KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

First Edition: June 25, 2010

Today's headlines reflect the latest news about the House passing a temporary ban on cuts in Medicare reimbursements to doctors, while Senate Democrats failed to gain approval for their jobs bill, which included enhanced Medicaid aid to states.

Chronic Disease Expert: U.S. Health Care System Needs To Treat 'Whole Person'
Kaiser Health News staff writer Jessica Marcy interviews Kate Lorig, director of the Patient Education Research Center at Stanford University, about the toll of chronic diseases. "As people live longer, chronic diseases have skyrocketed. … But the health system remains largely designed to treat people with acute problems and often provides fragmented care. The National Council on Aging (NCOA) found that 80 percent of adults age 65 or older have at least one chronic disease and 50 percent have more than one. One-third of them feel confused about how to manage their disease after seeing a doctor" (Kaiser Health News).

House Passes Plan To Stop Medicare Cuts To Doctors 
The House on Thursday approved a six-month plan to prevent a steep cut in doctors' fees paid by Medicare, agreeing to a short-term solution that Speaker Nancy Pelosi called "totally inadequate" but said the House had decided to adopt after concluding that the Senate was hopelessly gridlocked and could do no better (The New York Times).

Congress Spares Doctors From Medicare Cuts 
Doctors would be temporarily spared a 21 percent cut in Medicare payments under a bill passed by Congress on Thursday. The measure would delay the cuts six months while lawmakers work on a more permanent solution. The bill now goes to President Obama for his signature (NPR).

House Passes Reimbursements Reprieve 
The House quickly approved and sent to the White House Thursday evening a six-month reprieve from deep cuts in Medicare reimbursements to physicians that took effect June 1. The Senate approved the $6.4 billion bill last Friday, but Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Cal.) had held back acting in hopes of putting pressure on senators to also send her a long delayed jobs and economic relief package. When that measure collapsed Thursday, Pelosi no longer had reason to wait and almost immediately more to the 415-1 vote (Politico).

House Passes 'Doc Fix' Bill To Stave Off Cuts 
The House on Thursday passed legislation to reverse a steep pay cut for Medicare doctors that took hold this month. The temporary "doc-fix" bill will stave off the 21-percent cut until December, instead providing a 2.2 percent pay increase for doctors who treat Medicare patients (The Hill).

Jobless Bill Dies Amid Deficit Fears

 Spooked by concern about deficits, the Senate shelved a spending bill that included an extension of unemployment benefits, suddenly cutting off a federal cash spigot opened by President Barack Obama when he took office 18 months ago. The collapse of the wide-ranging legislation means that a total of 1.3 million unemployed Americans will have lost their assistance by the end of this week. It will also leave a number of states with large budget holes they had expected to fill with federal cash to help with Medicaid costs (The Wall Street Journal).

Senate GOP Blocks Jobless Aid Extension 
Senate Republicans on Thursday once again blocked legislation to reinstate long-term unemployment benefits for people who have exhausted their aid, prolonging a stalemate that has left more than a million people without federal help. … In the latest version, Democrats scaled back funding for Medicaid aid to states (The Los Angeles Times).

Senate Again Rejects Expanded Spending Package 
Senate Democrats abandoned on Thursday efforts to provide fresh aid to cash-strapped state governments and extend emergency unemployment benefits for millions of jobless workers, leaving in limbo President Obama's push for more spending to bolster the economy (The Washington Post).

Health-Care Overhaul's Costs To Virginia And Maryland Unclear 
In Virginia, where Republicans have steadfastly opposed the federal health-care law, Gov. Robert F. McDonnell says the overhaul will cost residents almost $1.5 billion in coming years. But in Maryland, where Gov. Martin O'Malley has enthusiastically embraced it, his Democratic administration has been quick to estimate that the law will save at least $1 billion. Who's right? Maybe both. Or possibly neither (The Washington Post).

U.S. Appeals Court Lifts Stay On Relocating Mentally Ill 
A federal appeals court has ruled that New York State must comply with a lower court's order to begin immediately transferring thousands of people with mental illness in New York City out of large, institutional group homes and into their own homes and apartments, where they will continue to receive specialized treatment and services (New York Times).

Report Urges More Curbs On Medical Ghostwriting
A new Congressional report calls on medical journals, medical schools and even the National Institutes of Health to take additional measures to ensure the integrity of the scientific articles many doctors rely on to make treatment decisions for their patients. The report, issued Thursday by Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, focuses on medical ghostwriting (New York Times).

Ban On Drug Industry Gifts Could Be Lifted 
A two-year-old Massachusetts ban on gifts in the medical and pharmaceutical industries would be repealed under an economic development bill that the House budget committee began polling its members on yesterday. The ban, which prohibits drug firms from giving gifts and meals to health care professionals, has cut back on local business profits, a summary of the bill states (The Boston Globe).

Rate Cap For Insurer Overturned 
In a blow to the Patrick administration, an insurance appeals board in Massachusetts yesterday overturned the state's cap on health premium increases for small business and individual customers covered by Harvard Pilgrim Health Care. … That ruling trumped the Insurance Division's earlier finding that the requested increases were excessive, a view that reflects Governor Deval Patrick's campaign to curb health costs. (The Boston Globe).

Nearly 1 In 5 Older Women Are Going Childless 
More women today are childless: Nearly one in five end their childbearing years without having a baby, compared with one in 10 just 30 years ago. That's true for all racial and ethnic groups and for most education levels, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of Census data for women ages 40 to 44 (USA Today).

Center To Treat Troops With Brain Injuries Opens In Bethesda
The $65 million medical center, which opened Thursday, is devoted exclusively to helping members of the military who suffer from traumatic brain injuries, PTSD and other psychological issues (The Washington Post).

Whooping Cough Epidemic Strikes California 
By the middle of June, California had reports of 910 cases of whooping cough, or pertussis. At the same point last year, the state had seen only a quarter that number - or 219 cases. … Already this year, though, whooping cough has claimed the lives of five infants, all of them less than 3 months old. If the cases keep rolling in as they have been, this could be the worst epidemic of whooping cough in the state in 50 years" (NPR).

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