Today’s Headlines – March 8, 2012

Good morning! Grab your coffee, here are your early a.m. headlines to get your day going:

The Washington Post: New Front In Birth Control Rule Battle: The Courts
Since November, at least eight lawsuits have been filed in federal district courts across the country challenging the constitutionality of the rule, which requires employers, including church-affiliated organizations that object to contraception on religious grounds, to cover birth control in workers’ health plans with no out-of-pocket charges (Aizenman, 3/7).

NPR Shots Blog: 1 In 3 Americans Is Having A Hard Time Paying Medical Bills
While politicians and soon, the Supreme Court, are fighting about the fate of the Affordable Care Act, a new government study finds that a growing number of Americans are having difficulty coping with the high cost of health care (Rovner, 3/7).

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The New York Times: Hospital Groups Will Get Bigger, Moody’s Predicts
Responding to changes in health care, big hospital groups are expected to get even bigger. And some hospitals will join forces with once-unlikely partners, health insurers and for-profit companies, a new report says (Abelson, 3/8).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Consumer Group Sues 8 Drugmakers, Alleging Their Coupons For Co-Pays Are Illegal, Raise Costs
Eight major drugmakers are being sued by a consumer coalition claiming the companies’ popular coupon programs, which cover much of the patient co-payment for hundreds of brand-name prescription medicines, are illegal (3/7).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Santorum Urges Mississippi Republicans To Turn GOP Race In to A 2-Man Contest
Santorum also hit socially conservative issues hard, too. Neither Gingrich nor Romney has a record without blemishes and Santorum is hoping religious conservatives reward him the way they did in Iowa. … As he closed his day in Jackson, he flat-out called Romney a liar over how he describes Massachusetts’ health care law that many conservatives see as the forefather of Democrats’ national health law (3/7).

The Washington Post: Fact Checker: Rick Santorum’s Latest, Strangest ‘Obamacare’ Claim
Rick Santorum has made the growth of entitlement spending a key focus of his campaign for the presidency, and he touched upon the subject again when he addressed supporters after the Super Tuesday primaries. We were struck by both figures he used in the speech — that 50 percent of Americans “depend on some form of federal payment” and that Obama’s health care law would bring the figure to an eye-popping 100 percent. In other words, in just two years, every single American would begin to get federal handouts, according to Santorum’s calculation. As usual, the Santorum campaign did not respond to a request for documentation, so we searched for the best data we could find (Kessler, 3/8).

Politico: Are ‘Birth Panels’ Next? Ask Michele Bachmann
The Minnesota congresswoman said the Obama administration’s contraception coverage mandate could be a slippery slope to a point where a “health dictator” decrees that women could only have one or two children. Bachmann, in an appearance on Glenn Beck’s online television venture GBTV that was picked up by media watchdogs and liberal websites, said “it isn’t beyond the pale” to move from the birth control policy to a government-mandated childbirth policy (Kenen, 3/7).

The Wall Street Journal’s Capital Journal: Both Parties Are Facing A Growing Gender Gap
Andrew Kohut, head of the Pew Research Center, says the gender gap began emerging during the 1980s, driven by a split over Ronald Reagan’s assertive foreign policy, but also by a debate over the role of government. Then, as now, women tended to favor a larger role for government programs than do men, an attitude that naturally pulls them a bit more Democratic. But Mr. Kohut notes that the gap also is being driven by the Republican primary campaign’s focus in recent weeks on social issues, and particularly by the debate over whether the government should require insurance coverage of contraception in employer insurance policies, as the Obama administration has ordered. On those issues, women tend to agree more with the administration, which is why the White House has been so eager to frame the contraception coverage issue as a debate about women’s health rather than social policy (Seib, 3/7).

Los Angeles Times: Prices Of Drugs Commonly Used By Elderly Rose Faster Than Inflation
The price of drugs widely used by elderly Americans grew by almost double the rate of inflation from 2005 to 2009, according to a new study by the AARP. The average retail price over the five-year period for the 469 drugs most often used by AARP members grew by 25.6%, compared to the 13.3% rise in inflation over the same period, according to the report (Martin, 3/7).

