First Edition: October 9, 2012

Today's headlines include reports about how a new poll indicates GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney gained a significant bounce from last week's debate performance.   

Kaiser Health News: Insuring Your Health: Federal Retiree Weighs Whether To Keep FEHB Or Switch To Medigap
In her latest Kaiser Health News consumer column, Michelle Andrews writes: "Many readers have contacted me with questions about Medicare, which has strict coverage rules and payment provisions that can sometimes be confusing. Here are responses to two recent inquiries" (Andrews, 10/8). Read the column.

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Study: Health Insurance Costs To Fall For Businesses Under 50 Employees
Now on Kaiser Health News' blog, Mary Agnes Carey writes: "Once fully implemented, the 2010 health care law will increase employer-sponsored insurance coverage and reduce the cost small businesses pay for employee health coverage, according to an Urban Institute study released today" (Carey, 10/9). Check out what else is on the blog.

The Wall Street Journal's Washington Wire: Romney Leaps Past Obama In Pew Poll
Mitt Romney's debate performance has wiped out President Barack Obama's advantage, and the Republican nominee now leads by four points among likely voters, according to a new Pew Research Center poll. … While the Pew poll shows notable gains for Mr. Romney, it still reflects a very close race. Messrs. Romney and Obama are tied among registered voters. Mr. Obama is still viewed as better able to connect with ordinary people, according to the survey. By small margins, the president is seen as the better candidate to deal with Medicare, health care and foreign policy. And more than half of voters – 53% — say that "It's hard to know what Romney really stands for" (Nelson, 10/8).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Romney Plan On Pre-Existing Conditions Would Only Help A Fraction Of Nation's 49M Uninsured
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney says he has a plan to help people with pre-existing medical conditions get health insurance. But there's a huge catch: You basically have to be covered in the first place. If you had a significant break in health insurance coverage an insurer still could delve into your medical history, looking for anything — from a bad back to high blood pressure — that could foreshadow future claims. They'd be able to turn you down (10/9).

Politico: Experts: Sebelius Can Visit Ryan's District
When HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius visited Paul Ryan's district Sunday on behalf of President Barack Obama's reelection bid, she was careful to follow the rules: The campaign paid for the trip, not the government, and campaign officials said she was just there as a supporter, not as HHS secretary. So is that enough to make it OK? Legally, yes, experts on government ethics rules say. It doesn't look great, according to some ethics lawyers — but they insist that's the system we have (Nather and Cheney, 10/8).

The New York Times: Weighing The Effect Of An Exit Of Centrists
But Congress is facing so many potentially calamitous tax and budget issues that another theory is brewing: a combination of Democrats, once averse to changes to social welfare programs, and senior Republicans may form some sort of new deal-making consensus through sheer necessity to avoid large tax increases and significant military cuts. "If Republicans think by embracing the Tea Party it is a loser politically," said Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, the No. 3 Democrat, "it may strengthen the hands of the mainstream conservatives" to make deals with the 10 or so moderate Democrats in the Senate who are interested in reforming Medicare and other programs (Steinhauer, 10/8).

The Washington Post: Virginia Senate Debate: George Allen, Tim Kaine Face Off In Richmond
In their second televised debate Monday night, former governors George Allen and Timothy M. Kaine clashed over health care, women's issues and Social Security as they sought to contrast how each would represent Virginia in the U.S. Senate (Haines, 10/8).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: In First Televised Prime Time Va Senate Debate, Kaine And Allen Target Money, Women's Issues
Democrat Tim Kaine and Republican George Allen drew sharper contrasts Monday between themselves in a televised primetime U.S. Senate debate on the issues of entitlements seniors have paid all their lives, with Allen backing higher retirement age and Kaine promising to protect Social Security "to my last breath." The fourth of five debates between the former Virginia governors and the first before a statewide broadcast audience ranged from abortion and contraception to looming military cuts to a Supreme Court case over racial diversity initiatives on college campuses (10/8).

Politico: George Allen Struggles On Abortion Questions
When asked about proposals in the GOP-led General Assembly's this year to require an ultrasound before women could get an abortion and to codify that life begins at conception — so-called "personhood" legislation — Allen punted and pivoted. "Some of those issues are state issues on informed consent," Allen replied, before shifting to contraceptive access, which was not brought up in the question (Catanese, 10/8).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: In Ohio, GOP Senate Hopeful Mandel Challenged By Dems As A Kid Who Hasn't Done His Homework
Mandel uses his presentation to the Ross County group, many of them seniors, to promise to protect Social Security and Medicare. In a follow-up, he declined to back GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan's plan to turn Medicare into a voucher system for those 55 and younger. "When I go to Washington, I will work in a bipartisan way to save Social Security and Medicare. Thus far I have not endorsed anyone’s specific plan," Mandel said in an interview (10/9).

The New York Times: Researchers Wring Hands As U.S. Clamps Down On Death Record Access
A shift last year by the Social Security Administration to limit access to its death records amid concerns about identity theft is beginning to hamper a range of research, including federal assessments of hospital safety and efforts by the financial industry to spot consumer fraud (Sack, 10/8).

Los Angeles Times: Blue Shield's Union Ties Raise Concerns About Conflicts
At a time when public-sector unions across the country are fighting to hold on to generous retirement and health benefits, one of the loudest voices standing up for their rights is Dave Low. A longtime labor activist, Low carries considerable clout as executive director of the California School Employees Assn., a 215,000-member union that represents bus drivers, custodians and other school workers. He also leads a broader group of 1.5 million government employees, including firefighters, police and teachers, called Californians for Health Care and Retirement Security (Terhune, 10/9).

The New York Times: With Telemedicine As Bridge, No Hospital Is An Island
When Sarah Cohen's acne drove her to visit a dermatologist in July, that's what she figured she’d be doing — visiting a dermatologist. But at the hospital on Nantucket, where her family spends summers, Ms. Cohen, 19, was perplexed (Belluck, 10/8).

The Wall Street Journal: Outbreak Spurs Calls For New Controls
As many as 13,000 patients may have been exposed to fungal meningitis from tainted spinal steroid injections, authorities said Monday, as some lawmakers called for bringing certain specialized pharmacies under greater regulatory scrutiny. The oversight of compounding pharmacies, which create customized versions of medicines, is gaining greater attention as the death and illness tolls in the outbreak continue to rise. On Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said eight people had died and 105 people in nine states had been sickened by fungal meningitis, a rare but potentially deadly inflammation to the brain or central nervous system (Martin, Burton and Dooren, 10/8).

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