KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

First Edition: April 25, 2011

Today's early morning highlights from the major news organizations include reports of lawmakers being questioned about their views on plans to change Medicare and new ad campaigns on the issue.

Kaiser Health News: Under Health Law, Colonoscopies Are Free-But It Doesn't Always Work That Way
For years, doctors have urged patients over the age of 50 to get colonoscopies to check for colorectal cancer, which kills 50,000 Americans a year. Their efforts were boosted last year by the federal health care law, which requires that key preventive services, including colonoscopies, be provided to patients at no out-of-pocket cost. But there's a wrinkle in the highly touted benefit. If doctors find and remove a polyp, which can be cancerous, some private insurers and Medicare hit the patient with a surprise: charges that could run several hundred dollars (Meyer, 4/25).

Los Angeles Times: House Republicans Face Backlash At Home Over Budget Plan
Republicans heard their core supporters urging them to take strong stands and hold fast on ... the debate over raising the federal debt limit. ... Here in Hillsborough, (N.H.,) a bedroom community in a state known for a fiscally conservative streak, (Rep. Charles) Bass painted a doomsday picture, saying the country would be "basically ruined" if it did not curb the growth of government. But a group of gray-haired constituents - most later identified themselves as Democrats - quickly pushed him back on his heels. He struggled to defend the GOP plan vigorously, once mischaracterizing a key element. By the time he left, he seemed less than wedded to the details (Hennessey, 4/23).

The Washington Post: Republicans Facing Tough Questions Over Medicare Overhaul In Budget Plan
Anxiety is rising among some Republicans over the party's embrace of a plan to overhaul Medicare, with GOP lawmakers already starting to face tough questions on the issue at town hall meetings back in their districts. House leaders have scheduled a Tuesday conference call in which members are expected in part to discuss strategies for defending the vote they took this month on a budget that would transform the popular entitlement program as part of a plan to cut trillions in federal spending. ... The assault has taken some Republicans by surprise, prompting concerns that the party is ceding ground in a policy debate that GOP strategists already viewed as perilous (Wallsten, 4/22).

Politico: Freshmen Feel The Heat Back Home
Any lawmaker in a swing district can expect to take criticism from his right flank at a town hall meeting. But at an American Veterans outpost tucked deep in the Pocono Mountains this week, freshman Republican Rep. Lou Barletta took heat from every direction - from Democrats angry with the tax cuts in the GOP budget, to conservatives who thought he caved on the last continuing resolution vote, to a precocious 16-year-old critical of the lawmaker's environmental record. ... And hardly anyone in his senior-heavy district wants to see Congress touch their Medicare benefits (Cogan, 4/24).

The Washington Post: For Conflicted Ryan Constituent, Budget Debate About More Than His Own Future
Ryan, the Republican chairman of the House Budget Committee, had returned to his district in southern Wisconsin to detail his 2012 budget proposal at a series of small community meetings, none of which turned out to be small. ... Seated in the sixth row of folding chairs, lost amid the commotion, a 64-year-old man in wire-rimmed glasses leaned forward and quietly raised his hand. Clarence Cammers had come to ask a question, one that had been weighing on his mind for the past two weeks. ... "I guess what I'm saying is, what are all these changes going to mean for my son?" (Saslow, 4/23).

The Wall Street Journal: Both Sides Launch Ads On Medicare
Attack ads on Medicare have begun popping up on radio in key congressional districts. And before the next election is in the books, people in both parties predict that many more voters will see exchange of fire over the Republican plan to revamp the health care program for seniors. This week, two Democratic groups launched radio ads and phone calls in the districts of more than 25 House Republicans. A GOP-leaning group, 60 Plus, responded with its own campaign of radio ads, direct mail and phone calls in most of the same districts (Meckler, 4/22).

Fox News: Santorum Calls Own Vote In Favor Of Medicare Drug Benefit A 'Mistake'
Possible presidential candidate Rick Santorum conceded Sunday that he made a "mistake" in voting for the Medicare prescription drug benefit back in 2003, as he tried to bolster his fiscal credentials. Santorum, a former Republican Pennsylvania senator, told "Fox News Sunday" that there were two things wrong with the bill creating the program, which is now estimated to cost about $60 billion a year, contributing to the country's out-of-control deficit. Santorum said Congress should not have made the program universal and should have found a mechanism with which to pay for it (4/24). 

