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In Jobs Bill, Democrats Push To Include Extension Of COBRA Benefits, Medicare 'Doc Fix'

The New York Times reports that Democrats are trying to address some health coverage considerations in their jobs bill even as they grasp "for ideas to keep alive their health care legislation." Negotiators on the Senate Finance Committee may be close to a jobs agreement. "Democrats were also pushing to include an extension of unemployment benefits and of health care coverage for those out of work." Also under discussion was the possibility of "attaching other initiatives, including a provision to prevent a steep cut in Medicare payment rates for doctors" (Hulse and Zeleny, 2/4). CQ HealthBeat : Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus talked Thursday about such provisions -- noting the potential for short-term fixes to stop scheduled Medicare payment cuts to doctors for outpatient rehabilitation services.

With Health Reform Stalled, Medicare Coverage For Some Therapies Subject To Caps

Stalled health care reform efforts have created several unresolved issues, some of which related to Medicare and Medicaid. The Hill : "Medicare beneficiaries face a steep cliff in their coverage for physical therapy and similar treatments due to Congress's failure to enact a healthcare reform bill. On Jan. 1, the clock started ticking for those patients who need physical, occupational or speech therapy, which is now subject to an annual limit on benefits." The pending legislation "included language to block the so-called therapy caps, but with that bill sidelined, beneficiaries and therapy providers are seeking other means to keep the money flowing. Medicare beneficiaries now face annual limits of $1, 860 for physical and speech therapy [combined] and $1, 860 for occupational therapy" (Young, 2/3).

Health Spending Consumes More Of U.S. Economy, Will Tip Toward Government

A new report by federal actuaries shows government programs will pay for more than half of all U.S. health care spending by 2012, and that total spending on health grew as a share of the economy by 1.1 percent last year to 17.3 percent, the largest leap ever, the Los Angeles Times reports. "The almost $2.5 trillion spent in 2009 was $134 billion more than the previous year, when healthcare consumed 16.2% of the gross domestic product, according to an annual report by independent actuaries at the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, or CMS, scheduled for release Thursday" (Levey, 2/4). "For all the hue and cry over a government takeover of health care, it's happening anyway, " the Associated Press/Washington Post reports.

Poll: Health Care 'Damage' To Democrats 'Has Been Done'

Politico : "Democrats will face nearly the same political environment this fall whether or not they pass health care reform legislation, according to a new poll out Tuesday." The poll, by Public Policy Polling, found that "Republicans currently have a generic ballot advantage of 43 percent to 40 percent in races for Congress. ... 'At this point, it looks like the political damage for Democrats on health care has been done, ' PPP President Dean Debnam said. "The poll, conducted Jan. 29 - 31, has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.1 percentage points" (Barr, 2/2). President Obama has a new outreach effort to Republican lawmakers, The New York Times reports.

The Debate Over Selling Insurance Across State Lines

Kaiser Health News staff writer Phil Galewitz writes that Republicans in Congress have proposed this concept in the past "and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., embraced it as part of his 2008 presidential campaign. Advocates - including some insurers and small business groups - say it would give the more than 17 million Americans who buy individual coverage a greater choice of plans and the possibility of lower prices. (The measure does not apply to the 159 million non-elderly Americans who obtain insurance through their employers.) But critics -- including consumer watchdog groups and the National Association of Insurance Commissioners -- say the provision would erode many state government consumer protections, leave policyholders with inadequate coverage and could actually lead to higher premiums for some people" (Galewitz, 2/3).

Study Highlights Substance Use Disorder Treatment Need Among Full-Time Workers Without Health Insurance

An estimated 3 million full-time workers in America without health insurance (16.3 percent of all full-time workers without health care insurance) needed substance use treatment in the past year according to a national survey conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Levels of need were particularly high among those in this category who were aged 18 to 25 (24.4 percent) and males (19.2 percent). The survey also revealed that among these uninsured workers in need of substance use treatment only 12.6 percent received treatment at a specialty facility. More than 80 percent of uninsured full-time workers needing treatment in the past year did not perceive a need for treatment and while the remaining 6.

Survey: 60 Percent Of Americans Doubt Health Reform Will Pass This Year

While a growing segment of people are becoming more optimistic that a health care overhaul will pass this year, they're still largely outnumbered by people who think reform won't happen, The New York Times reports. "In the survey, conducted from Jan. 29 to Feb. 1, 60 percent of those polled said they thought health care legislation would not pass this year. That is fewer than the 67 percent who said just after a special Senate election last month in Massachusetts that health care would not pass. ... Still, the results are a stark reversal from mid-January, when 57 percent of all respondents said they thought legislation would pass this year." The poll "had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus four percentage points" (Seelye, 2/3).

Obama Tries To Bridge Democratic Divide On Health Reform

Speaking with Senate Democrats Wednesday, President Obama "suggested that Republicans could be enlisted to play at least some role in negotiating a final bill, The Washington Post reports. Obama urged Democrats "to finish the job on health care" but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid have yet to agree on a way forward "and many Democrats are irritated that the protracted haggling over health-care reform is overshadowing progress on other legislation." During the Senate Democrats' annual retreat, "Obama brushed aside calls from party moderates to shelve health care reform at least until after the November midterm elections" (Murray and Kane, 2/4).

Government Health Spending To Top Private Sector By 2012

Kaiser Health News staff writer Christopher Weaver reports on a new report from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. "In their fight against the Democrats' health overhaul bills, Republicans repeatedly warned of a 'government takeover' of health care. However, even if that legislation never passes, government programs will soon finance a majority of the health care market" (Weaver, 2/4). Read entire article. This information was reprinted from with kind permission from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. You can view the entire Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, search the archives and sign up for email delivery at kaiserhealthnews.

Obama Calls On Senate Dems To 'Finish The Job' On Health Reform

President Obama at a Senate Democratic Conference meeting on Wednesday told lawmakers to "finish the job" on health reform, despite increased criticism around the stalled initiative, The Hill 's " Blog Briefing Room " reports. The president acknowledged that many Senate Democrats have unhappy constituents and thus are facing a tough election year, but "as we think about moving forward, I hope we don't lose sight about why we're here, " he said (Fabian/Romm, "Blog Briefing Room, " The Hill, 2/3). Obama told lawmakers that if they pass health reform and other initiatives, such as financial regulatory reform, "I'm confident that politics in 2010 will take care of themselves" (Zeleny, New York Times, 2/4).

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