Today's early morning highlights from the major news organizations, including reports about Marilyn Tavenner's nomination to run Medicare and the Catholic bishops' rejection of the Obama administration's contraception plan announced last week.
Kaiser Health News: San Diego Hospice Files For Bankruptcy
Writing for Kaiser Health News, Randy Dotinga reports: "Hobbled by a federal investigation into its practice of treating patients who had more than six months left to live, one of the biggest hospices in the country has filed for bankruptcy as it tries to continue operating. A local hospital chain is heeding San Diego Hospice's plea for help, however, and promising to provide services for as many patients as need it" (Dotinga, 2/7).
Kaiser Health News: Grassley Calls For Senate Consideration Of Tavenner's Nomination
Now on Kaiser Health News' blog, Mary Agnes Carey reports: "President Barack Obama Thursday once again nominated Marilyn Tavenner to head the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, and a key GOP senator said the chamber should consider the nomination. 'The Senate should give Ms. Tavenner every opportunity to show she is a worthy choice to lead the agency responsible for Medicare, Medicaid, the Children's Health Insurance Program, and a lot of the implementation of the Obama health care law,' said Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa., who is a member of the Finance Committee and its former chairman and ranking member. Grassley said he hoped the panel would give Tavenner's nomination 'due consideration through regular order'" (Carey, 2/8).
The New York Times: Bishops Reject Birth Control Compromise
The nation's Roman Catholic bishops on Thursday rejected the latest White House proposal on health insurance coverage of contraceptives, saying it did not offer enough safeguards for religious hospitals, colleges and charities that objected to providing such coverage for their employees. The bishops said they would continue fighting the federal mandate in court (Pear, 2/7).
The Wall Street Journal: Latest Birth-Control Offer 'Falls Short'
The nation's Roman Catholic bishops on Thursday came out against the Obama administration's latest offer to resolve a yearlong standoff over mandatory insurance coverage of contraception. The bishops' fresh opposition paves the way for a protracted legal battle between religious groups and the federal government that could bring part of the health overhaul law back before the Supreme Court (Radnofsky and Braven, 2/7).
NPR: Catholic Bishops Reject Compromise On Contraceptives
It seems the third time wasn't the charm, after all. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has officially rejected the Obama Administration's latest attempt to ensure that women with health insurance get access to no-cost contraceptive coverage without violating the rights of religious employers. ... The proposal calls for insurance companies -; rather than religious hospitals, universities or charities -; to provide contraceptive and sterilization coverage. But that's not good enough, said a statement from Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the conference (Rovner, 2/7).
Politico: Bishops Reject Contraception Rule Change
Catholic bishops on Thursday rejected the White House's latest attempt at compromise on contraception, saying it did not adequately accommodate religious organizations that object to covering free contraception in employee health plans. "Throughout the past year, we have been assured by the administration that we will not have to refer, pay for, or negotiate for the mandated coverage," Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said in a statement. "We remain eager for the administration to fulfill that pledge" (Haberkorn and Smith, 2/7).
The Wall Street Journal: Mississippi Health-Exchange Application Rejected
Republican insurance officials in Mississippi who had hoped to run their own insurance exchange as part of the federal health-care law have had their application turned down by the Obama administration, which said the opposition of the state's GOP governor made it impossible for them to proceed (Radnofsky, 2/7).
The Associated Press: Feds Reject Mississippi Proposal To Create State-Run Health Insurance Exchange
Mississippi Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney says federal officials have rejected the state's proposed health insurance exchange. Chaney made the announcement Thursday. An exchange is an online marketplace where people can buy health insurance (2/7).
Los Angeles Times: Medicaid Expansion Divides GOP Governors
Some of the nation's most prominent Republican governors have moved to embrace a key feature of President Obama's healthcare law, providing a significant boost to the administration and highlighting a fissure inside the GOP on an emerging campaign issue. At stake is the goal of expanding health insurance under the Medicaid program, one of two main ways the law is to provide coverage to those who lack it. Starting in 2014, the law broadens Medicaid to cover people who earn up to about $15,500 a year, but under last year's Supreme Court decision upholding the law's constitutionality, states have the option of rejecting the expansion and the federal money that comes with it (West, 2/7).
The Wall Street Journal: Senators Say No Subsidies For Unions
A group of 31 Republican senators asked the White House not to allow subsidies under the health-overhaul law for health-insurance plans jointly run by employers and unions. In a letter to President Barack Obama sent Thursday, the group, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, said any expansion of insurance subsidies to union workers' plans would violate the 2010 law. The letter was in response to a page one story in The Wall Street Journal last week that said top labor leaders planned to press the Obama administration to get access to the law's insurance exchanges and subsidies (Adamy, 2/7).
The Washington Post: Measure Would Strengthen Mental Health-Care System
A bipartisan group of senators, citing renewed urgency after the shooting massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, introduced legislation Thursday aimed at strengthening the nation's fragmented mental health-care system and improving access at the community level. The bill would put in place standards for about 2,000 "federally qualified" community behavioral health centers, requiring them to provide such services as substance abuse treatment and 24-hour crisis care. In return, facilities meeting criteria would be able to bill Medicaid for their services -; a change intended to open the door to treatment for many more people and one that is estimated to cost about $1 billion over the next decade (Dennis and Kane, 2/7).
