First Edition: May 20, 2011

Today's early morning highlights from the major news organizations include reports on an Obama administration rule for scrutinizing health insurance rate increases. 

Kaiser Health News: Health Insurance Rate Hikes Face Tougher Scrutiny
Health insurers seeking rate increases of 10 percent or more will face increased scrutiny starting in September under rules finalized Thursday by the Obama Administration. States – or in some cases the federal government – will review the flagged premium increases and insurers will have to justify increases deemed unreasonable. The law does not give the federal government power to reject increases, but many state regulators have that authority (Appleby, 5/19).

The New York Times: Insurers Told To Justify Rate Increases Over 10 Percent
Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, issued a final rule establishing procedures for federal and state insurance experts to scrutinize premiums. Insurers, she said, will have to justify rate increases in an environment in which they are doing well financially, with profits exceeding the expectations of many Wall Street analysts. ... Federal health officials proposed the 10 percent threshold in December. The insurance industry criticized it as an arbitrary test that could brand a majority of rate increases as presumptively unreasonable. But the administration rejected the criticism and insisted on the 10 percent standard in the final rule, issued Thursday. (Pear, 5/19).

Los Angeles Times: Health Insurers Must Soon Justify 10%-Plus Premium Hikes
Health insurers will be required to justify annual premium increases of 10% or more to state regulators starting in September under a new rule issued by the Obama administration. Federal officials, pointing out that the average cost of health insurance has more than doubled over the last decade, said the effort would help states curb unreasonable rate proposals for millions of individual insurance buyers and small businesses (Helfand, 5/20).

The Wall Street Journal: Health Premium Increases To Face New Scrutiny
The requirement is part of President Barack Obama's 2010 health overhaul law. Congressional Democrats initially wanted to give the federal government the power to block carriers from what it considered unjustified rate increases in order to combat double-digit increases in consumers' premiums. But the provision as passed left the regulation up to states. The final regulation calls for states to examine rate hikes that hit or exceed 10% and gives states more tools to do so (Adamy, 5/20).

The Washington Post: Tommy Thompson’s Health Care Problem
Tommy Thompson is a popular former governor with near-universal name recognition in his home state — two traits that might lead you to believe that he will be the odds-on Republican nominee to replace retiring Wisconsin Sen. Herb Kohl (D). But Thompson has one big problem — health care. President Obama’s health care law has become a touchstone for conservatives who see it as the most egregious example of the “government can solve our problems” mentality of the current Administration. And, Thompson has long been a rare Republican advocate for the intent — if not the particulars — of the law (Weiner, 5/19).

The Wall Street Journal: Christie Seeks Tighter Limits On Medicaid
New Jersey is trying to deal with bulging Medicaid costs by trimming new eligibility for the government health-care program to the bare bones. The Christie administration wants to cut the state's relatively generous program way back as part of a "waiver" it is seeking from the Obama administration. Overall, it's looking to save about $540 million, including $300 million through the waiver (Fleisher, 5/20).

The Washington Post: Fact Checker: Does Newt Gingrich Still Believe The GOP Medicare Plan Is ‘Radical’?
After denouncing the House Republican budget plan for Medicare as “right-wing social engineering” and "radical change" on NBC’s "Meet the Press" on Sunday, former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) found himself on the defensive and his nascent presidential bid in shambles. In the Fox appearance and in other venues, Gingrich never really took back the words he had said about the Ryan plan. Even as he appeared to apologize, he bolstered the idea that he had significant problems with Ryan’s plan (Kessler, 5/19).

The Wall Street Journal: Unintended Pregnancies Cost Government $11 Billion a Year
To the list of hot-button ideas for reducing the federal government's budget deficit, add one more: stopping unwanted pregnancies. Unintended pregnancies likely cost the federal and state governments more than $11 billion a year, estimated a study published Thursday from the Brookings Institution, a nonprofit public-policy organization (Peterson, 5/20).

NPR: Who Pays For Unintended Pregnancies?
While some states and the federal government debate whether to halt funding of Planned Parenthood and other providers of family planning services, a new study finds that the cost of unintended pregnancies is large, and much of the bill — about $11 billion per year — goes to government programs and ultimately taxpayers. The study by the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that was formerly affiliated with Planned Parenthood, is sure to raise some eyebrows in the anti-abortion community (Rovner, 5/19).

The New York Times: Electrode Experiment Shows Promise As A Paralyzed Man Stands
A young man paralyzed by an injury to his spinal cord has regained the ability to stand for short periods, take steps with help and move his legs and feet at will, with the help of an electrical stimulator implanted in his lower back. The device is experimental and not available to other patients, and because it has been studied in only one person it is not known whether it would work as well in other people with different types of spinal injury (Grady, 5/19).

The Washington Post: Electrical Stimulation Helps Paralyzed Man
Researchers previously have been able to use electrical stimulation of muscles to produce some movement in patients with spinal cord injuries. But (Rob) Summers marks the first time any paralyzed patient has regained the ability to consciously move parts of his or her body by direct stimulation of the spinal cord, which apparently reactivates the nerve circuits that remain intact (Stein, 5/20).

USA Today: Study Reports Breakthrough In Treating Paralysis
The procedure is not ready for the clinic, cautioned Susan Harkema, of the University of Louisville's Department of Neurosurgery and Frazier Rehab Institute, where Summers was treated. The scientists will test the treatment in a second patient this summer (Marcus and Szabo, 5/19).

Los Angeles Times: Ford Developing Health-Monitoring Technology For Cars
Ford is developing a way to display pollen counts and other allergen levels to drivers using its existing link to smart phone apps, the car company announced Wednesday. Ford has also made a prototype to synchronize glucose monitoring devices via Bluetooth. The car displays glucose levels and sounds an alert if they fall too low (Cevallos, 5/19).

The New York Times: Zombies Upstage a Routine Public Health Bulletin
Pity poor Tom Skinner, a top spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who has been valiantly trying to interest reporters in a new study in the agency’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report trumpeting “10 Great Public Health Achievements.” Unfortunately for Mr. Skinner, over at his agency’s public health blog, his colleagues were posting something that really got to the beating heart of morbidity and mortality: the first official C.D.C. instructions on coping with a zombie apocalypse. Yes, that’s right. With a straight face, the normally staid health agency had posted a primer on how to prepare for an invasion of the brain-eating undead (McNeil and Harris, 5/19).

Chicago Tribune: Dying To Get Word Out?
Late spring in the United States means preparing for natural disasters like floods, hurricanes, tornadoes and now … a zombie apocalypse. Should such a takeover occur, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week announced a few important ghoul-survival guidelines (Dizikes, 5/19).

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