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Today’s Headlines – Dec. 14, 2012

Today’s early morning highlights from the major news organizations, featuring the latest reports on the fiscal negotiations — including how proposals to raise the Medicare eligibility are playing.

The New York Times: With Gap Wide And Time Short, Obama And Boehner Meet
With time running short to work out a deal to avert a year-end fiscal crisis, President Obama called Speaker John A. Boehner to the White House on Thursday evening to try to move talks forward even as pessimism mounted that a broad deal could be struck that bridges the substantial gap between the parties on taxes and entitlements like Medicare (Weisman and Calmes, 12/13).

Los Angeles Times: Signs Of Drift In ‘Fiscal Talks’
Earlier in the day, a top Senate Democrat said increasing the Medicare eligibility age was off the table — an important stance to liberal Democrats. Publicly, the two sides appear to be drifting apart as Boehner, in a feisty moment during a morning news conference at the Capitol, insisted that spending cuts deeper than the president has proposed must be part of the deal. … But recent polls on how to deal with the “fiscal cliff,” the automatic year-end tax increases and spending cuts, have emboldened Democrats, who see no reason to budge. The results show Americans favor the president’s position that taxes should go up on the top 2% of Americans (Mascaro and Mason, 12/13).

For more headlines …

The Washington Post: Obama, Boehner Meet On ‘Fiscal Cliff,’ But No Deal Is Reached
After the 50-minute session in the Oval Office, aides to both men described the meeting as a frank exchange and said the lines of communication remained open. But Boehner prepared to return to Ohio for the weekend, with no further negotiations on his schedule. … Senior Senate Republicans, meanwhile, were at work on a fallback plan that would not significantly restrain the national debt but would at least avert widespread economic damage by canceling tax increases scheduled to take effect next year for the vast majority of Americans (Montgomery and Kane, 12/13).

NPR: Obama And Boehner Meet At White House; Session Ends Without Deal
The president has called for $1.4 trillion in revenue over the next decade, which would include higher taxes for the wealthiest taxpayers as well as $400 billion in spending cuts. The speaker has put forth a plan that includes $1.2 trillion in spending cuts over the same period, as well as $800 billion in new revenue — much of it derived from restructuring the existing tax code. This afternoon meeting between President Obama and Speaker Boehner came on the same day the Pew Research Center released a new national poll that gauged Americans’ views on the fiscal cliff and the efforts to avoid it (Chappell, 12/13).

Politico: Fiscal Cliff: Medicare Eligibility Age Off The Table For White House, Dick Durbin Says
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin told reporters Thursday that the White House is no longer considering raising the Medicare eligibility age as part of fiscal cliff talks (Gibson, 12/13).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Durbin: White House Won’t Yield On GOP Demands To Increase Medicare Eligibility Age
One of President Barack Obama’s Senate allies said Thursday that an increase in the Medicare eligibility age is “no longer one of the items being considered by the White House” in negotiations with top Republicans on avoiding the so-called fiscal cliff. But Illinois Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin said he didn’t get it directly from the president or the White House. However, he is regularly updated on the negotiations (12/13).

Politico: Dem Split On Medicare Concessions In Cliff Talks
A growing number of Democrats in the Senate are ready to offer up a key concession on Medicare to try to reach a deal on the fiscal cliff: higher premium payments for wealthy seniors. But that might not get them very far (Haberkorn and Raju, 12/13).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: ‘Fiscal Cliff’ Talks Eye Narrow Bargain To Raise Some Tax Rates, Other Issues Would Be Put Off
Hopes dimming for a wide-ranging bargain, the White House and many congressional Republicans are setting their sights on a more modest deal that would extend current tax rates for most Americans, raise rates for top earners and leave other, vexing issues for the new year (12/13).

NPR: Making The Rich Pay More For Medicare
When it comes to reducing Medicare spending, asking wealthier seniors to pay more is one of the few areas where Democrats have shown a willingness to even consider the subject (Rovner, 12/14).

The Wall Street Journal’s Washington Wire: Cantor: Democrats Back Off Medicaid Cuts
Republicans said Thursday that the Obama administration was backing away from proposals that would trim federal contributions to the Medicaid program, making it harder to reach a budget deal (Radnofsky and Hughes, 12/13).

The New York Times: In The Fiscal Debate, An Unvarnished Voice For Shielding Benefits
Today the issue of tax cuts for the wealthy is once again front and center in Washington, as part of the debate over how to reduce the federal deficit. And Mr. Sanders is once again talking, carving out a place for himself as the antithesis of the Tea Party and becoming a thorn in the side to some Democrats and Mr. Obama, who he fears will cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits as part of a deficit reduction deal (Stolberg,12/12).

