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Today’s Headlines – Jan. 14, 2013

Today’s early morning highlights from the major news organizations, including reports about the health care marketplace and about the issues being raised by this year’s intense flu epidemic.

The Wall Street Journal: Public-Private Fund Aims At Health Care, Housing Gap
Hoping to bridge the gap between low-income residents and health-care services, a $100 million fund will be unveiled this week to build community centers near affordable housing as demand for primary-care services is expected to rise. Supporters say it is a new kind of public-private partnership boosted by the philanthropic sector that was inspired by the 2010 Affordable Care Act, which could expand Medicaid coverage by up to 16 million additional people. The act includes about $10 billion for the creation of new, federally qualified health centers. The fund’s backers say the financial need is greater still (Dolan, 1/13).

The Washington Post: Health Care Firms Attract Interest From Financial Backers
Two Washington area firms working to engage patients in their health care decisions and treatment have secured financial backing from investors looking to find companies that will play a leading role in the future of medicine (Overly, 1/13).

For more headlines …

Los Angeles Times: Many Mentally Ill Missing From Gun Background Check System
Swept along by the tide of outrage and sorrow after the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre, Congress passed a law to try to prevent future tragedies by keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally ill. The measure, signed by President George W. Bush, promised to strengthen the 14-year-old National Instant Criminal Background Check System by establishing incentives and penalties to prod states to submit records of people legally barred under federal law from buying guns — including those who had been committed to mental institutions. But today, that promise remains unfulfilled. More than half the states haven’t provided mental health records to the federal database that gun dealers use to check on buyers. And the gap in dealing with the mentally ill is just one of myriad problems that have hampered background checks (Tanfani, 1/12).

The Hill: Colleagues Say Sen. Rockefeller Will Be Missed On Healthcare Issues
With the retirement of Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.), the left — not to mention the Senate — is losing one of its biggest voices on healthcare. Rockefeller announced Friday that he won’t run for reelection in 2014, when his current term ends. Colleagues and allies praised his long record of pushing for universal healthcare coverage, as well as his aggressive defense of Medicaid (Baker, 1/11).

The Washington Post: Roe At 40: ‘It’s Never Been This Frightening Before.’
It’s been almost 40 years since the Supreme Court legalized abortion on Jan. 22, 1973, galvanizing people on both sides. Abortion clinics sprang up across the country. The National Right to Life Committee was founded. Opponents and proponents girded for an epic conflict. But today, the battle is a slog of legislative fights and piecemeal regulations. Here, in a city where the battle over abortion was frequently and sometimes violently joined, combatants on both sides agree: They are dead-tired of the struggle over this clinic’s existence (Kliff, 1/13).

The Boston Globe: 21 States Take Aim At Mass. Hospitals’ Medicare Windfall
Nestled on an island 30 miles out to sea, Nantucket Cottage Hospital is the only rural hospital in Massachusetts, as defined by the federal government. Its weathered cedar shingles and widow’s walk evoke the bygone era of its founding a century ago, when the hospital consisted of just three tiny cottages. But the 19-bed hospital on the tony island, where the number of residents balloons from 10,000 to 50,000 each summer and the median home price hovers north of $1 million, has become a national symbol of inequity and political machinations in the way the federal government reimburses hospitals for treating Medicare patients (Jan, 1/13).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Md. Audit Says Commission Inadequately Investigated Impact Of Overbilling At Hospitals
A Maryland commission did not adequately investigate the impact of hospital overbilling identified through annual reviews, a state audit released Friday found, noting overcharges of at least $13.2 million at four hospitals (1/11).

Los Angeles Times: California’s Debt Still A Heavy Cloud Over State’s Future
Gov. Jerry Brown proclaimed last week that California, which now has enough cash to pay its day-to-day bills, can no longer be described by naysayers as a “failed state.” But even though it appears to be free of the deficit that dogged the Capitol in recent years, the state is no model of financial health. … Sacramento is legally obligated to pay many billions of dollars withheld from schools, local governments and healthcare providers as lawmakers struggled repeatedly to balance the books. … And it has accumulated a crushing load of debt for retiree pensions and healthcare, now totaling more than taxpayers spend each year on all state programs combined (Halper and Megerian, 1/13).

The Washington Post: Department Of Behavioral Health Will Combine Mental Health, Substance Abuse Functions
A new Department of Behavioral Health will become one of the District government’s largest agencies after Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) announced Friday that he was combining the city’s mental health and substance abuse functions for the first time. The new department, to begin operations Oct. 1, will combine the Department of Mental Health, with its $190 million budget and 1,200 employees, with the Department of Health’s Addiction Prevention and Recovery Administration, which has a $32 million budget and about 90 employees. Those agencies currently manage services for about 35,000 District residents (DeBonis, 1/11).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Oregon, California Tell Insurance Companies To Stop Denying Transgender Health Care
Regulators in Oregon and California have quietly directed some health insurance companies to stop denying coverage for transgender patients because of their gender identity. The states aren’t requiring coverage of specific medical treatments (1/11).

Politico: 2013 Flu Epidemic? Too Soon To Tell, Experts Say
This flu season struck hard about a month earlier than usual. But despite all those news reports about overcrowded emergency rooms, it’s too soon to say whether it will be worse than normal. In fact, federal health officials said last week it may already have peaked (Norman, 1/14).

The Associated Press/Wall Street Journal: Hospitals Crack Down On Workers Refusing Flu Shots
Patients can refuse a flu shot. Should doctors and nurses have that right, too? That is the thorny question surfacing as U.S. hospitals increasingly crack down on employees who won’t get flu shots, with some workers losing their jobs over their refusal (1/12).

The New York Times: Cuomo Declares Public Health Emergency Over Flu Outbreak
With the nation in the grip of a severe influenza outbreak that has seen deaths reach epidemic levels, New York State declared a public health emergency on Saturday, making access to vaccines more easily available. There have been nearly 20,000 cases of flu reported across the state so far this season, officials said. Last season, 4,400 positive laboratory tests were reported (Santora, 1/12).

The New York Times: Pharmacies Pressed To Meet High Demand For Flu Vaccine
Pharmacies around the city struggled to meet the demand for flu vaccinations on Sunday, a day after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo declared a public health state of emergency in response to a drastic increase in the number of flu cases this year (Secret, 1/13).