First Edition: March 29, 2013

Today's early morning highlights from the major news organizations, including coverage of renewed interest between President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans to find ways to cut Medicare costs:

Kaiser Health News: Q&A: Can They Do That? Rules For Pricing Spousal Coverage
Consumer columnist Michelle Andrews answers a reader's question about employers who charge a different premium to cover a spouse who has coverage available through his or her own job (Andrews, 3/29). Watch the video.

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Obamacare Is No Stumbling Block For Taxpayers This Year
Now on Kaiser Health News’ blog, Colorado Public Radio’s Eric Whitney, working in partnership with KHN and NPR, reports on a recent ad blitz by H&R Block: "Done your taxes yet? If you haven't, you might be feeling a little extra anxiety this year if you've seen this ad from H&R Block. Meg Sutton, H&R Block's senior advisor for tax and health care services, offered some details on what the big changes are" (Whitney, 3/29). Check out what else is on the blog.

The New York Times: Talk of Medicare Changes Could Open Way to Budget Pact
As they explore possible fiscal deals, President Obama and Congressional Republicans have quietly raised the idea of broad systemic changes to Medicare that could produce significant savings and end the polarizing debate over Republican plans to privatize the insurance program for older Americans. While the two remain far apart on the central issue of new tax revenue, recent statements from both sides show possible common ground on curbing the costs of Medicare, suggesting some lingering chance, however small, for a budget bargain (Calmes and Pear, 3/28).

The Wall Street Journal: White House Weighing Entitlement Limits
The White House is strongly considering including limits on entitlement benefits in its fiscal 2014 budget—a proposal it first offered Republicans in December. The move would be aimed in part at keeping alive bipartisan talks on a major budget deal. Such a proposal could include steps that make many Democrats queasy, such as reductions in future Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security payments, but also items resisted by Republicans, such as higher taxes through limits on tax breaks, people close to the White House said (Paletta, 3/28).

Los Angeles Times: Healthcare Law Could Raise Premiums 30% For Some Californians
About 5 million Californians got a first glimpse at what they might pay next year under the federal healthcare law. For many, that coverage will come with a hefty price tag. Compared with what individual policies cost now, premiums are expected to rise an average of 30% for many middle-income residents who don't get their insurance through their employers (Terhune, 3/28).

The Wall Street Journal: Insurance Prices Could Jump
Premiums for California consumers who buy their own insurance could be sharply higher next year on average because of the federal health-care law, while government subsidies will offset the impact for lower-income people, according to a new report. The report, written by actuarial consulting firm Milliman for Covered California, the agency created by the state government to set up its new health-insurance marketplace, is likely to draw close attention amid a broader debate over the law's effect on insurance rates (Wilde Mathews, 3/28).

The New York Times: Health Care Law Will Raise Some Premiums, Study Says
A study commissioned by the State of California says that the new federal health care law will drive up individual insurance premiums, but that subsidies will offset most of the increase for low-income people. The study, issued Thursday in the midst of a growing national debate over the impact of the law, is significant because California is far ahead of most states in setting up a competitive marketplace, or exchange, where people can buy insurance this fall (Pear, 3/28). 

The New York Times: Deal Reached To Force Paid Sick Leave In New York City
New York is poised to mandate that companies with 15 or more employees provide paid time off for them when they are sick. A compromise agreement reached Thursday night resulted from a raw display of political muscle by a coalition of labor unions and liberal activists who overcame fierce objections from New York’s business-minded mayor, Michael R. Bloomberg, and his allies in the corporate world (Barbaro and Grynbaum, 3/28).

The New York Times: The Costs Of Emergency Room Cost-Cutting
For close to 50 years, emergency rooms have been fingered as a major source of excessive health care costs. And while some newer research has challenged the idea that a large proportion of patients visit the emergency room for routine problems, many payers and policy makers continue to focus on these patients as a major source of wasteful spending. Not long ago, for example, in an effort to cut back on Medicaid expenditures, several states zeroed in on these so-called “unwarranted visits” and proposed a policy so apparently logical that it was hard to resist the temptation to slap yourself on the forehead. The proposal was to reimburse for an emergency room visit based on the urgency of the discharge diagnosis. ... But according to the new study, published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, such a policy relies on a huge, and erroneous, assumption (Chen, 3/28).

NPR: The Number Of Early Childhood Vaccines Not Linked To Autism
A large new government study should reassure parents who are afraid that kids are getting autism because they receive too many vaccines too early in life. The study, by researchers at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, found no connection between the number of vaccines a child received and their risk of autism spectrum disorder. It also found that even though kids are getting more vaccines these days, those vaccines contain many fewer of the substances that provoke an immune response (Hamilton, 3/29).

The Associated Press: Health Officials In Oklahoma Urge HIV, Hepatitis Testing For 7,000 Patients Of Tulsa Dentist
Health officials on Thursday urged an Oklahoma oral surgeon’s patients to undergo hepatitis and HIV testing, saying filthy conditions behind his office’s spiffy facade posed a threat to his 7,000 clients and made him a “menace to the public health.” State and county health inspectors went to Dr. W. Scott Harrington’s practice after a patient with no known risk factors tested positive for both hepatitis C and the virus that causes AIDS. They found employees using dirty equipment, reusing needles and administering drugs without a license (3/28).

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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.