Morning CheckUp: August 5, 2011

Trigger cuts could be put off: “[T]he first triggered spending cuts wouldn’t happen until January 2013, after a Presidential and Congressional election. The risk is that the Joint Committee fails to reach agreement and the election happens. With or without a new political configuration in DC, policymakers in both parties might look at the now-looming spending cuts and agree, “We can’t allow a 10% cut in defense, an 8% cut in education and health research spending, and a 2% cut in Medicare to take effect next month. That’s too sharp and severe of a cut. Let’s renegotiate a new 10-year budget deal and change the law.” [Keith Hennessey]

Sen. Casey introduced abortion measures: One bill seeks to codify the Hyde Amendment, which currently exists as an amendment to annual appropriations bills and forbids federal funding of abortion care for women in need, except in cases of pregnancy resulting from rape or incest, and where the life of the pregnant woman is in danger. The other is a conscience clause bill, purporting to “prohibit the discrimination and retaliation against individuals and health care entities that refuse to recommend, refer for, provide coverage for, pay for, provide, perform, assist, or participate in abortions.” [RH Reality Check]

Camp, Upton endorse waiver requests: Reps. Dave Camp and Fred Upton endorsed Michigan’s request to waive a provision of the Affordable Care Act that requires insurance plans to spend 80 percent of their premiums on medical costs. [Sam Baker]

Cigna sees earning spike: “Health insurer Cigna Corp.’s second-quarter earnings rose a better-than-expected 39%, helped by growing membership and a continued trend of light health-care usage that has broadly helped earnings in the managed-care sector this year.” [WSJ]

Modest decline in Part D premiums: In 2012, the average Medicare premium seniors pay for their prescription drugs will actually drop slightly to about $30 from $30.76 paid out on average in 2011. [US News]

Health advocates urge feds to reject Utah’s Medicaid privatization plan: The state wants to move Medicaid patients “into managed care networks that would be paid a fixed amount per patient and would share in any leftovers or absorb any losses.” But if anticipated savings don’t materialize, “Utah proposes to ration care by cutting services. Also, providers would be free to charge patients $40 deductibles and co-payments ranging from $15 for inappropriate use of emergency rooms to $220 for hospital stays — the highest in the nation.” [Salt Lake Tribune]

External appeal: “Seventeen states and the District of Columbia will have to use an HHS-administered process or independent review organization process for external appeals because they don’t have laws that meet HHS’ standards of consumer protections.” [Inside Health Policy]

Providers going digital: “Tens of thousands of healthcare providers have signed up for federal electronic health-record system incentive payment programs that have paid hundreds of millions of dollars this year.” The initiative is authorized by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. [Modern Healthcare]