First Edition: October 24, 2012

Today's headlines include reports about a variety of Medicaid-related issues, such as how a scheduled pay raise for physicians who participate in the program will not be easy to implement.

Kaiser Health News: Questions Linger About Implementing Medicaid Pay Raise
Kaiser Health News staff writer Phil Galewitz, working in collaboration with The Washington Post, reports: "Starting Jan. 1, primary care doctors when treating patients on Medicaid, the state-federal health insurance program for the poor, will get the same rates they are paid when caring for seniors in the Medicare program. The higher rates will last for two years. While Medicaid fees vary by state, they are generally far below Medicare and private plans. The change, which will cost $11 billion and will be paid by the federal government, means a 64 percent average pay increase, according to an Urban Institute analysis of the rates in 2010. But implementing the raise is not so simple" (Galewitz, 10/23). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Next Generation Of Doctors Will Face Training Challenges; GOP Plan Would Cut Medicaid By $1.7 Trillion, Study Says; Industry Likes Medicare Home Care Expansion, But Cost Is Unknown
Now on Kaiser Health News' blog, Phil Galewitz reports on a new study regarding GOP plans to change Medicaid into a block grant: "The House Republican plan to repeal President Barack Obama's health law and turn Medicaid into a block grant program would save the federal government $1.7 trillion from 2013 to 2022, a 38-percent spending reduction, according to a report today by the Urban Institute for the Kaiser Family Foundation" (Galewitz, 10/23).

In addition, Jay Hancock reports on a change in approach by Medicare: "Patient advocacy and industry groups are cheering Medicare's move to start paying nursing home, home care and physical therapy bills for some patients who were previously denied coverage. But how much extra it will cost the government is far from clear" (Hancock, 10/24).

Also on the Capsules, Ankita Rao reports on this year's medical school enrollment numbers: "Things are looking good for medical schools this year, with a record number of students in the 2012 class and the most diverse cohort yet. But a government freeze on residency training positions may stop that momentum in its tracks. With the nation facing a projected shortage of as many as 90,000 doctors in the next decade, the past year's 1.5 percent spike in medical students is a hopeful indicator, according to a report released by the Association of American Medical Colleges Tuesday" (Rao, 10/23). Check out what else is on the blog.

Los Angeles Times: Voters In Ohio Village Skeptical Of Both Obama And Romney
The hardworking people in struggling Wintersville, Ohio, are among the most coveted voters in the nation. But neither campaign has managed to capture their trust – much less their enthusiasm. … Politicians of both parties use Social Security and Medicare to scare voters. They are critical of President Obama's healthcare law, not because of high-minded debates about whether it violates the Constitution, but because they see their healthcare costs continuing to skyrocket in spite of it. They are skeptical of how a man as rich as Mitt Romney could ever understand their needs (Mehta, 10/23).

The Wall Street Journal: Democrat In GOP District Tries To Hang On
The numbers say former Erie County Executive Chris Collins, a Republican, should be having an easy time beating Democratic Rep. Kathy Hochul in New York's most Republican district in the House of Representatives. In February 2011, Republican Rep. Chris Lee, who represented the seat she now holds, resigned after the website Gawker posted details of an online flirtation between him and a woman who wasn't his wife. About three months later, Ms. Hochul won a special election by attacking Republican plans to overhaul Medicare. For Democrats, it was a successful test of a message they have since taken national. But 17 months later, things are harder for Ms. Hochul (Grossman, 10/23).

Politico: Wisconsin Senate: Can Tommy Thompson Recapture Magic?
The last time Tommy Thompson appeared on a ballot Mike Holmgren was the head coach of the Packers, "ER" was the top-rated show on television and Twitter was still a decade away from mainstream popularity. The year was 1998, and Thompson sailed to a fourth term as governor, disposing of his Democratic opponent by a 21-percentage-point margin. … Yet, there's evidence that Thompson's more recent work in Washington has tarnished his sterling image back home. Thompson served as a senior partner at the Beltway lobbying powerhouse Akin Gump, making millions as a consultant on health care issues after serving as Health and Human Services secretary under President George W. Bush (Cantanese, 10/23).

