First Edition: January 30, 2013

Today's headlines include reports about how the scheduled, across-the-board spending cuts -- known as sequestration -- could play into the partisan politics of broader budget debate that includes Medicare, Medicaid and other entitlement programs. 

Kaiser Health News: Q&A: Contraception Coverage Under The Health Law (Video)
Kaiser Health News consumer columnist Michelle Andrews answers a reader question about the health law's provision on no-cost birth control (1/30). Watch the video.

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: For Medicare Innovations – Think Locally
Now on Kaiser Health News' blog, Ankita Rao reports: "Reforming Medicare – from changing the way doctors are paid to streamlining patient care – could benefit from a grassroots approach, according to experts and physicians at a policy summit held by National Journal Live in Washington, D.C., Tuesday" (Rao, 1/29). Check out what else is on the blog.

The Washington Post: Deep Spending Cuts Are Likely, Lawmakers Say, With No Deal On Sequester In Sight
Less than a month after averting one fiscal crisis, Washington began bracing Tuesday for another, as lawmakers in both parties predicted that deep, across-the-board spending cuts would probably hit the Pentagon and other federal agencies on March 1. An array of proposals are in the works to delay or replace the cuts. But party leaders say they see no clear path to compromise, particularly given a growing sentiment among Republicans to pocket the cuts and move on to larger battles over health and retirement spending (Montgomery, 1/29).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: In Turnabout, GOP Lawmakers Willing To Risk Automatic Budget Cuts To Get Their Way On Budget
It's a remarkable turnabout from last year, when GOP leaders were among the loudest voices warning of dire consequences for the military and the economy if more than $100 billion worth of across-the-board cuts were allowed to take effect. Now, even as defense hawks fume, Republicans see the strategy as their best chance of wringing cuts from costly government benefit programs like Medicare that President Barack Obama and his Democratic allies have been reluctant to touch (1/29).

The New York Times: To Open Eyes, W-2s List Cost Of Providing A Health Plan
As workers open their W-2 forms this month, many will see a new box with information on the total cost of employer-sponsored health insurance coverage. To some, it will be a surprise, perhaps even a shock (Pear, 1/29).

Politico: The Invisible Health-Care Panel
A panel charged with helping devise solutions to the nation’s health care workforce crisis is having a workforce crisis of its own: It hasn’t been funded, and it’s never met. Created by Congress nearly three years ago under the health care law, the panelists were appointed, but that’s about as far as it has gone. The lack of action was noted at a hearing Tuesday of a subcommittee of the Senate Special Committee on Aging (Cheney, 1/30).

The Wall Street Journal: Nursing-Home Operators Turn To The U.S.
The Federal Housing Administration has come to the rescue of nursing-home operators that are having a tough time obtaining traditional financing for mortgage loans. Big banks are becoming more hesitant to make loans to nursing homes because of the uncertain health-care environment (Pruitt, 1/29).

The Wall Street Journal: Room For Favors In 'Cliff' Deal
The New Year's Day legislation that averted tax increases for millions of Americans brought an unwelcome surprise for Elekta AB, a Swedish maker of radiation tools designed to battle brain tumors. A provision, inserted at the last minute, sharply cut Medicare payments for the company's product while leaving unchanged those of its direct competitor, Varian Medical Systems Inc., of Palo Alto, Calif. Varian lobbyists pushed for the change, … which was put through by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.). Under the change, payments for hospital outpatient surgeries using Elekta's technology would drop by 58%, news that knocked the company's stock sharply through early January (Mundy, 1/28).

Los Angeles Times: Report: Kaiser Tops State Health Insurance Market With 40% Share
Nonprofit healthcare giant Kaiser Permanente had a 40% share of California's $59-billion health insurance market for employers and individuals, new data show. A report issued this week by Citigroup analyst Carl McDonald compiled nationwide data on 2011 premiums and enrollment among large and small employers and individuals buying their own policies (Terhune, 1/29).

The New York Times: 9/11 Health Fund Pays Out Its First 15 Awards
A federal fund set up to compensate people sickened by the Sept. 11 terrorist attack made its first awards on Tuesday, to 15 first responders (Hartocollis, 1/29).

The Wall Street Journal: 9/11 Fund Sets First Payments
The fund has received fewer than 100 completed applications for money, officials said. That suggests the program may end up receiving far less than the 34,000 total claims for aid that fund officials estimated. Congress created the $2.8 billion fund two years ago to compensate those who developed health problems after working around the sites of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, as well as a Pennsylvania field where passengers forced the crash of a jetliner hijacked by terrorists (Barrett, 1/29).

The Wall Street Journal: Conn. Ponders Mental Health
The commission looking to overhaul Connecticut's mental-health system, appointed after the deadly rampage at a Newtown school, doesn't actually know whether the man who committed those crimes was ever treated for mental illness. And due to privacy laws, the commission may never know (De Avila, 1/29).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Conn. Examines Mental Health Services In Light Of Shooting, With Little Data On Gunman
Connecticut lawmakers on Tuesday began reviewing mental health care following the deadly Newtown school shooting, even though they and the public have little insight into the mental state of the 20-year-old gunman (1/29).

USA Today: Mental Health Experts Talk About Systemic Issues
In the third of four hearings scheduled by a legislative task force formed to prevent gun violence and improve school safety in the wake of December's Newtown school shooting massacre, Patricia Rehmer, commissioner of the state's Department of Mental Health Services, said risk assessments of mental-health patients are difficult and cannot be done with complete accuracy (Stoller, 1/29).

The New York Times: Perry Changes Tack On Rainy Day Fund
Mr. Perry used the speech to promote the initiatives he wants the Legislature to support, including tax relief of at least $1.8 billion. His remarks were interrupted as activists with the Texas Organizing Project, a group that advocates for low-income people, stood and shouted for an expansion of Medicaid while he was discussing the tax plan. On the chamber floor, it was nearly impossible to hear them — Republican lawmakers rose from their seats and applauded, drowning out the protesters as they were rushed out by state troopers (Fernandez, 1/29).

The New York Times: Bloomberg Seeks Spending Limits, But No Tax Increases
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, proposing a New York budget for the 12th and last time, called on Tuesday for agencies across the city to cut costs as he seeks to keep spending flat despite the prospective loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in state education aid because of a labor dispute. Much of the increase stems from costs that the city says it cannot control, like those of pensions, health care, Medicaid and debt service (Chen and Santora, 1/29).

The Associated Press/Wall Street Journal: Cuomo's Abortion Proposal Faces Senate Roadblock
New York's Senate Republicans who can block legislation are slamming Gov. Andrew Cuomo's proposal to expand abortion rights as an extreme measure from the radical left (1/29).

Los Angeles Times: Former L.A. Clinic Owner Makes Medicare's Most-Wanted List
A former clinic owner in the Los Angeles area has made Medicare's list of most-wanted fugitives after bilking the federal program for $1.2 million, authorities said (Terhune, 1/29).

Los Angeles Times: California's New Prisons Chief Was Once Critic Of System
Jeffrey Beard's expert testimony was cited 39 times in the federal court order that capped California's prison population in 2009. He said the state's prisons were severely overcrowded, unsafe and unable to deliver adequate care to inmates. At the time, he was Pennsylvania's prisons chief. Now, he's Gov. Jerry Brown's new corrections secretary, and his first order of business is to persuade the same judges to lift the cap, as well as to end the court's longtime hold on prison mental health care (St. John, 1/30).

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