First Edition: November 18, 2011

In today's health policy headlines, reports indicate that the super committee continues to face difficulties and may not make its fast-approaching deadline.   

Kaiser Health News: Super Committee Urged To Alter Coverage For Some Low-Income Medicare Beneficiaries
Kaiser Health News staff writer Phil Galewitz, working in collaboration with USA Today, reports: "Medicare and Medicaid were never designed to work together, so the way states and the federal government split the dual eligibles' bills leads to inefficient care, experts say. Today, only about 12 to 15 percent of the duals are covered by private health plans.  Because they pay almost nothing for their health care, duals have little financial incentive to join a health plan that can restrict their ability to see certain health providers. As a result, duals usually stay in traditional fee-for-service Medicare, where they can use any doctor or hospital" (Galewitz, 11/17).

Kaiser Health News: The Walmart Opportunity: Can Retailers Revamp Primary Care
Kaiser Health News staff writer Julie Appleby reports: "In-store medical clinics like those at Walmart – having established a beachhead with relatively healthy patients looking for convenient, low-cost care for simple problems – are eyeing a bigger prize, the millions of Americans with costly illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease" (Appleby, 11/17).

The Washington Post: Supercommittee Appears Unlikely To Reach Agreement
The absence of an imminent crisis helps explain the lack of urgency on Capitol Hill this week, despite a Thanksgiving deadline approaching. With a vast ideological gulf separating the Republican House and the Democratic Senate on taxes and social spending, a mere deadline may no longer be enough to spur compromise. Over the past year, Congress has needed the threat of full-scale chaos to force action (Montgomery and Helderman, 11/17).

The New York Times: Lawmakers At Loggerheads On Deficit
With just days remaining before their final deadline, members of a Congressional panel on deficit reduction made frenzied efforts on Thursday to overcome an impasse, but appeared to be talking past one another and reported no tangible progress toward an agreement. Committee members scurried through the Capitol, ducking in and out of impromptu meetings where they discussed possible tax increases and cuts in the growth of programs like Medicare and Medicaid (Pear and Steinhauer, 11/17).

The Wall Street Journal: Tax Spat Stymies Debt Panel
Days away from a deadline, Congress's deficit-reduction supercommittee is stymied, stumped in large part by one of Washington's seemingly unsolvable problems: What to do with the Bush-era tax cuts? … If the committee doesn't reach an agreement to cut the deficit by at least $1.2 trillion over 10 years, automatic spending cuts of that size would be imposed across the government starting in 2013. Extending all Bush tax cuts would add about $3.7 trillion to the deficit over the next decade (Hook and Bendavid, 11/18).

Politico: Why The Supercommittee Is In Trouble
Democratic and Republican leaders have begun to spread word among colleagues that they believe the supercommittee will fall short of its goal to find $1.2 trillion in cuts, increasing the likelihood that the 2012 elections may be the only way to resolve the deepening partisan divisions that have prevented Congress time and time again from getting a handle on its finances (Raju and Sherman, 11/18).

The Wall Street Journal: Deficit Panel Tussles Over Medicare
A congressional deficit-reduction committee's talks over hot-button items like changes in the Medicare program provide clues into one of the ways that negotiations hit a near-stall with just a week before a looming deadline. Democrats on the committee have indicated that they would be willing to raise Medicare premiums and shift costs onto those who can afford the program more easily, such as through testing recipients' means to pay, according to people familiar with the matter. That is one part of a package to reduce deficits with $1 trillion of spending cuts and amounts to a big concession by Democrats, who have long treated Medicare as a sacred cow (Hughes, 11/17).

The Washington Post: Gingrich Think Tank Collected Millions From Health-Care Industry
A think tank founded by GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich collected at least $37 million over the past eight years from major health-care companies and industry groups, offering special access to the former House speaker and other perks, according to records and interviews. The Center for Health Transformation, which opened in 2003, brought in dues of as much as $200,000 per year from insurers and other health-care firms, offering some of them "access to Newt Gingrich" and "direct Newt interaction," according to promotional materials (Eggen, 11/17).

The New York Times: Gingrich Faces More Scrutiny Over Corporate Clients
On Thursday, Mr. Gingrich's spokesman confirmed that Gunderson was one of the paying clients of Mr. Gingrich’s Center for Health Transformation, a health consulting firm whose other clients have included WellPoint, the American Hospital Association, and various other major health care concerns. His spokesman, R. C. Hammond, said the center has revenues of about $5 million a year. For a second day, Mr. Gingrich's campaign was at the uncomfortable intersection of his high-earning consultancies and his public policy positions (Rutenberg, 11/17).

The New York Times: The Smokers' Surcharge
Policies that impose financial penalties on employees have doubled in the last two years to 19 percent of 248 major American employers recently surveyed. Next year, Towers Watson, the benefits consultant that conducted the survey, said the practice — among employers with at least 1,000 workers — was expected to double again. In addition, another survey released on Wednesday by Mercer, which advises companies, showed that about a third of employers with 500 or more workers were trying to coax them into wellness programs by offering financial incentives, like discounts on their insurance (Abelson, 11/16).

Los Angeles Times: California Adult Day Healthcare Centers Get A Reprieve
Just weeks before the planned closure of adult day healthcare centers throughout California, state officials and disability rights attorneys reached a legal settlement Thursday that preserves services for those low-income seniors and disabled residents most at risk of being institutionalized (Gorman, 11/18).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Theft Of Medical Records For 4M Calif. Patients Highlights Widespread Health Industry Problem
The theft of a computer containing information on more than 4 million patients of a major Northern California health care provider may be among the largest breaches of health care data in recent years, but it's far from the only incident of its kind. Over the last two years, health care organizations have reported 364 incidents involving the loss or theft of information ranging from names and addresses to Social Security numbers and medical diagnoses on nearly 18 million patients — equivalent to the population of Florida (11/17).

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