First Edition: March 15, 2013

Today's headlines include reports about President Barack Obama's third day of Capitol Hill visits in pursuit of progress on the budget.  

Kaiser Health News: Small Businesses Pursue Health Law 'Loophole'
Kaiser Health News staff writer Jay Hancock, working in collaboration with USA Today, reports: "NorthBay Adventure is the kind of small business that could be expected to buy medical insurance for workers under sweeping health-act rules taking effect in 2014. But executive director George Comfort says that's not likely to happen. Instead, NorthBay became self-insured last year, paying most of its workers' health costs directly, a practice more typical of large employers. The decision to self-insure was about free choice, savings and what’s best for his company, Comfort says. But others see it as a threat to the Affordable Care Act. As more small employers like NorthBay avoid the health act's requirements through self-coverage, small-business marketplaces intended to cover millions of Americans could break down and become unaffordable, they say" (Hancock, 3/15). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: Medicare Revises Readmissions Penalties – Again
Kaiser Health News staff writer Jordan Rau reports: "In its effort to crack down on repeat hospitalizations, Medicare has its own readmission: for the second time in six months, it has erred in calculating penalties for more than 1,000 of the nation’s hospitals. As a result, Medicare has slightly lessened its readmissions penalties for 1,246 hospitals as part of its new program pressuring hospitals to ensure patients stay healthy health after they leave" (Rau, 3/14). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Minnesota Exchange Bill Moves Forward Without Abortion Restrictions
Now on Kaiser Health News' blog, Minnesota Public Radio’s Elizabeth Stawicki, working in  partnership with KHN and NPR, reports: "Abortion restrictions have been cut from a final version of Minnesota's health insurance exchange bill that will impact how more than a million people obtain health coverage beginning this fall" (Stawicki, updated 3/15). Check out what else is on the blog.

Los Angeles Times: Obama Wraps Up His Three-Day Capitol Hill Tour
Wednesday's meeting with House Republicans had a more combative tone, and GOP lawmakers left unconvinced that the president was willing to move toward their positions, particularly on the budget. … Republican senators, though, have been more willing to consider new revenues as part of a broader package that would reduce deficits, particularly by trimming Medicare and Medicaid -- healthcare programs that are driving deficits. Particular interest seems to be forming on both sides of the aisle around Obama's proposal for tying the cost of living adjustment to higher income levels, so only wealthier recipients would see their Social Security or veterans' benefits reduced (Mascaro and Memoli, 3/14).

The Washington Post: Obama's Third Day Of Lawmaker Lunches Focuses On Tax, Entitlement Reform
GOP senators emerged from their lunch in a buoyant mood, saying that Obama fielded nearly a dozen questions over 90 minutes regarding budget negotiations, immigration, entitlement programs, corporate taxes and federal regulations. … A key focus was asking Obama to tone down his rhetoric on entitlement programs, as Republicans cited his interview with ABC News in which he accused the GOP of wanting to balance the budget by "gutting" Medicare and Social Security. Obama, Roberts said, "tried to better define what he said to George Stephanopoulos." The meeting was a stark contrast to a similar huddle three years ago in a Senate meeting room around the corner, a gathering that took place in the midst of Obama's push for a Democratic-only bill to dramatically reshape the health-care system (O’Keefe, Helderman and Kane, 3/14).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Republicans: For Deficit Deal, Obama Must Tone Down Attacks And Push Dems To Support Changes
Polite yet firm, Senate Republicans told President Barack Obama on Thursday to tone down his political attacks and prod Democratic allies to support controversial changes in Medicare if he wants a compromise reducing deficits and providing stability to federal benefit programs. Participants at a 90-minute closed-door meeting said Obama acknowledged the point without yielding ground — and noted that Republicans criticize him freely. "To quote an old Chicago politician, 'Politics ain't beanbag,'" the president said (3/14).

Politico: Sparks Fly At Senate Budget Hearing
The resolution heads to the full Senate, where it's expected to be subjected to a long list of floor amendments. Votes on the budget are expected next Thursday. The only major break from Murray by her Democratic colleagues was over an amendment offered by Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.) that requires the CBO to report the impact of the Affordable Health Care Act in terms of employers dropping coverage (Gibson, 3/14).

The New York Times: Boehner Says Losses In Election Won't Affect Budget Stance
In an interview, Mr. Boehner said that candidates and personalities — not Republican proposals on Medicare and spending cuts — accounted for the party's defeats, taking a hard line on further budget talks even as Senate Republicans met with President Obama in a search for common ground (Weisman and Peters, 3/14).

The Wall Street Journal: Employers Blast Fees From New Health Law
Employers are bracing for a little-noticed fee in the federal health-care law that will charge them $63 for each person they insure next year, one of the clearest cost increases companies face when the law takes full effect. Companies and other plan providers will together pay $25 billion over three years to create a fund for insurance companies to offset the cost of covering people with high medical bills (Adamy, 3/14).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Judge: Feds Can't Make Domino's Founder Tom Monaghan Offer Workers Contraceptive Coverage
A judge on Thursday blocked the federal government from requiring the founder of Domino's Pizza to provide mandatory contraception coverage to his employees under the health care law. U.S. District Judge Lawrence Zatkoff granted a preliminary injunction against enforcement of the contraception provision of the law against Tom Monaghan and Domino’s Farms Corp., a management company located near Ann Arbor, Mich. (3/14).

The New York Times: Senate Mulls A Showdown On Saturday Mail Delivery
Among the changes the Postal Service is seeking is the modification of a 2006 law that requires the agency to pay $5.5 billion a year into a health fund for future retirees. The agency was forced to default on two payments last year after reaching its borrowing limit. The defaults contributed to the agency's posting of a $15.9 billion loss last year (Nixon, 3/14).

The Wall Street Journal: Squeeze Looms For Doctors
U.S. medical schools are expanding to meet an expected need for more doctors due to the federal health law. With at least 12 new schools opening and existing ones growing, enrollment is on track to produce 5,000 more graduates a year by 2019. But medical educators are cautioning that those efforts won't do anything to alleviate a doctor shortage unless the number of medical residency positions rises as well (Beck, 3/14).

Politico: Supreme Court To Hear Generic Drug Suit Next Week
Generic drugs are supposed to be identical to the brand names that preceded them. And by law, they have to have identical warnings and labels. So what happens when a generic drug harms someone? How much liability does the generic drugmaker bear? That's a question that will be argued before the Supreme Court next Tuesday (Norman, 3/15).

The Texas Tribune/New York Times: Finding a Partner for Children's Health in Centralized Care
For the last year, Anna has participated in a pilot program at the Seton Children’s Comprehensive Care clinic at Dell Children's Medical Center of Central Texas in Austin. The three-year program, now in its second year, coordinates care for medically needy children, providing access to pediatric physicians, medical specialists and behavioral health care, while offering family support services. The program's founders hope comparative data collected from the pilot program and routine outpatient care will show that centralized coordination improves the quality of care while cutting costs (Aaronson, 3/14).

The New York Times: Focusing On Violence Before It Happens
In the national debate that has followed the killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, much of the focus has been on regulating firearms. But many law enforcement and mental health experts believe that developing comprehensive approaches to prevention is equally important. In many cases, they note, the perpetrators of such violence are troubled young people who have signaled their distress to others and who might have been stopped had they received appropriate help (Goode, 3/14). 

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