Politico: Debate Brings Attention To States' Medicaid Plans
GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney has pushed for Medicaid block grants that would significantly cut program spending and provide states with the ultimate flexibility to design the health care program without Washington meddling. But the two examples of state Medicaid programs he cited as success stories during Monday's debate don't quite fit the mold of traditional block grants — at least not the kind that Republicans have been clamoring for (Millman, 10/24).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Proposed Medicare Change To Allow Disabled And Chronically Ill To Keep Getting Rehab Services
Thousands of Medicare patients with severe chronic illnesses such as Alzheimer's would get continuing access to rehab and other services under a change agreed to by the Obama administration, advocates said Tuesday (10/23).

Los Angeles Times: Settlement Proposed To Broaden Medicare Coverage
Sick and disabled Americans who rely on Medicare may gain new access to care with the proposed settlement of a lawsuit that challenged the government's practice of denying some coverage to patients whose condition was not improving. Under the terms of the settlement — expected to be approved by a federal judge in Vermont in coming months — Medicare would not deny skilled nursing care and various forms of therapy for beneficiaries, regardless of their prognosis (Levey, 10/23).

USA Today: House Members Want Medicare To Change ID Card Numbers
A recent inspector general report, first highlighted in USA TODAY, has brought another call to disconnect Social Security numbers from Medicare identification cards because of the risk of identity theft and fraud (Kennedy, 10/23).

USA Today: Kaiser Permanente CEO On Saving Lives, Money
In an interview with USA TODAY reporter Jayne O'Donnell, Halvorson talked about the wisdom of empowering doctors to make health care decisions, why the rest of health care is not making the best medical choices and why he has the best job in health care but plans to retire next year anyway (O'Donnell, 10/23).

NPR: Meningitis From Tainted Drugs Puts Patients, Doctors In Quandary
The FDA says patients who have received the company's injectable drugs since May 21 should be contacted by their doctors and advised to be alert to headaches, fevers, chills, stiff neck, nausea and vomiting, sensitivity to light, confusion, numbness and other symptoms (Knox, 10/24).

The Wall Street Journal: State: Pharmacy Ignored Safety Rules
On 13 occasions, New England Compounding Center shipped products from two now-recalled batches of the steroid linked to the outbreak before receiving a report from an outside lab that tested them for safety, violating industry-backed guidelines the company said it followed, Massachusetts health officials said. Some medicines were sent 11 days before receiving a report, the state said (Martin, Rockoff and Maremont, 10/23).

Los Angeles Times: CVS Caremark Has Become A Frequent Subject Of Government Probes
CVS Caremark Corp. is no stranger to government scrutiny. In recent years, the company has paid more than $80 million to resolve allegations of overbilling Medicaid, improperly changing patients' prescriptions and, in one case, using blow dryers to peel off patients' mailing labels to resell returned medicine. Federal authorities say they are reviewing whether the latest allegations, made by pharmacists and consumers in several states, including California, violate any terms of previous settlements with the government (Terhune, 10/24).

USA Today: States Rein In Health Insurance Expenses
Financially strapped state and local governments are saving billions of dollars on health insurance by cutting back on free coverage for employees and raising worker contributions, a USA TODAY analysis finds (Cauchon, 10/23).

The New York Times: Cuomo's Medicaid Changes Are At Washington's Mercy
Depending on who is doing the talking these days, New York State is either a national model of how to curb Medicaid spending, or the nation’s prime example of Medicaid abuse (Bernstein, 10/23).

The Wall Street Journal: Ruling Is Win For Planned Parenthood In Indiana
A federal appeals court blocked an Indiana law that cut public funding to abortion providers, underscoring a divide in the federal judiciary over whether states can strip Planned Parenthood of subsidies for health services such as cancer screening and prenatal care (Palazzolo, 10/23).

The Associated Press/New York Times: Indiana: Court Rules For Planned Parenthood
Indiana cannot block Planned Parenthood from receiving Medicaid funds simply because the organization provides abortions, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday, upholding the crux of a lower court order that said the state could not deny patients the right to choose their own health care provider (10/23).

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