First Edition: February 24, 2012

Today's headlines include reports detailing what becomes of the deficit -- particularly at this time of rising Medicare costs for the aging population -- under the plans being advanced by the GOP presidential candidates.

Kaiser Health News: Minnesota Exchange Grant Arrives In Politically Divided State
Minnesota Public Radio's Elizabeth Stawicki, reporting in partnership with Kaiser Health News and NPR, writes: "The federal government has awarded Minnesota a $26 million grant to help fund the creation of the state insurance exchange — a key part of the federal health care law. The grant comes to a state government bitterly divided over carrying out federal health reform" (Stawicki, 2/23).

Kaiser Health News: Different Takes: Maryland Advances An 'Enterprising' Plan To Eliminate Health Disparities
In this Kaiser Health News Different Takes feature, The University Of Maryland's Dr. E. Albert Reece and The Heritage Foundation's Stuart Butler discuss how health enterprise zones, a new take on an old economic development idea, might be used to improve the health of the state's minority populations (2/23). Read the commentaries by Reece and Butler

Los Angeles Times: Debt Would Grow Under Most GOP Candidates' Plans, Report Says
The sober analysis shows how difficult it will be for any new inhabitant in the White House to shift the nation's debt trajectory, and the need for long-term and bipartisan efforts to gain revenues and curb spending -- particularly at a time of rising Medicare costs for the aging population, the budget watchdog group said (Mascaro, 2/23).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Study Finds That Budget Plans Proposed By Gingrich And Santorum Lead To Huge Deficits
Huge tax cuts in the budget plans of Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum would produce the kinds of trillion-dollar-plus deficits that the GOP candidates are blaming on President Barack Obama. That's the finding by the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a Washington-based budget watchdog group (2/24).

The Wall Street Journal: Report Says Candidates' Plans Boost Federal Debt
While Republican presidential candidates are campaigning against President Barack Obama's deficit-laden budgets, a new report concludes that three of the four contenders' fiscal proposals would likely increase the federal debt. … The government's debt is now at $15.4 trillion. It's on track to grow rapidly in coming decades as the population ages and the costs of Medicare, Social Security and other entitlement programs soar. The issue has received attention from blue-ribbon study commissions and in Congress, where a deficit-reduction "super committee" tried but failed last year to come up with a plan to trim the deficit by $1.2 trillion over 10 years (Hook, 2/24).

The Washington Post: Per Person Cost Of Federal High-Risk Medical Plan Doubles
Medical costs for enrollees in the health-care law’s high-risk insurance pools are expected to more than double initial predictions, the Obama administration said Thursday in a report on the new program (Kliff, 2/23).

The New York Times: A Shift From Nursing Homes To Managed Care At Home
Faced with soaring health care costs and shrinking Medicare and Medicaid financing, nursing home operators are closing some facilities and embracing an emerging model of care that allows many elderly patients to remain in their homes and still receive the medical and social services available in institutions (Berger, 2/23).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Inside Washington: Slow Start For Medicare's New Fraud-Busting Computer Disappoints Lawmakers
Launched last summer, a $77 million computer system to stop Medicare fraud before it happens had prevented just one suspicious payment by Christmas. That saved taxpayers exactly $7,591. Hoping for much better results, a disappointed Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., says, "I wondered, did they leave out some zeros?" (2/23).

The Wall Street Journal: Seven States File Lawsuit Over Contraception Rule
The lawsuit, led by Nebraska's attorney general, contends that the proposed rule violates Roman Catholic institutions' rights under the First Amendment to express their beliefs and practice their religion. The move is the first legal action by state attorneys general in the heated debate over the requirement (Radnofsky, 2/24).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: 7 States File First Federal Suit To Block Obama Administration's Birth Control Coverage Rule
Seven states asked a federal judge Thursday to block an Obama administration mandate that requires birth control coverage for employees of religious-affiliated hospitals, schools and outreach programs (2/23).

NPR Shots Blog: Law Student Makes Case For Contraceptive Coverage
Congress is in recess this week, but that didn't stop House Democrats from holding a hearing to take testimony from a Georgetown law student who was barred from testifying in last week's hearing about President Obama's policy on contraceptives, health insurance and religiously affiliated organizations (Rovner, 2/23).

The Texas Tribune/New York Times: State To Close Program On Federal Health Law
A program created to help insurance-seekers in Texas cut through the complexities of federal health care reforms is shutting down in April, just 15 months after it opened its call center and years before the law goes into full effect (Tan, 2/23).

Los Angeles Times: New Prison Medical Facilities Unnecessary, Analyst Says
California should hold off on building new medical facilities for prison inmates, according to report released Thursday by the legislative analyst’s office. The report contradicts plans by a court-appointed receiver, who has run the prison health system since a federal judge declared it unconstitutionally inadequate, for $2.3 billion in new clinics and upgrades (Megerian, 2/23).

NPR: Virginia Governor Backs Down From Ultrasound Bill
Several states are considering laws that would mandate an ultrasound before a woman has an abortion. Critics say the laws are unnecessary and intrusive, and the debate reached a fever pitch recently over a Virginia bill that would have required an invasive ultrasound procedure. On Wednesday, Virginia's Republican governor, Bob McDonnell, asked legislators to back off and revise the House bill. Later that day, the Senate version of the bill was withdrawn by its sponsor. Now, a version of the bill that calls for a less invasive ultrasound is working its way through the Virginia General Assembly (Lohr, 2/23).

Politico: Virginia Stalls 'Personhood' Bill Until 2013
The Virginia state Senate sent a controversial "personhood" bill that would define life as starting at conception back to committee on Thursday, killing any chance of action on the measure before the 2012 election (Weinger, 2/23).

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