First Edition: February 23, 2012

Today's headlines include coverage of the health policy flashpoints during last night's GOP presidential primary debate.  

Kaiser Health News: Analysis: Is A New Federal Patient Safety Effort Doing Enough To Curb Medical Errors?
In the following analysis for Kaiser Health News, Michael L. Millenson writes: "The Medicare program is betting on a new course of action to curb what one medical journal has dubbed an 'epidemic' of uncontrolled patient harm. The effort is pegged to the success of a little-known entity called a 'hospital engagement network'" (Millenson, 2/22).

Kaiser Health News: Can Massachusetts Lead The Way On Controlling Health Costs?
WBUR's Martha Bebinger, working in partnership with Kaiser Health News and NPR, reports: "Employers in Massachusetts routinely complain about health insurance costs rising two, three or even eight times faster than inflation. But not so much lately. As of April 1, base insurance rates approved by the Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick's administration for small businesses will increase, on average, 1.8 percent. Interestingly, the state's economy grew at the same rate for the last quarter of 2011" (Bebinger, 2/22).

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Council Publishes Plan For Alzheimer's Research, Care; More Exchange Money Headed To States
Now on the blog, Christian Torres reports on the release of the draft version of a national Alzheimer's plan: "Much of the plan was already known from the draft framework published in January. Experts put an emphasis on expanding and better coordinating disease research, especially through public-private partnerships. They also stressed better preparation for the health care workforce, improving public outreach and providing effected families with financial and other support" (Torres, 2/22).

Also on Capsules, Marilyn Werber Serafini writes about the latest on funding for state health exchanges: "New federal money is headed to ten states to help them establish insurance exchanges through which individuals and small businesses can buy insurance beginning in 2014. The Department of Health and Human Services is sending a total of $229 million in exchange establishment grants to ten states, the agency announced Wednesday. Half are receiving this kind of grant for the first time, and half are on the second round" (Werber Serafini, 2/22).Check out what else is on the blog.

The New York Times: The Caucus  Blog: Study Finds Mixed Results In GOP Candidates' Plans For Federal Debt
All four would repeal the 2010 health care law, which would not save much money since the law includes spending cuts and tax increases to offset expanded insurance coverage. All would shrink federal workforce costs. And they would cut and cap spending for Medicaid and other safety-net programs and turn those programs into block grants to the states (Calmes, 2/23).

Los Angeles Times: Supreme Court Lets Providers Continue Suing To Stop Medi-Cal Cuts
A years-long legal fight over cuts in California's multibillion-dollar healthcare program for the poor took another twist Wednesday as the U.S. Supreme Court kicked the case back to a lower court. The high court's 5-4 decision allows medical providers to continue suing to stop the cuts, which would lower reimbursement rates for doctors who participate in the state's Medi-Cal program (Savage and Megerian, 2/23).

Politico: SCOTUS Punts On California Medicaid Lawsuit
The Supreme Court is punting on a key question about when Medicaid providers and beneficiaries have the right to sue over cuts to the federal-state health care program. That was the major question at the heart of Douglas v. Independent Living Center, in which provider and consumer groups claimed that California violated federal law by cutting Medicaid provider payment rates. They went to court under the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause, essentially saying that provisions of the federal Medicaid statute should block the provider cuts (Millman, 2/22).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Trading Fiery Charges, Romney And Santorum Go At It In 20th Debate Of Republican Fight
The most animated clash of the evening focused on health care in the United States. Santorum said that Romney had used government money to “fund a federal takeover of health care in Massachusetts,” a reference to the state law that was enacted during Romney’s term as governor. The law includes a requirement for individuals to purchase coverage that is similar to the one in Obama’s landmark federal law that Romney and other Republicans have vowed to repeal. In rebuttal, Romney said Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator, actually bore responsibility for passage of the health care law that Obama won from a Democratic-controlled Congress in 2010, even though he wasn’t in office at the time. Romney said that in a primary battle in 2004, Santorum had supported then-Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, who later switched parties and voted for the law Obama wanted (2/22).

