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Today’s Headlines – December 20, 2011

Good morning! Here are your morning headlines to get you up and at ’em:

The New York Times: House Set To Vote Down Payroll Tax Cut Extension
A core group of conservative House members … have balked all year at short-term spending agreements, including proposed legislation to raise the debt ceiling and bills to increase disaster funding. It remained far from clear Monday night how, or whether, the tax cuts would be extended for 160 million workers and millions of unemployed Americans would continue to get jobless benefits next year. … The impasse began over the weekend when House Republicans said they would reject the Senate measure, which passed 89 to 10. It would, for two months, extend the payroll tax cut, continue unemployment benefits and prevent a cut in fees paid to doctors who accept Medicare, and would allow lawmakers and the White House time to work out their differences on how to pay for a yearlong extension (Steinhauer and Pear, 12/19).

Los Angeles Times: House GOP Postpones Vote To Extend Payroll Tax Cut
Fellow Republicans are increasingly anxious with their House colleagues’ position — especially after the Senate overwhelmingly approved the compromise package in a rare Saturday vote. Many Americans are strapped for cash this holiday season, and the package included the tax break as well as an extension of unemployment benefits that also expire at the end of the year and prevents a pay cut for doctors who treat Medicare patients (Mascaro and Hennessey, 12/19).

For more headlines …

The Washington Post: House Republicans Intent On Killing Senate Payroll Tax Cut Deal
For the first time in a month of partisan sparring over the tax break, neither party appeared confident that the issue would be resolved, averting a January tax increase for 160 million American workers. … President Obama has made extending the expiring one-year payroll tax holiday his year-end priority. … If the tax holiday is not extended, payroll taxes will jump from 4.2 percent to 6.2 percent in January, costing the average family $1,000 next year. The Senate package also includes provisions that would extend jobless benefits for millions of unemployed Americans and avert a cut in reimbursement rates for doctors who treat Medicare patients (Helderman, Kane and Sonmez, 12/19).

The Wall Street Journal: Lawmakers Deadlock Over Tax Cut
The issue split the GOP as House opposition to the bill—fueled by tea-party-backed freshmen—drew criticism even from fellow Republicans in the Senate. Those critics worried their party would be blamed if the fight winds up cutting off benefits and increasing taxes at the start of an election year amid a weak economy (Hook, 12/20).

Los Angeles Times: New Partnerships Aim To Lower Medicare Costs, Improve Care
The Obama administration Monday announced new partnerships with 32 of the nation’s leading medical providers that have agreed to work with the federal government to improve the quality and lower the cost of care for Americans who rely on Medicare (Levey, 12/19).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Medicare Launches Test To Improve Care Through Better Coordination By Doctors And Hospitals
Medicare says it’s launching a national experiment to improve care for seniors, and hopefully save taxpayers money as well. Officials announced Monday that 32 networks of doctors and hospitals around the country are becoming Pioneer Accountable Care Organizations, or ACOs (12/19).

The New York Times’ The Caucus: Supreme Court To Hear Health Care Case In Late March
The Supreme Court announced on Monday that it would devote three days in late March to hearing arguments in challenges to the 2010 health care overhaul law. A decision in the case is expected by the end of June (Liptak, 12/19).

The Wall Street Journal: High Court To Hear Health-Care Case In March
A typical case is allotted an hour for argument, but the court scheduled five and a half hours for the health-care case, reflecting how novel some of the questions are and the importance of a dispute that could define the limits of federal power for decades to come. The main part will take place on Tuesday, March 27, with a two-hour argument over the minimum-coverage provision, which starting in 2014 will require most Americans to carry health insurance or pay a penalty (Bravin, 12/20).

Los Angeles Times: Supreme Court To Hear Arguments In March On Healthcare Law
The Supreme Court announced Monday that it would hear arguments over three days in late March to decide the constitutionality of President Obama’s healthcare law, another sign the justices see the case as a once-in-a-generation test of the federal government’s regulatory power. The 51/2 hours of argument are believed to be the most time devoted to a single case since the 1960s (Savage, 12/19).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Supreme Court Sets Week’s Worth Of Arguments Over Obama’s Health Care Plan For Late March
The Supreme Court announced Monday that it will use an unprecedented week’s worth of argument time in late March to decide the constitutionality of President Barack Obama’s historic health care overhaul before the 2012 presidential elections (12/19).

Politico: Supreme Court Sets Health Care Arguments For March
The health care showdown of 2012 has been scheduled. The Supreme Court announced Monday that it will hear three days of oral arguments on various pieces of the health reform law on March 26, 27 and 28 — just days after the law’s two-year anniversary (Haberkorn, 12/19).

Politico: Medical Reform’s Daunting Task: Hospital Billing
Hospitals blame insurers, insurers blame hospitals, both say consumers should beware, and consumer groups say it’s asking a lot to have patients understand the intricacies of hospital billing, physician contracting and insurance network-building (Feder, 12/19).

NPR: Generic Lipitor Now At Stores Near You
The Pfizer drug finally lost its U.S. patent protection at the end of November, opening the door for cheaper substitutes (atorvastatin, generically) and ending the monopoly for one of the most profitable brand-name products of any kind (Hensley, 12/19).

NPR: In Calif. Mental Hospitals, Assaults Rarely A Crime (Part 1 Of An Ongoing Series)
Thousands of violent incidents occur every year in California’s psychiatric hospitals, but very few are treated as crimes. Among the exceptions was the murder last year of a hospital staffer by a patient. But for the most part, it’s been a challenge for the criminal justice and mental health systems to figure out how to deal with assaults by the mentally ill (Jaffe, 12/20).