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Obama's Budget Includes A Tempered Vision Of Health Reform

Democrats' health overhaul efforts are stalled in Congress, but President Obama's 2011 budget offers a "modest" back-up plan, the Associated Press reports. "The budget released Monday contains lots of respectable ideas to squeeze savings, expand coverage and improve quality, but no ambitious change that launches the nation on a path to health care for all." Those efforts include increased resources for health care fraud prevention, more help for state Medicaid programs, funding for community health centers, and pilot projects to improve care in the Medicare program. Including automatic spending on the Medicare, Medicaid and other mandatory programs, the budget totals more than $900 billion for health care (Alonso-Zaldivar, 2/1).

Breast Cancer Patient Battles Insurer; Recession Burdens Charity Clinics

News outlets report on a patient's struggle to get coverage for cancer treatment and over-burdened charity clinics. The New York Times has a 'Neediest Cases' series profile. "Rashidam Shakirova moved from Atlanta to New York in 2008 so she could earn more as a home health-care aide - $9 an hour instead of $7." At her new job, Shakirova was told health coverage would begin three months after her start date. During that time, she discovered a lump in her breast. She sought treatment at the end of the three months "but learned that application had not been processed. She waited three more months, until March, to be added to the rolls of Atlantis Health Plan.

Health Bill - 'On Life Support' - Continues To Highlight Political Divides

President Obama's State of the Union speech has so far failed to unite Democrats on a health reform strategy as they "stared down a political nightmare, " The Associated Press reports. "The grim reality opened a divide between the rank and file and congressional leaders, who insisted health care would get done, even though last week's special election in Massachusetts denied Democrats the 60-vote majority they need to deliver in the Senate. Many Democrats saw a problem with no clear solution" (Werner, 1/29). Politico "Democrats in Congress said all the right things Thursday to show they were dutifully heeding the president's call to keep plugging away on a health reform bill.

Florida Scholars Criticize Media Coverage Of Health Reform

Journalism researchers criticized media coverage of the health care bills saying it may have added to consumers' confusion, Health News Florida reports. "Very little broadcast time or print space has been devoted to explaining, point-by-point, the major parts of the legislation, say three top researchers in the field from University of Florida, Florida State University and University of South Florida. ... With a few exceptions -including the New York Times and National Public Radio - 'the news media haven't done a great job of covering the health care reform debates, ' said Kim Walsh-Childers, UF journalism professor. (Disclosure: She is a member of Health News Florida's board of directors.

Companies May Hit New Anti-Discrimination Law When Asking Workers About Health Issues

Employers offering wellness and preventive health programs can sometimes run afoul of a new anti-discrimination law restricting their ability to ask workers about family medical histories, The Wall Street Journal reports. "Many employers offer workers cash incentives or insurance-premium reductions to fill out health surveys and some use that information to offer health advice or direct at-risk employees to disease-management programs. But the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, which took effect last year, restricts employers' and health insurers' ability to collect and disclose genetic information." This restriction not only applies to genetic-test results, but family medical histories.

States Continue Push Back Against Mandates In Stalled Health Bills

Conservative lawmakers in 34 states "are forging ahead with constitutional amendments to ban government health insurance mandates" despite the idling health reform measures in Congress, The Associated Press reports. "The proposals would assert a state-based right for people to pay medical bills from their own pocketbooks and prohibit penalties against those who refuse to carry health insurance." The legality of such legislation is being questioned, however, as "courts generally have held that federal laws trump those in states." Bills in Congress would impose penalties on those who don't purchase health insurance except in cases of financial hardship. Under the legislation, "(s)ubsidies would be provided to low-income and middle-income households" (Lieb, 2/1).

Democratic Leaders Still Hopeful For Comprehensive Health Reform Legislation

Democratic leaders have confirmed that health reform discussions are ongoing, despite the loss of their filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, CQ Today reports (Wayne, CQ Today, 1/29). Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chair Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) on Thursday said that health reform "rested for about a week, " but "it's not dead" (Drucker, Roll Call, 2/1). Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Friday said, "I had a conversation with [House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)] today. We're moving forward" with reform but "haven't determined" how to do so. "That's why we're still communicating, " he said (Armstrong, CQ Today, 1/29).

Claims By Obama, Leading Republican Draw Fact-Checker Attention

"Proponents of reform have lost control over the message because people think it's too complicated to understand. Confused about important details of the proposals, the public is susceptible to misrepresentations by opponents, " CBS News reports. For instance, in his State of the Union address Wednesday, President Barack Obama noted that the Congressional Budget Office has found the Democrats' overhaul legislation would ultimately reduce the deficit by up to $1 trillion. But, a Kaiser Family Foundation poll indicates "only fifteen percent of the public believe the current proposed health care reform legislation will reduce the deficit" (LaPook, 1/28). In a fact check of the address, NPR addresses that claim that the CBO says the overhaul could save $1 trillion.

Pelosi, Reid Search For Health Reform's Forward Path

Legislative leaders in search of momentum on health reform "conceded that they did not have an immediate strategy for advancing a health care measure and described their time frame as open-ended, " The New York Times reports. "Speaker Nancy Pelosi, at a news conference in the Capitol, said House Democrats had begun exploring the possibility of breaking out pieces of the comprehensive bill they passed in November and moving forward on smaller measures. 'It means, we will move on many fronts, any front we can, ' Ms. Pelosi said. 'We'll go through the gate. If the gate's closed, we'll go over the fence. If the fence is too high, we'll pole-vault in. If that doesn't work, we'll parachute in.

House Plans To Pass Smaller Health Reform Bills; Larger Package Still On The Table

In a press conference on Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said that House leaders plan to introduce smaller-scale health reform legislation that can win quick approval before the chamber recesses on Feb. 11, CQ Today reports. However, the legislation -- which might consist of multiple bills -- would not pre-empt a larger, more comprehensive reform package like the one currently stalled in House-Senate negotiations, Pelosi said. "Some things we can do on the side, " she said, adding, "But it's not a substitute for comprehensive reform" (Epstein, CQ Today, 1/28). According to the New York Times, the first small-scale bill that could be proposed would eliminate the exemption of health insurance companies from federal antitrust law.

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