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Today’s Headlines – May 29, 2012

Los Angeles Times: Insurers Forcing Patients To Pay More For Costly Specialty Drugs
Thousands of patients in California and across the nation who take expensive prescription drugs every month for cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and other ailments are facing sticker shock at the pharmacy. Until recently, most of these patients typically paid modest co-pays for the advanced drugs. But increasingly, Anthem Blue Cross, Aetna and other insurers are shifting more prescriptions to a new category requiring patients to shoulder a larger share of the drug’s cost. The result: Pharmacy bills are going up by hundreds of dollars a month — on top of insurance premiums (Terhune, 5/29).

Los Angeles Times: Many Hospitals, Doctors Offer Cash Discount For Medical Bills
A Long Beach hospital charged Jo Ann Snyder $6,707 for a CT scan of her abdomen and pelvis after colon surgery. But because she had health insurance with Blue Shield of California, her share was much less: $2,336. Then Snyder tripped across one of the little-known secrets of healthcare: If she hadn’t used her insurance, her bill would have been even lower, just $1,054. … Unknown to most consumers, many hospitals and physicians offer steep discounts for cash-paying patients regardless of income. But there’s a catch: Typically you can get the lowest price only if you don’t use your health insurance (Terhune, 5/27).

For more headlines …

NPR: Patients Crusade For Access To Their Medical Device Data
Each year, tens of thousands of Americans are implanted with tiny battery-controlled devices that regulate the beating of their hearts. Those devices transmit streams of medical data directly to doctors. But some patients, like Hugo Campos of San Francisco, fear they’re being kept out of
the loop. … That’s because even though Campos’ ICD can wirelessly transmit data twice a day about his heart and the ICD itself, that information goes only to his doctor. Campos has to make an appointment and ask for a printout. And that, he says, just doesn’t seem fair (Standen, 5/28).

NPR: Patients Find Each Other Online To Jump-Start Medical Research
People with extremely rare diseases are often scattered across the world, and any one hospital has a hard time locating enough individuals to conduct meaningful research. But one woman with an extremely rare heart condition managed to do what many hospitals couldn’t. Katherine Leon connected with enough people online to interest the Mayo Clinic in a research trial (Cuda-Kroen, 5/28).

The Washington Post: State-Based Insurance Marketplaces Hang In Balance Of Supreme Court Health-Care Ruling
While partisan gridlock and logistical disputes have stalled preparations for the 2010 health-care law in about two dozen states, more than a dozen others have moved swiftly to set up the insurance marketplaces at the statute’s core. So what will come of those efforts if the Supreme Court decides to overturn all or part of the law? Interviews with key officials in some of the states that are furthest along suggest the results could vary widely (Aizenman, 5/26).

The Associated Press: Spin Meter: Political Ads Stir Health Care Horror
Republicans and Democrats seem to be converging on a not-so-subtle message for their political ads on health care this election year: The other side is going to throw granny off a cliff! Expect health care ads to feature heavy doses of what each party alleges that the other party plans to do to wreck Medicare (Alonso-Zaldivar, 5/28).

Politico: GOP To Target Obamacare, Gas Prices
House Republicans this summer will take more swipes at President Barack Obama’s health care law, try to slash more regulations and take votes to highlight sky-high gas prices during the travel-heavy season. In a memo being sent to House Republican lawmakers Friday morning, Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) also makes official a series of votes this summer on the Bush-era tax rates – a political vote meant as a contrast with Democrats, who are seeking to hike rates on high-income earners when they expire at year-end (Sherman, 5/25).

The Hill: Medicare Fight Hits House, Senate Races
The battle over Social Security and Medicare has been resurrected in House and Senate races across the country, with candidates and their allies stretching the truth as they squabble with opponents about who would inflict the most damage on the nation’s seniors. The scrap has worked its way into candidate debates, mailers and television ads — and prompted one senator’s unsuccessful quest to have an attack ad pulled off the air (Lederman, 5/28).

The New York Times: Redistricting Poses New Challenge For Incumbent
(Rep. Kathy Hochul) who rode a wave of anger over a Republican plan to cut Medicare a year ago must convince a primarily Republican electorate that she can represent it and offer an independent voice, regardless of party label. … National Republicans, still smarting over the way she transformed a little-noticed House race into a closely watched referendum on the Medicare plan, have made her a top target this fall (Hernandez, 5/27).

Los Angeles Times: $55 Million For Conservative Campaigns — But Where Did It Come From?
During the 2010 midterm election, the (Center to Protect Patient Rights) sent more than $55 million to 26 GOP-allied groups, tax filings show, funding opaque outfits such as American Future Fund, 60 Plus and Americans for Job Security that were behind a coordinated campaign against Democratic congressional candidates. The money from the center provided a sizable share of the war chest for those attacks, which included mailers in California, robo-calls in Florida and TV ads that inundated a pocket of northeastern Iowa. The organizations it financed poured at least $46 million into election-related communications in the 2010 cycle, among other expenditures (Gold and Tanfani, 5/27).

