First Edition: April 24, 2012

In today's headlines, reports about the long-term financial fitness of Medicare as well as possible scenarios that could play out after the Supreme Court rules on the health law.

Kaiser Health News: Trustees Issue Warnings On Medicare, But Make No Changes To Solvency Projections
Kaiser Health News staff writers Marilyn Werber Serafini and Phil Galewitz report: "Trustees of the Medicare program today forecast increased financial troubles as a result of an aging population and rising health care costs, increasing the visibility of an issue that is already proving divisive in the 2012 presidential and Congressional campaigns" (Werber Serafini and Galewitz, 4/23). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: Insuring Your Health: Travel Insurance Can Protect Your Health Or Wallet On Vacation
Kaiser Health News consumer columnist Michelle Andrews writes: "Travel insurance is worth considering, however. For a relatively modest outlay, you can buy coverage that protects you if you have to cancel before or during your trip because you, your traveling companions or even a family member not traveling with you becomes ill and requires care" (Andrews, 4/24). Read the column.

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Poll: Doctors Fall Short In Caring For Seniors; Court Hearings Don't Move Public Opinion On Health Law; Medicare Trustee Has New Personal Stake In Program
Now on Kaiser Health News' blog, Judith Graham reports on a new survey from the John A. Harford Foundation: "Notably, one-third of older adults said doctors didn’t review all their medications, even though problems with prescription and over-the-counter drugs are common among the elderly, leading to over 177,000 emergency room visits every year" (Graham, 4/24).

Also on the Capsules, Jordan Rau reports on another survey exploring public opinion after the Supreme Court’s oral arguments: "The three days in March that the Supreme Court devoted to debating the health law didn’t change many minds among the public. But the debate, and related media coverage, appear to have increased awareness about the law and made Republicans more supportive of the justices, according to a new survey" (Rau, 4/24).

And, Phil Galewitz reports: "As a nationally known expert on federal health policy, Robert Reischauer has for decades had more than a passing interest in Medicare. But this week his passion for the program – and concern for its future viability — turned more personal" (Galewitz, 4/23). Check out what else is on the blog.

The New York Times: Social Security's Financial Health Worsens
The Obama administration reported a significant deterioration in the financial outlook for Social Security on Monday, while stating that the financial condition of Medicare was stable but still unsustainable. … One of the trustees, Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, said, “Medicare is in a much stronger position than it was a few years ago, thanks to the Affordable Care Act,” signed by President Obama in 2010” (Pear, 4/23).

Los Angeles Times: Trustees Warn Of Looming Insolvency For Social Security, Medicare
Medicare, which is expected to provide health insurance to more than 50 million elderly and disabled Americans this year, is expected to start operating in the red in its largest fund in 2024, according to the annual assessment by the trustees charged with overseeing the programs (Levey, 4/23).

The Washington Post: Social Security's Financial Forecast Gets Darker; Medicare's Outlook Unchanged
The trustees projected that Medicare’s trust fund … will run out in 2024, the same estimate in last year's report. At that point, incoming revenue from Medicare taxes will be enough to cover 87 percent of annual expenses. That share will decline to about 67 percent by mid-century, then rise to 69 percent by 2085. Those figures are slightly worse than last year's projections. The trustees attributed the difference to changes in methodology that they adopted on the recommendation of a technical advisory panel (Aizenman, 4/23).

The Wall Street Journal: Stress Rises On Social Security
Social Security and Medicare, the government-run health plan for senior citizens, are together the largest U.S. public benefit programs and account for one-third of the federal budget. The programs' costs are projected to grow rapidly because of the aging U.S. population and, in Medicare's case, the rising cost of health care. Democrats and Republicans, in a battle over public spending, are making the role of government a central issue in the November election (Paletta, 4/23).

USA Today: Report: Medicare, Social Security Outlooks Declining
Geithner said the 2010 health care law would lower costs by changing how people pay for health care. Administration officials also said that, without the health care law, Medicare's trust fund would be exhausted in 2016 (Kennedy, 4/23).

