First Edition: January 15, 2013

Today's headlines include the latest on how Medicare and other entitlement programs fit into the looming battle over raising the federal debt limit.  

Kaiser Health News: Emergency Departments Are On The Frontline Of The Flu
Kaiser Health News staff writer Jenny Gold, working in collaboration with NPR, reports: "Though it is still too soon to say whether this is a historically bad flu season or just a bad flu season, one thing is clear: Emergency rooms around the country are filled with a feverish throng that is much larger than last year. Washington Hospital Center had just 20 patients test positive for flu all of last year's season. This year, as of last week, there were already 160 cases positive for flu" (Gold, 1/15). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: Insuring Your Health: Health Law Offers Dental Coverage Guarantee For Some Children
In her latest Kaiser Health News consumer column, Michelle Andrews writes: "Starting in 2014, the Affordable Care Act requires that individual and small-group health plans sold both on the state-based health insurance exchanges and outside them on the private market cover pediatric dental services. However, plans that have grandfathered status under the law are not required to offer this coverage" (Andrews, 1/14). Read the column.

Kaiser Health News: Obama: 'Our Commitment To Medicare… Is Really Important' (Video)
Kaiser Health News offers video of today's White House news conference in which President Obama discussed how he sees Medicare, Medicaid and other health care spending factoring into the looming conflict over raising the federal debt ceiling (1/14). Watch the video or read the transcript.

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Not Too Early To Plan For Health Taxes, H & R Block Says
Now on Kaiser Health News' blog, Jay Hancock writes: "Even if you owe Affordable Care Act taxes, you probably won't have to start paying them until next year. But H&R Block wants you to come in and talk about them now" (Hancock, 1/14). Check out what else is on the blog.

The Wall Street Journal: Obama Escalates Debt Fight
Mr. Obama said he was willing to work with the GOP on an agreement to cut spending—including "modest adjustments to programs like Medicare"—but not in the context of the debt ceiling. He said agreeing to link the two would be like a "negotiation with a gun at the head of the American people'' in which Republicans would threaten to cut safety-net programs under a threat "to wreck the entire economy.'' House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) has acknowledged that delaying an increase in the debt limit could cause economic harm, but he said not reining in government spending also carried consequences (Lee and Hook, 1/14).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Americans Like Spending Cuts In Theory, Not In Detail, Complicating Deficit Talks In Capital
Meanwhile, the clock is ticking toward the March 1 start of major, across-the-board spending cuts that both parties call unwise. These are the postponed cuts — or "sequester," in Congress-speak — lingering from the partial resolution of the "fiscal cliff" on Jan. 1. These cuts would hit military and domestic programs hard. But they would spare "entitlements," the popular but costly programs that include Medicare and Social Security. Leaders in both parties say lawmakers soon must confront entitlements if they are to stem the nation's long-term deficit-spending problem (1/15).

The New York Times: States Will Be Given Extra Time To Set Up Exchanges
The White House says it will give states more time to comply with the new health care law after finding that many states lag in setting up markets where millions of Americans are expected to buy subsidized private health insurance (Pear, 1/14).

The Associated Press/New York Times: Arizona: Governor Relents On Medicaid
Gov. Jan Brewer says she will expand the state's Medicaid program to cover citizens who earn up to 138 percent of the poverty line. Ms. Brewer, a Republican, said Monday in her annual State of the State speech that she has fought against the federal health care law known as the Affordable Care Act. But she cited President Obama's re-election and last summer's Supreme Court ruling in saying that the law is here to stay (1/14).

Arizona Republic/USA Today: Ariz. Governor Opts To Expand Medicaid
The Republican governor's decision, long awaited by lawmakers and health-care professionals and opposed by many in the GOP, would bring the state an additional $7.9 billion in federal funds over four years to restore and expand the state's health-care insurance program to an estimated 300,000 low-income residents, according to the Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association (Sanders and Sanchez/1/14).

Politico: Focus On Obamacare Delays Mental Health Law
Mental health advocates say a landmark 2008 law meant to expand access to millions of Americans has gotten back-burner treatment by the Obama administration because of its relentless focus on the Affordable Care Act. As a result, key details are missing from the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, awaiting a final rule from the administration that supporters say is "imminent" (Cheney, 1/15).

The Wall Street Journal: Researchers Mine Data From Clinic, Big Insurer
The new effort, dubbed Optum Labs, will be part of UnitedHealth's Optum health-services arm. UnitedHealth Group Chief Executive Stephen J. Hemsley said the company viewed it as a "dedicated research unit...not a profit-driven undertaking," and the goal was to create "a neutral place to conduct research" with partners from around the health industry, with the findings to be made public. He compared it to the historic Bell Labs, where a number of important technology discoveries were made over decades (Mathews, 1/15).

Politico: Ilyse Hogue Announced As New NARAL President
NARAL Pro-Choice America announced Monday that its new president will be Ilyse Hogue, a longtime advocate for liberal causes who the organization hopes will help pass the torch to a younger generation of abortion-rights leaders (Smith, 1/14).

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This is part of Kaiser Health News' Daily Report - a summary of health policy coverage from major 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.