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Today’s Headlines – August 20, 2012

Today’s early morning highlights from the major news organizations, including reports about how the Medicare story is continuing to unfold on the presidential campaign trail.

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Romney And Ryan To Hold Town Hall Meeting With NH Voters To Explain Medicare Plans
Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are ready to face New Hampshire voters and answer their questions, especially about the Republican plan for Medicare that has left some seniors skittish. Romney and Ryan on Monday will try to explain to voters — particularly seniors, who reliably cast ballots — that their proposal to offer a private alternative to Medicare would not affect anyone over age 55. Some 14 percent of New Hampshire residents are over the age of 65, and this state, which holds the nation’s first presidential primary, is known for its voters’ sharp questioning of candidates during such town hall-style events (8/20).

Los Angeles Times: Republican Medicare Plan Would Be A Gamble
The members of the Republican presidential ticket argue that giving seniors vouchers to shop for a private insurance plan would spark competition among health insurers, holding down costs and ensuring the long-term viability of Medicare. But several previous experiments with privatizing Medicare insurance coverage have ended up raising costs to taxpayers. And on the other side, there is little evidence that moving millions of elderly and disabled patients into commercial health plans will protect their coverage or tame the nation’s skyrocketing healthcare tab (Levey, 8/18).

For more headlines …

USA Today: Obama-Romney-Ryan Medicare Debate Takes Surprising Turn
It’s no surprise that Medicare has become a big campaign issue — it is somewhat surprising that the Republicans are pushing it. GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, running mate Paul Ryan, and other Republicans are stressing $716 billion in cuts to Medicare that are part of President Obama’s health care plan. That attack has forced Obama and company to play defense, even as they emphasize that Romney and Ryan want to turn Medicare into a voucher program that will cost seniors thousands of dollars a year (Jackson, 8/19).

Los Angeles Times: Obama Tees Off On Ryan’s Tax And Medicare Proposals
President Obama took aim at Rep. Paul D. Ryan’s tax proposals Saturday, slamming the Republican vice presidential candidate for a 2010 budget plan that he said would have eliminated almost all federal taxes for wealthy investors like his running mate, Mitt Romney. In a campaign marked by growing vitriol, Obama also accused his opponents of being dishonest in the debate over Medicare, the government health plan for seniors and the disabled (Parsons, 8/18).

The Washington Post: What The Medicare Plans Mean To You
President Obama and his Republican challengers, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, have very different plans for Medicare, the popular government health insurance for seniors (and some people with disabilities). Obama’s Affordable Care Act tweaks it a bit; Romney and Ryan hope to overhaul it, although many details are unclear. How the plans would affect you depends on your current age (8/18).

The Wall Street Journal: Ryan Makes Case For Medicare Overhaul
The Romney-Ryan Medicare plan isn’t just political rhetoric, Paul Ryan said Saturday. It is a promise to his mother. “I want to introduce you to my mom, Betty. She’s why I’m here,” Mr. Ryan told the senior-dominated crowd that filled the town square of this sprawling retirement community. At the end of a week that saw both presidential campaigns argue that their opponents would gut Medicare, the Republican vice-presidential candidate came to this GOP stronghold to make a personal pitch for his vision for the health-care program for the elderly and disabled (Nelson, 8/18).

Politico: Medicare Shaping Tight Florida Senate Race
Rep. Paul Ryan didn’t just inject Medicare smack into the presidential race in swing-state Florida. He also created a new dynamic in the contest between Sen. Bill Nelson and Rep. Connie Mack — a race that could help determine who controls the Senate. … It’s a tight race and it’s in flux. Florida campaign consultants from both parties agree that the undercard race depends largely on whether Floridians choose Barack Obama or Mitt Romney. And that in turn may hinge on who wins the Medicare messaging war in a state with one of the biggest senior populations in the country (Norman, 8/18).

Los Angeles Times: Paul Ryan Warns Florida Seniors Of Medicare Rationing
Diving deeper into the Medicare fight, Republican vice presidential candidate Paul D. Ryan warned seniors Saturday that a key cost-control measure in President Obama’s healthcare law would lead to rationing of their medical care (West, 8/18).

