First Edition: January 20, 2012
Today's headlines include dispatches detailing how health care played in last night's S.C. GOP presidential primary debate.
Kaiser Health News: Capsules: CBO Report Card: Poor Grades For Some Medicare Cost Cutting Efforts
New on Kaiser Health News' blog, Jordan Rau writes about CBO's report card on Medicare cost-cutting efforts: "The underlying premise of some of the 2010 health law's most ambitious changes to Medicare is using financial incentives to get doctors and hospitals to improve the quality of care and lower costs. … But a new study from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office gives more cause for pessimism" (Rau, 1/19).
Also on Capsules, Mary Agnes Carey does a status check on the Medicare physician pay fix: "If you were hoping for a quick resolution of the Medicare physician payment issue, think again" (Carey, 1/19). Check out what else is on the blog. In addition, KHN has updated its FAQ: The 'Doc Fix' Dilemma.
The Associated Press/Washington Post: Obama To Press Congress to Revisit Last Year's Failed Attempt At $1.2T Deficit Cut
The proposal runs counter to the common wisdom in Washington that any major deficit reduction effort is unlikely in a presidential election year. … But also looming are sweeping across-the-board spending cuts required next year because of the supercommittee deadlock. … The threat of the across-the-board cuts was supposed to prod the panel, but it never got on track and collapsed just before Thanksgiving over intractable differences on tax increases and cuts to popular programs like Medicare (1/20).
The Wall Street Journal: Retiree Imbalance Underlies Filing
Here's one way of understanding Eastman Kodak Co.'s problems: The company has twice as many retirees drawing benefits in the U.S. as it has active employees world-wide. … Kodak has been whittling away at those benefits for years and says it wants to accelerate the process in Chapter 11 proceedings. … The company said in a filing Thursday that it is liable for $1.3 billion in U.S. retirement benefits such as health care. … That could mean smaller payments to former workers like 62-year-old Robert Webster, who was a Kodak electrician from 1967 to 2005. Mr. Webster retired in 2005 and is worried about losing the health-care benefits he and his wife receive. He does small electrical jobs from time to time, but said he isn't sure they would pay enough to cover the couple's medical costs (Mattioli, 1/20).
The Wall Street Journal: UnitedHealth Rises 21% On Higher Enrollments, Optum Growth
UnitedHealth Group Inc.'s fourth-quarter profit rose 21%, helped by growing health-insurance membership, signs of light health-care usage in some areas and fast-rising sales in the company's Optum health-services unit. The Minneapolis-based company, the largest managed-care concern by revenue, capped a strong year helped by a continued trend of muted patient traffic in hospitals and doctors' offices (Kamp, 1/19).
USA Today: Lack Of Dental Coverage Sends Patients To ER For Pain
While government-managed health care programs such as Medicaid pay for emergency room visits for adult enrollees seeking temporary relief from toothaches, tooth abscesses and other dental emergencies, coverage of outpatient dentist office treatment for those problems varies greatly from state to state, according to a 2011 federal Medicaid report (Bath, 1/20).
Los Angeles Times: Santorum Goes After Romney, Gingrich On Healthcare
Rick Santorum, in third or fourth place in South Carolina's Republican presidential primary race, managed to bruise the two leading candidates in Thursday night's debate – in a matter of minutes – by casting them both as advocates of big-government healthcare (Geiger, 1/19).
The Washington Post: At South Carolina GOP Debate, Four Survivors Spar; Gingrich Adds Host to The Fray
In an electric debate here Thursday night, the four remaining Republican presidential candidates clashed sharply over who has the temperament, character and know-how to lead the party into a general election as they clamored to take advantage of the race's changing dynamic. … Santorum homed in on health care, arguing that Romney had signed a Massachusetts law too similar to Obama's federal overhaul. He singled out Gingrich, too, for wanting to require individuals to purchase health insurance — a key part of the Democratic plan — until only a few years ago (Rucker and Helderman, 1/19).
