First Edition: April 23, 2012

Today's headlines feature advance information about what the trustees who oversee Medicare and Social Security will say about the financial well-being of these massive programs when they release their annual report later today.

Kaiser Health News: States Consider Limiting Patient Costs For Physical, Speech, Occupational Therapy
Kaiser Health News staff writer Julie Appleby reports: "In the case of physical therapy, a growing number of insurers and employers classify those visits as specialty care, so patients generally pay a higher copayment, often the same amount as for a visit to a specialist, such as a surgeon, neurologist or cardiologist" (Appleby, 4/22). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Maryland's First Green House Project Nursing Home Aids Low-Income Seniors
Now on Kaiser Health News' blog, Shefali S. Kulkarni writes: "What was once a novel idea for  longterm care for the elderly — small, homey facilities of 10 to 12 residents each — is now a model cropping up around the country" (Kulkarni, 4/20). Read what else is on the blog.

Kaiser Health News also tracked weekend health policy headlines, including reports about the primary battle being faced by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and how his health care record is on the minds of GOP voters (4/21) as well as how social issues might play in the November elections (4/21).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Social Security, Medicare Strained By Slow Economic Recovery, Aging Workforce
An aging population and an economy that has been slow to rebound are straining the long-term finances of Social Security and Medicare, the government's two largest benefit programs. Those problems are getting new attention Monday as the trustees who oversee the massive programs release their annual financial reports (4/23).

USA Today: Government Says Medicare Will Save $200 Billion Through 2016
The government plans to announce today that the 2010 health care law will save Medicare beneficiaries $208 billion through 2020, and save Medicare itself $200 billion through 2016, based on a Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services actuary report (Kennedy, 4/23).

Los Angeles Times: Romney's Healthcare Plan May Be More Revolutionary Than Obama's
As he pushes to "repeal and replace" President Obama's healthcare law, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has turned to proposals that could alter the way hundreds of millions of Americans get their medical insurance. In public, Romney has only sketched the outlines of a plan. … But his public statements and interviews with advisors make clear that Romney has embraced a strategy that in crucial ways is more revolutionary — and potentially more disruptive — than the law Obama signed two years ago (Levey, 4/23).

Politico: Health Reform Law Poses Quandary For States
If the Supreme Court upholds the health reform law this summer, states could be forced to a moment-of-truth situation: Do they set up a health insurance exchange, or do they let the feds come in and run theirs? (Millman, 4/22).

Reuters/Chicago Tribune: Republicans Eye Health Plan Should Court Overturn Reform
House Republicans are working to create a legislative blueprint they can sell to voters after the Supreme Court rules on Obama's Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the nation's most sweeping healthcare legislation since Medicare and Medicaid in the 1960s (Morgan, 4/22).

The New York Times: GAO Calls Test Project By Medicare Costly Waste
Medicare is wasting more than $8 billion on an experimental program that rewards providers of mediocre health care and is unlikely to produce useful results, federal investigators say in a new report (Pear, 4/22).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Auditors Call On Obama Administration To Cancel Medicare Bonuses GOP Sees As Political
In a rebuke to the Obama administration, government auditors are calling for the cancellation of an $8 billion Medicare program that congressional Republicans have criticized as a political ploy. The nonpartisan Government Accountability Office says in a report to be released Monday that the $8.3 billion the administration has earmarked for quality bonuses to Medicare Advantage insurance plans would postpone the pain of cuts to the plans under the new health care law. Most of the money would go to plans rated merely average (4/23).

The New York Times: In Presidential Race's Give-And-Take, Hope For A Fiscal Compromise
The optimists include leading stakeholders in Washington’s oft-spurned centrist boutique, which may be especially vulnerable to wishful analysis. But two looming events — an automatic $1.2 trillion budget "sequester" hitting defense and domestic spending, and the expiration of all of President George W. Bush's tax cuts — will create pressure for the two parties to strike a compromise (Harwood, 4/22).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Romney On Spending: Guns Triumph Over Butter As Pentagon Boost Ensures Domestic Cuts
Reducing government deficits Mitt Romney's way would mean less money for health care for the poor and disabled and big cuts to nuts-and-bolts functions such as food inspection, border security and education. Romney also promises budget increases for the Pentagon, above those sought by some GOP defense hawks, meaning that the rest of the government would have to shrink even more (4/23).

