First Edition: December 1, 2011
In today's headlines, reports on congressional efforts to extend a payroll tax break and other work Congress must do before the end of the year -- including the Medicare doc fix.
Kaiser Health News: Enrollment Still Growing In Medicare Advantage Plans, GAO Says
Kaiser Health News staff writer Mary Agnes Carey reports: "Despite predictions that last year's health law would doom Medicare's private insurance plans, it's not happening – at least not yet. Enrollment in Medicare Advantage plans continues to grow at a brisk pace, rising to 8.4 million beneficiaries by April 2011, about a 6 percent increase from April 2010, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office” (Carey, 12/1).
Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Few Health Food Choices At Calif. Children's Hospitals; Foster Kids And Psychotropic Drugs; Obama Marks World Aids Day With Funding Increases; How Hot Are ACOs?
Now on Kaiser Health News' blog, Christian Torres writes about food choices at children's hospitals in California: "Researchers with the UCLA School of Medicine and RAND Corporation visited the state's 14 major children’s hospitals last year and found many less-than-ideal food options. According to their study published Thursday in Academic Pediatrics, only 7 percent of hospital entrees were deemed healthy" (12/1).
In addition, Jenny Gold reports that foster kids are more likely to be given psychotropic drugs: "Kids in foster care are significantly more likely than other children to be given mind-altering drugs, according to a study of five states released Thursday by the Government Accountability Office" (12/1). Also on Capsules, Shefali S. Kulkarni writes about new ADAP funding announced by President Barack Obama on World Aids Day: "President Barack Obama marked World AIDS Day by announcing a $50 million funding boost for U.S. HIV/AIDS programs. 'We’re committing an additional $15 million for the Ryan White program that supports care provided by HIV medical clinics across the country,' the president said. An additional $35 million will go to state AIDS Drug Assistance Programs, or ADAPs, that pay for HIV medications for uninsured and low-income patients who cannot afford the drugs due to inadequate insurance coverage" (12/1).
Meanwhile, in another post, Jenny Gold reported on a new study that seeks to quantify how hot ACOs really are: "ACOs, as defined in the 2010 health law, are a delivery model that offers doctors and hospitals financial incentives to provide good quality care to Medicare beneficiaries while keeping costs down. But that program hasn't even launched yet, and already there are 164 'ACO entities' in the country, according to the Leavitt report" (12/1). Check out what else is new on the blog.
Los Angeles Times: Kagan, Thomas Pressed To Stay Out Of Healthcare Fight
As the Supreme Court prepares to consider one of the most closely watched cases in its recent history, two of its nine justices -- one on the left and one on the right -- are being urged to step aside and let their colleagues determine the fate of President Obama’s healthcare overhaul without them (Oliphant, 12/1).
Los Angeles Times: Senate Republicans Reject Measures To Extend Payroll Tax Break
First, Republicans blocked President Obama's proposal to expand the payroll tax break to $1,500 for 2012 and extend it to employers who hire new workers, paying for it with a 3.25% surtax on those earning more than $1 million a year. Then Republicans joined Democrats in rejecting the GOP leaders' offering, which would require earners making more than $1 million to pay more for Medicare, continue a freeze on federal employee salaries and cut the government workforce. It failed, 78 to 20, with more than two dozen Republicans and all Democrats voting no (Mascaro, 12/1).
The Washington Post: Payroll Tax Break: Extension Proposals From Both Parties Fail
The Senate late Thursday rejected competing partisan visions for extending a temporary tax break that benefits virtually every American worker, clearing the way for more serious negotiations over how to cover the cost of the tax cut. … Even as the Senate dispatched with the dueling measures, bipartisan talks were underway over how to extend the existing tax cut, though aides said Obama's proposed expansion appeared unlikely. Negotiators were also aiming to reach agreement on two other expiring provisions. Emergency unemployment benefits, which provide up to 99 weeks of income support, are set to expire Dec. 31. And doctors will absorb a 30 percent reduction in Medicare reimbursements starting in January unless Congress acts (Montgomery and Sonmez, 12/1).
The Wall Street Journal: Senate Blocks Tax-Cut Bills
The payroll-tax cut is only one issue Congress must tackle by Dec. 31. Lawmakers also face pressure to extend unemployment benefits and adjust payments for doctors under Medicare, both of which face a year-end deadline. Congress also must act by Dec. 16 to continue funding the government. Party leaders still hope they can wrap up the final items in short order. "I do believe there's enough common ground between where the White House and Democrats are and where Republicans are for us to move this legislation and to do so quickly," said House Speaker John Boehner (Bendavid and Hook, 12/2).
The Washington Post: Newt Gingrich On Medicare: Flip-Flopping On The Flip-Flop?