The Associated Press: Almost Half Of New Vets Seek Disability
America’s newest veterans are filing for disability benefits at a historic rate, claiming to be the most medically and mentally troubled generation of former troops the nation has ever seen. A staggering 45 percent of the 1.6 million veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are now seeking compensation for injuries they say are service-related. That is more than double the estimate of 21 percent who filed such claims after the Gulf War in the early 1990s, top government officials told The Associated Press (Marchione, 5/27).

The Wall Street Journal: Joint Effort: Reefer Roadshow Asks Seniors to Support Medical Pot
Selma Yeshion, an 83-year-old retiree here, says she long considered marijuana a menace. … Then she attended a presentation at the local L’Dor Va-Dor synagogue in April put on by a group called the Silver Tour. The group aims to persuade seniors to support legislation to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes in Florida. … The group was founded in 2010 by an unlikely activist: Robert Platshorn, who served nearly 30 years in federal prison for his role in what drug-enforcement officials call one of the biggest marijuana-smuggling rings of the 1970s (Campo-Flores, 5/28).

NPR: Family Matters: Pitching In To Take Care Of Grandma
On a recent evening, the Martin family of Harrisburg, Pa., had too many places it needed to be. AnnaBelle Bowers, the 87-year-old matriarch of the family who is also known as “Snootzie,” was at home — watching television and getting ready for bed. Someone needed to care for her. That fell to Chris Martin, her 14-year-old great-grandson. His willingness to stay at home meant his sister, Lauren, could play in a softball game. It also meant her parents, David and LaDonna Martin, could watch. … More and more, multigenerational families like the Martins are living under the same roof in order to care for a loved one — and also get by (Greene, 5/29).

Chicago Tribune: Medicaid Cuts Threaten Nursing Home Reforms, Advocates Say
The $1.6 billion in Medicaid cuts passed by (Illinois) state lawmakers angered a key legislator and some advocates who contend the legislation will undercut nursing home reforms enacted two years ago and delay improved care in the facilities. But state officials said the 2010 reforms remain intact and added that they are pressing forward on measures to reduce violence and lift the quality of care for indigent patients (Jackson and Marx, 5/28).

Los Angeles Times: Target Of Maryland Abortion Protesters Turns Tables On Them
(Todd) Stave, 44, son of a doctor who performed abortions and whose office was once firebombed, decided to fight back. Targeted because he rents an office to one of the nation’s best-known abortion practitioners, he turned the tables, gathering volunteers to call abortion protesters at home (Knezevich, 5/27).

The Wall Street Journal: Heart Patients May Face a New Drug Dilemma
The newly low cost of Plavix, one of the biggest-selling drugs, is intensifying debate among cardiologists over how to make sure patients get optimal benefit from any blood-thinning medication. A generic version of Plavix became available this month so there is an incentive to switch patients to it. But, nearly a third of patients prescribed a blood thinner to prevent heart attack or stroke have a genetic variation that limits their response to Plavix. For these patients, some doctors prescribe Effient or Brilinta, two rival drugs used by far fewer patients (Winslow, 5/28).

Los Angeles Times: New Study Sounds Warning On Hormone Replacement Therapy
Women who are past menopause and healthy should not use hormone replacement therapy in hopes of warding off dementia, bone fractures or heart disease, says a new analysis by the government task force that weighs the risks and benefits of screening and other therapies aimed at preventing illness. The recommendation by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force does not necessarily apply to women who use hormone replacement therapy to reduce menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats and vaginal dryness. … The recommendation … comes a decade after the study first linked hormone replacement therapy with higher rates of invasive breast cancer. Those initial findings prompted droves of women to abandon or avoid hormone therapy (Healy, 5/29).

The New York Times: Waking Up To Major Colonoscopy Bills
Patients who undergo colonoscopy usually receive anesthesia of some sort in order to “sleep” through the procedure. But as one Long Island couple discovered recently, it can be a very expensive nap. Both husband and wife selected gastroenterologists who participated in their insurance plan to perform their cancer screenings. … And in both cases, the gastroenterologists were assisted in the procedure by anesthesiologists who were not covered by the couple’s insurance. They billed the couple’s insurance at rates far higher than any plan would reimburse — two to four times as high, experts say (Rabin, 5/28).

The New York Times: Logistics Hang Over A Ruling On 9/11 Cancer
(Patricia) Workman and others who believe their cancers were caused by toxic substances released by the fall of the World Trade Center are due to learn this week whether they may be treated and compensated from a $4.3 billion fund set aside by Congress. An advisory committee in March found justification for covering 14 broad categories of cancer, raising expectations that the fund would cover at least some of them. But such a decision would create a logistical quagmire, advocates for patients and government officials conceded, and could strain the fund’s resources (Hartocollis, 5/28).