First Edition: March 15, 2012

Today's headlines include reports about emerging Congressional budget battles and political strategies surrounding the health law.

Kaiser Health News: Mississippi Builds Insurance Exchange, Even As It Fights Health Law
Mississippi Public Broadcasting's Jeffrey Hess, working in partnership with Kaiser Health News and NPR, reports: "Mississippi, a deeply red Southern state that is part of the Supreme Court case against the health law, is moving full speed ahead with one of the key provisions of that law: an online health insurance exchange" (Hess, 3/14).

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Personal Views Color Public Opinion Of Health Law Court Case
Now on Kaiser Health News' blog, Jordan Rau reports: "Half the country hopes the Supreme Court will throw out the health law's mandate that Americans carry health insurance, according to a new poll released Wednesday. In what may be a sign of political wish fulfillment, half of Americans expect that the court will take that course when it takes up the case later this month. Only 33 percent of people expect the court will uphold the individual mandate, which has long been one of the least popular provisions of the Affordable Care Act" (Rau, 3/14).Check out what else is on the blog.

The Wall Street Journal's Washington Wire: Fight Breaks Out Over 2013 Budget Cuts
A battle has erupted over House Republicans' plans to offer a budget next week that will likely cut 2013 spending below the level the two parties agreed on last August. … After bitter fighting over whether and how to raise the nation’s debt ceiling last summer, the two parties agreed on a deal that, among other things, set a level of $1.047 trillion in discretionary spending for 2013. That excludes spending on Medicare, Social Security and other formula-based programs. Now House conservatives are pushing for a budget that spends less next year, and GOP leaders appear ready to agree—in part because otherwise they would risk conservative defections and might be unable to pass their own budget (Bendavid, 3/14).

Politico: Max Baucus Is Still Health Bill Fan
When the Supreme Court takes up the health care law a week from Monday, Max Baucus will be front and center to watch the proceedings. … Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, isn't exactly the loudest voice in the cheering section for the law. Most of that work is being done by top Obama administration officials, other Hill Democrats (especially in the House) and pro-reform groups. When there are new benefits of the law to talk about, or a damaging story to push back against, it's usually these other voices that get all the attention. But Baucus did write big pieces of the law, so he hasn't dropped off the face of the earth (Nocera, 3/14).

Reuters/Chicago Tribune: Day In Court For Healthcare Revives Public Fight
While the court's nine justices will rule on the legal issues, probably before July, political rivals and interest groups are seizing the moment to shape public opinion in the run-up to presidential and congressional elections on November 6 (Morgan, 3/14).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: In Planned Parenthood Remark, Democrats See Another Chance To Rip Romney On Women's Issues
A coordinated attack by Democrats on Mitt Romney's plan to "get rid of" Planned Parenthood to help balance the federal budget is part of a larger campaign to ensure that Romney and other Republicans lose credibility with female voters. The Romney campaign contends that the remark has been taken out of context. Yet even the debate over what Romney meant or didn’t mean underscores the political peril he faces as the GOP nomination fight rages on (3/15).

The Wall Street Journal: Doctors Struggle To Make Ends Meet
It is a dilemma facing practices around the country as the U.S. begins a transition toward new ways of paying for health care. Insurers are increasingly targeting the traditional system that has paid hospitals and doctors for each service provided (rewarding them for more care but not better results). In the past few months, UnitedHealth, WellPoint and Aetna, the three biggest American health insurers, have announced plans to pay practices more if they make efforts like those at Westminster. The new reimbursement designs also can offer doctors significant financial rewards if they hit quality goals and reduce costs (Mathews, 3/14).

NPR: Doctors Revamp Guidelines For Pap Smears
Women should get screened for cervical cancer far less frequently than doctors have long recommended, according to new guidelines released Wednesday (Stein, 3/14).

Reuters/Chicago Tribune: Wisconsin To Ban Some Abortion Coverage, Refocus Sex-Education
Wisconsin lawmakers have approved controversial measures to block the state's new health insurance exchange from covering abortions and require sex education classes to emphasize abstinence as the preferred method of birth control (3/14).

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