First Edition: November 29, 2012

In today's headlines, a report detailing why the idea of raising Medicare's eligibility age always seem to crop up in policy discussions.  

Kaiser Health News: Options For Parents To Cover Sick Children (Video)
Kaiser Health News consumer columnist Michelle Andrews answers a reader question about how to find affordable coverage for a child with a preexisting medical condition (11/28). Watch the video.

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: More Workers Covered By Bosses' Self-Insured Plans
Now on Kaiser Health News' blog, Ankita Rao writes: "The number of U.S. workers covered by self-insured health plans—in which their employer assumes the financial risk for health costs rather than paying insurance companies to do that—has grown steadily in recent years. But such plans are still primarily used by large companies, not small employers, a new study finds" (Rao, 11/28). Check out what else is on the blog.

Politico: Inside The Talks: Fiscal Framework Emerges
Cut through the fog, and here's what to expect: Taxes will go up just shy of $1.2 trillion — the middle ground of what President Barack Obama wants and what Republicans say they could stomach. Entitlement programs, mainly Medicare, will be cut by no less than $400 billion - and perhaps a lot more, to get Republicans to swallow those tax hikes. There will be at least $1.2 trillion in spending cuts and "war savings." And any final deal will come not by a group effort but in a private deal between two men: Obama and House Speaker John Boehner (Vandehei and Allen, 11/29).

The New York Times: Obama Tilts Tax Debate Away From Spending Cuts
Mr. Obama has embraced specific cuts to the federal budget in the past and has committed to an agreement with Congress that will include deep reductions in spending. But it would be easy for those who listen to his public pronouncements lately to miss it. In public statements since his re-election, he has barely discussed how he would pare back federal spending, focusing instead on the aspect of his plan that plays to his liberal base and involves all gain and no pain for 98 percent of taxpayers. … Republican leaders were more scathing, saying the president was more interested in campaigning than sitting down to resolve difficult issues. They said they were willing to raise tax revenue by closing loopholes and limiting deductions, but Mr. Obama has not reciprocated with more restraint of entitlement programs (Baker, 11/28).

Los Angeles Times: Obama Takes 'Fiscal Cliff' Battle To Social Media
Democrats welcomed Obama's effort to mobilize public opinion as the divided Congress struggles to strike a budget deal before Jan. 1, when a series of automatic tax hikes and sharp spending cuts are scheduled to kick in. … Obama urged Americans to tweet members of Congress using hashtag #My2k, a reference to the $2,200 he said an average family would pay in additional taxes if Congress failed to act. He mentioned the Twitter hashtag four times, and it later appeared on a screen behind Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, at his televised afternoon briefing. House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) indicated that he had little patience for the continued focus on taxes, and that he wanted the administration to put spending cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and other government programs on the table (Parsons and Mascaro, 11/28).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: White House, Congress To Talk As Fears Increase That Government Heading Toward 'Fiscal Cliff'
Amid increasing anxiety that the White House and top Republicans are wasting time as the government slides toward an economy-rattling "fiscal cliff," administration officials are heading to Capitol Hill for talks with congressional leaders. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and senior White House aide Rob Nabors were to visit separately Thursday with the four leaders of the House and Senate to discuss how to avert a series of tax increases and spending cuts due to begin in January. Republicans complain that the White House is slow-walking the talks and has yet to provide specifics on how President Barack Obama would curb the rapid growth of benefit programs like Medicare and Medicaid (11/29).

The Washington Post: 'Fiscal Cliff' Talks Bogged Down By Dispute Over Cost Of Retirement Programs
Negotiations to avert the year-end "fiscal cliff" advanced at a glacial pace Wednesday, with a dispute over how to tackle the soaring cost of federal retirement programs emerging as the latest roadblock to progress. … Republicans, meanwhile, insisted that it is up to President Obama to offer a plan to restrain the cost of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security — the government's biggest and fastest-growing programs — in exchange for GOP concessions on taxes (Montgomery and Helderman, 11/28).

NPR: The Hidden Costs Of Raising The Medicare Age
Whenever the discussion turns to saving money in Medicare, the idea of raising the eligibility age often comes up. … It's hardly surprising that the idea keeps finding its way into the conversation. That same increase is already being phased in for Social Security. Even President Obama reportedly had the idea on the table during his informal negotiations with House Speaker John Boehner during the summer of 2011 (Rovner, 11/29).

