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Today’s Headlines – December 12, 2011

Good morning! Today’s early morning highlights from the major news organizations, reports about Congress’ efforts to inch toward the finish line on a spending deal, a payroll tax bill and a way to avert a scheduled deep cut in Medicare reimbursement rates for doctors.

The Washington Post: Congress Edges Toward A Compromise On Spending
It appears increasingly likely that, with little fuss, lawmakers will approve a bipartisan compromise in coming days that will keep government running past Friday, when a short-term funding measure that has kept the lights on expires. … One thing the negotiators have had going for them is that they’ve been given space to work, their efforts largely overshadowed by a bitter fight between Republicans and President Obama over extending a one-year cut in the payroll tax, paid by 160 million workers, when it lapses at the end of the month. … Before concluding work for the year, Congress must tackle other major issues as well, including figuring out how to avert a scheduled deep cut in reimbursement rates paid to doctors under Medicare and whether to extend benefits for the unemployed (Helderman, 12/11).

The New York Times: Price Tag Hindering Congress In Struggle To Pass Year-End Legislation
Unless lawmakers step in, doctors treating Medicare patients will see a 27 percent cut in reimbursements in January. House Republicans would block the cut and replace it with increases of 1 percent a year in 2012 and 2013. That would cost $39 billion, the budget office estimates. The cost of a 10-year fix, $300 billion or more, is so high that Congress is not seriously considering it. A statutory formula sets annual goals for Medicare spending on doctors’ services. … Medicare payments to doctors have a direct impact on beneficiaries. AARP and other advocates for older Americans say they fear that some beneficiaries would lose access to their doctors and that fewer doctors would see Medicare patients if payments were reduced (Pear, 12/11).

For more headlines …

Los Angeles Times: Congress Set To End 2011 With Face-Off Over Payroll Tax
After spending the year lurching from one moment of brinkmanship to the next and watching their popularity plummet, members of Congress are poised to close out 2011 with one last showdown — over whether to extend a payroll tax break for 160 million U.S. workers (Mascaro, 12/11).

Politico: Headache Looms For Medicare
If Congress can’t finish its homework before it goes on recess, it might be able to get an extension — but only if it’s willing to trim its winter break. At least, that’s the case with the “doc fix” — a temporary change to Medicare’s troubled provider payment formula that Congress must pass to prevent a deep cut to physicians. They face a 27 percent payment cut that starts Jan. 1 unless Congress acts (Feder, 12/11).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: House GOP Unveils Fix To Looming Medicare Cuts For Doctors And Other Service Providers
House Republicans are proposing to stave off a steep cut in Medicare payments to doctors looming on Jan. 1. The plan by Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp of Michigan would replace a cut of more than 27 percent with 1 percent increases for 2012 and 2013. That would give Congress time to come up with a totally new system for paying doctors under Medicare (12/9).

The Wall Street Journal: The Future Of U.S. Health Care
Call it the united state of health care. Amid enormous pressure to cut costs, improve care and prepare for changes tied to the federal health-care overhaul, major players in the industry are staking out new ground, often blurring the lines between businesses that have traditionally been separate (Mathews, 12/12),

The Wall Street Journal: Veteran Health-Care Executives Say It Has All Been Tried Before, With Mixed Results
As hospitals, doctors and health insurers pursue integration strategies to squeeze costs and strengthen their positions, veteran health-care executives warn that nearly all the strategies were attempted decades ago, with decidedly mixed results (Mathews, 12/12).

The Washington Post: Four Spots From The GOP Ad Wars In Iowa
After months of near-silence, the ad wars began in earnest last week. In Iowa, set to vote on Jan. 3, the battle quickly went negative, with Texas Gov. Rick Perry hammering the GOP race’s front-runners for supporting an individual mandate on health insurance and Rep. Ron Paul (Tex.) throwing the kitchen sink at former House speaker Newt Gingrich (Weiner, 12/11).

USA Today: Fact Check: GOP Debate In Iowa
False and misleading claims [including claims related to Medicare and the health law] were flying again at the latest Republican presidential candidates’ debate in Iowa (Jackson, Kiely, Robertson, Farley and Gore –, 12/11).

The Washington Post: Newt Gingrich’s Changing Stance On Health-Care Mandates (Fact Checker Biography)
This column will be the first in a series of five columns this week examining how factual former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has been in describing his past achievements (Hicks, 12/12).

The Wall Street Journal: Retiree Health Fund To Close Early
The fund was set up to be available until 2014, when new rules are scheduled to take effect to make it easier for older Americans to buy insurance without the help of an employer. A federal report released at the end of October projected the fund would be tapped by September 2012, given the large amount that had already been spent to cover claims (Radnofsky, 12/9).