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Today’s Headlines – December 1, 2011

Good morning! You’re waking up to December. Where did the year go? Here are some stories to get your day going:

Politico: Eric Cantor Floats Year-End Trigger Bargain
Cantor has spoken to senators from both parties — including a Thanksgiving morning phone call to the Stamford, Conn., home of Sen. Joe Lieberman — as he gauges support for a potential package that would include up to $133 billion in spending cuts in exchange for delaying the first year of slashes to defense and nondefense programs slated to begin in 2013. That package could also include a reform and a yearlong extension of jobless benefits, a payroll tax break and the Medicare reimbursement rate for physicians (Sherman and Raju, 11/30).

Los Angeles Times: GOP: Charge Wealthy More For Medicare To Cover Payroll Tax Extension
As the Senate prepares to vote on extending President Obama’s payroll tax holiday, the GOP has offered an alternative proposal that would not tax millionaires to pay for it, but instead require those earning beyond $1 million to pay full price for Medicare (Mascaro, 11/30).

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The New York Times: GOP And Democrats On How To Prevent Social Security Payroll Tax Increase
Senate Republican leaders introduced a bill that would keep the payroll tax rate at its current level for another year. The cost is roughly $120 billion. Senate Republicans would offset most of the cost by freezing the pay of federal employees through 2015 and gradually reducing the federal work force by 10 percent. In addition, Senate Republican leaders would go after “millionaires and billionaires,” not by raising their taxes but by making them ineligible for unemployment compensation and food stamps and increasing their Medicare premiums. Democrats said that this part of the Republican proposal was not serious, pointing out that high earners were already ineligible to receive food stamps (Pear and Steinhauer, 11/30).

The Washington Post: On Payroll Tax Cut, Obama Says Republicans Are Out Of Touch
Republicans are, however, resisting Obama’s proposal to expand the tax break to 3 percent of wages for workers and to create a related benefit for employers. They are also battling Democrats over how to cover the cost of the measure. On Wednesday, Senate Republicans offered a proposal to extend the current pay freeze for federal workers for an additional three years, trim the federal workforce by 10 percent and force high earners to pay more for programs such as Medicare. The wealthy would also be blocked from receiving benefits such as food stamps and unemployment insurance (Nakamura and Montgomery, 11/30).

Politico: Supreme Court Hears Calls From Left And Right: ‘Recuse!’
From the right and left, Washington is awash in demands that two Supreme Court justices recuse themselves from this spring’s review of the health law. The requests, from politicians and advocates but not from the parties to the lawsuit itself, aren’t likely to have any effect on the justices, Elena Kagan and Clarence Thomas. But by injecting questions about fairness and propriety, the recusal fight could shape how the public views the ruling — expected in June, right in the midst of the presidential campaign (Kenen, 11/30).

The New York Times: Senators Question Deals To Block Generic Lipitor
Three senators on Wednesday asked the drug maker Pfizer and five other health companies to detail their agreements to block prescriptions of generic versions of the cholesterol drug Lipitor and sell only the Pfizer brand-name version (Wilson, 12/1).

Los Angeles Times: Lipitor’s Patent Loss Is Consumers’ Gain
For millions of Americans, prescription drugs are about to get a lot cheaper. Patents on some of the most popular medications will expire over the next few years, giving consumers access to less expensive generic versions — and costing the pharmaceutical industry an estimated $100 billion in lost sales through 2015 (Helfand, 12/1).

The Wall Street Journal: Watson Pharmaceuticals Launches Generic Lipitor
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration Wednesday approved the first generic version of Pfizer Inc.’s cholesterol-lowering drug Lipitor. Earlier Wednesday Watson Pharmaceuticals Inc. began selling a generic version of Lipitor, marking the long-awaited loss of U.S. market exclusivity for the world’s top-selling drug. Watson, of Parsippany, N.J., is selling a so-called authorized generic version of Lipitor, in partnership with Pfizer for the next five years (Loftus, 11/30).

Los Angeles Times: Medicare Extends Coverage For Obesity
Medicare, the nation’s medical safety net for seniors, on Wednesday announced it would extend its coverage for obesity screening and “intensive behavioral therapy,” ensuring that roughly 30% of the 42 million people insured by the program can undertake a weight-loss program supervised by their doctor (Healy, 11/30).

Los Angeles Times: Supreme Court Weighs Disclosure Of HIV Status
The Supreme Court gave a generally skeptical hearing to a recreational pilot from San Francisco who wants damages from the government for disclosing his HIV status to the Federal Aviation Administration. The case before the court Wednesday began in 2002, when the FAA heard a report of a pilot who had hidden his severe medical condition when he renewed his license to fly. Agents decided to check the records of 45,000 pilots in Northern California (Savage, 12/1).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: NYC Health Officials Recommend Giving AIDS Drugs To All With HIV To Prevent Spread Of Virus
Health officials said Thursday they are recommending that any person living with HIV be offered AIDS drugs as soon as they are diagnosed with the virus, an aggressive move that has been shown to prolong life and stem the spread of the disease (12/1).

Los Angeles Times: Cedars-Sinai To Cut Most Psychiatric Services
Cedars-Sinai Medical Center will close its in-patient and outpatient psychiatry programs over the next year, a move prompted by significant shifts in the healthcare system, hospital officials said (Gorman, 12/1).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Md. Health Secy. Announces Corrective Steps After Agency Had To Return Unspent $25M
After Maryland’s Developmental Disabilities Administration had to give more than $25 million in unspent state funds back to the general fund, the health secretary told lawmakers he’s acting to correct the situation. Health Secretary Joshua Sharfstein told members of the Senate Finance and Budget and Taxation committees he was shocked to hear of such a large expected surplus at the agency that supports services such as residential care, employment, day programs and respite care through a federal Medicaid waiver and state-only funding (11/30).

Los Angeles Times: Dentists Turn To Marketing After Getting Brush-Off From Patients
For years, dentists relied on their good reputations to attract customers, figuring it was enough to hang a shingle, perform a valuable service and earn a trusted name. That was before patients started skipping twice-a-year cleanings, postponing fillings and taking a pass on root canals. Dentistry, once thought recession-proof, has become a casualty of the tough economy (Helfand, 12/1).