First Edition: February 12, 2013

Today's headlines include an advance report about tonight's State Of The Union Address, as well as stories about President Barack Obama's position on raising Medicare's eligibility age and on the government's anti-health care fraud efforts.   

Kaiser Health News: Insuring Your Health: Observation Units Can Improve Care But May Be Costly For Patients
In her latest Kaiser Health News consumer column, Michelle Andrews writes: "There's a growing recognition by clinicians that some patients who arrive at the emergency department can benefit if they’re kept under observation for up to a day so that staff can run more tests and monitor their progress to see if their condition is improving or deteriorating" (Andrews, 2/12). Read the column.

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Study: One-Third Of Individual Plans Exceed Law's Out-Of-Pocket Cap
Now on Kaiser Health News' blog, Julie Appleby writes: "Consumers who buy their own health insurance will see the total amount they could pay out of pocket for medical care capped starting next year, but some will likely pay higher premiums as a result" (Appleby, 2/11). Check out what else is on the blog.

The Wall Street Journal: Obama Address To Focus On Economy, Social Issues
Mr. Obama will also address a series of automatic spending cuts set to kick in March 1—the so-called sequester—which could threaten economic growth, national—security preparation and the jobs of thousands of federal employees. Mr. Obama has called on Congress to pass a temporary measure of spending reductions and new taxes to replace the across-the-board cuts. Republicans have said they don't want to consider new taxes, and want Mr. Obama and Democrats instead to make significant changes to entitlement programs including Social Security and Medicare to reduce their mounting costs, something they are reluctant to do (Favole, 2/12).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: White House: Obama Opposes Higher Age For Medicare In Any Budget Talks
The White House says President Barack Obama opposes raising the eligibility age for Medicare, an idea he once was willing to consider in budget negotiations with House Speaker John Boehner. White House press secretary Jay Carney on Monday said Obama “has made clear that we don’t believe that that’s the right policy to take” (2/11).

The New York Times: Slower Growth Of Health Costs Eases U.S. Deficit
A sharp and surprisingly persistent slowdown in the growth of health care costs is helping to narrow the federal deficit, leaving budget experts trying to figure out whether the trend will last and how much the slower growth could help alleviate the country’s long-term fiscal problems (Lowrey, 2/11).

Los Angeles Times: Government Says It Recovers Billions In Health Fraud Crackdown
The federal government recovered a record $4.2 billion in the last fiscal year from medical providers and others who fraudulently billed government healthcare programs such as Medicare, the Obama administration announced Monday (Levey, 2/11).

USA Today: Feds Recovered $4.2 Billion From Anti-Fraud Efforts
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said for every dollar spent on fraud and abuse in the past three years, the government brought $7.90 back in through lawsuits and fines. The 2010 health care law created one agency and expanded another to fight health care fraud, resulting in nine Medicare Fraud Strike Force Teams that sprouted up in areas particularly prone to Medicare fraud -- such as Texas and Florida (Kennedy, 2/12).

NPR: Need A Price For A Hip Replacement? Good Luck With That
Researchers from Iowa called 20 top-rated orthopedic hospitals across the country using a script based on Grandma's predicament. They asked for the lowest price (everything included) for a total hip replacement. The researchers also asked two other hospitals in each state and Washington, D.C., for good measure. Getting an answer wasn't easy. Of the top 20 hospitals, only 9, or 45 percent, provided a bundled price that included fees for both the doctors and the facilities (Hensley, 2/11).

Los Angeles Times: What Will A New Hip Cost? Few Hospitals Quote A Price, Study Finds
Pricing information remains difficult to obtain from medical providers and the figures that are quoted vary widely despite government efforts to make the process more consumer friendly, according to a study published Monday in the Journal of the American Medical Assn. for Internal Medicine (Terhune, 2/11).

Politico: Pricing Hip Replacement Is No Simple Procedure
In the study, researchers requested the lowest “bundled price” for a total hip replacement from two hospitals … in every state and Washington, plus from 20 top-ranked orthopedic hospitals nationwide. The researchers contacted the hospitals up to five times each, telling the hospitals they were asking on behalf of their otherwise healthy 62-year-old grandmother, who didn’t have insurance but was prepared to pay out of pocket for the hip replacement. They were trying to find out the total cost — hospital bills plus physician fees. They discovered that a simple dollar amount wasn’t so easy to find out with one — or even five — phone calls (Smith, 2/12).

Los Angeles Times: Tax help Comes With Health Insurance Advice
Derrick Bean filed his income taxes at an H&R Block office in Los Angeles this month, and the 26-year-old left with something unexpected: a price quote on federally subsidized health insurance. Using the information from his 2012 return, a tax advisor told the actor and waiter that he would qualify for significant government help and pay only about $65 a month in premiums under the federal healthcare law. If he skips coverage, H&R Block warned him, he faces a $95 tax penalty next year and $356 the following year (Terhune, 2/11).

Reuters/The New York Times: Arizona: Clinic Financing Ban Is Overturned
A federal judge has overturned an Arizona law that sought to block state financing for Planned Parenthood health care clinics because the group also performs abortions (2/11).

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