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White House Rallies Democratic Governors Around Health Reform

The White House is calling on Democratic governors to help defend the health care overhaul. Politico: "One day after California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, delivered a stinging attack on federal health care reform, Obama administration officials huddled with his Democratic counterparts to address their complaints about the legislation - and enlist them in the public campaign to support it. With a bill on the brink of passage, the White House is hoping to present a united Democratic front to help beat back the increasingly sharp attacks from Schwarzenegger and other Republican governors." The Democratic Governors Association held a call with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and White House adviser Valerie Jarrett on Thursday.

Insurers Hope To Sway House-Senate Agreement Over Regulation, Taxes

House and Senate lawmakers as well as insurance companies all agree on the need for health insurance exchanges that would allow people who don't get coverage from their employers to shop for better values and compare plans. There is one matter of dispute, however, The Wall Street Journal reports: "At issue is who should do the regulating -- the federal government, as the House bill says, or the states, as the Senate prescribes. House Democrats are pushing for federal regulation, in part as a concession for not getting a government-run insurance plan in the final bill. They say a strong federal hand would ensure uniform standards and make it harder for insurers to work through state legislatures to create loopholes.

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Health Bill Negotiations: House Democrats Tussling On Taxes, Exchanges

The Washington Post: "Worried House Democrats held a caucus-wide conference call Thursday to strategize about health-care reform before lawmakers return to Washington next week. ... With Senate Democrats barely able to muster the 60 votes necessary to pass their own bill and President Obama leaning toward the Senate's position on some key issues, House Democrats are increasingly concerned that they could be marginalized at the bargaining table." Of particular concern to the party's liberal wing is President Obama's position on preserving the 'Cadillac tax' on high-cost health plans. "Members also brought up the public option, abortion funding, immigration and employer mandates, as well as the antitrust exemption for health insurance companies.

New Law Eases Restrictions On Assets, Income For Extra Help Program

Effective January 1, 2010, several changes to the law make it easier for older people and people with disabilities to qualify for Extra Help, the federal program that helps people with Medicare pay for their prescription drugs. Under the Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act of 2008 (MIPPA), people who apply for Extra Help will no longer be required to count life insurance policies as an asset, and money and services they receive from family and friends to help cover their living expenses will not count as income. The law will make an additional 1 million people with Medicare eligible for Extra Help. "These changes will greatly simplify the application process and broaden access to the Extra Help program, " said Joe Baker, president of the Medicare Rights Center.

Editorial, Opinion Pieces Address Abortion Coverage In Health Reform Bills

The following summarizes a recent editorial and three opinion pieces addressing the issue of abortion coverage in health reform legislation. Editorial The "basic framework" of the House (HR 3962) and Senate (HR 3590) bills "is the same, " but there are several "major differences, " including on the issue of abortion coverage, a New York Times editorial states. According to the editorial, the options are a "choice of two evils" because the House bill "would prohibit any private insurance plan that accepts a single subsidized enrollee from covering abortion, " which would "effectively ban abortion coverage within the exchanges." The Senate bill, meanwhile, "would set up an extremely cumbersome procedure in which everyone buying an insurance plan that covers abortions on the exchanges (even men and post-menopausal women) would have to send two monthly checks to the insurance company, one covering most of the premium and a second tiny amount covering the estimated cost of abortion services that might be provided to some enrollees.

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COBRA Extension Helps Unemployed Workers This Year

Another COBRA extension helps unemployed workers without insurance. USA Today reports: "A defense spending bill signed into law Dec. 19 expands a subsidy for unemployed workers who want to continue their former employer's health insurance coverage. Under the federal law known as COBRA, workers who leave their jobs can continue their former employer's coverage for up to 18 months. Ordinarily, though, workers must pay the entire premium, making COBRA out of reach for most unemployed workers. The economic stimulus package enacted by Congress last year subsidized 65% of COBRA premiums for unemployed workers for up to nine months, starting in March 2009.

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