Los Angeles Times: Romney Seeks To Undercut Santorum On Spending In GOP Debate
Wrestling for the front-runner's mantle in the Republican presidential race, Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney clashed fiercely Wednesday night over their conservative credentials and their past support of earmarks as the four GOP candidates met for the first debate in nearly a month. … Gingrich attacked Romney for requiring religious hospitals to provide rape victims with emergency contraception, a stance Romney said he did not take. And Paul took a shot at Santorum for voting to fund a federal program that provides family-planning healthcare to the poor, partly through Planned Parenthood (Reston and Mehta, 2/22).

The Wall Street Journal: Santorum Draws Fire In Fight For GOP Lead
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney sought Wednesday to portray Rick Santorum's 16-year career in Congress as a betrayal of conservative principles, using a televised debate to try to define his top rival at a moment when many voters are paying new attention to the former senator. … For his part, Mr. Santorum criticized Mr. Romney for shepherding, as Massachusetts governor, a state health-care law that he said became the model for President Barack Obama's health law. He said Mr. Romney deserved little credit for balancing the Massachusetts budget, because doing so was a state requirement (Hook and O’Connor, 2/23).

Los Angeles Times: California Health Insurers To Raise Average Rates 8% To 14%
California's largest health insurers are raising average rates by about 8% to 14% for hundreds of thousands of consumers with individual coverage, outpacing the costs of overall medical care (Terhune, 2/23).

Chicago Tribune: Quinn Asks Lawmakers To Put Some Skin In The Game On Pension, Health Care Cuts
The Democratic chief executive enumerated the long-standing challenges: too much money is spent on public worker pensions and health care for the poor, and too many loopholes have been carved into the state's tax code for businesses. Instead of spelling out specific solutions, however, Quinn suggested that the state wait for task forces to complete their work (Garcia, Long and Groeninger, 2/22).

The New York Times: New Spending Plan Means New Round Of Pain For Illinois
Despite an income tax increase in Illinois last year, Gov. Pat Quinn delivered more grim news about the state’s fiscal crisis on Wednesday. … It has, it seems, been coming for a while, as the state’s unpaid bills have mounted and reports of its underfinanced state pension and Medicaid systems have grown ever more alarming. But while the governor spoke about the need for cuts in the Medicaid and pension systems, some critics said his proposals did not go far enough or provide specific steps to reduce the state’s unfinanced liabilities (Yaccino, 2/22).

The Wall Street Journal: Governor Of Illinois Urges Cuts To Medicaid
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn pressed for cuts to Medicaid spending and major pension changes in an annual budget speech that underlined the huge challenges facing one of the country's most indebted states. Speaking Wednesday to the state legislature, Mr. Quinn, a Democrat, portrayed his prescriptions as the type of painful medicine that lawmakers have long failed to accept (Dean and Packowitz, 2/23).

The Washington Post: McDonnell, Virginia Republicans Back Off Mandatory Invasive Ultrasounds
A controversial bill that would require women to get an ultrasound before an abortion is now in doubt after Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell diluted the measure Wednesday by making it optional in many cases (Kumar and Vozzella, 2/22).

Los Angeles Times: Virginia Governor Backs Off Requiring Ultrasound Before Abortion
Backing away from his support for a proposed law that would require women to submit to an invasive ultrasound before undergoing an abortion, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell on Wednesday asked the state Legislature to amend the bill to exclude the controversial requirement (Geiger, 2/22).

USA Today: Virginia Scraps Requiring Invasive Pre-Abortion Procedure
A Virginia bill that would have required women to undergo an invasive ultrasound before having an abortion failed Wednesday after Gov. Bob McDonnell withdrew his support (Leger, 2/23).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: NH Expands Fitness Program To Shrink Lifespan Gap Between General Population, Mentally Ill
The average life span for someone with a serious mental illness is 25 years shorter than someone in the general population, a gap that has been largely overlooked even though an estimated 10.4 million American adults — including about 43,000 in New Hampshire — fall into that category, said Dr. Stephen Bartels. He will supervise the program funded by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (2/23).

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 major 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.