Newt Gingrich may have stepped into trouble again – appearing to flip-flop on an earlier flip-flop over his statement last spring that Rep. Paul Ryan’s Medicare plans amounted to "right-wing social engineering" (Wallsten, 12/1).
The Wall Street Journal: Gingrich Evolves On Federal Role
At various times in his career, Mr. Gingrich has come out in favor of requiring that individuals carry health insurance and increasing federal spending for scientific research. He has backed programs run by the Education Department, which many of his peers would like to abolish, as well as national curriculum standards and a government response to climate change. Mr. Gingrich has said he favors government solutions when they are smart. On the campaign trail, he has denied some of his positions and toned down others. And he has won the loyalty, for now, of many Republican primary voters, despite holding views that might appear anathema to them (Radnofsky, 12/1).
The Associated Press/Washington Post: Ex-Wis. Gov. Thompson Defends Record, Faces Conservative Challengers In GOP Bid For US Senate
Thompson has been criticized by both sides about his shifting position on President Barack Obama's health care reform law. And conservatives in his party say his record as governor and as President George W. Bush’s first health and human services secretary was far too moderate (12/1).
The Washington Post: Months After Shutdown Fight, Minnesota Projects An $876 Million Surplus
Minnesota officials, however, say their budget surplus is the result of factors unique to the state. For example, it has regained about a third of the jobs lost since the recession began. Nationally, that number stands at 22 percent. It has also taken unusual steps to reduce its Medicaid spending. The state is one of four to expand its Medicaid program before the health reform law requires it to do so in 2014. That expansion has seen lower-than-expected enrollment, leading to lower costs (Kliff, 12/1).
Los Angeles Times: Obama Redirects $50 Million To Fight AIDS
The Obama administration will redirect $50 million to prevention and treatment programs across the country and will aim to help provide anti-retroviral drugs to more than 6 million people around the world, an increase of 2 million from the previous goal (Parsons and Dixon, 12/1).
The Washington Post: Obama Proposes Helping More People Get Access To AIDS Drugs
President Obama told activists, patients, scientists and business leaders gathered in Washington on Thursday to mark World AIDS Day that his administration will do more to get life-extending antiretroviral drugs for those infected with HIV — both in the United States and in low-income countries (Brown, 12/1).
Politico: Obama Slowly Builds On Bush's AIDS Legacy
Under the banner of "compassionate conservatism," President George W. Bush surprised and delighted AIDS activists by spending billions of dollars to fight AIDS in developing countries worldwide. Now, nearly three years into Obama's presidency, some of those activists say Obama has yet to create a similar legacy on the global stage (Epstein, 12/1).
NPR: Businesses Pledge 'Healthier Choices' For Customers
Corporate America is jumping on the opportunities to make people healthier, while keep their bottoms line strong. Leaders of Supermarkets, hotel chains and restaurant groups gathered in Washington this week for a summit aimed at shaping private sector solutions to the obesity epidemic (Aubrey, 12/2).
The Wall Street Journal: WellPoint To Cover Lung CT Scans For Heavy Smokers
This summer, the New England Journal of Medicine published the results of a government-funded trial that found screening current and former heavy smokers with low-dose CT scans was tied to a 20% reduction in lung-cancer deaths. Now, the study is starting to have a concrete impact: insurer WellPoint, with around 34 million members, says it will start covering the tests based on its findings (Mathews, 12/1).
Los Angeles Times: Pay Ban On Donor Organs Doesn't Include Bone Marrow, Court Says
A federal law banning compensation for organ transplants doesn't extend to bone marrow harvested from a donor's blood, a federal appeals court said Thursday in a ruling that could attract thousands of new donors in a national campaign to save the lives of those afflicted with cancer and genetic disorders (Williams, 12/2).
The Wall Street Journal Law Blog: Blood Feud: Court Backs Paying Some Donors
A federal appeals court in California ruled that people can be compensated for donating blood stem cells to help cancer patients, saying a recently developed procedure is legally different from bone-marrow donations for which compensation is barred under a 1984 law (Landers, 12/1).
NPR: Catholic Groups Fight Contraceptive Rule, But Many Already Offer Coverage
The Catholic Church says new federal regulations requiring employers to provide no-cost prescription birth control as part of their health insurance plans infringe on their religious liberty (Rovner, 12/2).
The Wall Street Journal: Foster Kids Are Overly Medicated, Report Says
Foster children on Medicaid received psychotropic drugs—including antipsychotics and antidepressants—at a higher rate than other children covered by the government insurance program, according to a federal report released Thursday. The study by the Government Accountability Office is raising concern among lawmakers and medical experts that doctors are overprescribing psychiatric drugs to treat children in the foster-care system (Burton, 12/2).
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