Today’s Headlines – May 25, 2012

Memorial Day weekend. Enjoy, but first, here are your Friday headlines …

Politico: FDA User Fee Bill Passed By Senate
With little bickering and no effort to repeal the Obama administration’s health reform law, the Senate passed the massive Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act on Thursday well ahead of schedule. … The $6.4 billion, five-year reauthorization of FDA-industry user fee agreements partially funds the agency’s review of drugs and medical devices, which would have expired at the end of September without action. Previous user fee authorizations have been contentious affairs. But notwithstanding the election-year and health care politics that dominate Congress, the bill sailed through with hardly a complaint (Norman, 5/24).

The New York Times: Senate Backs Bipartisan Bill To Speed Drugs And Avert Shortages
The Senate passed a major bipartisan bill on Thursday to prevent drug shortages and to speed federal approval of lifesaving medicines, including lower-cost generic versions of biotechnology products. A similar bill is on a fast track to approval in the House, perhaps as early as next week. President Obama, consumer groups and pharmaceutical companies strongly support the legislation (Pear, 5/24).

For more headlines …

Politico: Baucus Faces The Biggest Campaigns Of His Career
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus is about to launch two of the most daunting campaigns of his political career at once: first, to rewrite the U.S. Tax Code, then to win reelection in 2014 after having shepherded the controversial Democratic health care law to passage. … The 70-year-old Baucus appears to be taking little for granted. … Baucus sidestepped a fight over health care by punting on a confirmation hearing for Marilyn Tavenner, a nominee to head the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services, which he said was unnecessary because of her lack of support (Raju and Bresnahan, 5/24).

The New York Times: Battle Brewing Over Labeling Of Genetically Modified Food
For more than a decade, almost all processed foods in the United States — cereals, snack foods, salad dressings — have contained ingredients from plants whose DNA was manipulated in a laboratory. Regulators and many scientists say these pose no danger. But as Americans ask more pointed questions about what they are eating, popular suspicions about the health and environmental effects of biotechnology are fueling a movement to require that food from genetically modified crops be labeled, if not eliminated (Harmon and Pollack, 5/24).

The Associated Press/New York Times: Senate Stalls On Legislation For Student Loan Relief
The Senate rejected dueling Democratic and Republican plans on Thursday for averting a July 1 doubling of interest rates on federal college loans for 7.4 million students, pushing back efforts to resolve the problem until next month. … Both measures rejected Thursday would have delayed the interest rate increase for a year at a cost of $6 billion, but each side’s bill was paid for in a way the other could not tolerate. Democrats proposed raising Social Security and Medicare payroll taxes on high-earning owners of some privately held companies and professional practices, while Republicans proposed abolishing an Obama administration preventive health program (5/24).

The Washington Post: Senate Fails To Agree On Student-Loan-Rate Freeze
Republicans said the Democrats’ proposal amounted to a tax increase on those best positioned create jobs in the sluggish economy. They also argued that payroll taxes are earmarked to fund Medicare, and any new revenue should go to the retiree-health program. … The Republican proposal would have paid for the loan-rate freeze by eliminating the preventative health-care fund created in the 2010 health-care act. Republicans call it a slush fund and have pointed to what they say are misuses in its spending (Helderman, 5/24).

Wall Street Journal: Hospital CEO Will Depart
A Minnesota health system that has come under scrutiny for its hiring of hospital contractor Accretive Health Inc. to handle billing and collections functions said its chief executive will leave at the end of July. The board of Fairview Health Services said Thursday that it decided in a special meeting not to renew the contract of CEO Mark Eustis, and that he will retire on July 31, when the contract expires. The Minneapolis-based nonprofit system, which includes seven hospitals and 42 primary-care clinics, didn’t give a reason for the move (Wilde Mathews, 5/24).

Wall Street Journal: School Districts Cut More Nurses
School nurses, a fixture in many American schools for more than a century, are being cut from Philadelphia to San Diego, as public schools struggle to provide basic services while continuing to slash budgets. … The cutbacks come as nurses are increasingly being pressed to serve a student body with a growing number of complex, chronic health problems—from diabetes and life-threatening allergies to asthma and obesity, according to school officials, parents and nurses (Audi, 5/24).

NPR: Need A Nurse? You May Have To Wait
Nurses are the backbone of the hospital — just ask pretty much any doctor or patient. But a new poll conducted NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health finds 34 percent of patients hospitalized for at least one night in the past year said “nurses weren’t available when needed or didn’t respond quickly to requests for help” (Neighmond, 5/25).

NPR: What’s Up, Doc? When Your Doctor Rushes Like The Road Runner
To physician Larry Shore of My Health Medical Group in San Francisco, it’s no surprise that patients give doctors low marks for time and attention. “There’s some data to suggest that the average patient gets to speak for between 12 and 15 seconds before the physician interrupts them,” Shore says. “And that makes you feel like the person is not listening.” A doctor’s impatience, though, is often driven more by economics than ego. Reimbursement rates for a primary care visit are notoriously low, and Shore laments the need to hustle patients in and out (Varney, 5/24).

Chicago Tribune: Illinois Legislature Passes Deep Health Care Cuts
Hundreds of thousands of poor Illinoisans would lose health coverage, prescription drug discounts for seniors would be dropped and dental care for adults would be greatly curtailed as part of $1.6 billion in budget cuts lawmakers approved Thursday. The major Medicaid reductions ignited anger in some lawmakers who say the cutbacks will jeopardize the lives of the state’s most vulnerable residents (Long, 5/24).