First Edition: March 8, 2013

Today's headllines include various reports about state abortion laws and related legal challenges. 

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: A Bump In The Road To Accountable Care?; Idaho, Utah, N.M. Running Out Of Time To Set Up State Exchanges
Now on Kaiser Health News' blog, Jenny Gold reports on accountable care organizations: "For the first year of the program, everything seemed like smooth sailing. But the pioneers appear to have hit their first pothole—and the administration is scrambling to make sure the project goes forward. The problem: That pesky little part about accountability" (Gold, 3/8).

Also on the blog, Phil Galewitz reports on the time pressures some states face regarding health exchanges: "Three western states which had gotten tentative go-aheads to run their own online health insurance websites — Utah, Idaho and New Mexico — are running out of time to be ready for an Oct. 1  launch and experts doubt they will get green lights from the federal government" (Galewitz, 3/8). Check out  what else is on the blog.

The Wall Street Journal: Republicans Warm To Obama's Efforts
Both Republicans and administration officials described the discussions as productive and even pleasant. But while the lawmakers' mood may be improving, fundamental disagreements over taxes and spending persist, and lawmakers in both parties acknowledged that any significant deal would be months away at best. … Both the president and some GOP members have indicated a willingness to discuss a deficit-reduction approach that would involve overhauling the tax code and slowing the growth of spending on entitlement programs such as Medicare and Social Security. But, as Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) noted, "The details may trip us up" (Nelson and Paletta, 3/7).

Los Angeles Times: Obama Charm Offensive Sows Goodwill
White House officials say the president is trying to find congressional allies to chart a new path on deficit reduction. Both parties have an interest in trying to strike a big deal, preferably before the next budget showdown in summer, when Obama must ask Congress to raise the legal limit on the national debt (Hennessey and Mascaro, 3/7).

The Wall Street Journal's Washington Wire: New Idea On Tweaking Medicare Eligibility
Raising the Medicare eligibility age to 67 from 65 is a third-rail for many Democrats, who argue that it could leave some seniors without access to insurance. It's also difficult to do without disrupting the implementation of the federal health-care law, as we noted in this story, which makes it a tough proposition for the White House to swallow (Radnofsky, 3/7).

The Washington Post: Hospitals Want To Delay A Key Obamacare Program
In 2011, the Obama administration settled on 32 health care systems, scattered across the country, to lead the Affordable Care Act's most ambitious cost-control effort. ... For the past year, the Pioneer ACOs have received payments just for reporting data on the 33 metrics, which includes data on how many patients receive mammograms or end up back in the hospital 30 days after their discharge. In 2012, no payments were tethered to how good or bad their outcomes were. That changed in 2013. Now, the health care providers are scheduled to move from pay-for-reporting to pay-for-performance—and are getting nervous about how they will be judged (Kliff, 3/6).

USA Today: What Surgeons Leave Behind Costs Some Patients
Thousands of patients a year leave the nation's operating rooms with surgical items in their bodies. And despite occasional tales of forceps, clamps and other hardware showing up in post-operative X-rays, those items are almost never the problem. Most often, it's the gauzy, cotton sponges that doctors use throughout operations to soak up blood and other fluids, a USA TODAY examination shows. Yet thousands of hospitals and surgical centers have failed to adopt readily available technologies that all but eliminate the risk of leaving sponges in patients (Eisler, 3/8).

Los Angeles Times: California Insurance Commissioner Chides Blue Shield Over Rates
For the second time in two days, a state regulator criticized Blue Shield of California for an "unreasonable" rate hike affecting tens of thousands of individual policyholders. California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones said Thursday that the nonprofit health insurer's latest rate hike of as much as 20% for about 268,000 individual policyholders was excessive. But he and other state officials don't have the authority to reject changes in premiums (Terhune, 3/7).

The New York Times: Opposition Emerges To Cuomo’s Plan To Cut $120 Million For The Disabled
A plan by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to cut $120 million in financing for nonprofit organizations that serve people with developmental disabilities is emerging as a flash point in this year’s budget negotiations (Kaplan, 3/7).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: After Conn. Massacre, Ga. Lawmakers Back Relaxing Gun Laws For Mentally Ill
While some states push to tighten gun control laws after the Connecticut school massacre, lawmakers in gun-friendly Georgia want to ease rules preventing some mentally ill people from getting licenses to carry firearms. Legislators in Georgia’s House voted 117-56 on Thursday to allow people who have voluntarily sought inpatient treatment for mental illness or substance abuse to get licenses (3/7).

Los Angeles Times: Idaho Law Banning Abortions After 20  Weeks Ruled Unconstitutional
A federal judge has struck down an Idaho law prohibiting abortions after 20 weeks, ruling that the so-called fetal pain law violates U.S. Supreme Court prohibitions against unduly impeding a woman's ability to seek an abortion before her fetus is able to live outside the womb. U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill in Boise declared the 2011 law -- similar to limits adopted in at least seven other states -- to be unconstitutional in a ruling that took the Idaho Legislature to task for acting against the advice of its own attorney gene (Murphy, 3/7).

Politico: Idaho 'Fetal Pain' Abortion Law Is Struck Down
The ruling, by a Democrat-nominated district judge, begins a new phase in the legal fight over a spate of laws enacted in the past couple of years that push earlier and earlier bans on abortion, mostly based on the argument that a fetus can feel pain after 20 weeks. Arkansas is the most recent to act, passing both a 20-week ban and a 12-week one — constituting what abortion rights proponents consider the most restrictive state laws in the nation (Smith, 3/8).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Not Content With Strict New Abortion Laws, Arkansas Republicans Eye Planned Parenthood Funds
Not content with enacting the most restrictive abortion law in the country, Arkansas Republicans plan to press the legislative advantage their party hasn’t enjoyed since Reconstruction by making it even more difficult for women to get abortions in the state (3/7).

The Wall Street Journal's Law Blog: Arkansas A.G. Says He’ll Defend Abortion Ban Despite Concerns
A day after Arkansas lawmakers voted to enact the most-stringent abortion restrictions in the nation, the state’s attorney general said he is preparing to defend the law against inevitable challenges – despite his personal feelings on the matter. Some abortion rights supporters indicated that they would sue Arkansas in federal court to try and overturn the law, which bars most abortions after 12 weeks of pregnancy (Gershman, 3/7).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Va. Board Of Health Conducts Public Hearing On New Abortion Clinic Regulations
Former Virginia Health Commissioner Karen Remley was among more than two dozen people who testified Thursday at the latest in a series of public hearings on the state’s new abortion clinic regulations (3/7).  

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