First Edition: February 3, 2012
Today's headlines include news about Medicare's 'doughnut hole,' the political climate on Capitol Hill and the Komen-Planned Parenthood flap.
Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Using War Savings For 'Doc Fix' Complicated By Congressionial Rules
Now on the blog, Mary Agnes Carey reports: "While hospitals, physicians and some members of Congress want to use war savings as a way to get rid of Medicare's sustainable growth rate formula, congressional rules could complicate things. Even if there's enough support for the idea among Republicans — and it's unclear there is, especially in the House – there's the issue of 'scope,' or what's currently included in the House and Senate bills" (Carey, 2/3).
Also on Capsules, Shefali S. Kulkarni reports on health workers and the flu vaccine: "Despite nearly 20 years of recommendations that health workers get flu shots, the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that less than 64 percent of them do. Consumer and business groups met in Washington Thursday to show their support for a recommendation from the National Business Group on Health (NBGH) that hospitals require all health care workers to be vaccinated annually against the flu" (Kulkarni, 2/2).
Los Angeles Times: Health Law Delivers $2.1 Billion In Savings On Drugs For Seniors
In the first full year of the new healthcare law, 3.6 million people in the government Medicare program saved $2.1 billion on prescription drugs in 2011, the Obama administration announced Thursday (Levey, 2/2).
The Wall Street Journal's Health Blog: Obama Says Seniors Have Saved On Medicare 'Doughnut Hole'
Part of the law was intended to fill the gap in prescription-drug coverage, the so-called doughnut hole, when Medicare beneficiaries have to pay up to $4,550 out of pocket for drugs after their costs pass $2,840 for the year. Under the law, drug companies have to offer discounts on brand-name and generic drugs for Medicare beneficiaries after they reach the gap. Discounts increase annually until 2020, when the hole is supposed to be filled entirely. In 2010, the first year when the discounts were in effect, seniors also got a $250 rebate check if they hit the doughnut hole (Radnofsky, 2/2).
The New York Times: To Fix Image, Republicans In House Think Small
Unpopular and divided, the once mighty House Republicans are laboring to repair their image and frame a new agenda. Members are still struggling to sing from the same legislative hymnal. Many want to do bigger things, like a tax code overhaul and changes to the Medicare program. Others, including Mr. Cantor, knowing they will get no help from Senate Democrats, seem to favor more incremental steps (Steinhauer and Weisman, 2/2).
The Washington Post: Komen Gives New Explanation For Cutting Funds To Planned Parenthood
Komen had said the decision was the result of newly adopted criteria barring grants to organizations under investigation — affecting Planned Parenthood because of an inquiry by a Republican congressman. On Thursday, Komen President Elizabeth Thompson told reporters that the funding decision was unrelated to the investigation into whether Planned Parenthood was illegally using federal funds to pay for abortions. Komen founder Nancy Brinker said the organization wants to support groups that directly provide breast health services, such as mammograms. She noted that Planned Parenthood was providing only mammogram referrals (Sun, Kliff and Aizenman, 2/2).
Los Angeles Times: Susan G. Komen For The Cure Founder Defends Planned Parenthood Decision
As the backlash grew against the decision by Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation to cease awarding grants to Planned Parenthood, Komen officials ended two days of silence on Thursday and tried to manage the uproar. … On Thursday, its seven California affiliates released a statement saying they were strongly opposed to the new policy and were working with national headquarters to resolve it. … Other Komen affiliates posted statements on their Facebook pages, including postings critical of Komen's move … or supportive of Komen (Roan, 2/2).
Politico: Susan G. Komen Fights To Contain Planned Parenthood Damage
If this was supposed to be damage control, Susan G. Komen for the Cure proved Thursday that it has a lot to learn. On a day when the breast cancer charity's top official made the rounds with the national media, insisting the organization's decision to stop giving grants to Planned Parenthood wasn't political, the firestorm only got worse. Top Democrats piled on; the head of the Komen chapter in Los Angeles quit; and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is giving a $250,000 matching gift to Planned Parenthood (Nocera and Nather, 2/2).
