First Edition: May 16, 2013

Today's headlines detail the Senate confirmation of Acting Chief Marilyn Tavenner to run the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.  

Kaiser Health News: Senate Confirms Tavenner To Head CMS
Kaiser Health News' Mary Agnes Carey talks with Jennifer Haberkorn of Politico Pro about the Senate's confirmation Wednesday of Marilyn Tavenner to head the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the challenges she will face (5/15). Listen to the audio or read the transcript.

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Docs, Nurses Disagree Over Expanded Nurse Roles
Now on Kaiser Health News' blog, Alvin Tran reports: "As nurse practitioners lobby to expand their authority and scope of practice in many states, a New England Journal of Medicine study released Wednesday documents a deep chasm between doctors and nurses on that issue" (Tran, 5/15). Check out what else is on the blog.

The New York Times: Acting Chief Wins Confirmation To Run Medicare And Medicaid
The Senate on Wednesday approved President Obama's nominee to run Medicare and Medicaid, Marilyn B. Tavenner, providing the agency with its first confirmed chief in six and a half years. The 91-to-7 vote showed broad support for Ms. Tavenner, a former state health official in Virginia, who was endorsed by Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the House Republican leader (Pear, 5/15).

Los Angeles Times: Senate Approves Obama Choice To Head Medicare
In an unusual break in the partisan warring over healthcare, the Senate on Wednesday confirmed President Obama's choice to oversee the mammoth Medicare and Medicaid health programs (Levey, 5/15).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Senate Confirms Tavenner To Run Health Insurance Programs With Bigger Budget Than Pentagon
Together, the programs under the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services cover more than 100 million Americans, ranging from newborns in low-income families, to people with severe physical and mental disabilities, to patients under hospice care in their last days of life. Part of the Health and Human Services Department, the agency has a budget of about $850 billion that easily eclipses spending on national defense (5/15).

The Washington Post's Wonk Blog: Medicare Gets Its First Confirmed Leader In Nearly A Decade
Obama nominee Marilyn Tavenner received a 91 to 7 vote on the Senate floor to run an agency that, since 2006, has been without a confirmed leader. Her position, overseeing a $1 trillion agency that administers health benefits to millions, has long been considered too politically volatile to  fill (Kliff, 5/15).

The Wall Street Journal: Senate Confirms Tavenner To Health Agency
Medicare and Medicaid have lacked a Senate-confirmed leader since 2006, when Republican appointee Mark McClellan left. Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have said it is important to have a confirmed Medicare chief to implement the health law, which will allow currently uninsured Americans to sign up for health insurance starting in October. Coverage won't be effective until January (Dooren, 5/15).

Politico: Marilyn Tavenner Approved By Senate For CMS Post
The seven who voted no are Republican Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch of Idaho, Ted Cruz of Texas, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Mike Lee of Utah, and Rand Paul and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. McConnell said the CMS job has too much responsibility for implementing the health law (Haberkorn and Cunningham, 5/15).

The Washington Post: Voting To Repeal, Over And Over
Since Republicans took control of the House of Representatives in 2011, the House has voted 36 times to repeal either all, or part, of President Obama’s health-care law. On Thursday, the House is scheduled to do it again, taking up another bill that would repeal the health care law in full. With number 37 on the way, here are the details of the first 36 votes (Fahrenthold and O’Keefe, 5/15).

Politico: Obamacare Repeal Central For GOP Primary Field
Republicans know their repeal votes on Obamacare are symbolic — but repeal remains a potent GOP message on the campaign trail for the 2014 midterm elections. GOP politicians running for Senate in states like Georgia and Louisiana have been burnishing their Obamacare repeal credentials for months. Some of the Senate candidates are trying to outdo primary opponents in showing how determined they are to roll back the unpopular law. Others hope anti-Obamacare sentiment will let them pick up seats in November that are now held by Democrats, like the one being vacated in Montana by retiring Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, who helped write the 2010 health care law (Cunningham, 5/15).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Appeals Court In Va. To Hear Christian University's Suit Against Obama Health Care Law
Liberty University's challenge to the Obama administration’s health care law is back before a federal appeals court in Virginia. A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond hears arguments in the case Thursday (5/15).