The Wall Street Journal: Tavenner Nominated For Medicare, Medicaid Post
The Obama administration on Thursday made its second formal nomination of Marilyn Tavenner to head the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Ms. Tavenner was first nominated for the post in November 2011 and has been the acting administrator of the agency since then, overseeing the two major health-insurance programs operated by the federal government, as well as implementation of key parts of the health-care law. She is a former nurse and hospital chief executive (Radnofsky, 2/7).
Politico: Tavenner Renominated For CMS Administrator
The White House on Thursday renominated Marilyn Tavenner to be administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. But don't expect to see action on her nomination soon. The second nomination was expected, as Tavenner's 2011 nomination to the same job expired at the end of the previous Congress. But it's unclear whether Senate Democrats will move her confirmation given that it has become so difficult to get a Medicare chief confirmed in the past few years under both Republican and Democratic administrations (Haberkorn, 2/7).
The New York Times: Obama Tells House Democrats He Will Confront Republicans On Taxes
President Obama vowed Thursday to confront Republicans over the issue of closing tax loopholes, saying that he would relish a debate with those who insist that Congress has done all it should to get more tax revenue from wealthy individuals and corporations. ... "What they've suggested," he added, "is that the only way to replace it now is for us to cut Social Security, cut Medicare and not close a single loophole, not raise any additional revenue from the wealthiest Americans or corporations who have a lot of lawyers and accountants who are able to maneuver and manage and work and game the system." "And I have to tell you, if that's an argument that they want to have before the court of public opinion, that is an argument I am more than willing to engage in," he said (Peters, 2/7).
Los Angeles Times: Obama Previews State Of The Union Address, Challenges GOP On Sequester
President Obama previewed his State of the Union speech themes during a pep talk to House Democrats on Thursday, while framing the fiscal battles with Congress in familiar terms as he called for an end to "governance by crisis." ... Obama, speaking to lawmakers over lunch in a ballroom on the grounds of a golf resort where Democrats are huddling for three days to plot strategy for the coming year, claimed that Republicans would seek to replace the sequester with cuts to entitlement programs, such as Social Security and Medicare, while refusing to raise new tax revenue (Memoli, 2/7).
The Wall Street Journal: FDA Convenes Hearing On Pain-Pill Labels
Relatives of overdose victims pleaded with federal drug regulators Thursday to change the label on a widely used class of narcotic painkillers in a charged day of testimony in Washington. Some pain patients, meanwhile, warned that any action could limit their access to the drugs. The Food and Drug Administration convened the two-day public hearing on so-called opioid painkillers, amid concern that they are fueling an epidemic of addiction and overdose deaths (Catan, 2/7).
The Washington Post: Compounding Pharmacies Have Been Linked To Deaths, Illnesses And Safety Failures For Years
Shoddy practices and unsanitary conditions at three large-scale specialty pharmacies have been tied to deaths and illnesses over the past decade, revealing that the serious safety lapses at a Massachusetts pharmacy linked to last fall's deadly meningitis outbreak were not an isolated occurrence, records and interviews show (Kindy, Sun and Crites, 2/7).
The Associated Press/The Wall Street Journal: Assisted Suicide On Legal Agenda In Several States
A push for the legalization of physician-assisted suicide is under way in a half-dozen states where proponents say they see strong support for allowing doctors to prescribe mentally competent, dying individuals with the medications needed to end their own lives. The large number of baby boomers facing end-of-life issues themselves is seen to have made the issue more prominent in recent years. Groups such as Compassion & Choices, a national end-of-life advocacy organization, have been working to advance the cause (2/8).
The New York Times: Smoking, Once Used To Reward, Faces A Ban In Mental Hospitals
Until recently, Louisiana law required psychiatric hospitals to accommodate smokers -; unlike rules banning smoking at most other health facilities. The law was changed last year, and by March 30, smoking is supposed to end at Louisiana's two remaining state psychiatric hospitals. After decades in which smoking by people with mental illness was supported and even encouraged -; a legacy that experts say is causing patients to die prematurely from smoking-related illnesses -; Louisiana's move reflects a growing effort by federal, state and other health officials to reverse course (Belluck, 2/6).
The Associated Press: Sandy Highlights Nursing Home Evacuation Troubles
In Superstorm Sandy's wake, health experts and regulators are warning that thousands of nursing homes nationwide are still ill-prepared for a natural disaster. The late October storm was the latest in a string of disasters to reveal gaps in emergency planning, despite an industry-wide effort to improve preparedness in the years since Hurricane Katrina. ... Some changes could be in the works. The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said it expects to issue new disaster planning requirements for nursing homes this year, with an aim toward avoiding the types of problems seen in Sandy (Caruso, 2/7).
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.