First Edition: February 15, 2012
Today's early morning highlights from the major news organizations include news of a tentative agreement on Capitol Hill on a measure that would extend the payroll tax cuts and stop planned cuts in Medicare payments to doctors.
Kaiser Health News: Candidates Court Seniors On Medicare
Kaiser Health News reporter Marilyn Werber Serafini writes: "Medicare is likely to play a key role in the 2012 elections—from the presidential race to contests for Congress. While young and middle-age voters are more focused on the economy, “seniors are single-issue voters when it comes to Social Security and Medicare,” said Democratic pollster Anna Greenberg, senior vice president of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner. 'They are such an important constituency in elections because they are very reliable voters'" (Werber Serafini, 2/14).
Kaiser Health News: Alaska Takes Biggest Step Yet Toward Health Insurance Exchange
Alaska Public Radio Network's Annie Feidt, working in partnership with Kaiser Health News, NPR and APRN, reports: "Alaska has opposed the federal health law so adamantly that it is the only state that chose not to even apply for a $1 million grant the federal government was passing out to states to plan a health insurance exchange. But that doesn’t necessarily mean there won’t be an online marketplace to buy insurance in Alaska" (Feidt, 2/14).
Kaiser Health News: Capsules: End Of Life Wishes Often Unspoken
Now on Kaiser Health News' blog, Jordan Rau reports: "Why does health care cost more in some areas of the country than others? It’s a question researchers have struggled with for decades, because the potential answers — unnecessary surgeries, generally bad health of patients or high prices charged by providers — each carry different prescriptions for how to hold down medical costs" (Rau, 2/15).
Also, Sarah Barr reports: "Most Californians say it is important to plan for end-of-life care but far fewer have done so, a gap that means they may not spend their dying days the way they wish" (Barr, 2/14). See what else is on the blog.
Los Angeles Times: Deal Would Extend Jobless Benefits, Prevent Medicare Cut
One day after House Republican leaders made a major concession on the payroll tax cut, congressional negotiators struck a tentative deal that also would extend long-term unemployment benefits and prevent drastic reductions in doctors' Medicare payments (Mascaro, 2/15).
The New York Times: Tentative Deal Reached To Preserve Cut In Payroll Tax
A vote on the measure would most likely happen by Friday, when Congress is set to recess for a week. But senior aides warned that negotiators still had to sign off formally on the agreement and that obstacles could surface given the long-running tensions over the measure. ... The piece of the deal that would protect doctors from a huge cut in Medicare reimbursement fees would do so through cuts in the new prevention and public health fund established in the health care law, combined with reducing help for hospitals with bad debt and other health-care-related spending trims (Steinhauer, 2/14).
The Washington Post: Congressional Negotiators Reach Tentative Deal On Payroll Tax, Unemployment Benefits
While President Obama and congressional leaders publicly jousted over the negotiations, senior Democrats and Republicans worked behind the scenes toward a compromise that would extend the tax and unemployment benefits through the year. A deal also would mean that doctors would not see a drop in rates paid by Medicare, according to senior aides in both parties. Lawmakers and aides stressed that final details are still being ironed out — including which cuts would be used to finance the unemployment and Medicare provision — but they were optimistic that a broad deal would be announced Wednesday and approved by Friday (Kane and Nakamura, 2/14).
The Wall Street Journal: Deal Reached On Payroll Tax
The agreement showed the reluctance of both sides, but especially Republicans, to re-engage in the sort of brinksmanship that has caused congressional approval to plummet. The payroll-tax cut, unemployment benefits and Medicare payment system would have expired on Feb. 29, and an agreement two weeks ahead of time is a major change from last year's 11th-hour deals (Bendavid and Peterson, 2/15).
Politico: Payroll Tax Cut, Unemployment Benefits: Tentative Deal Reached
A tentative deal reached by senior House and Senate leaders, which appears poised to pass absent a last-minute snag, would prolong a payroll tax cut that benefits 160 million Americans, extend unemployment benefits and forestall rate cuts to doctors who treat Medicare patients (Raju and Sherman, 2/14).
The New York Times: Conservatives Sowed Idea Of Health Care Mandate, Only To Spurn It Later
It can be difficult to remember now, given the ferocity with which many Republicans assail it as an attack on freedom, but the provision in President Obama’s health care law requiring all Americans to buy health insurance has its roots in conservative thinking. ... The individual mandate, as it is known, was seen then as a conservative alternative to some of the health care approaches favored by liberals — like creating a national health service or requiring employers to provide health coverage (Cooper, 2/14).
Politico: Poll: Small Business Fear Health Care Costs
For small business owners in the U.S. who are not hiring new employees, almost half say worries about the potential cost of health care and new government regulations are the reasons they are not hiring, according to a new Gallup poll Wednesday. An overwhelming majority of small business owners surveyed, 85 percent, indicated that they are currently not looking for new workers. Asked to describe the reason, 48 percent of those not hiring said it was due to concerns about possible rising healthcare costs, while 46 percent said they were worried about new government regulations (Lee, 2/15).