The New York Times: Needed: Health Professionals To Treat The Aging
Laura Kaufman no longer treats her patients in a suburban dental office. These days, she cleans teeth, does simple extractions and provides other basic care in the homes of inner-city elderly who are too frail to travel. After a decade of private practice in the Boston area, Ms. Kaufman found that a growing number of her dental patients were older people and that she often had little idea of their complete medical picture. So she decided to become “geriatricized” — educated on how to recognize and handle aging patients, who typically have several chronic conditions, as well as multiple prescription medications (Olson, 3/7).

The New York Times: Found: Older Volunteers To Fill Labor Shortage
At the Spring Institute for Intercultural Learning, also in Denver, older volunteers help teach health literacy, arrange transportation and accompany Bhutanese and Burmese refugees and immigrants to medical appointments, said Brandy Kramer, the institute’s volunteer coordinator. “Our boomers are wonderful advocates for our community members; they are tenacious and won’t take no for an answer from a health care provider” (Pope, 3/7).

The Washington Post: Surgeon General’s Report Takes Aim At Youth Smoking
Smoking during the teenage years stunts lung growth and accelerates the decline in their function that inevitably comes with age. At the same time, the habit damages blood vessels in ways that can later lead to a heart attack, stroke and aortic rupture. Those are among the conclusions of a report by the U.S. Surgeon General on tobacco use by young people. The 899-page document gathers recent research on the epidemiology, effects and strategies to fight youth smoking (Brown, 3/8).

USA Today: Teen Tobacco ‘Epidemic’ Shocks Surgeon General
Many of America’s teens smoke cigarettes as well as use smokeless tobacco, and the tobacco industry’s marketing fuels their addiction, says the first U.S. surgeon general’s report on youth tobacco use since 1994 (Koch, 3/7).

Los Angeles Times: Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell Signs Pre-Abortion Ultrasound Bill
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell has signed into law a controversial bill requiring women to have an ultrasound before undergoing an abortion. The bill sparked a national furor among abortion rights activists who argued that the intent was to make it more costly and more difficult for women to receive abortions (Geiger, 3/7).

The Associated Press/USA Today: Virginia Governor Signs Pre-Abortion Ultrasound Bill
The Republican governor’s signature means the mandate takes effect in July for abortion providers across Virginia. The bill not only sparked protests the past three weeks by angry women’s rights groups and others that led to 30 arrests at the Capitol Saturday, it subjected Virginia to scorn by columnists and political talk shows and ridicule from television comedians (3/7).

The New York Times: Women In Texas Losing Options For Health Care In Abortion Fight
The cuts, which left many low-income women with inconvenient or costly options, grew out of the effort to eliminate state support for Planned Parenthood. Although the cuts also forced clinics that were not affiliated with the agency to close — and none of them, even the ones run by Planned Parenthood, performed abortions — supporters of the cutbacks said they were motivated by the fight against abortion (Belluck and Ramshaw, 3/7).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Senate Democrats Give McDonnell List Of Conditions For Reviving Stalemated State Budget
Democrats in the state Senate have sent Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell a list of conditions they want addressed before allowing a new state budget necessary to fund state services and operations to pass. … They ask McDonnell to find about $300 million to help arrest sharp increases in highway tolls on roads in the state’s two most populous regions, northern Virginia and Hampton Roads. They want the state to pay for the ultrasound exams now mandated for women seeking abortions under a bill McDonnell signed Wednesday. They want restored funding for teen pregnancy prevention programs that the governor’s original budget cut. And they want Medicaid eligibility restored for about 4,500 nursing home residents (3/7).

The Wall Street Journal: New Front Open In Florida’s Pill War
Now, a year after Florida stepped up its battle against pill mills, the state can point to some notable successes. In 2010, 90 of the top 100 oxycodone-purchasing physicians in the country were in Florida, but that number dropped to 13 in 2011, according to Drug Enforcement Administration data. The number of pain clinics in the state has fallen 38% from its peak, according to the Florida Department of Health. Yet Florida’s pill problem persists, as drug users and dealers adapt to the changing landscape and pill demand shifts to retail pharmacies and other establishments that appear to have been set up to skirt the new restrictions (Martin and Campo-Flores, 3/7).