First Edition: April 16, 2013

Today's headlines include coverage of the Supreme Court oral arguments regarding whether patents should be granted for human genes. 

Kaiser Health News: Insuring Your Health: Questions About Colon Screening Coverage Still Vex Consumers
In her latest Kaiser Health News consumer column, Michelle Andrews writes: "No one looks forward to screening tests for colon and rectal cancers. But under the Affordable Care Act, patients are at least supposed to save on out of-pocket costs for them. Coverage is not always clear, however, and despite the federal government's clarifications, some consumers remain vexed and confused" (Andrews, 4/16). Read the column.

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Auditors: Medicare Could Save Millions By Limiting Advance Payments To Insurers; Alicia Keys Shines Light On Women And HIV; Sounding An Alarm On Alarms
Now on Kaiser Health News' blog, Julie Appleby reports on the findings of a government report regarding money Medicare could save by limiting insurers' ability to retain investment earnings on funds they are paid through the prescription drug program: "That's because Medicare prepays the private insurers approximately 20 days before the insurers pay their pharmacy bills and does not require them to return any of the interest they earn while holding that money, says the report by the Office of the Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services" (Appleby, 4/16).

Also on Capsules, Diane Webber reports on efforts to focus attention on women and HIV: "One in 32 African American women in the United States is likely to be diagnosed with HIV in her lifetime. 'One in 32, think about that,' said singer-songwriter Alicia Keys, citing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistic at an event Monday" (Webber, 4/15).

In addition, Alvin Tran reports on a sentinel event alert issued by the Joint Commission regarding alarm fatigue: "In their latest Sentinel Event Alert, issued April 8, the commission highlighted the dangers that result when doctors and other health professionals develop 'alarm fatigue' or become desensitized and immune to alarm sounds set off by medical devices used for monitoring and treating patients" (Tran, 4/15). Check out what else is on the blog.

The Washington Post: Republicans Embrace Obama's Offer To Trim Social Security Benefits
This week, two House subcommittees plan to hold hearings on "reforms to protect and preserve" programs for retirees, starting with Obama's proposal to apply a less generous measure of inflation to annual increases in Social Security benefits. Also on the table are higher Medicare premiums and reduced benefits for better-off seniors, and a higher Medicare eligibility age (Montgomery, 4/15).

Politico: President Obama's Budget: Impact On Health Care
The health care sector saw some huge gains and losses in last week's White House budget presented by President Barack Obama. It will not pass the Congress or become law, but the document underscores White House priorities. And if grand bargain negotiations resume this year, the document could become the floor, exciting some health players and making others nervous (Haberkorn and Norman, 4/16).

The Washington Post’s WonkBlog: It's A Huge Day For Obamacare In Arkansas
If Arkansas could hammer out an agreement with the Obama administration, the thinking has gone, a handful of Republican-run states who like the idea of using public funds for private coverage might also come into the Obamacare program. But before Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe (D) and the federal government can move forward, the state legislature needs to approve the Medicaid expansion—and we’re likely to learn Monday whether that will happen (Kliff, 4/15).

The Wall Street Journal: Rhode Island Blue Cross Filings Signal Rate Rises
The biggest health-insurance carrier in Rhode Island says its average rates for small businesses will go up about 15% next year, an increase tied to the federal health-care overhaul as well as other factors. Rhode Island on Monday became one of the first states to unveil filings that reveal how much its insurers are aiming to charge next year, though the rates still must be approved by state regulators (Mathews and Radnofsky, 4/15).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Texas-Based Scooter Stores Files For Bankruptcy Protection In Delaware
The Scooter Store, a Texas-based company that supplies power wheelchairs and scooters to people with limited mobility, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Monday’s bankruptcy filing in Delaware comes after federal agents raided the company’s South Texas headquarters earlier this year, and amid congressional scrutiny of whether TV ads by The Scooter Store and a rival company target people who don’t need scooters, leading to hundreds of millions of dollars in unnecessary Medicare spending (4/15).

Los Angeles Times: Supreme Court Seems Opposed To Granting Patents On Human Genes
The Supreme Court took up a deceptively simple question in a case brought by breast cancer patients and medical researchers: Are human genes patentable? The answer appeared to be "no" during Monday's oral arguments. The justices signaled that they probably will bar any grants of exclusive and profitable patents on human genes that prevent other scientists from testing these pieces of DNA (Savage and Terhune, 4/16).

The Wall Street Journal: Justices Wary On Gene Patents
Monday arguments underscored the difficulty of distinguishing between those innovations that can be protected and scientifically significant discoveries that may not be eligible for patents—even ones that seek to unlock the mystery of the human genome (Bravin, 4/16).

The New York Times: Drug Makers Use Safety Rule To Block Generics
For decades, pharmaceutical companies have deployed an array of tactics aimed at preventing low-cost copies of their drugs from entering the marketplace. But federal regulators contend the latest strategy — which relies on a creative interpretation of drug safety laws — is illegal. The Federal Trade Commission recently weighed in on a legal case over the tactic involving the drug maker Actelion, and earlier this month a federal suit was filed in another case in Florida (Thomas, 4/15).

The Wall Street Journal: High Court Rejects Glaxo Appeal In Avandia Case
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday cleared the way for health insurer Humana Inc. to sue GlaxoSmithKline for the recovery of health-care expenses on some patients who were allegedly harmed by diabetes drug Avandia. The high court, in a short written order, said it wouldn't consider a Glaxo appeal of a lower-court ruling that allowed the Humana lawsuit to proceed (Kendall, 4/15).

Politico: Meningitis Deaths Fuel A Renewed FDA Debate
Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Margaret Hamburg will be on the hot seat Tuesday as she tries to defend the agency's failure to stop a fungal meningitis outbreak last year that killed more than 50 people. The episode mostly fell from the headlines as the deaths tapered off but is roaring back with the hearing on the Hill. Many Democrats in Congress want to give the FDA more authority to regulate compounding pharmacies like the one linked to this outbreak. But some Republicans question whether the agency failed to properly use the authority it already had, and the key House panel didn’t put the issue on its list of legislative priorities for the year (Norman, 4/15).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Tobacco Cos. Make Payments Under Pact To Help States With Smoking-Related Health Care Costs
The nation’s top cigarette companies have made their payments as part of the longstanding settlement in which some cigarette makers are paying states for smoking-related health care costs. Philip Morris USA, the nation’s largest cigarette maker owned by Altria Group Inc., said Monday that it made its full annual payment of about $3.1 billion as part of the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement (4/15).

The New York Times: Judge Prevents Closing Of Mississippi's Sole Abortion Clinic
A federal judge in Mississippi on Monday blocked part of a state law that would have forced the closing of the state’s only abortion clinic (Robertson, 4/15).

The Associated Press/USA Today: Bill To Limit Abortion Coverage In Pa. Advances
Republicans in the Pennsylvania House on Monday pushed out of committee a bill that would prevent most coverage for abortions under the health exchange in Pennsylvania being set up as part of the federal health care overhaul. The Health Committee voted 15-9 in favor of the proposal that provides exceptions only for victims of rape and incest or when the mother's life is in peril. One Democrat voted for it (4/15).

Los Angeles Times: California Panel Advances Bills Targeting Prescription Drug Abuse
A broad package of bills aimed at reducing prescription drug abuse and overdose deaths won approval from a key state Senate committee Monday. The bills, including a measure that would require coroners to report prescription-involved deaths to the Medical Board of California, followed a series of Times articles linking doctors to patient overdose deaths (Girion and Glover, 4/15). 

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