Politico: Liberty Still Pushing Its Challenge To Obamacare
Liberty University's challenge to the health reform law will go back before the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., on Thursday, with the school focused on getting Obamacare back before the Supreme Court. Liberty's lawsuit is the most wide ranging of the outstanding legal challenges to the health law, hitting everything from contraceptive coverage to the employer mandate (Haberkorn, 5/15).

The Wall Street Journal: House Republicans Air Budget Ideas, Prepare For Fall Confrontation
The chairman of the House tax-writing committee has been laying the groundwork for advancing an overhaul of the tax code to scale back deductions and reduce rates. … Another idea gaining popularity among some Republicans is to delay implementation of the president's health-care law, which the House is expected to vote to repeal on Thursday. Rep. Steve Scalise (R., La.), chairman of the Republican Study Committee, an influential group of 171 conservative House lawmakers, said he liked the idea of delaying the implementation of health law's insurance exchanges and expansion of Medicaid for at least two years. ‪ … Other Republicans argued that the party should stick with its longstanding position that increases in the debt ceiling should be matched with spending cuts or by overhauling federal safety-net programs (Peterson and Hook, 5/15).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Expected Retiree Medical Expenses Fall In 2013, But Still Outpace Many Americans’ Estimates
After years of increasing health care costs, the outlook is improving for seniors worried about paying their medical bills during retirement. For the second time in the last three years, estimated medical expenses for new retirees have fallen, according to a study released Wednesday by Fidelity Investments. A 65-year-old couple retiring this year would need $220,000 on average to cover medical expenses, an 8 percent decrease from last year's estimate of $240,000. The study assumes a life expectancy of 85 for women and 82 for men (5/15).

The Wall Street Journal’s Total Return: Retiree Health Costs Get Cheaper
Here’s a twist: Health-care expenses should cost 8% less for a 65-year-old couple retiring this year compared with last year, according to new research by Fidelity Investments. A 65-year-old couple retiring in 2013 is estimated to need $220,000 to cover medical expenses throughout retirement, assuming that they are enrolled in traditional Medicare coverage, Fidelity says (Greene, 5/15).

Los Angeles Times: For First Time, Stem Cells Are Produced From Cloning Technique
For the first time, scientists have created human embryos that are genetic copies of living people and used them to make stem cells — a feat that paves the way for treating a range of diseases with personalized body tissues but also ignites fears of human cloning. If replicated in other labs, the methods detailed Wednesday in the journal Cell would allow researchers to fashion human embryonic stem cells that are custom-made for patients with Alzheimer's disease, diabetes and other health problems (Healy, 5/15).

NPR: Cloning, Stem Cells Long Mired In Legislative Gridlock
The news that U.S. scientists have successfully cloned a human embryo seems almost certain to rekindle a political fight that has raged, on and off, since the announcement of the creation of Dolly the sheep in 1997. "The issue of legislation on human cloning is about to get hot again," says Hank Greely, director of the Center for Law and the Biosciences at Stanford Law School (Rovner, 5/16).

The New York Times: North Dakota’s Sole Abortion Clinic Sues To Block New Law
The running battle over the regulation of abortions entered a North Dakota courtroom on Wednesday, as the state’s sole abortion clinic sued to block a new law that it says could force it to shut down. The law, requiring doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital, was promoted by anti-abortion legislators, who argued that it would mean better care for women who suffer medical emergencies (Eckholm, 5/15).

Los Angeles Times: 13 Healthcare Workers Arrested In Protest At UC Regents Meeting
Thirteen people were arrested Wednesday at the UC regents meeting during a sit-down protest by healthcare workers threatening to strike at the system's medical centers. The University of California regents left during the protest while UC police cleared the room, handcuffing the protesters and leading them out of the hall at the Sacramento Convention Center (Gordon, 5/15). 

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