First Edition: July 30, 2013

Today's headlines include a USA Today story reporting that personal health care costs rose in the 12 months ending in May at the slowest rate in the last 50 years -- a finding that makes the White House happy.

Kaiser Health News: HHS Inspector General Scrutinizes Medicare Observation Care Policy
Reporting for Kaiser Health News, Susan Jaffe writes: "Medicare patients' chances of being admitted to the hospital or kept for observation depend on what hospital they go to -- even when their symptoms are the same, notes a federal watchdog agency in a report to be released today, which also urges Medicare officials to count those observation visits toward the three-inpatient-day minimum required for nursing home coverage" (Jaffe, 7/30). Read the story.

Kaiser Health News: Insuring Your Health: Benefits On Health Marketplace Plans Will Be Similar But Costs Will Vary
Kaiser Health News consumer columnist Michelle Andrews writes: "As the state health insurance marketplaces, also called exchanges, get set to launch in October, many people have questions about the coverage that will be offered there. Here are a few that were posed to me recently" (Andrews, 7/30). Read the column.

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: KHN Reporters Answer Health Law Questions
Kaiser Health News’ reporters Mary Agnes Carey, Jay Hancock and Sarah Varney talked about a variety of issues related to the health law’s implementation on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal Monday morning (7/29). Watch the video.

USA Today: White House Touts Slow Increase In Health Care Costs
Personal health care costs rose in the 12 months ending in May at the slowest rate in the last 50 years, as spending on hospital and nursing home services declined, the White House announced Monday (Kennedy, 7/29).

The New York Times: Wrinkle In Health Law Vexes Lawmakers' Aides
As President Obama barnstorms the country promoting his health care law, one audience very close to home is growing increasingly anxious about the financial implications of the new coverage: members of Congress and their personal staffs (Pear, 7/29).

The New York Times: At The 11th Hour, A Languid Congress
But the House's marquee moment before adjourning until Sept. 9 will come on Friday with its 40th vote to cripple President Obama's health care law. House members preparing their vacation plans have been assured that the last vote will be no later than 3 p.m. In the Senate, a glimmer of hope has appeared for a bipartisan deal to end the automatic across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration and shift some of those savings to entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security. But even optimistic negotiators do not suggest that an agreement between Senate Republicans and the White House is in reach before the break (Wesman, 7/29).

Politico: Tom Cole: Obamacare Shutdown 'Suicidal Political Tactic'
House Deputy Whip Tom Cole thinks shutting down the government to defund Obamacare is a "suicidal political tactic." … Cole said he has voted multiple times to repeal Obamacare and called defunding the health care law an “admirable goal,” but said shutting down the government is the wrong way to do it (Arkin, 7/29).

Los Angeles Times: Back Pain: Doctors Increasingly Ignore Clinical Guidelines
Doctors have increasingly ignored clinical guidelines for the treatment of routine back pain by prescribing powerful and addictive narcotics instead of other recommended painkillers and by recommending unwarranted diagnostic imagery, according to a new study. Researchers at Massachusetts' Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School based their conclusion on an examination of roughly 24,000 cases of spine problems in national databases from 1999 to 2010. Their findings appeared online Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine (Morin, 7/29).

The New York Times: Task Force Urges Scans for Smokers at High Risk
The recommendation by the United States Preventive Services Task Force, still in draft form, could change medical practice by making annual CT screening the standard of care for the highest-risk smokers. And because insurers cover procedures strongly recommended by the task force, eligible patients would no longer have to bear the cost themselves. Under President Obama's health care law, those who are eligible for the scan would have no co-pay. The procedure's average price is about $170, according to the Advisory Board Company, a health care research firm in Washington, which polled oncology professionals (Tavernise, 7/30).

The Washington Post: Older Smokers Should Get CT Scans For Lung Cancer, Panel Recommends
Patient advocates welcomed the task force's decision to give its recommendation a "B" rating, which, under the terms of the Affordable Care Act, would require insurance companies eventually to cover the tests without co-payments from patients. The average national cost of the procedure is about $750, though prices vary widely, according to Castlight Health, which analyzes price and quality data for health-care services (Bernstein, 7/29).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Panel Backs Lung Cancer Screening For Heavy Smokers; Insurers Likely To Pay For Scans
For the first time, government advisers are recommending screening for lung cancer, saying certain current and former heavy smokers should get annual scans to cut their chances of dying of the disease. If it becomes final as expected, the advice by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force would clear the way for insurers to cover CT scans, a type of X-ray, for those at greatest risk (7/29).

The Wall Street Journal: Influential Federal Panel Backs CT Scans For Lung Cancer
The federal preventive-services task force, which consists of private physicians appointed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, acknowledged risks but concluded that low-dose computed tomography, or CT, imaging "reduced lung cancer mortality by 20% and all-cause mortality by nearly 7%." Its findings are being published Tuesday in the Annals of Internal Medicine. "We believe the benefits do outweigh the harms," said Michael LeFevre, co-vice chairman of the task force. He said the decision was largely based on a 2011 study sponsored by the National Cancer Institute. The task force recommended that people consider screening for lung cancer if they are current or former smokers between the ages of 55 and 79, and have smoked the equivalent of a pack of cigarettes a day for 30 years and have smoked within the past 15 years. Lung screening is already available at some hospitals and often costs in the range of $100 to $300 a test (Burton, 7/29).

NPR: Montana's State-Run Free Clinic Sees Early Success
A year ago, Montana opened the nation's first clinic for free primary healthcare services to its state government employees. The Helena, Mont., clinic was pitched as a way to improve overall employee health, but the idea has faced its fair share of political opposition. A year later, the state says the clinic is already saving money (Boyce, 7/30).

The New York Times: Program Compelling Outpatient Treatment For Mental Illness Is Working, Study Says
For some people with severe mental illness, life is a cycle of hospitalization, skipped medication, decline and then rehospitalization. They may deny they have psychiatric disorders, refuse treatment and cascade into out-of-control behavior that can be threatening to themselves or others (Belluck, 7/30).

Los Angeles Times: L.A. Seniors Confident About Aging, Yet Many Don't Manage Health
Ninety percent of Los Angeles seniors are confident they will keep up the quality of their lives as they age, a new survey shows. Yet experts warn that only a fraction are taking steps to manage their health. For many seniors battling chronic conditions such as diabetes and arthritis, "they're gliding toward a very distressing future," said Richard Birkel, senior vice president for health at the National Council on Aging, which helped conduct the survey. If seniors don't take action, "they will see their world begin to shrink" (Alpert, 7/29).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: NC Gov. McCrory Signs Abortion Clinic Bill That Critics Say Will Force Most To Close
North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory on Monday signed into law a measure directing state officials to regulate abortion clinics based on the same standards as those for outpatient surgical centers, a change that critics say will force most to close (7/29). 

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