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Today’s Headlines – August 1, 2012

Today’s early morning highlights from the major news organizations, including reports about the legislation to limit health spending approved by Massachusetts lawmakers.

NPR: Under Health Law, ‘No-Cost’ Birth Control Starts Today
Beginning today, most new and renewing health insurance plans must begin offering a broad array of women’s preventive health services, most notably coverage of birth control, at no upfront cost (Rovner, 8/1).

Politico: Dems Broaden Health Care Debate
The Obama administration’s requirement that nearly all insurance plans provide contraceptives without a co-pay begins Wednesday, giving Democrats a new talking point about the benefits of the law and Republicans a new hook to repeal the whole thing. On Capitol Hill Tuesday, Democrats talked up the law’s benefits for women’s health with a bigger sales blitz than they’ve used for the health care law in a long time — including floor speeches by top Senate Democrats and a news conference with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. She’ll continue the sales pitch Wednesday with a Web chat about the law’s new coverage rules (Haberkorn and Smith, 7/31).

For more headlines …

Politico: Mitch McConnell Calls For ‘Obamacare’ Repeal Vote As Democrats Talk Women’s Health
Democrats are trying to talk up the benefits of “Obamacare” for women’s health Tuesday — but Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is still trying to force a vote to repeal it. On the Senate floor Tuesday morning, McConnell asked Reid if the Republicans would have a chance to offer a repeal amendment to the cybersecurity bill — just as Reid was finishing a passionate floor speech about how the law would be a big step forward for women and recalling his wife’s own battle with breast cancer (DoBias, 7/31).

The New York Times: Leaders Reach Tentative Deal On Spending To Avoid Right Before Election Day
House and Senate leaders on Tuesday, with little fanfare and no drama, said they had reached a tentative agreement that would pay for federal government operations through next March, averting the prospect of another messy shutdown debacle. … Republican lawmakers will spend much of the week railing against impending cuts to the military that also resulted from the debt-ceiling legislation. Democrats are largely focusing on an effort to renew the Violence Against Women Act, and supporting a provision in the health care law requiring most employers to cover contraception, which takes effect on Wednesday (Steinhauer, 7/31).

USA Today: Health Insurance Rebates May Keep Premiums Down For Everyone
As the last of $1 billion worth of this year’s health insurance rebate checks goes out to consumers this week, insurers and government officials say the new regulation may be keeping premiums lower for everyone (Kennedy, 7/31).

Los Angeles Times: Health Insurers Owe Nearly $74 Million In Rebates To Californians
Nearly 2 million Californians will receive $73.9 million in rebates from health insurers as part of the federal healthcare law, according to state officials. Insurers notified government regulators in June of how much they owed customers in rebates or premium credits because they didn’t spend at least 80% or more of 2011 premiums on medical care. The minimum threshold is 85% for employers with more than 51 workers (Terhune, 8/1).

The Wall Street Journal: Lawmakers Agree To Extend Funding For Six Months
Republican and Democratic leaders said Tuesday that they have agreed to extend current government funding levels through the first six months of the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, avoiding the prospect of a pitched budget battle shortly before the election (Bendavid, 7/31).

The Washington Post: Study: Romney Tax Plan Would Result In Cuts For Rich, Higher Burden For Others
Mitt Romney’s plan to overhaul the tax code would produce cuts for the richest 5 percent of Americans — and bigger bills for everybody else, according to an independent analysis set for release Wednesday. The study was conducted by researchers at the Brookings Institution and the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, who seem to bend over backward to be fair to the Republican presidential candidate. … None of it helped Romney. His rate-cutting plan for individuals would reduce tax collections by about $360 billion in 2015, the study says. To avoid increasing deficits … the plan would have to generate an equivalent amount of revenue by slashing tax breaks for mortgage interest, employer-provided health care, education, medical expenses, state and local taxes, and child care — all breaks that benefit the middle class (Montgomery, 8/1).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Cost Questioned As Feds Unveil State-Of-The Art Command Center In Fight Against Medicare Fraud
Federal fraud busters invited the news media to visit their new $3.6 million command center and watch staffers explain how they’ll jump on unfolding Medicare scams. While the action on the tour Tuesday wasn’t real, the problem is — more than $60 billion a year is lost to fraud. And two Republican senators immediately questioned whether the new multimillion-dollar facility is just throwing more money away (8/1).

