OVERNIGHT HEALTH: Medicare and the cliff

Medicare may be off the table in deficit talks, at least for the moment. Speaker John Boehner's (R-Ohio) latest offer to President Obama calls for tax increases on families making more than $1 million per year, but it wouldn't raise the Medicare eligibility age right away. That change could be on the table next year as part of an agreement on tax and entitlement reform, perhaps to avert the spending cuts in the "fiscal cliff."

"It’s an issue for discussion, but I don’t believe it’s an issue that has to be dealt with between now and the end of the year," Boehner said Tuesday.

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Meanwhile, Boehner said he's still deciding how to handle the "doc fix" — a patch to prevent doctors from seeing a nearly 27 percent cut in their Medicare payments after year's end. Some Republicans are working toward a two-year fix, while Obama's latest offer reportedly included a permanent doc fix.

The Hill has the story on Boehner's comments. And click here for more details about his latest proposal, which Democrats quickly rejected.

Social Security: The entitlements picture got even messier Tuesday as proposals for a "chained CPI" in Social Security gained more attention. The chained CPI would change the way cost-of-living adjustments are calculated, and some Democrats fear it would hurt the most vulnerable retirees despite Obama's proposed tweaks. But House Democratic leaders sounded open to the idea on Tuesday.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told MSNBC on Tuesday that Democrats "will stick with the president" if an agreement is reached. 

"Maybe not every single one of them," she added, noting that the details of the chained CPI proposal are "not all ironed out."

The Hill has more.

Road map for cuts: Various fiscal-cliff proposals have called for somewhere between $400 billion and $600 billion worth of healthcare and entitlement cuts. In a new analysis, Avalere Health lays out some of the possible ways to reach that total. Proposals that have been in multiple deficit-reduction blueprints — including raising the Medicare eligibility age — would net between $50 billion and $250 billion, Avalere said. More targeted provider cuts would add to that total. Extending Medicaid's prescription-drug rebates into Medicare would save as much as $142 billion, while reducing payments for hospitals' bad debts could save up to $23 billion. All told, Avalere said it's looking at somewhere between $300 billion and $500 billion in cuts.

Nurses call for action: The American Nurses Association (ANA) responded to Friday's school shooting in Newtown, Conn., by calling for gun control and better access to mental healthcare. The group, which represents the interests of 3.1 million U.S. registered nurses, urged lawmakers to (1) restore access to mental health services affected by cuts for individual and families, (2) increase students’ access to nurses and mental health professionals from the elementary school level through college, and (3) ban assault weapons and enact other gun reforms. "As the largest single group of healthcare professionals, registered nurses witness firsthand the devastation from the injuries sustained from gun violence. Nurses also witness the trauma of individuals, families, and communities impacted by violence," the group noted in a statement. The White House said Tuesday that President Obama will push an assault weapons ban in his second term. Read that story at The Hill.

In cases of rape and incest: The conference report for the Defense authorization bill (S. 3254) released Tuesday includes an amendment that will allow servicewomen to use their military health coverage for abortion in cases of rape or incest. The provision from Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) repeals a longstanding ban from abortion-rights opponents who object to seeing taxpayer dollars support abortions in any way. Abortion-rights groups praised the development, calling it a triumph for military women. Under current policy, military healthcare coverage only applies to abortion if the woman's life is in danger. Tuesday's conference report paves the way for the authorization's passage this week. Read more about it at DEFCON Hill.

Tan responsibly: The indoor tanning industry has launched a new group to combat what it calls misinformation about the health risks associated with sunbeds. The American Suntanning Association is made up of 14,000 small businesses and will work to promote a "higher-level discussion about UV light from the sun and from sunbeds," according to ASA board president Bart Bonn, who owns an Omaha, Neb.-based tanning chain. "The ASA is going to be a constructive party in that discussion, demanding a consumer-first conversation differentiating proper sun care from blatant overstatements about the risks of UV exposure," Bonn said. The American Cancer Society recently pushed federal officials to crack down on tanning beds, citing an elevated risk of cancer from their use. Read about that story and the industry's rebuttal at Healthwatch. 

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Texas, drug company at odds over pre-term birth therapy

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After shootings, questions arise about mental health coverage

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Sam Baker: sbaker@thehill.com / 202-628-8351

Elise Viebeck: eviebeck@thehill.com / 202-628-8523

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