First Edition: April 18, 2012

Today's headlines include reports about the latest Capitol Hill developments related to the budget.

Kaiser Health News: Community Health Centers Under Pressure To Improve Care
Kaiser Health News staff writer Phil Galewitz, working in collaboration with USA Today's Paul Monies, reports: "After doubling the number of patients served in the past decade to more than 20 million people a year, the mostly privately run, nonprofit centers are coming under increased pressure as they gear up for a major expansion under the health care law. Beginning in 2014, about 30 million Americans are expected to gain health coverage, half through Medicaid, the state-federal insurance program for the poor.  Congress authorized $10 billion to expand the centers' capacity on the assumption many of the newly covered would seek care there" (Galewitz and Monies, 4/17). Check out the sidebar, Rural Georgia Center Relies On Educators, Electronic Records To Improve Care (Galewitz, 4/17); and an interactive chart.

Kaiser Health News: Health On The Hill: Medicare's Payment Change For Physicians
Kaiser Health News staff writers Mary Agnes Carey and Jordan Rau discuss Medicare's transition to compensating doctors based on the quality of the medical care they provide (4/17). Watch the video or read the transcript.

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Smart Shopping Can Relieve Pain From Dentists' Charges
Now on the blog, Kaiser Health News’ consumer columnist Michelle Andrews reports: "Dental coverage often maxes out at just a few thousand dollars a year or less and typically covers only half of the cost of major procedures like crowns and root canals. Getting a reliable estimate of prices in your area can be critical if you want to keep a lid on costs. A free consumer website may provide the information you need" (Andrews, 4/17). Check out what else is on the blog.

Politico: Jobs, Funding Related To Health Care Law At Risk
It's likely that some in the health reform workforce would get reabsorbed into other Health and Human Services offices, where a number worked prior to the health law's passage two years ago. But some could end up without a job — and without their health benefits (Feder, 4/17).

The New York Times: Senate Budget Panel To Take Up Deficit Plan
Unlike the budget plan passed in the House, Mr. Conrad's outline would not touch the president's health care law, but it would phase out the employer tax deduction for health care and include additional health care cuts. It would lay down parameters to overhaul Social Security to slow its growth. And it would set out prescriptions for a simpler tax code that eliminates or reduces scores of tax deductions, taxes dividends and capital gains as ordinary income, and lowers individual and corporate tax rates. The goal would be to raise revenues by $2.6 trillion over 10 years, Mr. Sessions said, something he could not accept (Weisman, 4/17).

Politico: Kent Conrad’s Budget Signals What's Wrong With Congress
But as the North Dakota Democrat rolls out the final budget of his career on Wednesday, it's clear none of those goals has been realized. And the frustration and futility that's marked his tenure as chairman may serve as a metaphor for what has broken and politically polarized Congress. … The ideological divide in Congress has stymied his centrist instincts: Republicans refuse to put tax hikes on the table, and Conrad's fellow Democrats decry any changes to entitlements, like Medicare and Social Security (Wong, 4/18).

Los Angeles Times: Republicans Approve Paul Ryan's Budget (Again) In The House
GOP leaders are advancing the House Republican budget and its proposed changes to Medicare despite opposition in the Democratic-led Senate by using used a relatively obscure procedural move -- tucking it alongside an unrelated bill that would allow the importation of trophy polar bears (Mascaro, 4/17).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: House GOP Wants To Cut Food Stamps In Drive To Protect Pentagon From Big Federal Budget Cuts
The panel would also eliminate a grant program to states for social services such as day care and would increase the amount of health insurance subsidies under the new health care law that people must pay back if their incomes go up. The Republicans' deficit-trimming package, while controversial, is tiny when compared to the $5.2 trillion in reductions called for by the broader GOP budget over 10 years from Obama's February budget plan. The smaller legislation taking shape on Capitol Hill would jettison bitterly partisan proposals that would dramatically transform Medicare and sharply cut the Medicaid health care plan for the poor and disabled (4/17).

The Wall Street Journal’s Washington Wire: Michelle Obama Makes Pitch To Women At A Tennessee Fundraiser
In making her case to women, the first lady also pointed out provisions in the president's health care reform law that help women, including a requirement that  insurers cover mammograms and prenatal care at no extra cost. The law is now under review at the Supreme Court (Lee, 4/17).

Reuters/Chicago Tribune: Interpreters In ER May Limit Medical Errors: Study
The study, conducted at two pediatric ERs and published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine, found that mistakes which could have "clinical consequences," like giving the wrong medication dose, were about twice as likely if there were no interpreters or if the translator was an amateur (4/17).

Los Angeles Times: Consumers Using Social Media For Medical Information, Report Says
One-third of consumers are using Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites to seek medical information, discuss symptoms and express their opinions about doctors, drugs and health insurers, according to a new report. These latest results from PwC’s Health Research Institute underscore the need for healthcare providers and insurance companies to engage more with consumers online since they are increasingly making medical decisions based on the information they find there (Terhune, 4/17).

The Wall Street Journal: Supreme Court Sides With Generic Drug Makers
The U.S. Supreme Court handed a victory to generic-drug companies Tuesday, ruling they can file certain legal counterclaims against brand-drug companies in an effort to get their cheaper copycat medicines on the market. The court, in an opinion written by Justice Elena Kagan, ruled unanimously that generic-drug makers should be allowed to challenge the way brand-name manufacturers describe their patents to the Food and Drug Administration (Kendall, 4/17).

NPR: Unusual Alliances Form In Nebraska's Prenatal Care Debate
In Republican-dominated Nebraska, government leaders often line up together, but lately a political tornado has ripped through this orderly scene. A political showdown over taxpayer funding of prenatal care for illegal immigrants has produced some unusual political splits and alliances in the statehouse of the Cornhusker State (Knapp, 4/18).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Texas Proposes November Phase-Out Of Federal Funding For Women's Health Program
Texas officials have asked for more time to phase out federal funding for a women's health program after federal officials said it was illegal for the state to ban Planned Parenthood from participating in it, according to documents released Tuesday (4/17).

The Wall Street Journal: Mississippi Law Tightens Requirements For Abortion Providers
Mississippi enacted a law Monday that calls for strict new requirements for abortion providers, the latest of several recent state laws pushed by abortion opponents. The law, signed by Gov. Phil Bryant, requires doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a local hospital and to be board-certified in obstetrics and gynecology or be eligible to be certified, meaning the physician has completed training in the specialty. It is set to go into effect July 1 (McWhirter and Mathews, 4/17).

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