First Edition: March 15, 2011

Today's headlines include reports about the pace of legal challenges to the health law as well as ongoing congressional attempts to reach partisan agreement on a short-term budget bill to avert a government shutdown.

Kaiser Health News: Pharmacists Expand Role To Help Educate And Coach Patients
In her latest Kaiser Health News consumer column, Michelle Andrews writes: "The average adult fills about a dozen prescriptions and refills every year; after age 65, they fill more than 30 prescriptions annually. For many people, their local pharmacist may be as familiar as their doctor — and often a lot easier to get time with. Some pharmacists are building on that position, expanding their role from drug dispenser to drug educator and chronic disease coach. By doing so, they may fill a void created by the shortage of primary-care physicians while boosting their business" (Andrews, 3/15).

The Associated Press: Administration Wants To Slow Health Care Challenge
In court papers filed with the justices Monday, the federal government says there is no reason to take the extremely rare step of "short-circuiting" review by appellate judges, which already has been accelerated (3/14).

The New York Times Prescriptions Blog: This Week's Health Industry News
Expect the talk in Washington about the federal health care law to intensify as we approach the one-year anniversary of the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act next week. Congress is holding several hearings, including the Senate Finance Committee meeting on Wednesday morning to discuss “Health Reform: Lessons Learned During the First Year” (Abelson, 3/14).

Politico: Health Broker Bill Is Looming As The Next 1099
Legislators and lobbyists are eyeing a bill supporting health insurance brokers as the next health reform tweak that, after the 1099 repeal, has a fighting shot at passing (Kliff, 3/15).

The Wall Street Journal: Spending Bill Breeds Dissent In GOP Ranks
Republican leaders say they share the frustration of lawmakers who want significant spending cuts. But they also want to avoid a partial government shutdown and accuse Democrats of not negotiating seriously. …  Some Republicans are also unhappy that the three-week spending bill does not include "riders," measures that are designed to advance policy goals rather than simply cut spending. Reps. Michele Bachmann (R., Minn.) and Steve King (R., Iowa), for example, vow to oppose any spending measure that does not de-fund President Barack Obama's health overhaul (Bendavid, 3/15).

Los Angeles Times: Resistance To Second Stopgap Spending Deal Rises In Congress
More Republicans and Democrats are showing resistance to a second stopgap spending measure to avert a government shutdown, complicating the political climate before votes scheduled this week. … Republicans also are upset that the temporary measures do not advance their policy priorities — to defund the national healthcare law championed by President Obama, cut off Planned Parenthood and gut the Environmental Protection Agency. All of those objectives were included in the earlier House-passed bill, which was rejected last week by the Democratic-controlled Senate (Mascaro, 3/15).

Politico: Steve King Seeks Maximum 'Leverage' To Stop Reform
Rep. Steve King says House Republicans should stick together and vote against any long-term spending agreement that doesn't block funding for President Barack Obama's health care law — even if it leads to a government shutdown. And if that doesn't work, he says, they should try it again when it's time to raise the debt ceiling this spring (Nather, 3/14).

The Wall Street Journal: Lifting The Veil On Medical Costs
Americans are increasingly responsible for health-care expenses, yet it's nearly impossible to comparison-shop for a doctor, test or procedure. Castlight Health Inc. aims to change that by bringing the online-shopping revolution to the giant, opaque health-care industry. … "If you have diabetes, we can help you plan all your treatment for the whole year, so you know what it's going to cost," says Chief Executive Giovanni Colella, who co-founded the company in 2008 (Richmond, 3/14).

The Washington Post: Despite Incentives, Doctors Are Wary About Switching To Electronic Health Records
This spring, the federal government will ramp up cash incentives to encourage doctors such as Plotsky to take the step Moore barely thought about in 2004 when George Washington University Medical Faculty Associates introduced its practice-wide electronic system. Under an ambitious plan to modernize health care in much the same way paperless technologies have revolutionized banking and retail, federal officials plan to provide up to $27 billion over 10 years to encourage doctors and hospitals to go electronic (Sun, 3/14).

The Washington Post: Tricare Target Of Pentagon Cuts As Health Care Projected To Reach $65B
As soaring medical costs have forced steep cuts to benefits offered by government and private plans, the program, known as Tricare, has grown more generous. The premiums are a fraction of those in the private sector, deductibles are low and co-pays limited. Premiums have not changed in 16 years. But Tricare's costs are exploding, projected in five years to hit $65 billion to insure 9.6 million people (Sun, 3/14).

The Wall Street Journal: The Informed Patient: New Efforts To Simplify End-Of-Life Care Wishes
The programs are known as Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment, or Polst. They are meant to complement advance directives, sometimes known as living wills, in which people state in broad terms how much medical intervention they will want when their condition no longer allows them to communicate. A Polst, which is signed by both the patient and the doctor, spells out such choices as whether a patient wants to be on a mechanical breathing machine or feeding tube and receive antibiotics (Landro, 3/15).

Politico: Medicare Mistakenly Pays For Viagra
It is against the law for Medicare to pay for prescriptions to Viagra and other erectile dysfunction drugs, but the government health program paid claims worth $3.1 million for those drugs, the HHS Office of Inspector General has found. The claims were paid in 2007 and 2008. The problem stems from a mistake in editing software that was supposed to block Part D coverage for the drugs, the HHS OIG reported (Coughlin, 3/14).

Los Angeles Times: Regulators Investigate Health New Security Lapse Involving Personal Information Of 1.9 Million People
State regulators have opened an investigation into the security practices of insurer Health Net Inc. after the Woodland Hills company revealed the loss of computerized records containing personal information related to about 1.9 million people. … The California Department of Managed Health Care launched the probe after Health Net disclosed that several of its computer drives were missing. The company said the records included addresses, social security numbers and other information of customers, employees and health-care providers (Helfand, 3/14).

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