First Edition: March 22, 2012

Today's headlines include examinations of the health law as it approaches its two-year anniversary and its review by the Supreme Court, as well as reports about what's next for the Ryan budget plan.

Kaiser Health News: Two Years In, A Consumer Guide To Health Reform Law
Kaiser Health News staff writer Mary Agnes Carey writes: "Friday marks the two-year anniversary of the 2010 health care overhaul law, and despite an upcoming challenge in the Supreme Court, it has already begun to be implemented. While some of the key features don't kick in until 2014, the still-controversial law has already altered the health care industry and established a number of consumer benefits" (Carey, 3/21).

Kaiser Health News: The IPAB: The Center Of A Political Clash Over How To Change Medicare
This updated Kaiser Health News story by Bara Vaida explains the ins and outs of this panel: "It sounds like a new Apple product, but IPAB is actually a controversial board that is at the heart of House Republicans' efforts to upend the 2010 federal health law--or at least make it a strong campaign issue" (Vaida, 3/21).

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Berwick Still Looking Ahead, On The Bright Side
Now on Kaiser Health News' blog, Christian Torres and Shefali S. Kulkarni offer this video report: "Donald Berwick said he didn't want to focus on the fate of the 2010 federal health law, but eventually the physician and former administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services addressed the elephant in the room" (Torres and Kulkarni, 3/21). Check out what else is on the blog.

The Associated Press/Washington Post: House Floor Next For Contentious GOP Budget Plan That Cuts Social Safety Net, Tax Rates
It's on to the House floor for a deficit-slashing GOP budget plan. That's the next step after the House Budget Committee approved the bold but contentious blueprint by a near party-line vote late Wednesday. … The GOP plan is nonbinding but calls for repealing Obama's health care law, while transforming Medicare into a system in which the government subsidizes purchases of health insurance on the private market instead of directly paying medical bills (3/22).

The New York Times: House GOP Budget Riles Some On The Right, And Democrats See A Campaign Issue
House Republicans pressed forward on Wednesday with a politically freighted budget and tax plan, taking fire from the left and the right, as well as from the powerful senior citizens lobby, AARP, which said the plan "lacks balance" and "jeopardizes the health and economic security of older Americans." Before the House Budget Committee passed the plan on Wednesday night, its advocates were running a gantlet of opposition (Weisman, 3/22).

The Wall Street Journal: Spending Clash Looms On Election Eve
A fracturing agreement between the White House and congressional Republicans over spending levels has heightened the chance of a government shutdown just weeks before the November election. … The flashpoint came this week when House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) called for $1.028 trillion in discretionary spending for the year beginning Oct. 1—$19 billion less than the level agreed to with the White House last year and put into law. Discretionary spending requires annual approval by Congress and excludes formula-based programs like Medicare and Social Security (Paletta and Bendavid, 3/21).

The Wall Street Journal: Health-Care Law's Many Unknown Side Effects
Two years after Congress passed President Barack Obama's health-care legislation, despite all the assertions about what it will or won't do, no one really knows how it's going to work. The U.S. has rarely attempted anything of this scale before. If the law survives the Supreme Court and Republican repeal efforts, its impact turns on what Paul Keckley, head of the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions, a unit of the accounting firm, calls "four big bets" (Wessel, 3/21).

USA Today: Obama's Health Care Law From 4 Real People's Perspectives
One is a young, healthy paramedic who can't afford health care coverage for himself. Another is a breast cancer survivor with leukemia bouncing from private insurance to Medicaid to Medicare. A third is an ailing ex-smoker who believes citizens, not the government, should buy insurance or pay the consequences. And then there is the feed store owner who cannot offer insurance to her employees (Wolf, 3/21).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Supreme Court Health Care Case Tests Old Rule That Federal Funds Come With Strings Attached
Federal cash comes with strings. Now 26 states are telling the Supreme Court that President Barack Obama's health care law has stretched an old rule too far. The new law's requirements for expanding Medicaid amount, in their view, to coercion that violates the U.S. Constitution's division of power between the national government and the states. No lower court has sided with the state plaintiffs (3/22).

The Wall Street Journal: Courtly Battle In Health-Care Case
The fight over President Barack Obama's health-care overhaul has featured nearly three years of name-calling and shouting matches. But don't expect to hear supporters accused of creating "death panels," or opponents of preferring the uninsured to "die quickly," when the issue lands at the Supreme Court next week (Bravin, 3/21).

