First Edition: July 1, 2011

Today's early morning highlights from the major news organizations, including reports about sleep deprived medical residents, decisions by Medicare officials on covering two expensive drugs and states struggling with budget cuts.

Kaiser Health News / NPR: New Rules Provide Relief For Sleep-Deprived Medical Residents
Dr. Emil Oweis is ready for anything Washington Hospital Center throws at him. One year out of medical school, the tall 26-year-old internal-medicine resident often works up to 30 hours at a time. He sees it as a necessary part of his training. ... Patient safety advocates aren't so sure. On Friday, a new set of rules goes into effect, limiting first-year residents, also called interns, to 16-hour shifts (Gold, 7/1).

The New York Times: Medicare Will Continue To Cover 2 Expensive Cancer Drugs
Medicare confirmed on Thursday that it would continue to pay for two expensive cancer drugs that had been at the center of debate — Avastin from Genentech for breast cancer and Provenge from Dendreon for prostate cancer (Pollack, 6/30).

The Wall Street Journal: Medicare To Cover Drug For Prostate Cancer
The federal Medicare agency said it approved nationwide coverage of the Dendreon Corp. medicine Provenge in certain prostate-cancer cases, concluding a lengthy review that generated protests from Provenge supporters and controversy over the treatment's lofty price tag. The Medicare agency, known as the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said Thursday that evidence is "adequate" to approve the immunotherapy regimen, which costs about $93,000 for a course of treatment (Burton, 7/1).

The Washington Post: Medicare Agrees To Pay For Provenge For Prostate Cancer
The federal government’s insurance program for the elderly Thursday officially agreed to pay for Provenge, an expensive new “vaccine” to treat prostate cancer. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced a final decision to immediately start covering Provenge, which costs $93,000 a patient. The announcement confirms what the agency had said it planned to do in March (Stein, 6/30).

Reuters/Los Angeles Times: Medicare Will Keep Covering Roche's Avastin
Medicare will continue paying for Roche Holding's drug Avastin for breast cancer, regardless of what health regulators decide about the medicine's future, a spokesman said on Thursday. The statement from the U.S. healthcare program could mitigate concerns that patients using the drug would lose insurance coverage should the U.S. Food and Drug Administration revoke approval for its use in breast cancer (Yukhananov and Selyukh, 6/30).

Politico: Why Bush Judge Backed Mandate
Ever since the early days of the health-care reform law, its supporters have argued that there is a “conservative” argument to be made for the constitutionality of the law. And they think they need just one of the Supreme Court’s four conservatives, or swing vote Anthony Kennedy, to take it up. Now, a conservative federal appeals judge has gift-wrapped that argument — and legal experts say his decision to uphold the constitutionality of the health care overhaul could make it easier for one of the conservative Supreme Court justices to do the same (Haberkorn, 7/1).

The Washington Post: Study In D.C. Hospitals Identifies Factors For Disparity In Stroke Treatment For Blacks
Blacks hospitalized for strokes in the District are one-third as likely as whites to receive lifesaving treatment, according to a study that seeks to understand racial disparities in treatment. The findings, published online Thursday in the journal Stroke, offer a detailed look at the problem in a predominantly black urban population (Sun, 6/30).

The New York Times: Local Laws Fighting Fat Under Siege
Several state legislatures are passing laws that prohibit municipalities and other local governments from adopting regulations aimed at curbing rising obesity and improving public health, such as requiring restaurants to provide nutritional information on menus or to eliminate trans fats from the foods they serve (Strom, 6/30).

The New York Times: Kansas Gives License To One Abortion Clinic
Ending speculation that new regulations could make it the only state without an abortion provider, Kansas announced Thursday that it had issued a license that would allow one of three abortion clinics to continue operating. The license was awarded to Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, for a Kansas City-area clinic, the largest in the state. The other two providers, which previously said they were unable to meet the requirements, will be in federal court on Friday to seek an injunction to keep the law from taking effect (Sulzberger, 6/30).

The Associated Press/NPR: Kan. Planned Parenthood Gets Abortion Reprieve
Kansas avoided becoming the first state in the country without an abortion provider by granting Planned Parenthood a license Thursday to continue performing abortions under new regulations being challenged in federal court (6/30).

NPR: Support For Medicare Cuts Depends On Where Savings Would Go
Americans' views on how to to save some money in Medicare vary a lot, depending on where the proceeds go, according to results of a tracking poll just released by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Forty-five percent of Americans are fine with minor cuts in Medicare spending to help trim the federal deficit, for instance. Only 18 percent favor major cuts for deficit reduction, though (Hensley, 6/30).

The Hill: Poll Finds More Trust In IPAB Than Congress
More Americans trust an independent panel to govern Medicare spending than trust Congress with the program, according to a new poll. The findings come as Republicans are ratcheting up their attacks on the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), a panel of experts created by the healthcare reform law that will have the power to cut Medicare payments almost automatically. Republicans say the IPAB will ration care, leading seniors to an untimely death (Baker, 6/30).

The New York Times: Minnesota Government Shuts In Budget Fight
Minnesota began what is expected to become the broadest shutdown of state services in its history early Friday, after Republicans and Democrats there failed to agree on how to solve the state’s budget woes in time for the new fiscal year (Davey, 6/30).

Minneapolis Star Tribune: Minnesota Government Begins Historic Shutdown
Talks imploded Thursday between DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican legislative leaders in the final hours before a midnight deadline, and Minnesota began a historic government shutdown. ... Even before the shutdown, Minnesotans got an early peek at the inconvenience from the mothballing of many state services. Minnesotans could no longer check if their optometrists, barbers or veterinarians had valid licenses to practice. Licensing board offices and various other state agencies pulled the plug on their agency websites hours before the scheduled shutdown (Helgeson, Kaszuba, Roper and Stassen-Berger, 7/1). 

Los Angeles Times: Gov. Jerry Brown Signs Rare, On-Time State Budget
Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law Thursday a state budget pact struck with Democratic lawmakers that will curb services the state offers, marking only the second time California has enacted an on-time and balanced spending plan in a decade. ...  the $86-billion general fund spending plan contains severe cuts, including reductions of about 23% to the state’s universities, raising the price of medical care for the poor, closing senior centers, and cutting welfare grants and cash aid for the elderly and disabled. A total of 70 state parks are slated for closure, community college fees are on the rise and mental health programs will be sharply trimmed (Goldmacher, 6/30).

The Wall Street Journal: Government Public-Service Ad Features Sauna-Going Pig
Can a woman and a pig chillaxing in a sauna convey the importance of cooking pork thoroughly? How about showing a shopper faced with a choice of a single dress in an empty mall as a way to convince patients they need to learn about multiple treatment options? Two government agencies are using those scenarios as part of public-service ad campaigns — created with the pro bono help of the Ad Council — to get across important health messages to consumers (Landro, 6/30).

The Associated Press/USA Today: Feds Won't Give Assurance On Medical Pot
The U.S. Justice Department says that marijuana dispensaries and licensed growers in states with medical marijuana laws could face prosecution for violating federal drug and money-laundering laws. In a policy memo to federal prosecutors obtained Thursday by The Associated Press, Deputy Attorney General James Cole said a 2009 memo by then-Deputy Attorney General David Ogden did not give states cover from prosecution (7/1). 

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