First Edition: July 20, 2012

Today's headline highlight a number of developments from the presidential campaign trail and from the health care marketplace.

Kaiser Health News: Hospitals' Readmissions Rates Not Budging
Kaiser Health News staff writer Jordan Rau, working in collaboration with The Washington Post, reports: "The nation's hospitals are making little headway in reducing the frequency at which patients are readmitted despite a campaign by the government and the threat of financial penalties, according to Medicare data released Thursday" (Rau, 7/19). Read the story.

The New York Times: Obama Visits Florida To Win Over Older Voters
After weeks of focusing on Mr. Romney's private-sector business deals, Mr. Obama turned to another front by attacking Republican plans to repeal his health care law and transform Medicare into a voucher program. Democrats have long used Medicare as an issue to galvanize older voters in Florida against Republicans (Baker and Gabriel, 7/19).

Los Angeles Times: In Florida, Obama Attacks Romney Over Medicare
President Obama broadened his attack on Mitt Romney on Thursday, using Medicare to draw a sharper contrast on key issues in this swing state. With an eye on seniors, Obama warned that Romney would undermine their federal healthcare entitlement program. In a speech after the early-bird dinner at a retirement community, he linked the program's fate to Romney's position on taxes, building on his campaign's assertion that Romney would "end Medicare as we know it to help pay for his tax cuts for the wealthiest" (Memoli and Mehta, 7/20).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Obama, Romney Seek Advantage On Health Care And The Economy
President Barack Obama is warning Florida retirees that Republican challenger Mitt Romney would undercut the new health care law and alter Medicare, a play for voters in one of the nation's top swing states. Obama wraps up a two-day trip to Florida on Friday with stops in Fort Myers and suburban Orlando, where he is pressing the case that retirees would be hurt by Romney's opposition to the health care law and by Republican-led efforts to turn Medicare into a "voucher program." Romney is keeping his focus on the economy, charging that Obama remains more concerned about holding onto his own job than creating more jobs for Americans (7/20).

The Wall Street Journal: Florida Poses New Worry For Obama
President Barack Obama revived his attack Thursday on Republican plans to overhaul Medicare, as he opened a two-day swing through Florida, a state he won in 2008 but which his aides say is now more of a challenge. The sour economy and housing market are creating problems for Mr. Obama in the state (Lee and Campo-Flores, 7/19).

The Texas Tribune/New York Times: The Big Push On Medicaid Fraud
When it comes to finding cost savings in the state's unwieldy Medicaid program, the Office of Inspector General at the Health and Human Services Commission gets high marks. … But O.I.G.'s dollar-recovery strategy — which includes an increased reliance on a rule that allows investigators to freeze financing for any health care provider accused of overbilling — has enraged doctors, dentists and other providers who treat Medicaid patients (Ramshaw, 7/19).

USA Today: HHS: Hospitals Ignoring Requirements To Report Errors
Hospitals are ignoring state regulations that require them to report cases in which medical care harmed a patient, making it almost impossible for health care providers to identify and fix preventable problems, a report to be released today by the Department of Health and Human Services inspector general shows (Kennedy, 7/20).

The Washington Post: Anemia Drugs Made Billions, But At What Cost?
For years, a trio of anemia drugs known as Epogen, Procrit and Aranesp ranked among the best-selling prescription drugs in the United States. … Even compared with other pharmaceutical successes, they were superstars. For several years, Epogen ranked as the single costliest medicine under Medicare: U.S. taxpayers put up as much as $3 billion a year for the drugs. The trouble … is that for about two decades, the benefits of the drug — including "life satisfaction and happiness" according to the FDA-approved label — were wildly overstated, and potentially lethal side effects, such as cancer and strokes, were overlooked (Whoriskey, 7/19).

The Wall Street Journal: How Fake Cancer Drugs Entered U.S.
From the outskirts of Winnipeg, Kris Thorkelson's Canada Drugs grew to become a vital link for American consumers stung by high drug prices. The Internet pharmacy had by the middle part of the last decade filled millions of U.S. prescriptions with low-cost, Canadian supplies of everything from Pfizer Inc.'s cholesterol pill Lipitor to GlaxoSmithKline PLC's asthma treatment Advair. But as Mr. Thorkelson's company grew into a larger enterprise spanning three continents, so did the risks of counterfeit drugs. In the final months of 2011, companies controlled by Mr. Thorkelson's Canada Drugs Group of Cos. sold two batches of fake Avastin, a cancer drug, to U.S. doctors (Weaver and Whalen, 7/19).

The New York Times’ Deal Book: After Health Care Ruling, Centene Is Cast As Takeover Target
Since the Supreme Court upheld President Obama's transformative health care law last month, Wall Street has been wondering whether the decision would set off a fresh round of consolidation in the industry. One analyst says the Centene Corporation, a health care services company focused on Medicaid, could be a takeover target (Morrissey, 7/19).

The New York Times: Walgreen And Express Scripts Reach Deal
Walgreen, the nation's largest drugstore chain, agreed on Thursday to renew its relationship with the prescription benefit manager Express Scripts, opening the door for hundreds of thousands of customers to return in September for discounts and related benefits from their Express Scripts drug cards (Japsen, 7/19).

The Wall Street Journal: J&J Penalty May Total $2.2 Billion
Johnson & Johnson and federal prosecutors have reached a deal that would settle investigations into the company's marketing practices for as much as $2.2 billion, including a roughly $400 million criminal fine for the illegal promotion of the antipsychotic Risperdal, according to people familiar with the matter (Rockoff and Lublin, 7/19).

The Wall Street Journal: UnitedHealth Posts Higher Profit, Lifts Outlook
UnitedHealth Group Inc.'s second-quarter earnings rose 5.5% amid rising membership in government-based health plans and signs that patients are still using health-care services sparingly following the recession. The company—the biggest managed-care firm in the U.S. by revenue and membership—raised its full-year earnings outlook as the quarterly results exceeded expectations (Kamp, 7/19).

Los Angeles Times: UnitedHealth Reports Solid Second-Quarter Results But Shares Dip
UnitedHealth Group Inc. reported solid second-quarter results and raised its full-year profit outlook, but shares slipped in midday trading after the company projected a tough rate environment for its Medicare and Medicaid plans (Terhune, 7/19).

Los Angeles Times: Report Calls For More Inpatient Treatment For The Mentally Ill
The number of state hospital psychiatric beds dropped by 14% nationwide from 2005 to 2010, pushing the severely mentally ill into emergency rooms, jails and prisons, according to a report advocating for more inpatient treatment. The report, released Thursday by the Treatment Advocacy Center , lauded the decades-old goal of treating patients in community facilities whenever possible, rather than institutionalizing them (Romney, 7/29).

The Wall Street Journal: Scientist Behind FDA Flap Sued Prior Employees
An FDA scientist whose complaints about the agency's approval process for medical devices led to a controversial email monitoring program had filed lawsuits against two hospitals where he worked and also sued a dozen medical-device companies (Burton, 7/19).

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