Politico: Health Law could Hinge On Wheat, Pot And Broccoli
The survival of President Barack Obama's signature health care law may come down to wheat, pot, guns — and a nagging question about broccoli. Strange as it may seem, those diverse topics are apt to surface repeatedly during next week's arguments at the Supreme Court over the health law's constitutionality (Gerstein, 3/22).

The Washington Post: Obama Tries To Reclaim Advantage On Gas Prices, Health Care
The White House has launched a concerted effort to turn political weakness into strength on two critical election-year issues that have become big vulnerabilities for President Obama: rising gas prices and the controversial health-care law (Gardner and Wilson, 3/21).

NPR: Why Obama Hasn't Won The Battle Over Messaging About Health Care Law
The sweeping health overhaul law turns 2 years old this Friday. And as it heads toward a constitutional showdown at the Supreme Court next week, the debate over the measure remains almost as heated as the day President Obama signed it into law. In fact, public opinion about the law remains divided along partisan lines to almost exactly the same extent it was when the law was signed on March 23, 2010. …  Opponents of the law say the main reason for that is the so-called individual mandate (Rovner, 3/21).

Politico: The Obama Vacuum: House Dems Defend Health-Care Reform
House Democrats are going all out to defend their health care reform law as the Supreme Court takes the case next week. President Barack Obama is talking about energy and jobs. Next week, he's going to Korea (Allen and Nocera, 3/21).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Analysis: The GOP Picture Is Finally Getting Clearer: Race Seems To Be Lining Up For Romney
It's taken months, far longer than anticipated, for Romney to begin to take charge of a race that he began with overwhelming financial and organizational advantages. His record as a Massachusetts governor, particularly his embrace of a requirement for state residents to purchase health insurance, has made it hard for him to win over doubting conservatives in the South and elsewhere (3/21).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Republicans See Election-Year Issue In Repeal Of Medicare Cost Control Board
The House is set to vote Thursday on repealing a new Medicare cost-control board that few people have ever heard of. The Independent Payment Advisory Board was created by President Barack Obama's health care overhaul law to keep Medicare costs from zooming out of control (3/22).

The Wall Street Journal: Drug Resales Get Scrutiny
Some drug distributors are setting up fake pharmacies that allow them to obtain and then artificially raise the prices for cancer drugs and other medicines that are in short supply, according to letters written by lawmakers Wednesday. Lawmakers are looking into what they claim is a "gray market" for scarce prescription drugs that has emerged in recent months (Dooren, 3/21).

The New York Times: State Faults Care For The Disabled
Nearly 300,000 disabled and mentally ill New Yorkers face a "needless risk of harm" because of conflicting regulations, a lack of oversight and even disagreements over what constitutes abuse, according to a draft state report obtained by The New York Times (Hakim, 3/22).

The Wall Street Journal: Union Seeks New Bailout In Budget Deal
As Gov. Andrew Cuomo and lawmakers lurch toward a budget deal, the state's largest health-care union is asking Albany for another bailout of its troubled insurance fund. The union, 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, is asking the state for $80 million more in Medicaid dollars so it can keep on providing health insurance to personal-care aides. In September, the Cuomo administration authorized a $50 million bailout of the benefit fund, but the union said it received only $35 million and needs the extra money to keep its fund afloat (Gershman, 3/21).

The New York Times: More Men Trading Overalls For Nursing Scrubs
Hard figures are elusive, but the Michigan Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth estimates a shortage of 18,000 nurses in the state by 2015 — and the labor force is adapting. Oakland University in nearby Rochester, Mich., has established a program specifically to retrain autoworkers in nursing. …  And the College of Nursing at Wayne State University in Detroit is enrolling a wide range of people switching to health careers, including former manufacturing workers (Vigeland, 2/21).

NPR: Poll: Voters Split Over Virginia Abortion Ultrasound Bill
Voters in Virginia appear to be at odds with the state legislature and the governor over a new law that sets guidelines on ultrasounds and abortions, according to the results of the latest opinion poll from Quinnipiac University. The poll finds that 52 percent of Virginia voters polled disagree with a new law that requires women seeking an abortion to undergo an ultrasound examination at least 24 hours before the procedure. 41 percent of those polled agreed with the law (Trull, 3/21).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: US, Va. Both Claim Settlement Agreement Doesn’t Mandate Disabled Training Center Shutdowns
But residents' families who are challenging the agreement argue closure is the end goal. The settlement requires that Virginia add more than 4,000 Medicaid-funded slots for people waiting to receive community-based services — and it's unlikely that Virginia could afford to operate both systems (3/22).

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