The Hill: Collins Is First GOP Senator To Oppose Ryan Budget Proposal
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine.) said Friday that she will not support the 2012 budget passed by the House last week. "I don't happen to support Congressman Ryan's plan but at least he had the courage to put forth a plan to significantly reduce the debt," Collins said on "In the Arena" a program on WCSH 6, a local NBC affiliate in Portland, Maine. Collins is the first Republican senator to state publicly that she will not support the Ryan budget (Ryan, 4/22).

The Washington Post: Lobbying Efforts Persist Long After Health-Care, Financial Regulation Bills Passed
Two historic pieces of legislation, overhauling the nation's health-care system and rewriting regulations governing financial institutions, passed Congress last year after heated debate and intense lobbying. But even if the bills have departed Capitol Hill, the lobbying on them has not. Companies and their backers are spending millions on lobbying hoping to roll back key provisions of the two laws, according to disclosure reports filed last week with the House and Senate (Farnam, 7/23)

The New York Times: Family Physician Can't Give Away Solo Practice
Dr. [Ronald] Sroka has practiced family medicine for 32 years in a small, red-brick building just six miles from his childhood home. ... Dr. Sroka, 62, thought about retiring. He tried to sell his once highly profitable practice. No luck. He tried giving it away. No luck. Dr. Sroka's fate is emblematic of a transformation in American medicine. ... doctors like him are increasingly being replaced by teams of rotating doctors and nurses who do not know their patients nearly as well. A centuries-old intimacy between doctor and patient is being lost (Harris, 4/22).

The Wall Street Journal: Governors Press On Medicaid
Medicaid was created in 1965 to provide health coverage for the poorest Americans, particularly those with children. States pay, on average, 43% of the tab for Medicaid. Washington pays the rest and, as part of the new health-care law, the federal government restricts states' ability to save money by narrowing eligibility for the program or charging more for coverage. As a consequence, states like Maine that expanded Medicaid in good times find themselves locked into maintaining those expansions despite big deficits. "It's unbelievably unsustainable," says Gov. Paul LePage, who took office in January. "We have to continue to be generous when we're broke and that's where the problem is" (Murray, 4/23).

The New York Times: A Fight Over How Drugs Are Pitched
Marketing to doctors using prescription records bearing their names is an increasingly contentious practice, with three states, Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, in the vanguard of enacting laws to limit the uses of a doctor's prescription records for marketing. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case, Sorrell v. IMS Health, that tests whether Vermont's prescription confidentiality law violates the free speech protections of the First Amendment (Singer, 4/24).

Chicago Tribune: Pediatricians Seek Change In Lax Toxic Chemicals Law
Alarmed by studies showing children are vulnerable to toxic chemicals in scores of consumer products, the nation's largest pediatricians group is joining a campaign to overhaul how the U.S. regulates hazardous substances. In a policy statement to be issued Monday, the American Academy of Pediatrics condemns a 1976 federal law that largely relies on chemical manufacturers to raise concerns about their products (Hawthorne, 4/24).

USA Today: Pediatricians Seek Better Regulation Of Toxins
The U.S. needs to do a better job protecting children and pregnant women from toxic chemicals, says a policy statement out today from the American Academy of Pediatrics (Szabo, 4/25).

USA Today: Elderly Face Lack Of Geriatric Specialists, New Report Warns
Doctors who specialize in aging are in short supply and their shortage will grow worse as the population ages in coming decades, a new report concludes (Lloyd, 4/24).

The Wall Street Journal: ALS Study Shows Social Media's Value As Research Tool
A new clinical trial found that lithium didn't slow the progression of Lou Gehrig's disease, but the findings released Sunday also showed that the use of a social network to enroll patients and report and collect data may deliver dividends for future studies (Dockser Marcus, 4/25).

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