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Today’s Headlines – February 7, 2012

Good morning! Here are your headlines to get your day started:

The Wall Street Journal: Budget Plan Has Familiar Ring
The president will propose cutting spending on Medicare, the federal health program for the elderly, and Medicaid, the joint federal-state program for the poor and disabled. However, he isn’t proposing the structural changes that experts say are needed to control spending in these programs over the long term. For instance, Mr. Obama won’t suggest raising the Medicare eligibility age, as he was willing to do over the summer during bipartisan budget negotiations that failed to produce a deal. He also doesn’t plan to propose changes to Social Security. Instead, he again will put forward proposals to reduce spending by roughly $248 billion on Medicare and roughly $72 billion on Medicaid. The proposals include higher premiums and deductibles for many beneficiaries and lower payments to drug companies, hospitals and nursing homes (Meckler, 2/7).

The New York Times: House And Senate At Impasse On Medicare Payments
House and Senate negotiators are deadlocked over how to prevent a deep cut in Medicare payments to doctors who treat millions of Medicare beneficiaries, an impasse that could threaten broader legislation on a payroll tax cut. Lawmakers in both parties said they wanted to give doctors a small increase, but could not agree on how to cover the cost (Pear, 2/6).

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Los Angeles Times: Congress Starts New Duel Over Payroll Tax Break
The package would extend the payroll tax holiday — a 2-percentage-point reduction in the tax workers pay toward Social Security — through December. Offsetting the cost of the package would ensure the retirement funds are replenished. The legislation also would continue long-term unemployment benefits and prevent a pay cut for doctors who treat Medicare patients (Mascaro, 2/6).

The Washington Post: Why Do Cardiologists Often Pass Up Safe, Low-Tech Treatments For Chest Pain?
The affordability of American medical care in the future will depend, in part, on the ability of physicians to simplify and economize, which are two things they’ve never been good at. With national health expenditures amounting to $2.6 trillion a year — 45 percent of it paid by government — prosperity and political stability may also be at stake (Brown, 2/6).

Politico: Mitt Romney Attacks Obama On Contraception
Mitt Romney is charging the Obama administration with seeking to curtail religious freedom at the same time it’s defending its decision to require religious employers to cover birth control in employee health plans (Epstein, 2/6).

The Wall Street Journal: Humana Net Up 86%; Outlook Raised
Humana’s earnings met analyst expectations for the quarter, although revenue was softer than expected. The Louisville, Ky., firm’s full-year guidance also remains below analyst expectations, even though Humana raised its forecast based on stronger-than-expected enrollment increases for Medicare Advantage plans. After a string of strong reports that helped push Humana shares to an all-time peak last month, expectations were running high, and the stock traded down 5.4% to $85.25 in 4 p.m. composite trading Monday on the New York Stock Exchange (Kamp, 2/7).

The Wall Street Journal: HCA Earnings Soar On Gain
HCA shares still trade at a discount to the $30 IPO after a turbulent first year, beset by concerns about patients avoiding medical visits because of the soft economy and pressure on reimbursement from government health plans. But its shares have been rebounding lately, rising nearly 28% so far this year, amid some recently positive U.S. employment numbers (Kamp, 2/7).

Los Angeles Times: Detained Immigrants With Mental Illnesses Face Barriers In Court
The plaintiffs are eight men with mental disorders such as mild retardation and paranoid schizophrenia who were held in detention for several months. Notices looking for others were ordered posted late last year at detention centers and sent to immigration agents and judges across California, Washington and Arizona (Esquivel, 2/7).