First Edition: Sept. 13, 2012

Today's headlines include news from the Census Bureau that, although record numbers of poor people persist, the number of uninsured Americans dropped by 1.3 million.

Kaiser Health News: The Great Fluoride Debate
Oregon Public Broadcasting's Kristian Foden-Vencil, working in partnership with Kaiser Health News and NPR, reports: "Portland is the largest American city that doesn't add fluoride to its drinking water. But some groups have raised questions about the possible risks from fluoridation and oppose its use" (Foden-Vencil, 9/12). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Health Care Jobs Report: A Dire Warning To Congress
Now on Kaiser Health News' blog, Shefali S. Kulkarni writes about a report from health care groups that details the impact of upcoming automatic federal spending cuts: "The report, funded by the American Hospital Association, the American Medical Association and the American Nurses Association, predicts that the 2 percent cuts to Medicare providers included in the 'budget sequester' beginning in January will cause as many as 766,000 health care and health-related jobs to disappear by 2021. An estimated 496,000 jobs will be lost during the first year of the automatic cuts" (Kulkarni, 9/12).

Also on Capsules, Jay Hancock reports on the "lock in" effect related to Medicare drug plans: "Economists have long chronicled the 'lock in' effect – the ability to attract shoppers with low prices and then sock them with increases once they’ve stopped paying attention. Think car insurance or bank fees. Consumers often stay put even when they notice the higher bills, deciding that the hassles of switching represent an even greater cost. Boston University economist Keith M. Marzilli Ericson finds the same thing going on in Medicare prescription drug plans" (Hancock, 9/12). Check out what else is on the blog.

The Washington Post: Number Of Uninsured Americans Drops By 1.3 Million, Census Report Shows
One spot of good news in the census data released Wednesday was on the health-care front: For the first time in three years, the share of Americans without health insurance declined, with the number of uninsured dropping by 1.3 million people from 2010 to 2011. A major factor was an influx of newly insured young adults, many of whom benefitted from a provision in the 2010 health-care law requiring insurers to let parents keep adult children on their plans up to age 26 (Aizenman, 9/12).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: US Poverty Rate At 15 Percent In 2011; Record Numbers Of Poor Persist
The share of Americans without health coverage fell from 16.3 percent to 15.7 percent, or 48.6 million people. It was the biggest decline in the number of uninsured since 1999, helped in part by increased coverage for young adults under the new health care law that allows them to be covered under their parents' health insurance until age 26. The number of people covered by employment-based health plans also edged up from 169.4 million to 170.1 million, the first time in 10 years that the rate of private insurance coverage did not fall. Meanwhile, government health insurance including Medicaid, Medicare and the Children's Health Insurance Program increased for the fifth consecutive year, adding coverage to more than three million people (9/12).

The Wall Street Journal: Household Income Sinks To '95 Level
Other measures of well-being in the report were more positive. The poverty rate, which had risen in the past four years, held steady in 2011, and the number and share of people without health insurance fell. The shift in health coverage is in large part due to more Americans getting covered by government programs, such as Medicare. … Health care is one area where Americans on the whole notched gains in 2011. However, the rise in insurance coverage is likely to fuel the debate about the government's growing role in health care and the expanding budget deficits that have accompanied increases in entitlement spending (Dougherty and Mathews, 9/12).

The New York Times: U.S. Incomes Dropped Last Year, Census Bureau Says
There was a bright spot for President Obama. The share of 19- to 25-year-olds who were uninsured declined by 2.2 percentage points in 2011, a decrease that administration officials are likely to promote as an early success of its health care law (Tavernise, 9/12).

The New York Times' The Caucus: Clinton Sticks To Domestic Issues While Campaigning For Obama
Instead, much as he had on Tuesday in Miami before 2,300 people, Mr. Clinton defended and promoted Mr. Obama's health care law, his initiatives to make college more affordable and his response to the economic crisis that Mr. Obama inherited in 2009 despite what Mr. Clinton characterized as constant obstructions from Republicans (Calmes, 9/12).