The New York Times: Massachusetts Aims To Cut Growth Of Its Health Costs
The Massachusetts legislature passed a first-in-the-nation bill on Tuesday that seeks to limit the growth of health care costs in the state. The bill would not allow spending on health care to grow any faster than the state’s economy through 2017. For five years after that, any rise in health care costs would need to be half a percentage point lower than the increase in the state’s gross domestic product (Goodnough, 7/31).

The Wall Street Journal: State Bill Limits Medical Spending
Massachusetts again stepped into the spotlight on health policy Tuesday, adopting a measure to control health-care costs. Lawmakers passed a long-awaited bill that sets a target for growth in overall state health spending and can lead to penalties for providers that exceed the target. Gov. Deval Patrick, a Democrat, immediately said he would sign the bill (Levitz, 7/31).

Politico: Massachusetts Moves To Keep Health Costs At Bay
The legislation encourages the adoption of new ways to pay for health care, mainly by moving away from the fee-for-service system in which doctors are paid for the number of tests and procedures they perform rather than on the quality of care. The state’s main public programs — Medicaid, the state employee health plan and Commonwealth Care — must all shift away from fee for service, too (Cheney, 7/31).

The Wall Street Journal: Aetna’s Profit Declines 15%
Aetna Inc. said its second-quarter earnings fell 15% because of a smaller benefit from surplus money set aside to cover earlier patient claims, but the managed-care company still topped Wall Street expectations (Kamp, 7/31).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Health Insurer Aetna’s 2nd-Quarter Profit Falls 15Percent But 2012 Forecast Rises
Aetna Inc.’s second-quarter net income tumbled almost 15 percent compared with last year, when the health insurer caught a big break from lower-than-expected leftover claims. But the latest results still beat analyst expectations, and Aetna raised its 2012 earnings forecast. The higher outlook, announced Tuesday, comes a day after competitor Humana Inc. joined another insurer, WellPoint Inc., in cutting its 2012 earnings forecast after reporting second-quarter results. Those insurers pointed in part to concern over rising medical costs (7/31).

The Wall Street Journal: Amerigroup’s Net Profit Slips On Higher Costs
Amerigroup Corp.’s second-quarter earnings fell 28% as the managed-care company spent more to cover medical claims, though increased membership drove its revenue higher than expected (Warner, 8/1).

The Washington Post: Postal Service Set To Default On Payment
Postal officials said Monday that without close to that sum in the bank, they can’t make the payment, which is part of a 10-year plan to set aside health benefits for retired postal workers. Another bill for roughly the same amount is due in September, but it will likely meet the same fate (Rein and O’Keefe, 7/31).

The New York Times: As Default Looms, Postal Service Sees Deeper Woes
But even if the post office were to get these changes from Congress, including eliminating Saturday delivery and the multibillion-dollar payments on future retiree programs, the agency would still be losing money, it said. Since 2007, it has lost $25 billion — $20 billion of which is attributable to the payments for future benefits, required by law since 2006 (Nixon, 7/31).

Politico: D.C. Abortion Bill Falls Short In House
A majority of the House backed a bill to ban abortion in the District of Columbia after 20 weeks of pregnancy, but the legislation still failed to get the votes needed to pass. Rep. Trent Franks’ “District of Columbia Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act” was considered under a procedure that requires two-thirds of the House to pass. The bill fell short of that level with a final vote of 220-154 — six Republicans voted against the bill and 17 Democrats voted for the measure (Nocera, 7/31).

The New York Times: Improved Vision After Cataract Surgery Lowers Risk Of Broken Hips, Study Finds
Older people who have eye surgery to remove cataracts and improve their vision also significantly reduce their risk of breaking a hip in a fall, with the sickest among them and those in their early 80s experiencing nearly 30 percent fewer hip fractures in the first year, a large study reports (Rabin, 7/31).