First Edition: March 14, 2013

Today's headlines include reports that compare and contrast how the two budget blueprints released this week -- one by House Republicans, the other from Senate Democrats -- would treat Medicare, Medicaid and other entitlement programs.  

Kaiser Health News: Health On The Hill: Democrats, Republicans Clash Over Health Care Savings (Audio)
KHN's Mary Agnes Carey talks with Jackie Judd about the competing budget proposals offered by leaders from each chamber of Congress this week that seek savings in health spending and what's next for the proposals and what President Obama could offer (3/13). Listen to the audio or read the transcript.

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Colorado Sets Its Exchange Fee; Dick And Jane Sign Up For The Exchange
Now on Kaiser Health News' blog, Colorado Public Radio's Eric Whitney, working in partnership with KHN and NPR, reports on developments regarding how Colorado will pay for its health exchange operations: "The price of policies in Colorado's health insurance exchange will include a 1.4 percent fee to help fund exchange operations. The state's exchange board voted to enact the fee Monday. Board Chairwoman Gretchen Hammer characterized it as lean compared with the 3.5 percent fee the federal government is expected to tack on to policies sold in states that are not setting up their own exchanges" (Whitney, 3/13).

Also on the blog, Jenny Gold reports on federal government efforts to make signing up for health insurance more palatable: "Signing up for health insurance is intimidating — even if you know you might get some help paying for it. The federal government is trying hard to come up with a way to make the process a bit more palatable — about as simple as, say, doing your taxes online" (Gold, 3/13). Check out what else is on the blog.

The New York Times: U.S. Budget Deal In Doubt; Obama's Trip To Hill Reveals Split
President Obama's meeting with a restive and resistant House Republican majority on Wednesday underscored their deep divisions over fiscal policy as both sides acknowledged that an overarching budget compromise was in doubt despite a new push by the White House. Under their budget, Senate Democrats would have the government running a deficit of nearly $600 billion in 10 years. In another sign of just how different the parties' priorities are, just before Mr. Obama arrived to meet with House Republicans, the Senate rejected a Republican effort to cut off financing for the president's signature health care overhaul in a party-line vote (Peters and Parker, 3/13).

The Wall Street Journal's Washington Wire: Obama Visit Leaves GOP House Members Skeptical
President Barack Obama visited the U.S. Capitol for a second day, this time meeting with House Republicans on their own turf to say he was sincere about trying to find compromise on the budget, immigration, and other policies. Mr. Obama, who is on a campaign to find common ground with Republicans, pointed to his willingness to change entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security, specifically mentioning that he was open to controlling costs by changing the way cost-of-living increases are calculated, according to lawmakers who attended the closed-door meeting (Hughes and Boles, 3/13).

USA Today: Obama: Differences With GOP May Be Too Wide
Obama is seeking a new debt reduction agreement that includes both budget cuts and higher taxes, the latter by eliminating loopholes that benefit the wealthy. Republicans oppose higher taxes in a new debt deal, saying they would slow economic growth; they are also seeking changes to rapidly growing entitlement programs, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid (Jackson, 3/13).

Los Angeles Times: Stark Choice In Dueling Budget Plans
Under the 10-year budget plan released by House Republicans this week, tax rates would fall for high-income Americans and corporations, defense spending would be bolstered, and more than 30 million uninsured people would lose access to government-backed healthcare. Food stamps, student loans and free school lunches for children would be cut. The Senate Democrats' plan, released Wednesday, would increase taxes on the wealthy and some corporations, cut the Pentagon budget and add $100 billion in highway and school construction spending. Their plan would make modest reductions in healthcare and other domestic programs (Mascaro, 3/13).

USA Today: Senate Democrats Release First Budget In Four Years
The budget — the first one Senate Democrats have produced since 2009 — stands in sharp contrast to the House Republicans' plan released Tuesday that calls for cuts in corporate and individual taxes and aims to balance the budget in 10 years, fundamentally overhaul Medicare and eliminate President Obama's health care law (Davis, 3/13).

Politico: Patty Murray Plan Doesn't Balance Budget
In the committee, the 12 Democrats appeared united when they delivered their opening statements Wednesday. Assuming Murray succeeds in keeping her caucus largely in line and ushering the measure through the Senate, she will have an enormously challenging task of reconciling the plan with House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan's approach, who proposes no tax increases and calls for a dramatic overhaul of Medicare and Medicaid, as well as a repeal of the president's health care law (Raju and Gibson, 3/13).

The Washington Post: Democrats Challenge Obama On Medicare And Social Security Cuts
On one side of the Capitol, President Obama sought to convince House Republicans on Wednesday that he is serious about reining in the rising cost of federal health and retirement programs. But on the other side of the Capitol, Senate Democrats rolled out a 10-year spending plan that sent a different message: Not so fast (Montgomery, 3/13).