Los Angeles Times: Bill Clinton Focuses On Economy, Ignores Libya
Based on audience responses at his initial post-convention appearances on Obama's behalf, it's clear that several other bits of that Charlotte speech have become a lasting part of the 2012 campaign lexicon, including his use of "arithmetic" to deride Mitt Romney's economic policies and his broadside at Romney running mate Paul Ryan's "brass" for attacking Obama over the $716 billion in Medicare cuts that were also in Ryan's House GOP budget (West, 9/12).

The Washington Post: New Obama Ads In Virginia Hit Romney On Taxes, Medicare
One, titled "Won't Say," criticizes Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney for not releasing more of his income tax records. … The second ad, titled "Guide," is based on the American Association of Retired Persons guide. It goes after Romney based on changes to Medicare that his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, has proposed (Vozzella,  9/12).

The Wall Street Journal: Romney Team Preps To Fill A Cabinet
The transition team is looking at the Department of Health and Human Services with an eye toward fulfilling Mr. Romney's promise to repeal the president's health-care law. It is considering regulatory issues at the Department of the Interior with the goal of expediting drilling. The team's goal is to identify the most important roles at various agencies, and potential staff members to fill them, but also to evaluate which policy changes require congressional support and which Mr. Romney could put in place with executive powers (Murray and Paletta, 9/11).

The Associated Press/The Washington Post: HHS Secretary Sebelius Found To Have Violated Law That Restricts Political Activity
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius violated a federal law that restricts political activity by government officials, a federal ethics office said in a report Wednesday. Off-the-cuff remarks by Sebelius during a speech earlier this year to a gay rights group in North Carolina violated the Hatch Act, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel said in a report to the White House (9/12).

The Wall Street Journal: Health Secretary Broke Law That Limits Campaigning
An Obama cabinet secretary violated the federal law meant to restrict partisan political activity on the part of government officials, according to a federal investigative agency Wednesday. … The agency forwarded its report to the White House for possible disciplinary action. A White House spokesman said Wednesday that Ms. Sebelius wouldn't be penalized, and that she and her department have already taken steps that put the matter to rest. The Democratic National Committee said on Wednesday that it has reimbursed taxpayers for the $2,515 cost of Ms. Sebelius's trip, a standard remedy for such violations (Nicholas, 9/12).

Politico: HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius's Comments Violated Hatch Act, OSC Concludes
The special counsel's office said it "found no evidence that Secretary Sebelius made any other political statements in her official capacity" (Haberkorn, 9/12).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Hobby Lobby Sues Over Morning-After Pill Coverage Requirement In Health Reform Law
Christian-oriented Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday challenging a mandate in the nation’s health care overhaul law that requires employers to provide coverage for the morning-after pill and similar drugs. The lawsuit by the Oklahoma City-based chain claims the government mandate is forcing the company's owners "to violate their deeply held religious beliefs under threat of heavy fines, penalties and lawsuits" (9/12).

Los Angeles Times: McDonald’s To Post Calorie Count In Restaurants Nationwide
Calorie counts will be posted alongside images of juicy burgers on McDonald's menu boards nationwide starting next week, much as they have been in California for more than a year (Hsu, 9/12).

The Wall Street Journal: Highest-Calorie Menu Item At McDonald’s? Not A Burger
The push is part of an effort to get out ahead of federal menu-labeling requirements. There is a market need to it too—McDonald's want to convey to customers that it’s not just selling junk food. The company last year added apples to all of its kids' meals and made the servings of fries smaller (Jargon and Tomson, 9/12).

USA Today: McDonald's To Post Calories For Items On Menu Boards
In an action likely to rock the fast-food industry, McDonald's Wednesday said it will post calories for all items on its menu boards and drive-thru menus in the U.S. The move by the world's largest fast-food chain comes as consumers, regulators and activists are pressuring the industry to improve food quality and share more nutritional information with consumers (Horovitz, 9/12).

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