USA Today: Komen Says Planned Parenthood Plans Are Mischaracterized
The founder of Susan G. Komen for the Cure said Thursday that there had been a "gross mischaracterization" about the group's controversial decision to stop funding breast exams at Planned Parenthood. … Brinker denied that the decision to not renew grants to groups under investigation was directed specifically at Planned Parenthood. She said other institutions also have been affected by Komen's policy (Szabo, 2/3).
The New York Times: Outcry Grows Fiercer After Funding Cut By Cancer Group
The nation's leading breast cancer advocacy organization confronted the growing furor Thursday over its decision to largely end its decades-long partnership with Planned Parenthood, with rising dissension in its own ranks and a roiling anger on the Internet showing the power of social media to harness protest. All seven California affiliates of the organization, the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation, released a statement saying they opposed its decision (Preston and Harris, 2/2).
NPR: As Komen Defends Itself, Planned Parenthood Rakes In Substitute Funds
Leaders of the breast-cancer charity Susan G. Komen for the Cure tried in vain Thursday to contain the controversy stemming from its decision to end its grants to Planned Parenthood. But it's becoming clearer that Planned Parenthood has the upper hand in the battle (Rovner, 2/2).
The Wall Street Journal: Nonprofits' Backers Mobilize
One of the nation's leading breast-cancer charities grappled Thursday with the fallout from its decision to cut funding for Planned Parenthood affiliates. Opponents of the move organized online pressure against Susan G. Komen for the Cure and some of its corporate sponsors. But the charity said it had seen a jump in donations since the decision became public Tuesday. Meantime, Planned Parenthood supporters, including New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, announced donations to the women's health group (Mathews, Radnofsky and West, 2/3).
The Associated Press/Washington Post: White House, Religious Groups In Fight Over Doctrine, Religious Freedom And Contraception
The Obama administration's decision requiring church-affiliated employers to cover birth control was bound to cause an uproar among Roman Catholics and members of other faiths, no matter their beliefs on contraception. The regulation, finalized a week ago, raises a complex and sensitive legal question: Which institutions qualify as religious and can be exempt from the mandate? (2/3).
The Wall Street Journal: Study: Hospitals Overpay For Devices
Some hospitals pay thousands of dollars more than others for big-ticket medical devices such as defibrillators and hip replacements, and a portion of the higher costs could be passed on to the federal Medicare program, a new government report says (Weaver, 2/3).
The New York Times: As Fiscal Cloud Lifts, Mayor Offers A Budget Free Of Tax Increases Or Broad Layoffs
Mr. Bloomberg said costs that the city could not control, like those of pensions, health care, Medicaid and debt service, would increase by $2 billion, or 7.5 percent. But he said he would balance the budget in part by drawing on money from a health care reserve fund and money expected from the sale of new taxi medallions. City expenditures would shrink by $437 million (Chen, 2/2).
The New York Times: Mayor Of Providence Seeks Urgent Steps In City’s Financial Crisis
Mayor Angel Taveras, a Democrat, outlined plans to reduce pensions for retired municipal workers and vowed to appeal a recent state court ruling preventing the city from forcing its retirees to switch to the federal Medicare health insurance program when they turned 65. He also called for bigger contributions from major tax-exempt universities and hospitals in Providence (Bidgood and Goodnough, 2/2).
The Associated Press/Washington Post: Mayor Says Providence Could Face Bankruptcy Without Retiree Benefit Cuts, Nonprofit Payments
Mayor Angel Taveras painted a bleak picture Thursday of the city's finances, saying Providence faces "devastation" and could go bankrupt if retiree benefits aren’t cut and tax-exempt institutions like Brown University don’t pay more in lieu of taxes. Taveras said he cut a projected $110 million deficit for the current fiscal year to less than $30 million but that the city is on track to run out of money by June. He said taxpayers and city workers have already sacrificed — taxes and fees have gone up, several schools were closed and there are 200 fewer people on the city's payroll compared to a year ago — and he called on retirees and nonprofit hospitals and universities to do the same (2/2).
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