Politico: Senate Dems Block Tea Party Bid To Cut Obamacare
A stopgap spending bill advanced in the Senate Wednesday with Democrats keeping to a middle path in hopes of improving their chances for a strong bipartisan showing — and greater leverage with the Republican-controlled House. On a 52-45 vote, the majority quickly dispatched a tea-party-led bid to cut off funding for President Barack Obama's signature health care reforms (Rogers, 3/13).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Democratic-Led Senate Panel To Approve Budget To Raise Taxes, Spare Benefit Programs From Cuts
Acting on the Senate's first budget since President Barack Obama took office, a Democratic-led panel is moving toward party-line approval of a fiscal blueprint that would trim the budget deficit while protecting safety net programs from slashing cuts proposed by Republicans. The expected vote Thursday in the Senate Budget Committee comes as Obama heads to the Capitol for a third consecutive day, carrying his charm offensive with Congress to Senate Republicans and his Democratic allies in the House (3/13).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Democratic-Controlled Senate Rejects New Republican Effort To Repeal Obama's Health Care Law
The Democratic-controlled Senate has rejected a Republican effort to attach the repeal of President Barack Obama's health care law to a government spending bill. The 45-52 vote defeated the effort, which was led by conservatives. They say that when the law is fully in effect, it will jeopardize the nation's fragile economic recovery. But Obama's allies say national health care could help strengthen the economy in part by encouraging health maintenance and prevention. The law has been upheld by the Supreme Court (3/13).

The Washington Post's WonkBlog: 'We're In An Analytical Mode': Ohio Weighs The Obamacare Medicaid Expansion
You probably haven’t heard of  Ron Amstutz. He was raised on a dairy farm in Ohio and now lives in the city of Wooster (Population: 26,139). He is on the board of the Orrville Area Boys' and Girls' Club and a member of the Wooster Rotary Club. Turns out, though, that Ron Amstutz has one of the most important roles right now in implementing the Affordable Care Act: He leads a small committee that will get the first say on whether Ohio expands Medicaid to 684,000 residents (Kliff, 3/13).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Insurers Warn Of Sticker Shock Due To Health Care Law's New Taxes, Requirements As It Expands
Some Americans could see their insurance bills double next year as the health care overhaul law expands coverage to millions of people. The nation's big health insurers say they expect premiums — or the cost for insurance coverage — to rise from 20 to 100 percent for millions of people due to changes that will occur when key provisions of the Affordable Care Act roll out in January 2014 (3/13).

The New York Times: Obama Rallies Supporters And Donors To Keep His Campaign Agenda Alive
President Obama joined former campaign staff members and some of his most ardent supporters on Wednesday night, headlining a two-day meeting of an independent group, Organizing for Action, that is intended to bolster his agenda in Congress. The new group hopes to cut through Washington's legislative logjams by harnessing the millions of volunteers and donors who helped elect Mr. Obama to a second term last fall, turning their enthusiasm and money to grass-roots lobbying on issues like immigration, climate change and the expansion of Medicaid (Confessore and Shear, 3/13).

The New York Times: Clamor To Be Spared The Pain As Budget Cuts Descend
Anne Kauffman Nolon, the president of Hudson River HealthCare, which operates 22 community health centers in New York, is urging Congress to provide money to offset the cuts. If that is not possible, she said, it would be better to delay opening new clinics so she and her colleagues did not have to cut back care for patients they already served. Ms. Nolon said her clinics were losing $1 million of the $10.8 million they expected from the federal government this year to care for 87,000 patients. Nationwide, the number of clinics increased sharply under President George W. Bush, and Congress provided more money for clinics to serve people expected to gain insurance under Mr. Obama's health care overhaul. The pace of lobbying has picked up because of a widespread belief that this year’s cuts are locked in and may be a prelude to further cuts in the same programs in each of the next eight years (Pear, 3/13).

Politico: Experts Debate All-Payer Setups Vs. Medicare For All
Health care prices are too damn high. That's the punch line to the provocative Time magazine piece "Bitter Pill" by Steven Brill, who laid out his diagnosis of the problem Wednesday at a Center for American Progress panel (Norman, 3/14).

Los Angeles Times: Illegal Immigrants Should Have Health Coverage, Foundation Says
The California Endowment is launching a campaign to extend medical coverage to all uninsured state residents, including undocumented immigrants. An estimated 3 million to 4 million Californians, or about 10% of the state's population, could remain uninsured even after the national healthcare overhaul takes full effect in January (Chang, 3/13).

Los Angeles Times: Republicans Push Audit On Guns And Mental Health
State lawmakers Wednesday morning will discuss a Republican request for an audit of databases on mentally ill residents and gun ownership. Severe mental health cases are supposed to be reported to law enforcement so disturbed people can be barred from owning guns. However, some GOP lawmakers are concerned that the information may not be relayed consistently (Megerian, 3/13).

The New York Times: 'Anti-Bloomberg Bill' In Mississippi Bars Local Restrictions On Food And Drink
To that end, the people who govern the state with the highest rate of obesity in the nation have passed a bill saying that any law that might restrict what Mississippians eat or drink has to go through them — barring federal regulations (Severson, 3/13).

The Washington Post: Small-Business Health Exchange Mandate Will Go To D.C. Council
A District board is moving full steam ahead with a controversial plan to require small  businesses in the city to purchase their employee health insurance through a government exchange (DeBonis, 3/13).

Los Angeles Times: Lawmaker Wants To Expand Roles Of Medical Professionals
Citing a doctor shortage in California, a state lawmaker wants to expand the roles of nurse practitioners, pharmacists and optometrists to help treat what is expected to be a crush of newly insured Californians seeking care next year under the federal healthcare law. At a news conference at a community clinic here, state Sen. Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina) announced plans Wednesday to introduce a series of bills that would redefine professional boundaries for certain mid-level health workers, allowing them to provide more services than currently allowed under state law (Mishak, 3/13).

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