First Edition: September 17, 2012

Today's headlines include a number of reports about how Medicare and other health policy issues are playing important roles on the campaign trail.

Kaiser Health News: Colorado Gets Closer To Essential Health Benefits Benchmark
Colorado Public Radio's Eric Whitney, working in partnership with Kaiser Health News and NPR, reports: "Unlike other states still wrestling over new provisions of the health law, Colorado is moving forward with broad consensus on the minimum level of health coverage people will be required to carry beginning in 2014" (Whitney, 9/16). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Recessions Harm Older Workers' Long-Term Health; Hospital Readmission Rates Dropping Slightly, New Study Finds
Now on Kaiser Health News' blog, Jay Hancock writes about older workers’ long-term health: "There are 20 million Americans between 55 and 60. Nearly 1 million are unemployed, according to the Labor Department. Many more lack health coverage, suggests the Census Bureau’s new report on income, poverty and health insurance. Thanks to the lousy economy, the whole group is at higher risk for long-term health problems and earlier death, suggests new research from Wellesley College" (Hancock, 9/17).

Also on Capsules, Jordan Rau reports on a study about hospital readmission rates: "A new government analysis has found that hospital readmission rates of Medicare patients have fallen more than previously reported, bolstering hope that hospitals are having some success at tackling this stubborn and expensive problem" (Rau, 9/14). Check out what else is on the blog.

Kaiser Health News also tracked weekend health policy headlines, including reports about House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's comments that the GOP position on Medicare will help Democrats take back the House. News coverage also fleshed out more detail about the reach of automatic spending cuts.

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Why It Matters: You'll Feel It Whether That Health Care Law Stays Or Goes
The issue: America's health care system is unsustainable. It's not one problem, but three combined: high cost, uneven quality and millions uninsured. Major changes will keep coming. Every family will be affected. Where they stand: President Barack Obama's health care law will extend coverage to 30 million uninsured and keep the basic design of Medicare and Medicaid the same. It's not clear how well his approach will control costs for taxpayers, families and businesses. Mitt Romney would repeal Obama's health care overhaul; what parts he'd replace have yet to be spelled out. Romney would revamp Medicare, nudging future retirees toward private insurance plans, and he would turn Medicaid over to the states (9/17).

The Washington Post: Romney's Health Plans Would Affect Seniors' Care, Studies Find
It has been a central campaign promise from Mitt Romney: His Medicare overhaul plan would not touch benefits for anyone older than 55. That may not, however, be the case with the Republican presidential nominee’s other health-care proposals. A growing body of research suggests that his plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act and cut Medicaid funding would have a direct impact on the health care that seniors receive (Kliff, 9/16).

The New York Times: Challenged On Medicare, GOP Loses Ground
Maria Rubin is one of the coveted independent voters in this swing state — so independent that she will not say whether she is voting for President Obama or Mitt Romney. She does share her age (63) and, more quickly, her opinion on Medicare: "I'm not in favor of changing it, or eliminating it" (Calmes, 9/15).

Los Angeles Times: Romney's New Focus: Pushing A Five-Point Economic Plan
Romney's campaign speeches now center on his five-point economic plan that, he says, will create 12 million jobs over the next four years. (The current plan boils down Romney’s 59-point primary season proposal on jobs and the economy). ... Champion small business by cutting taxes and regulations, and by overturning Obamacare. "We need small business to grow. ... Small businesses have been crushed these past four years" (Landsberg,  9/15).

Politico: Obama 'Fear' Driving Social Conservatives
Fear of a second Obama administration was a centerpiece at [the Value Voters conference] ... Conservatives attending the conference said they worried about a range of things during a possible Obama II, from implementation of the president’s health care law, and a move to what they saw as more "socialist" policies to the end of the very values — including the protection of life and traditional marriage — that they came to the summit to support.. ... Ryan addressed the summit on Friday and bashed the Obama administration for its proposed ruling earlier this year, ordering Catholic hospitals and schools to deliver birth control as part of his health care reform plan. (Schultheis, 9/16).

The Washington Post: Health-Care Divide Doesn't Simplify Senate Race For All Va. Voters
(T)he choice is not a simple one for every Virginian — nor for the candidates themselves, who have some nuance to their positions. (Republican Senate candidate George) Allen wants to help repeal the law while preserving a couple of its most popular provisions; (Democrat Tim) Kaine wants to hang on to the heart of the legislation but fix certain aspects of it. Because the health-care law is so complex, and because it has not been fully implemented, some voters aren’t sure whether they want it to stay or go. That's true even for those who are immersed in health-care policy in their professional lives (Vozzella, 9/15).

The Center for Public Integrity/Washington Post:  Doctors, Others Billing Medicare At Higher Rates
Thousands of doctors and other medical professionals have billed Medicare for increasingly complicated and costly treatments over the past decade, adding $11 billion or more to their fees — and signaling a possible rise in medical billing abuse, according to an investigation by the Center for Public Integrity. ... Similarly, hospitals sharply stepped up the use of the highest codes for emergency room visits while cutting back on the lowest codes. Medical groups say the shift to higher codes reflects the fact that seniors have gotten older and sicker, requiring more complex care (Schulte, Eaton and Donald, 9/15).

The New York Times: California Tries To Guide The Way On Health Law
Delay and outright resistance to the health care overhaul might be the norm in much of the country, but not here. California — home to seven million uninsured people, more than any other state — is at the forefront of preparations for January 2014, when a controversial requirement that most Americans have medical coverage or pay a penalty takes effect. So far, only 13 states and the District of Columbia have told the Obama administration they intend to set up the insurance exchanges that are supposed to provide a marketplace for people to buy health plans. None are being watched as closely as California, whose singular challenges, from the size, diversity and geographic spread of its uninsured population to its vast budget problems, make it stand out. Many feel a successful rollout here could convince other states with high numbers of uninsured residents that the law can be made to work for them (Goodnough, 9/14).

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This is part of Kaiser Health News' Daily Report - a summary of health policy coverage from more than 300 news organizations. The full summary of the day's news can be found here and you can sign up for e-mail subscriptions to the Daily Report here. In addition, our staff of reporters and correspondents file original stories each day, which you can find on our home page.