Today's early morning highlights from the major news organizations, including reports about the "fiscal cliff" negotiations:
Kaiser Health News: Health On The Hill: Spending, Taxing Remain Sticking Points As 'Fiscal Cliff' Looms (Audio)
KHN's Mary Agnes Carey speaks with Jackie Judd about negotiations on Capitol Hill to avoid the "fiscal cliff" and just how close -- or far apart -- Democrats, Republicans and the White House seem to be on cutting spending and letting some tax cuts for the rich expire (12/18). Listen to the audio or read the transcript.
Kaiser Health News: 'If I'd Had To Wait Until 67 For Medicare, I'd Be Dead'
Writing for Kaiser Health News, Russ Mitchell reports: "Sam Lewis turned 65 in the nick of time. For a year, he'd been broke. His Brentwood, Calif., general contracting business had gone bust. He couldn't make payments on his home, and lost it. He couldn't make payments on his health insurance, so he let it lapse. The day after his birthday in October, when he qualified for Medicare, Lewis got a checkup. Days later, he went under the knife: open-heart surgery, a triple-bypass, three arteries blocked with plaque, one of them, 99 percent. "If I'd had to wait until 67 for Medicare," Lewis said, "I'd be dead" (Mitchell, 12/18).
Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Colorado Gov Pitches Plan To Mend Mental Health Safety Net
Now on Kaiser Health News' blog, Colorado Public Radio's Eric Whitney, working in partnership with Kaiser Health News and NPR, reports on a proposal offered to improve mental health services: "In a grim coincidence, just days after the mass killing in Newtown, Conn., Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper is proposing an $18.5 million plan to strengthen the state's mental health system. The proposal is the result of five months of work by a group of advisers convened by Hickenlooper in the wake of a mass shooting in July at an Aurora, Colo., movie theater that left 12 dead. The governor's announcement had been set well before Friday's massacre (Whitney, 12/19). Check out what else is on the blog.
The New York Times: Hospitals Fear They'll Bear Brunt Of Medicare Cuts
As President Obama and Congress try to thrash out a budget deal, the question is not whether they will squeeze money out of Medicare, but how much and who will bear the brunt of the cuts. ... But any significant tinkering with the benefits for older Americans comes with significant political risks, and most Democrats in Congress strenuously oppose raising the age when Medicare coverage begins. With growing pressure to reach an agreement on deficit reduction by the end of the year, some consensus is building around the idea that the largest Medicare savings should come from hospitals and other institutional providers of care (Pear and Abelson, 12/18).
The Wall Street Journal: Cleveland Clinic Diagnoses Health-Care Act
Just over a year from now, the Affordable Care Act is set to unleash enormous change in the health-care sector, and Cleveland Clinic Chief Executive Delos "Toby" Cosgrove is preparing his institution by expanding its reach and striving to make caregivers more cost-conscious. ... Dr. Cosgrove has pushed efforts to translate the system's research work into new commercial opportunities ranging from a social-media site on beauty to a medical-device startup developing artificial-heart technologies. Cleveland Clinic is also striking deals with employers such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. to send workers to there for complex procedures, moves that lock in patients for high-end surgeries. The new federal provisions-;which include cutbacks to Medicare payments and the creation of new health-insurance marketplaces for consumers-;will test institutions like Cleveland Clinic (Mathews, 12/18).
The New York Times: Boehner Plan Addresses Taxes But Delays Fight Over Spending Cuts
House Republican leaders struggled on Tuesday night to rally their colleagues around a backup measure to ease the sting of a looming fiscal crisis by allowing tax rates to rise only on incomes over $1 million. The plan would leave in place across-the-board spending cuts to military and domestic programs that Republicans have been warning could have dire consequences, especially to national defense. ... Republicans would resume the fight for broad spending cuts, especially to entitlement programs like Medicare, in late January or February, when the government will face raising its borrowing limit and when, many Republicans believe, they will have much more leverage than they do now (Weisman, 12/18).
The Wall Street Journal: GOP Unveils A 'Plan B' If Budget Talks Fail
Despite progress toward agreement on a budget deal with the White House, House Republican leaders on Tuesday proposed a backup plan to prevent most Americans from facing an income-tax increase if negotiations collapse. ... Both leaders face perils as they enter what could be the final stages of high-stakes negotiations to avoid the "fiscal cliff" of higher taxes and spending cuts in early January. Mr. Obama will have to deal with liberals unhappy about entitlement cuts. Mr. Boehner faces a potential backlash from Republicans for contemplating tax-rate increases-;both in his talks with the White House and in Plan B (Hook, Lee and Boles, 12/19).
The Washington Post: Boehner's Backup Tax Plan Shakes Up 'Fiscal Cliff' Negotiations
House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) veered off the bipartisan course he had been charting toward a broad tax-and-entitlement deal with President Obama and instead Tuesday pushed a GOP package to extend tax cuts for income up to $1 million. The move shook the Capitol after several days of significant progress between Obama and Boehner, who had moved closer to a pact raising taxes on the wealthy and curbing government spending, including on Social Security (Kane and Montgomery, 12/18).
Los Angeles Times: Boehner Changes Gears In 'Fiscal Cliff' Talks With Obama
The speaker made clear that he is not cutting off talks with Obama, but Democrats characterized Boehner as walking away just as compromise appeared within reach. This week, Obama made what White House aides saw as a substantial concession by telling Boehner that he would accept an agreement raising taxes on household income above $400,000, rather than the $250,000 threshold he had previously insisted on. He also proposed changes to reduce the long-term cost of government benefit programs, including Social Security (Mascaro, Parsons, and Memoli, 12/18).