First Edition: March 14, 2012

Today's headlines feature coverage of the Congressional Budget Office's latest estimates regarding the health law's costs and the nation's deficit. 

Kaiser Health News: Connecticut Weighs Its 'Nurses Only' Medication Policy For Homebound Seniors
WNPR's Jeff Cohen, working in partnership with Kaiser Health News and NPR, reports: "Connecticut, like every state trying to reduce health care spending, is looking closely at how it cares for people with chronic conditions. Gov. Dannel Malloy has promised to move more than 5,000 poor and disabled patients out of nursing homes in five years. But the Democratic governor says there's an expensive obstacle in the way – Connecticut law says nurses have to give medications to people in the Medicaid system living at home, and that costs a lot of money" (Cohen, 3/13).

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Study Finds High-Spending Canadian Hospitals Do Better; Timing Of Birth Control Coverage May Differ For Students, Profs
Now on Kaiser Health News' blog, Jordan Rau reports: "Canada has long been a favored talking point for debates over the quality of America’s health system, alternatively cast as either Eden or Gomorrah. A new paper adds a shade of gray into the understanding of Canadian hospitals — and the ongoing debate here about whether when it comes to medical spending, less is more" (Rau, 3/13).

Also on the blog, KHN's Insuring Your Health columnist Michelle Andrews writes: "Under the health care overhaul, new health plans (or those that change their benefits enough to lose grandfathered status) have to begin providing free contraceptive services to women in August. Religious institutions, such as churches, are exempt from the requirement, but colleges and hospitals and other employers that are affiliated with religious institutions aren't. …There's a wrinkle in the timing, however. Religiously affiliated institutions have a one-year transition period before they have to be in compliance. Could that mean that students at Georgetown University, a Catholic and Jesuit institution, as well as other religiously affiliated colleges might have to wait until August 2013 for the provision to take effect?" (Andrews, 3/13). Check out what else is on the blog.

The Wall Street Journal: Health-Law War Heats Up As Court Review Nears
Democrats and Republicans are reviving their competing campaigns over the health-overhaul law in advance of the Supreme Court's review of the measure this month. After largely avoiding the issue in the 2010 midterm elections, a handful of Democrats are extolling the law on the campaign trail and their websites. Later this week, top Obama administration officials will start traveling to events across the country to celebrate the law in conjunction with its two-year anniversary on March 23 (Radnofsky, 3/13).

Reuters/Chicago Tribune: Insight: Behind The Healthcare-Law Case: The Challengers' Tale
A little over a year ago, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi was on a mission. Along with a group of like-minded officials from other states, she was determined to be the first to test President Barack Obama's healthcare reform law at the U.S. Supreme Court. And she wanted to find the right lawyer to do it (Biskupic, 3/13).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: CBO: Deficit Estimate For 2012 Hiked To $1.2T After Payroll Tax Cut, Jobless Benefits
While the short-term deficit mess is largely a product of the recent recession and slow recovery, the long-term crisis is a result of the impact baby boomers will have on federal retirement programs and the large projected increases in health care inflation. … The budget office estimated somewhat lower costs for covering the uninsured under President Barack Obama's health care overhaul law, as well as slightly fewer people gaining coverage. Assuming the Supreme Court does not overturn the law, it would reduce the number of uninsured by 30 million in 2016, or 2 million fewer people than estimated last year. Total costs from 2012-2021 are about $50 billion lower than estimated last year (3/13).

Reuters/Chicago Tribune: CBO Cuts Cost Estimate For Obama Healthcare Law
The estimated net costs of expanding healthcare coverage under President Barack Obama's landmark restructuring have been reduced by $48 billion through 2021, though fewer people would be covered under private insurance plans, a new analysis from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office showed on Tuesday. The CBO also revised its overall federal budget deficit estimates to show a $92 billion increase in the projected fiscal gap for 2012, confirming a fourth straight year of $1 trillion-plus deficits (Lawder, 3/13).

USA Today: Obama Budget Deficit Rises With Payroll Tax Cut
Those gloomy figures are based on what CBO calls its "alternative fiscal scenario." Its basic projections are much rosier but are based on existing laws, rather than likely changes. Because Congress and the White House are almost certain to extend expiring tax cuts and avoid Medicare payment cuts to doctors, for instance, the alternative scenario becomes more likely (Wolf, 3/13).

Politico: White House Setbacks On Health Care, Energy
The White House ran into two bumps in the road on domestic policy Tuesday: higher gross costs for healthcare reform and stiffer Senate resistance to wind and solar power subsidies backed by President Barack Obama. … The uptick in healthcare costs is largely attributed by CBO to the slow economic recovery. And while the deficit doesn't suffer as a result, the numbers suggest that the level of coverage achieved will be less than once hoped. The biggest single cost increase is in Medicaid and CHIP programs. … At the same time, cuts by Congress in the past year have reduced the cost of projected subsidies and tax credits for those enrolled through the state exchanges (Rogers, 3/13).

The Wall Street Journal: Birth-Control Rule Debate Intensifying
New polling data are sparking a vigorous debate over whether an Obama administration rule requiring employers to offer free birth control is a political winner for the White House, particularly among women, as many Democrats have assumed (Seib, 3/13).

Politico: GOP Links IPAB Repeal And Malpractice Reform
IPAB repeal legislation began to hemorrhage Democratic support Monday, after Republicans said they intend to pair the broadly popular House bill with a more partisan medical malpractice reform package (Dobias, 3/13).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Kodak Retirees Seek Appointment Of Committee To Protect Benefits Amid Chapter 11 Proceedings
Some former Kodak employees are asking a judge to appoint a retiree committee to protect their benefits as the photography company reorganizes under bankruptcy protection. The retirees say in a motion filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in New York that a committee is appropriate given Kodak’s current proposal to end health care benefits for about 16,000 retirees who are eligible for Medicare (3/13).

The Wall Street Journal: Wins In South For Santorum
Rick Santorum won the Republican presidential primaries in Alabama and Mississippi Tuesday, solidifying his claim to be the favored candidate of the party's conservative base and the main challenger to front-runner Mitt Romney (O’Connor and Murray, 3/14).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: AFL-CIO Endorses Obama, Puts Focus On Voter Turnout Rather Than Campaign Cash
Labor unions, saying they can’t hope to compete with the new breed of conservative fundraising groups, plan to spend less money this year on specific candidates and political party organizations and more on door-to-door canvassing, phone banks and registration drives to help President Barack Obama and other Democrats. … The shift in spending comes as AFL-CIO leaders officially endorsed Obama for a second term Tuesday. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka praised Obama for passing the $800 billion stimulus package, pushing a health care overhaul and insisting on Wall Street reforms (3/14).

Politico: Mitt May Find Avoiding Medicare Isn't That Simple
It's one thing to say you're not going to enroll in Medicare. But it's hard to actually escape it. Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's campaign said on Monday — the Republican presidential candidate's 65th birthday — that he doesn't plan to enroll in the Medicare program (Haberkorn, 3/14). 

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