First Edition: September 15, 2011

In today's news, reports about what might be included in President Obama's detailed plan to tame the federal federal budget. Here's a hint: Social Security changes are unlikely, but what about Medicare?   

Kaiser Health News: Analysis: Handicapping Health Care Lawsuits, And The Truth-In-Labeling Factor
Stuart Taylor, writing for Kaiser Health News, notes: "Beneath the thousands of pages of legal arguments in the health care lawsuits to be decided sooner-or-later by the Supreme Court lies an easier-to-grasp, if largely unarticulated, background question. Can Congress and the president use an unprecedented and potentially limitless expansion of the power to regulate interstate commerce to avoid the political hazards of calling a tax a tax? Or might some justices effectively impose a constitutional truth-in-labeling requirement?" (Taylor, 9/14).

Kaiser Health News: 'Poster Boys' Take A Pass On Pioneer ACO Program
Kaiser Health News staff writer Jenny Gold, working in collaboration with Politico Pro, reports: "During the health care debate, the Mayo Clinic, the Cleveland Clinic, Geisinger Health System and Intermountain Healthcare were repeatedly touted as models for a new health care delivery system. Now, they have something else in common: All four have declined to apply for the 'Pioneer' program tailor-made by the Obama administration to reward such organizations" (Gold, 9/14).

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Medicaid Advocates Push To Protect The Safety Net; Writing The History Of Health Reform
On Kaiser Health News blog, Sarah Barr reports: "It's good news for Medicaid advocates that the program will be spared from cuts if the deficit reduction 'super committee' is unsuccessful in its effort to squeeze about $1.5 trillion in savings from the federal budget. But failure to reach consensus on cuts is hardly an ideal scenario, according to an advocate for cancer patients." Also on Capsules, Jordan Rau reports on two new books detailing national efforts to change the health care system. Check out Capsules.

The Washington Post: Obama Unlikely To Put Social Security Cuts Back On The Table, Sources Say
As Obama prepares to present Congress on Monday with a detailed plan for taming the nation's debt, a pivotal question is whether he will again propose raising the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67 and propose cuts in Social Security benefits (Goldfarb, 9/14).

The Wall Street Journal: Obama Plan Won't Include Changes To Social Security
President Barack Obama's new deficit-reduction proposal will leave out changes to Social Security, and may exclude any increase in the Medicare eligibility age, people familiar with the discussions said Wednesday. … Instead of raising the Medicare eligibility age, the White House is considering recommending cuts to providers and possibly increasing premiums for wealthier recipients, people familiar with the discussions say. It's also possible the president would propose changing the inflation calculation for other government programs, which currently use the same measure as Social Security does. The White House declined to comment on those discussions (Lee and Meckler, 9/15).

USA Today: Leaders Of Deficit Panel Say Public's Confidence At Stake
The leaders of a bipartisan congressional committee charged with finding at least $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction over the next decade say Americans' confidence in Washington hinges on their success. … If the committee deadlocks or fails, $1.2 trillion still would be cut automatically from future deficits, divided between defense and domestic spending, including Medicare. Hensarling likened that threat to "a hammer in the closet" (Wolf, 9/14).

Los Angeles Times: California Could Pose Problem For Obama's Healthcare Reform
For more than a year, as conservative states have battled President Obama's sweeping healthcare law, California was supposed to be a model that showed the law's promise. But the state is emerging as one of the biggest headaches for the White House in its bid to help states bring millions of Americans into the healthcare system starting in 2014. Though still outpacing much of the nation, cash-strapped California is cutting its healthcare safety net more aggressively than almost any other state, despite billions of dollars in special aid from Washington (Levey, 9/15).

Los Angeles Times: Campaign Aims To Sign Up Americans For Health Insurance
Giving a boost to the new healthcare law, a coalition of hospitals, insurers, drug makers and consumer advocates is joining a multimillion-dollar campaign to get Americans signed up for health insurance starting in 2014. The new nonprofit group, called Enroll America, plans a state-by-state effort to publicize the expanded availability of health coverage and to help state leaders put in place procedures to simplify enrollment (Levey, 9/14).

The New York Times: Poor Are Still Getting Poorer, But Downturn's Punch Varies, Census Data Show
The report, an annual gauge of prosperity and pain, is sure to be cited in coming months as lawmakers make difficult decisions about how to balance the competing goals of cutting deficits and preserving safety nets. … Such data is likely to feed longstanding debates about generational equity, since the largest portion of safety net spending goes to those 65 and older, through Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid (DeParle and Tavernise, 9/15).

Los Angeles Times: As U.S. Poverty Rates Climb, So May Health Woes For The Poor
Poverty levels are up in the U.S., the Census Bureau reports, with the percentage of Americans living in poverty at its highest point since 1993. That will likely translate into increasing health issues for those people, since being poor seems inexorably linked to poor health (Stein, 9/14).

The Washington Post: Democrats Vow To Pursue Medicare Message After N.Y. And Nevada Losses
Despite two bad losses in Tuesday's House special elections in Nevada and New York, Democrats vowed Wednesday to continue to focus their message on a House GOP plan to overhaul Medicare — an issue that was central to Democrats' campaign efforts in the early part of this year, but which faded as the debate over the country's debt ceiling took precedence during the summer (Sonmez and Kane, 9/14).

The New York Times: Report Finds Improved Performance By Hospitals
In the latest advance for health care accountability, the country's leading hospital accreditation board, the Joint Commission, released a list on Tuesday of 405 medical centers that have been the most diligent in following protocols to treat conditions like heart attack and pneumonia. Almost without exception, most highly regarded hospitals in the United States, from Johns Hopkins in Baltimore to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., did not make the list (Sack, 9/14).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Nursing Homes Try To Reduce Use Of Powerful Antipsychotic Drugs For Dementia Patients
Antipsychotics are meant primarily to help control hallucinations, delusions and other abnormal behavior in people suffering from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, but they're also given to hundreds of thousands of elderly nursing home patients in the U.S. to pacify aggressive and paranoid behavior related to dementia (9/14).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Arizona Court Agrees To Hear Challenge To State's Eligibility Reductions For Medicaid Program
The Arizona Court of Appeals has agreed to consider an appeal of a judge's ruling that Gov. Jan Brewer can legally reduce enrollment in Arizona’s Medicaid program to help balance the state budget (9/14).

The Washington Post: Va. Board Of Health To Vote On New Regulations For Abortion Clinics
The Board of Health is expected to vote Thursday on draft regulations that would regulate abortion clinics in Virginia by establishing specific physical requirements for facilities, allowing inspectors to make unannounced visits and mandating that hospitals provide emergency care (Kumar, 9/14).

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