Kaiser Health News Original Stories

4. Political Cartoon: 'High Score'

Kaiser Health News provides a fresh take on health policy developments with "Political Cartoon: 'High Score'" by Steve Kelley and Jeff Parker, from 'Dustin'.

Here's today's health policy haiku:

GOOGLE, JOHNSON & JOHNSON TEAM UP ON ROBOTICS

Building a better
Robot to assist surgeons…
They will get along!

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Capitol Hill Watch

5. Congress Moves To OK Short-Term Spending Bill To Avert Government Shutdown

The Senate agreed to extend the deadline for action on an omnibus spending bill until Wednesday, Dec. 16. Meanwhile, as these negotiations continue, a proposal to delay the health law's so-called Cadillac tax, which is scheduled to take effect in 2018, is among the policy provisions still very much in play.

The Associated Press: Congress In Final-Stage Talks on Massive Budget, Tax Bills
Under current law, government funding expires Friday at midnight, when the last short-term spending bill expires. The Senate agreed by voice vote and without debate Thursday to extend that deadline through Wednesday Dec. 16 to allow more time for talks. The House was expected to follow suit Friday, but Ryan allowed that even more time might be needed. (Werner, 12/11)

Los Angeles Times: Why Go Without A Fight? Congress Heads Toward The Last Budget Battle Of The Year
Congress is poised to pass a stopgap spending bill to avert a Friday shutdown and keep the government running five more days as a standoff intensifies over controversial add-ons included in the year-end budget deal. As Democrats resist dozens of GOP-led efforts to rollback women’s reproductive health services, halt environmental regulations to fight climate change and undo financial services reforms approved after the Great Recession, they were backed by top White House officials in private meetings this week. Democrats are instead pushing to include their own priorities, including lifting a ban on federal gun violence research. (Mascaro, 12/10)

The Hill: Dems Talk Tough On Gun Research Ban
A top House Democrat suggested Thursday that the party's support for a year-end government spending bill will hinge on Republicans' willingness to end a decades-old ban on nearly all federal gun-violence research. Democrats on Wednesday delivered to the Republicans an omnibus spending proposal that eliminates the so-called "Dickey amendment," a perennial rider that's effectively blocked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from researching gun violence. (Ferris and Sullivan, 12/11)

The Wall Street Journal: Congress Pushes For Delay In ‘Cadillac Tax’ On Health Plans
Congress is getting closer to delaying a tax on expensive employer-sponsored health plans, imperiling a levy that was a key revenue source and cost-control measure in the 2010 health law. Bipartisan support for killing or suspending the start of the so-called Cadillac tax, which is scheduled to take effect in 2018, is growing. With President Barack Obama saying he would veto an outright repeal, lawmakers are pushing to postpone the tax for two years. (Armour and Rubin, 12/10)

The Hill: Dem Fault Lines Emerge On 'Cadillac Tax'
Backers argue the projected $91 billion in revenue created by the tax over the next decade is essential to funding the law and keeping healthcare costs in check. “A two-year delay, I’m concerned, turns into a permanent delay,” said Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.). “It was one of the key areas of cost containment, and in a state like mine where we’re still trying to get Medicaid expansion, and state legislators say the federal government’s not going to keep the existing commitments, when you take away one of the substantial pay-fors for healthcare reform, you strengthen their case.” (Sullivan, 12/10)

6. As Pressure Mounts, Lawmakers Still Scrambling Over 9/11 Responders Bill Cost

The New York Police Department commissioner joins a chorus of lawmakers, advocates and public figures demanding Congress to continue to fully fund health care benefits for 9/11 first responders. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has promised to make it happen, but one problem remains: the price tag.

CBS News: 9/11 Health Bill Held Up Over Price Tag
After facing intense public pressure from comedian Jon Stewart, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, promised earlier this week to fully fund health care benefits for 9/11 first responders. The legislation, however, is still held up over lawmakers' disagreement over whether the bill needs to be paid for. (Condon, 12/10)

The Associated Press: New York's Police Commissioner Fights For 9/11 Health Bill
The New York Police Department commissioner, flanked by police and firefighters, pushed Congress on Thursday to keep dollars flowing to a health program for first responders and others who got sick working in the rubble of the Sept. 11 attacks. Commissioner William Bratton noted that the House and Senate were holding hearings on the evolving terrorist threat to the United States, but the country still hadn't paid its debt to the first responders of 9/11. (12/10)

Administration News

7. U.S. Budget Deficit Widens In November

The deficit growth was, in part, driven by an uptick in spending on Medicare and Social Security, due to the burgeoning baby boomer population, and Medicaid, as a result of the health law's expansion of the low-income health care program.

The Wall Street Journal: U.S. Posted $65 Billion Deficit In November
The U.S. budget deficit widened in November due to an uptick in spending that outpaced an increase in revenues, the Treasury Department said on Thursday. ... Most of the spending growth in recent months has been driven by programs that aren’t appropriated on an annual basis by Congress, such as Medicare and Social Security. (Timiraos, 12/10)

The Associated Press: U.S. Budget Deficit Widened In November
The latest numbers underscore the deepening impact of paying benefits to a growing number of retiring baby boomers. The report said Social Security spending expanded 4 percent, while Medicare spending increased 9 percent. Spending on Medicaid, the government health care program for low-income individuals, rose 12 percent, partly due to an expansion authorized under the Affordable Care Act. (Crutsinger, 12/10)

Meanwhile, the Census Bureau notes that spending on hospitals, doctors and social services has gone up 5.6 percent year over year in the third quarter of 2015; and the Tennessean reports on how businesses are attempting to deal with health costs -

Modern Healthcare: Health Spending Still Tracking Upward, Census Data Show
Spending on hospitals, doctors and social services grew 5.6% year over year in the third quarter of 2015, indicating that healthcare expenses are still outpacing the higher growth rate recorded last year. That figure comes from the U.S. Census Bureau's latest Quarterly Services Report and does not include several other components of the healthcare system, such as pharmaceuticals and other medical products. (Herman, 12/10)

The Tennessean: Companies Get Creative To Deal With Health Care Costs
It was shaping up to be a bad year for medical claims for Blevins Inc. in June, so the chief financial officer tried to keep it from getting worse. For the first time, Tim Kentner sent letters to employees at home, asking people to switch to generics when they could and urging visits to urgent care clinics instead of emergency rooms, if appropriate. It didn't work. (Fletcher, 12/10)

Medicare

8. More Hospitals Dinged By Medicare For Safety Issues Than Last Year

Of the 758 facilities penalized, more than half were also punished last year. The fines are based on the government’s assessment of the frequency of several kinds of infections, sepsis, hip fractures and other complications. In other hospital news, Kaiser Health News reports on emergency room overcrowding.

Kaiser Health News: Medicare Penalizes 758 Hospitals For Safety Incidents
The federal governme
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