Today's early morning highlights from the major news organizations, including reports about the House Republicans' failure to pass Speaker John Boehner's tax and federal debt plan.
Kaiser Health News: Medicare Discloses Hospitals' Bonuses, Penalties Based On Quality
Kaiser Health News staff writer Jordan Rau reports: "Medicare on Thursday disclosed bonuses and penalties for nearly 3,000 hospitals as it ties almost $1 billion in payments to the quality of care provided to patients. The revised payments, which will begin in January, mark the federal government's most extensive effort yet to hold hospitals financially accountable for what happens to patients. In what amounts to a nationwide competition, Medicare compared hospitals on how faithfully they followed rudimentary standards of care and how patients rated their experiences" (Rau, 12/20). Read the story and a sidebar on the methodology behind the analysis. KHN also has an interactive chart showing the effect of the program on individual hospitals and a state-by-state comparison.
Kaiser Health News: Health Law Seen Boosting Xerox, HP
Kaiser Health News staff writer Phil Galewitz, working in collaboration with USA Today, reports: "When Tennessee Medicaid Director Darin Gordon walks around his department in an office park north of downtown Nashville, he sees dozens of workers from technology giant Hewlett-Packard. HP's employees help to operate the massive computer systems that run Tennessee Medicaid. ... Growth in the program for the poor has created boom times for data management companies like HP and Xerox. ... Now, with Medicaid poised for broad expansion under the law and with online insurance markets being built in most states, those companies are well-positioned to profit" (Galewitz, 12/19). Read the story.
The New York Times: Boehner Cancels Tax Vote In Face Of G.O.P. Revolt
Speaker John A. Boehner's effort to pass fallback legislation to avert a fiscal crisis in less than two weeks collapsed Thursday night in an embarrassing defeat after conservative Republicans refused to support legislation that would allow taxes to rise on the most affluent households in the country. ... The stunning turn of events in the House left the status of negotiations to head off a combination of automatic tax increases and significant federal spending cuts in disarray with little time before the start of the new year (Weisman, 12/20).
The Wall Street Journal: Boehner's Budget 'Plan B' Collapses
House Speaker John Boehner, facing a rebellion in his party's conservative ranks, abandoned his own plan to avert tax increases for most Americans Thursday night, throwing Washington's high-stakes budget negotiations into disarray and bringing the prospect of tumbling over the fiscal cliff into sudden focus. ... Mr. Boehner was already under pressure from party conservatives for concessions he had made in earlier talks with Mr. Obama, including a weekend offer to raise tax rates on millionaires and allow a one-year increase in the debt limit, in exchange for Mr. Obama proposing cuts in Medicare and other fast-growing entitlement programs. Administration officials now say they doubt whether Mr. Boehner would have been able to pass that proposal (Hook, Bendavid and Lee, 12/21).
The Washington Post: Boehner Abandons Plan To Avoid 'Fiscal Cliff'
House Speaker John A. Boehner threw efforts to avoid the year-end "fiscal cliff" into chaos late Thursday, as he abruptly shuttered the House for the holidays after failing to win support from his fellow Republicans for a plan to let tax rates rise for millionaires. ... Emboldened liberals quickly argued that Democrats should demand additional concessions from Republicans, either upping the demand for fresh tax revenue or withdrawing Obama's offer to seek savings through cuts in federal health and retirement programs (Montgomery and Helderman, 12/20).
Los Angeles Times: Boehner's 'Fiscal Cliff' Plan Fails
House Speaker John A. Boehner abruptly canceled a vote on his Plan B tax proposal late Thursday after failing to find enough GOP support, a stunning political defeat that effectively turned resolution of the year-end budget crisis over to President Obama and the Democrats. ... Now, Obama faces a crucial test of his leadership, with little time left to craft a deal. Obama's most recent offer is likely to be the starting point. He made a substantial concession: raising taxes only on household income above $400,000, rather than the $250,000 threshold he campaigned on for reelection. As he pursues votes in Congress, the president will need to face down Democrats, particularly the liberal wing that may feel emboldened to demand that a deal be tilted toward their views -; perhaps with additional spending on infrastructure or unemployment benefits (Mascaro, Memoli and Parsons, 12/21).