The Washington Post: GOP State Leaders Fumble By Ceding Control Of Health Exchanges To Federal Officials, Critics Say
Republicans frequently denounce the health-care law as a dangerous overreach of federal power. But now Washington’s role is expanding, and some conservatives charge that Republicans have only themselves to blame. The vast majority of Republican-led states, faced with a Friday deadline to submit plans for running the insurance exchanges at the heart of the law, have opted instead to relinquish much or all of their control to the federal government (Aizenman, 12/13).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: After Campaigning Against Federal Health Care Law, Ark. Republicans Weigh Medicaid Expansion
Like their counterparts in other southern states, Arkansas Republicans denounced “Obamacare” during this year’s election campaign and called for its repeal. But now that they’ve won control of the Legislature for the first time in 138 years, GOP lawmakers are considering something that would be anathema to conservatives elsewhere — expanding government health care in the state (12/13).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Health Care Overhaul Could Reduce Treatment Options For Nation’s 11 Million Illegal Immigrants
But in states with large illegal immigrant populations, the math may not work, especially if lawmakers don’t expand Medicaid, the joint state-federal health program for the poor and disabled. When the reform has been fully implemented, illegal immigrants will make up the nation’s second-largest population of uninsured, or about 25 percent (12/14).

Politico: Tom Price: Time To Move On Obamacare Alternatives
A Republican doctor on the House Ways and Means Committee encouraged his colleagues Thursday to produce meaningful legislation to replace the Affordable Care Act in the next session of Congress. … Asked for specifics, Price said the exchange subsidies could “easily be morphed into a defined contribution model to allow for true flexibility,” enabling patients to choose high-deductible catastrophic plans, for example. “Those kinds of things would be available where the current law doesn’t allow them,” he said (Cheney, 12/13).

The New York Times: As State Budget Rebound, Federal Cuts Could Pose Danger
Adjusted for inflation, this year’s revenues are still expected to be 7.9 percent below the 2008 levels. And with Medicaid costs continuing to rise — states now spend more on Medicaid than on elementary and high school education — states find themselves hard-pressed to restore many of the deep cuts they have made to other services. Now many governors are bracing for the prospect of cuts in federal aid, which provided states with roughly a third of their revenue last year (Cooper, 12/14).

The Washington Post: States Face Double Fiscal Whammy: Federal Aid Cuts And Spiraling Health-Care Costs
Just as state governments are healing from the deep fiscal wound inflicted by the Great Recession, they are confronted by the dual threat of reduced federal help and ever increasing health-care costs, according to a new report. Governors are bracing for substantial cuts in federal aid in the immediate future, even if Washington policymakers agree on an alternative to a series of budget cuts and tax increases set to go into effect in January (Fletcher, 12/14).

The Wall Street Journal: Fiscal Threats Are Forecast For New Jersey
The privately financed report from former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker and former New York Lt. Gov. Richard Ravitch found that it will cost New Jersey an additional $9 billion over the next five years to keep up with four major expenses: Medicaid, school aid, health benefits and pensions. That amount represents 29% of the state’s current $31.7 billion budget (Haddon, 12/13).

The New York Times: New Jersey’s Pension Plan Is Said To Be In Trouble Despite Overhaul By Christie
New Jersey’s financial problems are so severe that even Gov. Chris Christie’s signature pension overhaul … might not be enough to pull the state out of its hole, a panel of fiscal experts said on Thursday. Mr. Volcker and Mr. Ravitch formed the task force out of a concern that the fiscal debate in Washington was overlooking parallel fiscal problems at the state level, and that the coming measures to shore up the federal government’s finances were likely to make the states’ troubles worse. Federal proposals to raise the Medicare age to 67 would blow back onto the states, for example, because many have promised to cover retiree health care in the years before Medicare kicks in (Walsh, 12/13).

Los Angeles Times: Court Ruling Could Cut California Spending On Medi-Cal
In a potential windfall for the state, a federal appeals court decided unanimously Thursday that California may cut reimbursements to doctors, pharmacies and others who serve the poor under Medi-Cal. A three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals overturned injunctions blocking the state from implementing a 2011 law that slashed Medi-Cal reimbursements by 10%. Medi-Cal, a version of Medicaid, serves low-income Californians (Dolan and Megerian, 12/13).

Los Angeles Times: California Medical Group Warns Against Medi-Cal Reimbursement Cuts
Despite a federal appeals court ruling Thursday allowing California to cut Medi-Cal reimbursement payments, a spokeswoman for the California Medical Assn. said the group hoped the state would decide against doing so. Earlier this year, U.S. District Court Judge Christina Snyder granted injunctions blocking a 10% cut to Medi-Cal reimbursement rates to healthcare providers. State officials had said the court’s injunctions were costing the state more than $50 million a month (Dolan, 12/13).

The Wall Street Journal: Costly Cancer Care Dinged
In a finding likely to add fuel to the debate over treatments for prostate cancer, proton-beam therapy provided no long-term benefit over traditional radiation despite far higher costs, according to a study of 30,000 Medicare beneficiaries published Thursday in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute (Beck, 12/13).