NPR: A Huge Pay Cut For Doctors Is Hiding In The Fiscal Cliff
On Jan. 1, Medicare is set to cut payments to doctors by nearly 30 percent. Both Republicans and Democrats in Congress want to prevent this from happening. But a very different Congress 15 years ago decided the cut was necessary to contain health-care costs (Joffe-Walt, 11/29).

Politico: ACA Boosts 'Shared Decision-Making'
What can they do when everyone seems to be trying to push aggressive, expensive treatments on them? One solution — or a partial solution — is known as shared decision making, in which patients are given specific tools, such as easy-to-understand videos laying out the pros and cons of treatment choices, to help them make decisions along with their doctors (Kenen, 11/29).

Politico: Poll: Health Coverage Not Federal Government's Job
For the first time in 12 years, a majority say it is not the federal government’s responsibility to ensure that health care coverage is provided to all Americans, according to a poll on Wednesday. Only 44 percent believe the government should guarantee health care coverage, and 54 percent believe it has no such responsibility, according to a Gallup survey (Robillard, 11/28).

The New York Times: Medicare Is Faulted On Shift To Electronic Records
The conversion to electronic medical records — a critical piece of the Obama administration's plan for health care reform — is "vulnerable" to fraud and abuse because of the failure of Medicare officials to develop appropriate safeguards, according to a sharply critical report to be issued Thursday by federal investigators (Abelson, 11/29).

The Wall Street Journal: Heart Gadgets Test Privacy-Law Limits
The U.S. has strict privacy laws guaranteeing people access to traditional health files. But implants and other new technologies—including smartphone apps and over-the-counter monitors—are testing the very definition of medical records. Medtronic says federal rules prohibit giving Ms. Hubbard's data to anyone but her doctor and hospital (Marcus and Weaver, 11/28).

USA Today: Deadly 'Superbugs' Invade U.S. Health Care Facilities
The doctors tried one antibiotic after another, racing to stop the infection as it tore through the man's body, but nothing worked. In a matter of days after the middle-aged patient arrived at University of Virginia Medical Center, the stubborn bacteria in his blood had fought off even what doctors consider "drugs of last resort" (Eisler, 11/29).

The Associated Press/Wall Street Journal: Simple Measures Cut Infections Caught In Hospitals
A project at seven big hospitals reduced infections after colorectal surgeries by nearly one-third. It prevented an estimated 135 infections, saving almost $4 million, the Joint Commission hospital regulating group and the American College of Surgeons announced Wednesday. The two groups directed the 2 1/2-year project (11/28).

The New York Times: Connecticut Aims To Cut $170 Million In Spending
The cuts include nearly $70 million to health care programs and social service agencies, along with $25 million to public colleges and universities. Programs facing reductions included AIDS services, children's health programs, food stamps, funds for magnet schools, housing and homeless services, and services for elderly and disabled residents (Applebome, 11/28).

Los Angeles Times: Prime Healthcare Services Is Fined $95,000 In Privacy Case
State officials have fined hospital chain Prime Healthcare Services Inc. $95,000 for violating patient confidentiality by sharing a woman's medical files with journalists and sending an email about her treatment to 785 hospital employees. The California Department of Public Health levied the fine this month after determining in May that Shasta Regional Medical Center in Redding had five deficiencies related to the unauthorized disclosure of medical information on a diabetes patient treated there in 2010 (Terhune, 11/29).

Reuters/The New York Times: Arizona: Governor Won't Set Up Health Exchange
Gov. Jan Brewer, an ardent critic of President Obama's push to overhaul the health care system, said on Wednesday that Arizona would not establish a state-based health insurance exchange under the Affordable Care Act (11/28).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Arizona's Governor Chooses Not To Form State-Run Health Care Exchange Under Federal Law
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer has decided against creating a state-run health insurance exchange to implement a key part of President Barack Obama's federal health care law. Brewer's decision announced Wednesday means the federal government will set up an online marketplace for the state, offering subsidized private health coverage to the middle class (11/28).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Mississippi's Only Abortion Clinic Again Asks US Judge To Block State Law That Could Close It
Attorneys for Mississippi's only abortion clinic are again asking a federal judge to block a state law that could close the facility. In court papers Wednesday, attorneys say despite repeated attempts, Jackson Women's Health Organization has been unable to obtain privileges for most of its physicians to admit patients to a local hospital (11/28).

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