The Wall Street Journal: Fewer Debaters, Plenty Of Heat
During the debate, Mr. Santorum sought to distinguish himself from Messrs. Romney and Gingrich, both of whom have favored varying forms of mandates requiring people to own health insurance, a position now anathema among conservatives. … At one point, Mr. Santorum questioned the other candidates' opposition to abortion rights, accusing all three of shrinking from fights to deny abortion services. As his rivals defended their records, a Santorum aide distributed copies of a 2002 questionnaire in which Mr. Romney said he supported the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion and agreed that Medicaid should provide abortion services (O'Connor and King, 1/20).
The Associated Press/Washington Post: US Sen. Brown Kicks Off Re-Election Bid With Rally In Mass., Touts 'Independent Voice'
U.S. Sen. Scott Brown officially kicked off his re-election campaign Thursday, casting his chief Democratic opponent Elizabeth Warren as an ideologue and pledging to be an independent voice in a deeply partisan Congress. Brown, speaking to a crowd of cheering supporters at Mechanics Hall in the Worcester, said he would continue to oppose the health care law signed by President Barack Obama and would fight against wasteful government spending (1/19).
Los Angeles Times: Federal Judge Continues To Block California's Cuts To In-Home Care
A federal judge will continue blocking millions of dollars in cuts to in-home care for the elderly and the disabled, parties to a lawsuit over the services said Thursday. U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken had temporarily halted the cuts in December. The $100 million in reductions to home aid, built into the state budget in case revenue did not match projections, were to have kicked in this month (Megerian, 1/20).
The Associated Press/Wall Street Journal: NY Insurers Agree To Update Provider Directories
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman says his office has reached settlements with eight health insurance companies that require them to ensure the accuracy of provider directories on their websites. The attorney general's office says the companies will remove names of doctors and other providers who no longer participate and correct listing errors for others (1/19).
The Associated Press/Washington Post: Johnson & Johnson Subsidiary Settles Texas Lawsuit Over Anti-Psychotic Drug For $158 Million
Texas and a subsidiary of health care giant Johnson & Johnson reached a $158 million settlement in a Medicaid fraud lawsuit Thursday, allowing the drugmaker to pay a fraction of the potential $1 billion in penalties and fines that state officials had initially sought (1/19).
The Associated Press/Washington Post: Merck Makes Deal To Settle Canadian Vioxx Lawsuits For Up To C$37 Million, Admits No Liability
Drugmaker Merck & Co. said Thursday that it has reached a deal to settle all lawsuits in Canada over its recalled painkiller Vioxx, for up to 36.9 million Canadian dollars ($36.5 million). Merck and attorneys representing hundreds of Vioxx users in Canada said the final payment will be at least $21.6 million and could go as high as $36.5 million. … Last November, Merck agreed to pay $950 million to resolve government investigations into its marketing of Vioxx, including $321.6 million in criminal fines and $628.4 million in a civil settlement to be split by the federal government and state Medicaid programs (1/19).
The New York Times/Chicago News Cooperative: The Pulse: Low Health Revenues Afflict County Budget
Cook County's revenues fell $166.3 million (7.1 percent) short of expectations in the fiscal year that ended Nov. 30, with nearly all of the shortfall attributed to lower-than-expected patient fees from the county's health system, the county’s interim comptroller said Wednesday (Lu, 1/19).
The New York Times/The Bay Citizen: When The Nursing Home Resident In The Next Room Is A Convicted Criminal
Today Mr. Holcomb lives in the Idylwood Care Center, a private 172-bed nursing home in a leafy suburban neighborhood in Sunnyvale, near a park and a private school. He and three other medical parolees from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation — murderers, drug dealers and burglars, ranging in age from 40s to 70s — are watched by medical staff instead of by prison guards. The four are among the first 29 prisoners to be granted medical parole under a 2010 California law intended to save the state tens of millions of dollars in medical and guarding costs for permanently, medically incapacitated prisoners (Mieszowski, 1/19).
The Washington Post: Washington Adventist Denied Same-Sex Visitation; Hospital Apologizes
A Takoma Park woman has filed complaints with federal health authorities and the main hospital accreditation commission after staff at Washington Adventist Hospital denied her permission to visit her same-sex partner, who was taken there after suffering a seizure. Such a denial would violate federal hospital visitation regulations and Maryland law (Sun, 1/19).
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