Politico: Cliff Chaos: Boehner Pulls GOP Bill
The House Republican Conference turned its back on Speaker John Boehner Thursday, forcing GOP leadership to abandon its plan to extend Bush-era tax breaks for income under $1 million. ... Earlier on Thursday, Boehner, using his harshest tone of the fiscal cliff debate, said the White House has "done nothing" since he relented on letting low tax rates lapse on wealthy Americans. "For weeks the White House said if I moved on rates, that they would make substantial concessions on spending cuts and entitlement reform," Boehner said in an afternoon news conference. "I did my part, they've done nothing" (Sherman, Budoff Brown and Bresnahan, 12/20).
Politico: Obama's Dilemma
Thursday's revolt was a grim reminder of how closely Obama's future is tethered to that of his political rivals. If House Speaker John Boehner can't muscle his own bill through the House, his power to persuade his colleagues to accept a deal with the White House appears greatly diminished. And that means it might be tough for Obama to forge any agreement with House Republicans to avert the fiscal cliff this year -; or to push through his second-term agenda in the years to come (Budoff Brown, 12/21).
Politico: Double Hit Looms For Doctors, Hospitals
If Jan. 1 comes around with no fiscal cliff deal, the doctors and hospitals who take Medicare patients are going to get dinged twice -; once by sequestration, and again by the lack of a "doc fix." It's an industry that has gotten all too accustomed to Congress letting big cuts go through, only to fix them retroactively. In the past few years, more than one cut in the Medicare physician formula has gone into effect, only to be patched up later. But this time, the stakes are much larger -; and health care interests are deeply intertwined with the bigger political battles on Capitol Hill (Haberkorn and Norman, 12/20).
Los Angeles Times: Connecticut Shooter's Problems All Too Familiar To Many Parents
For parents around the U.S., the mass school shooting in Connecticut fueled fears about how to ensure the safety of their own children. But for parents like Guzman, the tragedy affected them in a different and terrifying way, as they saw signs of their children in the shooter. ... (Elizabeth) Guzman and other parents say getting the right help for their mentally ill children is a constant and emotionally exhausting challenge. Schools are often unprepared to cope with their illnesses, which can include schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder, according to experts and advocates. And years of state and local budget cuts have led to fewer mental health services nationwide (Gorman, 12/20).
The New York Times: Gaps In F.B.I. Data Undercut Background Checks For Guns
Nearly two decades after lawmakers began requiring background checks for gun buyers, significant gaps in the F.B.I.'s database of criminal and mental health records allow thousands of people to buy firearms every year who should be barred from doing so. The database is incomplete because many states have not provided federal authorities with comprehensive records of people involuntarily committed or otherwise ruled mentally ill. Records are also spotty for several other categories of prohibited buyers (Schmidt and Savage, 12/20).
The Wall Street Journal: Lack Of Data Slows Studies Of Gun Control And Crime
There is no shortage of opinions about whether gun-control laws accomplish what they are designed to do-;reduce violent crime. What is lacking are data. As U.S. lawmakers prepare once again to take up the contested issue in the wake of the Newtown school massacre, they will find that all data on guns are surprisingly scarce. ... Researchers say the CDC hasn't funded primary research in gun control since the mid-1990s, in part because of pressure from the National Rifle Association. Congress has barred the agency from funding research that promotes a position on gun control, and the CDC has limited its efforts in the area to compiling data on firearm injuries, rather than studying the effect of gun-control laws (Palazzolo and Bialek, 12/21).
The Wall Street Journal: Doctors Move To Webcams
Virtual doctor visit services-;which connect patients from their homes with physicians whom they meet via online video or phone-;are moving into the mainstream, as insurers and employers are increasingly willing to pay for them (Wilde Mathews, 12/20).
NPR: When The Doctor Works For The Insurance Company
Some insurance companies are taking a page out of their own history books: running their own doctors' offices and clinics. Though the strategy previously had mixed results, insurers think that by providing primary care for patients, they might reduce costly diseases and hospital stays in the long run (Samuelson, 12/21).
The New York Times: One Boy's Death Moves State To Action To Prevent Others
Prompted by the death of a 12-year-old Queens boy in April, New York health officials are poised to make their state the first in the nation to require that hospitals aggressively look for sepsis in patients so treatment can begin sooner. Under the regulations, which are now being drafted, the hospitals will also have to publicly report the results of their efforts (Dwyer, 12/20).
This article was reprinted from kaiserhealthnews.org with permission from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent news service, is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health care policy research organization unaffiliated with Kaiser Permanente.