The Wall Street Journal's Washington Wire: Why The Medicare Forecasts Are Particularly Cloudy
A word of warning from the government trustees issuing long-term forecasts for the Medicare fund that pays for hospital benefits: It’s really cloudy out there. "Projections of Medicare costs are highly uncertain, especially when looking out more than several decades," they say in their report of projections of Medicare costs (Radnofsky, 4/23).

NPR: If The Health Care Overhaul Goes Down, Could Medicare Follow?
A growing number of health experts are warning of potential collateral damage if the Supreme Court strikes down the entire 2010 Affordable Care Act: potential chaos in the Medicare program (Rovner, 4/24).

The Associated Press/Chicago Tribune: If Supreme Court Rejects Obama's Health Law, Employers, Insurers Will Drive Their Own Overhaul
If the Supreme Court strikes down President Barack Obama's health care law, employers and insurance companies — not the government — will be the main drivers of change over the next decade and maybe even longer (Alonso-Zaldivar, 4/24).

Politico: If Health Care Is Undecided…
If America is hoping a Supreme Court ruling will end the legal uncertainty hanging over the health care system once and for all, there's a chance it could be sorely disappointed. Most legal experts are hoping the Supreme Court will give a clear thumbs up or down to the health care law. But they're worried about the possibility that, if the court strikes down just part of the health law, it could outsource the job of figuring out precisely which provisions of the gargantuan law stay or go (Feder, 4/23).

The New York Times: Insurers Alter Cost Formula, And Patients Pay More
Despite a landmark settlement that was expected to increase coverage for out-of-network care, the nation's largest health insurers have been switching to a new payment method that in most cases significantly increases the cost to the patient. The settlement, reached in 2009, followed New York State's accusation that the companies  manipulated data they used to price such care, shortchanging the nation’s patients by hundreds of millions of dollars (Berstein, 4/23).

The New York Times: MetLife Settles Cases On Benefits
MetLife on Monday became the third big life insurer to settle regulatory accusations of failing to keep track of policyholder deaths, trapping money that should have gone promptly to the beneficiaries (Walsh, 4/23).

NPR: Cancer Doc Brawley Says The U.S. Health Care System Is Sick
Journalists make for a pretty tough crowd. But Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society, fired up hundreds of them at the annual meeting of Association of Health Care Journalists over the weekend with a no-holds-barred critique of the U.S. health system (Hensley, 4/23).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Hospital Bills For Appendix Removal May Range From Cost Of A Refrigerator To Cost Of House
What do hospitals charge to remove an appendix? The startling answer is that it could be the same as the price of a refrigerator — or a house. It's a common, straightforward operation, so you might expect charges to be similar no matter where the surgery takes place. Yet a California study found huge disparities in patients' bills — $1,500 to $180,000, with an average of $33,000 (4/23).

NPR: Preparing For A Future That Includes Aging Parents
While aging is inevitable, planning for the costs associated with dependency in the latter phase of life doesn't come easily to most Americans (Geewax, 4/24).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Report Says That Wait Time For Mental Health Care Often Exceeds VA's Goals And Projections
Federal investigators reported Monday that nearly half of the veterans who seek mental health care for the first time waited about 50 days before receiving a full evaluation, a much longer lag-time than cited by the Department of Veterans Affairs (4/23).

USA Today: Veterans' Mental Health Treatment Not As Timely As Contended
An internal investigation at the Department of Veterans Affairs released Monday says tens of thousands of veterans waited far longer last year to receive mental health treatment than what the VA contends (Zoroya, 4/23).

The New York Times: Conservative Groups Spending Heavily In Bid To Win A Senate Majority
Except for the candidate, and the phone number that flashes on screen at the end, the ads follow a strikingly similar script. Senator Fill-in-the-Blank supports business-smothering regulations and will raise your taxes. He also added trillions to the deficit by voting for "Obamacare" and will cut your Medicare (Peters, 4/23).

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.