way, the centrist Democratic think tank, plans to release a memo Friday arguing that the deficit has emerged as an uncommonly powerful political issue and that 2012 voters will reward the party that takes bold action to restrain government spending — including overhauling Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid (Montgomery, 3/24).

The Washington Post: House GOP 'Riders' Restricting Federal Agencies Could Hinder Budget Deal
Congressional leaders in both parties agree they have to stop putting off the inevitable and reach a deal to fund the federal government through September, the end of the fiscal year. …  But there is one big obstacle in the way of a long-term deal, one that goes beyond the arguments over dollars and cents. The budget proposal the House Republican majority approved this year included a number of unrelated amendments — riders, in Congress-speak — that would impose restrictions on federal agencies. One rider would prohibit federal money from going to Planned Parenthood (Kane, 3/24).

Politico: Scott Brown's Planned Parenthood Dodge?
Sen. Scott Brown is coming under increasing pressure from both sides of the aisle to clarify whether or not he opposes defunding Planned Parenthood. Abortion rights supporters lauded a Monday statement from the Massachusetts Republican, in which he denounced House Republicans' budget "proposal to eliminate all funding for family planning" as going "too far." It was widely read as opposition to Rep. Mike Pence's (R-Ind.) amendment to strip Planned Parenthood of its federal dollars (Kliff, 3/24).

The New York Times: Lessons For Albany ON Malpractice Limits
As New York lawmakers strive to complete the state budget by April 1, one of the most contentious battles involves whether to include a cap on medical malpractice payments that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has proposed with the support of the state's hospital industry. The measure would limit damages paid by doctors and hospitals for pain and suffering to $250,000, a ceiling that hospitals predict would reduce their insurance premiums by one-fourth and give them the savings necessary to blunt the pain of the sharp cuts in Medicaid spending that Mr. Cuomo has also proposed (Kaplan, 3/24).

Los Angeles Times: Villaraigosa To Announce Pension And Healthcare Deal With Largest City Union
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa will announce at 4 p.m. Thursday what his office characterized as a "landmark pension and healthcare reform agreement" with the largest labor union representing workers at City Hall (Nottingham, 3/24).

The Washington Post: OPM Asks Health Insurers To Provide Incentives For Wellness Programs
Speaking at a meeting of the America's Health Insurance Plans association on Thursday, Berry, director of the Office of Personnel Management, told representatives of companies providing coverage through the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program that they should encourage healthy lifestyles by offering "concrete incentives to participate in wellness and prevention activities" (Davidson, 3/24).

Check out all of Kaiser Health News' e-mail options including First Edition and Breaking News alerts on our Subscriptions page.

This is part of Kaiser Health News' Daily Report - a summary of health policy coverage from more than 300 news organizations. The full summary of the day's news can be found here and you can sign up for e-mail subscriptions to the Daily Report here. In addition, our staff of reporters and correspondents file original stories each day, which you can find on our home page.