The Wall Street Journal: Budget Promise Proves Tough Test
During his long primary campaign, Mitt Romney vowed to balance the federal budget by 2020 and sharply shrink spending by 2016. He pledged to do so without cutting Social Security or Medicare benefits, two of the main drivers of federal spending, either for current beneficiaries or those poised to become one. These twin promises are causing some headaches for his economic-policy team (Paletta and Murray, 4/20).

Politico: Ob-Gyns Aim To Deliver On The Hill
They rush to meetings, deal with crying babies, talk about contraception and fall behind on their schedules. It's the daily schedule for a typical obstetrician and gynecologist, but also for the lawmakers who were  ob-gyns before they ditched their white coats for pinstriped suits and became some of the most conservative and outspoken members of Congress (Nocera, 4/22).

The New York Times: Conservative Nonprofit Acts as a Stealth Business Lobbyist
ALEC also sends talking points to its lawmakers to use when speaking publicly about issues like President Obama's health care law. Last month, on the day that Supreme Court arguments on the law began, ALEC sent an e-mail to legislators with a bullet-point list of criticisms of it, to be used "in your next radio interview, town hall meeting, op-ed or letter to the editor" (McIntire, 4/21).

Politico: HHS Hires Former Planned Parenthood Spokesman
If the Obama administration was already on bad terms with abortion opponents, it's not going to improve relations by hiring Planned Parenthood's former spokesman for a job at the Department of Health and Human Services. Tait Sye, Planned Parenthood's former media director, has joined HHS as deputy assistant secretary for public affairs, HHS made public Friday. He'll have the public health portfolio — an area where you can be pretty sure abortion and contraception issues will come up (Feder, 4/20).

Chicago Tribune: Health Records Lost, Stolen Or Revealed Online
Almost a decade after a new law went into effect to strengthen health privacy protections, the number of breaches of patient records and databases across the U.S. suggests that personal health information is not as private or secure as many consumers might want or expect (Shelton, 4/23).

The Wall Street Journal: Lab Mistakes Hobble Cancer Studies But Scientists Slow to Take Remedies
Cancer experts seeking to solve the problem have found that a fifth to a third or more of cancer cell lines tested were mistakenly identified—with researchers unwittingly studying the wrong cancers, slowing progress toward new treatments and wasting precious time and money. ... It is a problem hiding in plain sight. Warnings to properly test cancer cell lines have sounded since the 1960s (Marcus, 4/20).

USA Today: Some Physicians Offer Service Based On Monthly Retainers
Family physician Steven Butdorf of Eugene, Ore., was tired of rushing patients through appointments, tired of insurers denying procedures, and tired of paperwork (Loew, 4/22).

USA Today: Genetic Testing And Disease: Would You Want To Know
Gone would be the days of waiting to develop a disease. People would know about diseases they are at risk for and could change their living habits or consider treatments. Opponents warn about the potential for invasion of privacy — threatening employment and insurance — and the possibility that people equipped with the knowledge of their genetic makeup might make risky and unhealthy decisions (Lloyd, 4/22).

Los Angeles Times: Proposed Limits On Health Self-Insurance Plans Debated
Business and insurance groups are attacking a proposal by state regulators to impose new limits on a controversial form of health coverage that insurers are selling to small employers. The California Department of Insurance is pushing legislation that calls for new rules on a type of company self-insurance that's growing more popular as small businesses seek alternatives to ever-rising premiums for conventional health coverage (Terhune, 4/21).

The Wall Street Journal: Cuomo Keeps Grip On Funds In Settlement
In the waning days of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's tenure as attorney general, his office shifted tens of millions of dollars in settlement funds from a high-profile insurance probe to an account controlled by the state Department of Health. … The transfer was approved on Dec. 22, 2010. The attorney general's office has since sought an analysis of Fair Health's expenditures from the Health Department but hasn't yet received the information, said an attorney general official (Gershman, 4/22).

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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.