First Edition: April 19, 2013

Today's headlines include reports about a new plan by the Bipartisan Policy Center to reduce health spending released.

Kaiser Health News: My Child Moved Away, Can I Keep Him On My Insurance? (Video)
Kaiser Health News consumer columnist Michelle Andrews answers a reader question about keeping your children on your health plan until they turn 26, even if they move away (4/19). Watch the video or read the transcript.

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Bipartisan Center Offers Plan To Reduce Health Spending; Jonathan Bush Makes Case For Entrepreneurs In Health Care At TEDMED
Now on Kaiser Health News' blog, Mary Agnes Carey reports on a new budget plan released by the Bipartisan Policy Center: "Medicare beneficiaries would have access to better coordinated medical care and the current Medicare physician payment formula would be scrapped as part of a health care cost containment plan the Bipartisan Policy Center unveiled Thursday. The plan offers more than 50 recommendations that would cut the federal deficit by about $560 billion over the next decade.  About $300 billion of those savings would come from Medicare" (Carey, 4/19).

Also on the blog, Ankita Rao reports from TEDMED: "Jonathan Bush wants to know why entrepreneurs can come up with an entire Starbucks-style language and culture for coffee but have little traction in health care" (Rao, 4/18). Check out what else is on the blog.

Kaiser Health News: Letters To The Editor: Readers' Thoughts On Critical Access Hospitals, Angry Doctors And A Range Of Other Health Care Topics
In recent weeks, readers have reacted to stories about climbing death rates at critical access hospitals, the readmissions penalties being imposed on some hospitals and Walgreens' move to become the first retail chain to diagnose and treat chronic conditions. Other coverage that drew responses included a story about angry doctors as well as coverage of decisions made both by physicians and consumers that impact the cost of care (4/18). Read the comments.

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Fiscal Commission Leaders Alan Simpson And Erskine Bowles Introduce Modified Budget Plan
The plan released Thursday by and former Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyo., and former Clinton White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles would lop more than $5 trillion from deficits over the upcoming decade when combined with the deficit-cutting steps enacted in fits and starts since his 2010 proposal. … The revised Simpson-Bowles plan proposes about $600 billion in increased taxes over the coming 10 years on top of the $600 billion-plus signed by Obama in January, another $600 billion or so in cuts to Medicare, and deeper cuts to domestic agencies and the Pentagon than proposed by the president (4/19).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: AP-GfK Poll: Public Lacks Faith In Government, Opposes Changes To Medicare, Social Security
Most adults disapprove of Obama’s handling of the federal deficit, a festering national problem. But they also dislike key proposals to reduce deficit spending, including a slower growth in Social Security benefits and changes to Medicare (4/18).

Politico: Max Baucus Stirring Controversy On All Sides
Up for reelection next year, the Senate Finance chairman and Montana Democrat is taking heat from all sides after — within the space of a few hours — he slammed the health reform law he helped write. … It all began with his widely reported comment to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Wednesday that he sees "a huge train wreck coming down"  — meaning the implementation of Obamacare, the law he helped write and shepherded through the Senate. … Baucus was talking about his worries about implementation and public outreach — he didn't repudiate the health law itself (Cheney, 4/18).

Politico: Senate Oks Mental Health Amendment To Gun Bill
The Senate agreed Thursday to tack a bipartisan mental health measure onto gun control legislation — but the measure is more modest than advocates had sought, and the underlying gun bill has already been effectively derailed, at least for the time being. The vote on the mental health amendment offered by Sens. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) was 95-2, with Republican Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah opposing. But it came a day after the Senate rejected broader background checks on gun purchases, prompting Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to suspend further votes on amendments to the bill (Cunningham, 4/19).

The Wall Street Journal: UnitedHealth's Outlook Cautious Amid Medicare Debate
UnitedHealth Group Inc. on Thursday sounded a cautious tone as it deals with the near-term impact of the government's crackdown on spending and looks ahead to lower funding for its Medicare plans. The comments, from the nation's largest managed-care company by both revenue and members, indicate the uncertainty that the industry is experiencing as insurers gear up for fuller implementation of the Affordable Care Act in 2014. That process has been made more complicated by the recent automatic U.S. spending cuts known as the sequestration and expectations for lower incoming payments for Medicare Advantage plans next year (Kamp, 4/18).

Los Angeles Times: UnitedHealth Reports Lower First-Quarter Profit, Higher Costs
UnitedHealth Group Inc., the nation's largest health insurer, said its first-quarter profit dropped 14% as medical costs climbed higher. The Minnetonka, Minn., company said its health plan membership increased 18% in the quarter to 42 million people, boosted by international growth (Terhune, 4/18).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: United Health 1st Quarter Earnings Fall 14 Pct, Insurer Warns Of Looming Medicare Profit Squeeze
UnitedHealth Group, the largest provider of Medicare Advantage plans, warned Thursday that funding cuts for the privately-run versions of the federal Medicare program will force it to reconsider its expectations for earnings growth next year. CEO Stephen Hemsley told analysts that the government-subsidized coverage for elderly and disabled people faces a reimbursement cut of about 4 percent next year. That's on top of other possible federal funding reductions and an expected 3 percent rise in medical costs (4/18).

The Wall Street Journal: Humana Fires Lobbying Firm, Launches Internal Review
Health insurer Humana Inc. said it has started an internal probe into the circumstances surrounding the leak of a significant change in government health-care policy. "We have launched an internal review primarily to determine whether our interests were harmed" by the tie between an outside lobbyist employed by Humana and an investment firm that sent out early word of the policy shift, a Humana spokesman said. That alert set off a sudden jump in shares of Humana and other insurers late April 1 (Mullins and Mathews, 4/18).

The Washington Post: D.C. Officials Postpone Vote On Hospital Cancer Treatment Option
D.C. health officials postponed making a recommendation Thursday on two competing hospital proposals to establish a controversial cancer treatment. MedStar Georgetown University Hospital and Sibley Memorial Hospital, part of Johns Hopkins Medicine, are both vying to offer proton beam therapy, a cutting-edge radiation treatment that hospital executives say is more precise in targeting tumors and safer for healthy tissue than conventional X-rays (Sun, 4/18). 

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