Politico: Paul Ryan Targeted On Women’s Issues
Paul Ryan co-sponsored a federal “personhood” amendment. He voted to defund Planned Parenthood. He opposes all abortions, except when the life of the mother is at risk. And he supports a federal bill requiring women to get an ultrasound before an abortion. If this sounds like an ominous ad from the Obama for president campaign, something like it could soon be coming to a TV near you. These are among the positions the Wisconsin congressman has taken in his career that Democrats are bound to highlight in the weeks ahead in ads, press conferences and rallies as they try to widen President Barack Obama’s lead among women over Mitt Romney in polls (Haberman, Schultheis and Romano, 8/19).

Los Angeles Times: Candidate Says ‘Legitimate Rape’ Rarely Causes Pregnancy
The Republican nominee for a U.S. Senate seat in Missouri on Sunday advanced the theory that the female reproductive system can shut down during what he described as a “legitimate rape,” thus preventing conception in most cases. Rep. Todd Akin, a tea party candidate who is challenging incumbent Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill in Missouri’s closely watched race, was asked in a local television interview about whether he supported access to abortion in the case of rape (Abcarian, 8/20).

Politico: Todd Akin’s Rape Remark Has GOP Fretting
Rep. Todd Akin’s damning statement that victims of “legitimate rape” rarely get pregnant is just the latest in a string of unforced errors by the GOP Senate candidate that has Republicans fretting about his chances of beating Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill. And a loss in Missouri would almost certainly quash the party’s hopes of reclaiming the Senate majority (Catanese, 8/19).

The New York Times’ Deal Book: Aetna Is Said To Strike Deal For Coventry Health For $5.7 Billion
Aetna is expected to announce on Monday that it will buy Coventry Health Care for about $5.7 billion in cash and stock, in a move by the insurer to push further into government-backed programs like Medicaid, a person briefed on the matter said late on Sunday (de la Merced, 8/20).

The Wall Street Journal: Aetna To Acquire Coventry Health Care
Health-care giant Aetna Inc. said Monday it has struck a deal to buy Coventry Health Care Inc. for $5.7 billion in cash and stock, a move that will make Aetna one of the largest providers of government-financed health care. Aetna, based in Hartford, Conn., is paying $42.08 a share for Coventry, which is a 20.4% premium to Coventry’s shares as of Friday’s close (Terlep and Das, 8/20).

The Wall Street Journal: Big Drug Makers Struggle To Grow In Emerging Markets
Big drug makers have been reassuring investors: Don’t worry about top-selling medicines going off patent. Growth in developing markets, like China and India, will help replace the revenue lost. Turns out there is a different message emerging within these companies: Not so fast (Rockoff, 8/19).

The New York Times: Coming Next: Using An App As Prescribed
Smartphone apps already fill the roles of television remotes, bike speedometers and flashlights. Soon they may also act as medical devices, helping patients monitor their heart rate or manage their diabetes, and be paid for by insurance (Brustein, 8/19).

The Washington Post: Maryland, D.C. Tap Outside Consultants To Adopt Changes In Health Care Law
The Affordable Care Act is proving to be a boon for professional services firms, with Maryland and the District awarding millions of dollars in contracts to health care consulting and actuarial firms to study and advise on ACA-related provisions, including creating state-run health insurance exchanges (Ho, 8/19).

The New York Times: Abortion Cases Against Clinic In Kansas Are Dropped By Prosecutors
The first criminal prosecution of Planned Parenthood came to an abrupt end Friday when Kansas prosecutors dropped all charges against a local affiliate accused of failing to determine the viability of fetuses before abortions were performed. … They said that state law did not prohibit Planned Parenthood from using the gestational age of fetuses to determine whether they were viable or could survive outside of the womb. Planned Parenthood had contended that fetuses from 22 weeks to 24 weeks old are not viable, and given the mortality rates of premature babies, prosecutors said they could not adequately dispute that finding (Eligon, 8/17).

The Wall Street Journal: Texas Drills Down On Medicaid Dental Fraud
Texas officials are clamping down on funding for orthodontic and dental services amid a widening investigation into allegations that doctors have routinely sought reimbursement for procedures that aren’t covered by Medicaid, including putting braces on youngsters for purely cosmetic reasons and performing unnecessary root canals on small children (Koppel, 8/19).

Los Angeles Times: State Suing Doctor Over Billing Tactics
Martello’s use of aggressive tactics to collect fees from emergency room patients like Buck — including lawsuits, taking out liens on their homes and damaging their credit — prompted an unprecedented court case by state health officials and a judge’s order for Martello to cease the practices (Gorman, 8/17).