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Today’s Headlines – Oct. 19, 2011

Good morning! Today’s early morning highlights from the major news organizations, including a report that health policy issues triggered “withering attacks” during last night’s Las Vegas GOP presidential debate.

Los Angeles Times: Vegas Debate: Romney Faces Withering Attacks Over Healthcare
After the candidates sliced and diced Herman Cain’s “9-9-9” plan, they turned their attention to the man long considered the tentative GOP front-runner — Mitt Romney — and his biggest liability — healthcare reform (Memoli, 10/18).

The New York Times: Deficit Panel May Need Push, Lawmakers Say
The two leaders of the panel, Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington, and Representative Jeb Hensarling, Republican of Texas, have told committee members not to talk publicly about their work. But other lawmakers and Congressional aides privy to the panel’s effort have provided a remarkably consistent picture of the deliberations as the committee tries, in a matter of weeks, to find fiscal answers that have eluded Congress and the White House for years (Pear, 10/18).

For more headlines …

Politico: Advice Floods Supercommittee
The recommendations come from influential committee chairmen, Washington think tanks and members of the public submitting their ideas online. And they run the gamut: Don’t raise taxes. License online poker. Implement some type of “Buffett rule” to tax the rich more. The mountain of recommendations makes it clear that everybody wants a piece of the powerful supercommittee — and that everybody wants a chance to be heard (Kim, 10/18).

The Wall Street Journal: UnitedHealth Raises Outlook But Expresses Caution
The Minnetonka, Minn., company tempered its strong 2011 view with some cautious early comments on next year, when factors like investments in the business and costs pegged to the U.S. health-care overhaul are expected to apply pressure. UnitedHealth also noted it’s seen “a modest increase” in doctors office and outpatient visits, although health-care usage remains below historical trends (Kamp, 10/18).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Insurer UnitedHealth’s Shares Slide After CEO Discusses Challenges Insurer Faces In 2012
Shares of UnitedHealth Group Inc. slipped Tuesday as the health insurer’s CEO gave a cautious preview of 2012 after his company delivered a better-than-expected earnings performance for the third quarter and raised its 2011 forecast (10/18).

The Wall Street Journal: Heart Failure Puts Fewer In Hospital
Hospital admissions for elderly U.S. patients with heart failure fell by nearly 30% over a decade, an analysis of federal Medicare data shows, a surprising finding that offers fresh evidence of progress in the battle against cardiovascular disease. The report, being published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, is the first to document a decline in admissions in the U.S. for the condition, an enormously costly problem and the most common reason for hospitalization among Medicare beneficiaries (Winslow and Want, 10/19).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Study Finds Hopeful Sign: Hospitals Stays For Heart Failure Fall 30 Percent During Decade
Hospital stays for heart failure fell a remarkable 30 percent in Medicare patients over a decade, the first such decline in the United States and forceful evidence that the nation is making headway in reducing the billion-dollar burden of a common condition. But the study of 55 million patients, the largest ever on heart failure trends, found only a slight decline in deaths within a year of leaving the hospital, and progress lagged for black men (10/18).

The New York Times: U.S. Moves To Cut Back Regulations On Hospitals
The Obama administration moved Tuesday to roll back numerous rules that apply to hospitals and other health care providers after concluding that the standards were obsolete or overly burdensome to the industry. Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, said the proposed changes, which would apply to more than 6,000 hospitals, would save providers nearly $1.1 billion a year without creating any “consequential risks for patients” (Pear, 10/18).

The Wall Street Journal’s Washington Wire: Sebelius Rolls Out Plan To Cut Some Red Tape
The Department of Health and Human Services announced plans Tuesday to cut red tape in health-care administration, a move intended to save $1.1 billion a year as part of the Obama administration’s efforts to cut regulation and stimulate job growth (Radnofsky, 10/18).

Los Angeles Times: U.S. Healthcare System Lags Other Countries On Quality, Access
The U.S. healthcare system is lagging further and further behind other industrialized countries on major measures of quality, efficiency and access to care, according to a new report from the nonprofit Commonwealth Fund, a leading health policy foundation. That is having a profound effect on overall health in the U.S., the report found (Levey, 10/18).

The Associated Press/Los Angeles Times: Social Security To Hand Out First Raises Since ‘09
Social Security recipients will get a raise in January — their first increase in benefits since 2009. It’s expected to be about 3.5 percent. Some 55 million beneficiaries will find out for sure Wednesday when a government inflation measure that determines the annual cost-of-living adjustment is released. … Some of the increase in January will be lost to higher Medicare premiums, which are deducted from Social Security payments. Medicare Part B premiums for 2012 are expected to be announced next week, and the trustees who oversee the program are projecting an increase (10/18).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Fewer Groups Back Annual Screening Tests For Cancer; Cervical Cancer Is The Latest Example
Annual cancer tests are becoming a thing of the past. New guidelines out Wednesday for cervical cancer screening have experts at odds over some things, but they are united in the view that the common practice of getting a Pap test every year is too often and probably doing more harm than good. A Pap smear once every three years is the best way to detect cervical cancer, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force says. Last week, it recommended against prostate cancer screening with PSA tests, which many men get every year (10/19).