The New York Times: Hip Implants U.S. Rejected Sold Overseas
The health care products giant Johnson & Johnson continued to market an artificial hip in Europe and elsewhere overseas after the Food and Drug Administration rejected its sale in the United States based on a review of company safety studies. During that period, the company also continued to sell in this country a related model, which earlier went on the market using a regulatory loophole that did not require a similar safety review (Meier, 2/14).
The Associated Press/Chicago Tribune: Medicare Puzzle: Fewer Amputations, But Bill For Artificial Feet Rises Nearly 60 Percent
What's wrong with this picture? Medicare's bill for artificial feet rose nearly 60 percent in recent years, although foot and leg amputations due to diabetes continued a dramatic decline. Medicare paid $94 million for artificial feet in 2010, according to research conducted for The Associated Press. That was nearly $35 million more than in 2005, even though in 2010, Medicare covered about 1,900 fewer such prostheses. Artificial feet represent a tiny slice of the $550 billion program that covers health care for 49 million older and disabled people. But the spending spike highlights basic questions about affordability, technology and appropriate care that confront Medicare as lawmakers look for a way out of its broader financial troubles (Alonso-Zaldivar, 2/15).
The Wall Street Journal: Fake Cancer Drug Found in U.S.
The maker of the widely used Avastin cancer drug said Tuesday that it is warning doctors, hospitals and patient groups that a counterfeit version of the medicine has been found in the U.S. Tests of counterfeit vials of Avastin showed that they didn't contain the active ingredient in Roche Holding AG's intravenous drug, according to the Swiss company's Genentech unit. ... An FDA spokeswoman said it hasn't received any reports of patient side effects that appear to be linked to the counterfeit product (Rockoff and Weaver, 2/15).
The Wall Street Journal: Pharmacies Swept Into Drug Wars
Federal drug agents and one of the nation's biggest drug distributors are heading for a legal showdown that will test the government's strategy of going after larger corporations to fight rampant prescription drug abuse. The Drug Enforcement Administration moved earlier this month to suspend four pharmacies in Sanford, Fla., from selling controlled substances. ... At the same time, the DEA also moved to punish the supplier of the pharmacies—Cardinal Health Inc.—by seeking to block the distribution of controlled substances from Cardinal's facility in Lakeland, Fla. (Barrett and Martin, 2/15).
The Wall Street Journal: What Obama’s Budget Proposal Means For Disease Prevention
Obama’s fiscal 2013 budget would scale back the Prevention and Public Health Fund, established as part of the health law, by over $4 billion by fiscal 2022 — leaving that much less money for public-health prevention programs meant to thwart outbreaks or cut down on rates of diabetes, heart disease, and other chronic conditions that account for 75% of U.S. health-care costs. ... the prevention fund has been used heavily to compensate for cuts to the regular budget of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rather than for its originally intended use — new disease prevention-related programs (McKay, 2/14).
USA Today: FDA: Shortage Of Kids' Cancer Drug Can Be Averted
The Food and Drug Administration has managed to avert a "crisis" for children with cancer by preventing a looming shortage of a lifesaving drug, officials announced Tuesday. The shortage of methotrexate — a mainstay of treatment for kids with acute lymphoblastic leukemia(ALL) — is the latest in a series of serious shortages of cancer medications and other drugs that have frustrated doctors and patients over the past year and a half (Szabo, 2/14).
The New York Times: Obama Shift On Providing Contraception Splits Critics
The near-unified front led by the nation’s Roman Catholic bishops to oppose a mandate for employers to cover birth control has now crumbled amid the compromise plan that the Obama administration offered last week to accommodate religious institutions. The leaders of several large Catholic organizations that work directly on poverty, health care and education have welcomed the president’s plan as a workable compromise that has the potential to protect religious freedom while allowing employees who request it to have contraceptives covered by their insurance plans. The bishops, however, have continued to voice strong objections to the White House plan. And they have taken it one step further, arguing that individual Catholics who own businesses should not have to provide birth control to their employees in their health insurance coverage (Goodstein, 2/14).
The New York Times: Support Is Found For Birth Control Coverage And Gay Unions
Despite the deep divide between some religious leaders and government officials over contraceptives, the latest New York Times/CBS News poll found most voters support the new federal directive that health insurance plans provide coverage for birth control (Connelly, 2/14).
The Washington Post: Nancy Brinker: The Steely Force In The Susan G. Komen Foundation
For three decades, the relentless force of Nancy Brinker’s personality has been inextricably tied to Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the behemoth she created in memory of her elder sister, who died of cancer at age 36. She has dedicated her life to it. She has pinned her ambitions on it. She’s now in the news for it (Hesse, 2/14).
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