First Edition: August 19, 2011

In today's headlines, a range of reports looking ahead to the work of the deficit 'super committee' and other budget news.

Kaiser Health News: Health Insurers Seek Delay Of New Consumer-Friendly Coverage Forms
Reporting for Kaiser Health News, Susan Jaffe writes: "Shopping for health insurance next year will be easier when hundreds of health insurers and employers use the same simple forms unveiled Wednesday by the Obama administration, consumer advocates and government officials say. But the new materials, required by the 2010 health law, are still a work in progress. The public will have 60 days to comment on any changes that may be needed in the 132 pages of rules for the forms, federal health and labor officials said" (Jaffee, 8/18).

Kaiser Health News: Ambulance Fees Vary Widely (Video)
Kaiser Health News "Insuring Your Health" columnist Michelle Andrews answers a question from a reader about how insurer and provider fees from ambulance service vary around the nation (8/18).

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: CHIP Outreach Gets More Kids Covered
Now on KHN's news blog, Phil Galewitz writes about a new report that finds "[t]he number of children eligible for Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP)  but not enrolled fell to 4.3 million in 2009 from 4.7 million the prior year, according to a report out today. The drop is significant because it occurred even as the number of children eligible for the programs rose by 3 million as a result of the economic downturn." Also on Capsules, Jenny Gold reports on a study from the Center for Studying Health System Change: "The race among hospitals to hire local physicians is heating up, even though the consequences for the cost and quality of health care are still unclear." Christopher Weaver writes about the opportunity private Medicaid plans see in low-wage workers. And Julie Appleby files this report: "Expect to pay more for your job-based health care coverage next year, as employers continue a trend of passing along rising costs to workers. Fifty-three percent of large employers surveyed by the National Business Group on Health said they would increase the amount workers pay toward their premiums next year, although most said the rise would be less than 10 percent. Thirty-nine percent of the 83 firms surveyed said they would increase deductibles for in-network care." Check out the blog.

Los Angeles Times: Deficit 'Super Committee' Looks Set For A Bumpy Start
The congressional "super committee" on deficit reduction has extraordinary new power to chart the nation's budget and policy decisions for the next decade. What it doesn't have is a meeting room. Or a staff director. Or clear rules to govern the bipartisan panel that in three months is expected to recommend $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction, a massive undertaking that many are skeptical will succeed (Mascaro, 8/18).

The Hill: Republican Supercommittee Member Vows No Cuts To Entitlement Benefits
A Republican member of the powerful, deficit-slashing supercommittee vowed this week that the panel won't touch benefits under Social Security and Medicare. Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said it's "critical" that current enrollees in those entitlement programs "not see benefit reductions" (Lillis, 8/18).

The Associated Press: White House Orders Agencies To Cut Their Budgets
It's a microcosm of the budget battling that has consumed Congress all year: The Obama administration wants federal agencies to save money while Republicans push for additional savings to take a substantial bite out of the government's towering pile of IOUs. White House budget chief Jacob Lew has ordered agency heads to submit spending plans for the upcoming budget at least 5 percent below this year's levels. He also wants them to propose ways to trim a total of at least 10 percent of their spending. … Lew's letter did not rule out, or even address, the possibility of finding savings from benefit programs. But [John Boehner's spokesman Michael] Steel's remark pointed directly at the major fault line that has blocked a sweeping debt-cutting deal between the two parties: Democrats have resisted paring benefits from Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, while Republicans have refused to consider tax increases (Fram, 8/19).

Politico: White House Memo Urges Cuts To Federal Agencies
Lew writes that he wants to see real cuts from discretionary appropriations and even warns against a tactic he has frequently used himself in negotiating with Republicans: substituting savings from mandatory benefit or subsidy programs also funded through the appropriations bills. But the director is clearly hoping that agency heads will show some initiative by highlighting those programs where spending could contribute to President Barack Obama's goal of jobs creation and economic growth (Rogers, 8/18).

Politico Pro: States Wait On Federal Exchange Guidance
State policymakers are growing increasingly anxious in the face of administration signals that key guidance on federal exchanges may not be coming until late 2011 or early 2012 — if they're coming at all. The administration appears to have decided that it does not need to issue a rule outlining the operation of a federal fallback exchange, according to sources familiar with the administration's thinking (Millman and Feder, 8/19).

The Hill: Survey: Employers Shift Rising Health Costs To Their Workers
As healthcare costs continue to rise, businesses are increasingly passing on the added burden to their employees. Higher cost-sharing for employees is the primary way in which employers are trying to control their own healthcare spending, according to a new survey from the National Business Group on Health (Baker, 8/18).

The Associated Press/Los Angeles Times: Planned Parenthood To End Abortions In Three Arizona Cities
Starting Friday, women will no longer be able to terminate pregnancies at the Planned Parenthood clinics in Prescott Valley, Flagstaff and Yuma that offered abortions through medication. Women can still receive surgical and medication abortions in the Tucson and Phoenix areas, but those services will cease at some suburban locations (8/19).

http://www.kaiserhealthnews.orgThis article was reprinted from 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.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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