Friday, March 11, 2011

Finally Friday Edition

We have some major work to do today on some proposed legislation here in Connecticut, so I'm a bit rushed to get through the news this morning. For better or worse, there doesn't seem to be much health news today. Here goes:

It appears that there are negotiations ongoing for a new extension of funding for the federal government through April 8 with another $2 billion in cuts each week. The cuts appear to be targeted at earmarks, which is a relatively safe place to cut without people feeling pinched.

Meanwhile, the House GOP are still working on their budget proposal, which promises to include cuts to Medicare and Medicaid. Rep. Paul Ryan, who is taking the lead for the GOP, has been an advocate for privatization -- investment accounts for Social Security, vouchers for Medicare -- but the details of his proposal won't be released until April. The Congressional Budget Office has released some options for health care cuts -- everything from Medicaid block grants, that would allow states to design their own Medicaid programs, to a public health insurance option, to giving federal employees vouchers to buy their own health insurance, to raising the age for Medicare eligibility.

The Congressional Budget Office also says defunding health reform would increase the deficit substantially.

And a new poll shows that folks in Massachusetts are pretty pleased with their state's health reform program. Since Massachusetts was one of the models for the federal plan, perhaps this bodes well.

The federal government offered guidance yesterday on how states can apply for health reform waivers so that they can maximize flexibility. Some say this proves there are flaws in health reform because waivers are needed. Some say this proves that health reform can be tailored to the needs of the state. And some -- like me -- say waivers are premature because we don't know how health reform will really play out.

But Presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee is still hung up on the fictional death panels -- a notion that has been debunked more times than I can count.

Politico reports that the GOP strategy is to spend the next year talking about budget cuts over and over again. It's not just about the current budget; next it will be about increasing the debt ceiling, which has to be done to keep the government operating; and then will come the 2012 budget. The GOP leadership apparently think that focusing on the budget running up to the 2012 election will give them some steam. But where's the jobs strategy? And why is the budget talk focuses on things like defunding Planned Parenthood, which represents a drop in the fiscal budget? Hmmm. Will this be a successful strategy? Stay tuned.

Don Berwick, head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, says rules for Accountable Care Organizations are being developed and will be released soon. ACOs are created by the health reform law. They are large collaborative networks of health care providers -- one stop shopping, sort of. Nobody really knows what they would look like, so these rules are highly anticipated.

Anthem Blue Cross -- at least in California -- is increasing deductibles AND premiums on many of their individual plans. Consumers cry foul. I don't see anything about this anywhere other than the LA Times, so it may be only California, but keep an eye out if you have Anthem.

There's a 20% increase in the number of cancer survivors in the United States. Nearly 12 million Americans are cancer survivors. This is a huge accomplishment -- it means cancer increasingly is a chronic illness rather than a terminal one.

Let's keep the people of Japan in our thoughts today as they attempt to measure the devastation caused by an earthquake and tsunami. Jennifer

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