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Today’s Headlines – December 8, 2011

Good morning! Here are your headlines:

The Associated Press/Washington Post: House Leaders Hope GOP Lawmakers Ready To Back Bill Renewing Payroll Tax Cut, Jobless Benefits
Top House Republicans hope to win rank-and-file GOP support for a measure renewing this year’s Social Security payroll tax cut and extending benefits for the long-term unemployed. House GOP lawmakers were meeting privately Thursday to seek agreement on legislation that leaders want to bring to a vote next week. They would also include language heading off a 27 percent cut in Medicare reimbursements to doctors (12/8).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: GOP Faces Uphill Battle On Conservative Policy Issues Dotting Budget Bills
Conservative flashpoint issues from abortion and abstinence education to President Barack Obama’s health care law are the biggest obstacles to Congress completing a massive year-end spending bill next week that would keep the government running until next year’s election. Going into end-game negotiations this weekend on the $900-plus billion bill, Republicans expect to lose on most of the policy provisions, or “riders,” they added to House versions of the must-do spending measures (12/8).

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The Washington Post: In The Loop: White House Struggles To Spread The Word On Health-Care Law
And on Tuesday, more evidence of that struggle emerged: Senate staffers got an e-mail alerting them that the Office of Personnel Management — essentially the federal government’s very own human resources department — had yet to update its own forms to reflect the reforms contained in the new health-care law (Heil, 12/7).

The Wall Street Journal: Access To Widen On Medicare Data
In an abrupt policy change, the Department of Health and Human Services will make its huge Medicare claims database more broadly available to the public, to help consumers and employers make better-informed decisions about medical care (Carreyou, 12/8).

The New York Times: Plan To Widen Availability Of Morning – After Pill Is Rejected
For the first time ever, the Health and Human Services secretary publicly overruled the Food and Drug Administration, refusing Wednesday to allow emergency contraceptives to be sold over the counter, including to young teenagers. The decision avoided what could have been a bruising political battle over parental control and contraception during a presidential election season (Harris, 12/7).

NPR: Women’s Groups Outraged By Ruling On Morning-After Pill
Women’s health advocates were quick to cry foul Wednesday when Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius overruled the opinion of the Food and Drug Administration that the popular “morning after” emergency contraceptive “Plan B One Step” should be allowed to be sold without a prescription — and without age restriction (Rovner, 12/8).

The Wall Street Journal: Obama Health Chief Blocks FDA On ‘Morning After’ Pill
The move inserted the Obama administration into the long-running controversy over how much the federal government should restrict access to Plan B, a so-called morning-after pill that can stop pregnancy up to three days after intercourse. Allowing girls under age 17 to buy the $50 pill over the counter could have saddled the Obama administration with a political target as the 2012 presidential campaign moves into full swing (Dooren, 12/8).

Politico: Contraceptive Coverage May Threaten Obama
President Barack Obama is facing a decision that could threaten inroads he made in 2008 with Catholic voters and other religious voters. But this time, the issue isn’t abortion. It’s contraception (Feder, 12/7).

Los Angeles Times: California’s Healthcare Spending Per Person Among Lowest In U.S.
For more evidence that the Golden State has lost some of its luster, consider this news from the federal government: California spends less per person on healthcare than all but eight states. New data show that total spending by insurers, government agencies and individuals amounted to $6,238 per resident in 2009, well below the national average of $6,815 (Helfand, 12/7).

Los Angeles Times: California Releases Plan For Overhaul Of Mental Health Programs
California mental health officials on Wednesday detailed plans for a new Department of State Hospitals, a streamlined agency that they said would improve treatment and reduce patient violence at the troubled psychiatric facilities — as well as save money. The department, which will oversee the state’s five mental hospitals and psychiatric programs at two of its prisons, is expected to replace the Department of Mental Health next year (Romney, 12/8).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Md. Paid $426,000 In Medicaid Payments To 10 Dead People
A state legislative audit says Maryland paid $426,000 in Medicaid to 10 people who were dead. The audit, released Wednesday, also found that between January 2008 and August 2011, $2.5 million in erroneous payments were made for 323 people who may have already been dead (12/7).