Health and Fitness

Brown: Mass. Voters Shouldn't Have To Pay For National Health Reform

The Washington Post : "While many are describing the election to fill the late Edward M. Kennedy's Senate seat as a referendum on national health-care reform, the Republican candidate rode to victory on a message more nuanced than flat-out resistance to universal health coverage: Massachusetts residents, he said, already had insurance and should not have to pay for it elsewhere." The Post notes that Scott Brown "voted for the state's health-care legislation, which was signed by then-Gov. Mitt Romney (R)" and has "not disavowed his support for the state's law." His "message underscores a little-noticed political dynamic in a country where rates of the uninsured vary widely, from Massachusetts to Texas, where 25 percent are uninsured. Seeking national universal coverage means sending money from states that have tried hard to expand coverage, mostly in the Northeast and Midwest, to states that have not, mostly in the South and West" (MacGillis, 1/21). NPR : "Brown didn't take any partisan shots at the president's health care plan.

Mich., R.I. Look For Cuts In Medicaid Costs; Mass. Governor Suggests Taxes, Fees To Cover Rising Costs

The Holland (Mich.) Sentinel reports on possible Medicaid cuts in Michigan: "After an 8 percent reduction in Medicaid reimbursement for 2010, state health organizations say additional cuts for 2011 could be overwhelming. ... To help resolve the state deficit, Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, R-Rochester, has said he wants to reduce Medicaid spending by anywhere from $160 million to $500 million by dropping either optional services or the number of people eligible. Bishop hasn't offered details on where he would make reductions. The state's optional Medicaid coverage pays for some of the costs of residents in nursing homes and prescription drugs" (Opsommer, 2/1). The Providence Journal reports on conditions in Rhode Island: "The state's Medicaid rolls grew by more than 1, 000 people a month during the second half of 2009, shooting upward as more Rhode Islanders turned to the state for help after losing their jobs and their health insurance. The increases have forced state officials to raise their cost estimates by $17 million" - an amount Gov.

Congress Faces One-Month Deadline On Doctor Payment Fix

The doctor payment fix and several marketplace issues, such as insurance red tape and malpractice cases, continue to loom while health care reform efforts stall. The Hill : "At the end of February, a short-term measure enacted late last year will expire, exposing doctors who treat Medicare patients to a 21 percent reduction in their fees. The American Medical Association (AMA) and other physician groups are continuing to lobby lawmakers to enact a costly permanent reform to the complex formula that calculates the payment levels." But the Senate's plan for pay-as-you-go budgeting might ease the problem. That legislation requires lawmakers to "offset all new spending or tax cuts with cuts to existing spending or tax increases. The House passed a similar bill last year and is slated to take up another version next week. ... The bill, however, includes exemptions for several costly items, including the doc fix. Specifically, the legislation would allow Congress to spend up to $82 billion more on physician payments without offsetting the spending" (Young, 2/1).

Obama's Budget To Boost Medicaid Funding, Broaden Global Health Approach

President Obama's budget proposal tops $3.8 trillion, and would draw a $1.3 trillion shortfall in 2011 despite efforts to freeze and cut spending and channel an extra $100 billion to immediately attack the high unemployment rate, The Washington Post reports. "The 2011 blueprint repeats many of Obama's grandest ambitions from his first budget, including an expensive overhaul of the nation's health-care system' (Montgomery, 2/1). "The White House will include an additional $25 billion in Medicaid funding for states in the federal budget to be released Monday, spending that Democrats originally hoped to include in their health overhaul, " The Wall Street Journal reports, noting that this proposal shows "how the government is already adapting" to the changed scenario for health reform on Capitol Hill. The $25 billion is meant as a six-month extension to stimulus funding that began last February and is supposed to end Dec. 31 (Adamy, 1/31). The New York Post reports, "The plan includes a 6.

Obama Budget Request Increases International Global Health Funding

President Obama's fiscal year 2011 budget proposal, which was released on Monday, would increase by 9% funding for global health issues, including reducing maternal and child mortality, the Wall Street Journal reports. The budget includes a total request for global health of $9.6 billion for HHS, the State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Department of Defense. The budget enacted for FY 2010 allocated $8.8 billion for those departments, the Journal reports. The State Department and USAID would receive $700 million to target maternal and child mortality under the proposal, an increase from the $474 million allocated in 2010. Family planning would receive a $65 million funding increase under the budget, from $525 million to $590 million. According to the Journal, the budget proposal includes several "ambitious targets" to be reached by 2014, including reducing maternal mortality by 30% -- or about 360, 000 lives saved -- and reducing mortality among children younger than age five by 35% -- or about three million lives saved -- in assisted countries.

Legislators Set Sights On Temporary Medicare 'Doc Fix,' Again

Politico : "Doctors and seniors lobbying to stave off looming annual Medicare cuts have won a reprieve of sorts but are still pushing for a permanent fix. The Senate on Thursday passed so-called pay-go legislation that would require Congress to pay for much of its future spending without adding to the deficit, but it exempted $82 billion from the requirement to prevent reductions to doctors' Medicare reimbursement rates." The move could prevent five years of cuts, the longest such stretch lawmakers would have approved since 2002. "The cuts stem from a 1997 balanced budget bill" (Frates, 2/2). NPR 's "Shots" health blog: "The automatic cuts are meant to control Medicare spending. But Congress, under pressure from doctors, has routinely overridden that mandate at the last minute to delay the scheduled pay cuts. But each year's postponed reduction gets piled onto the previous scheduled cuts, so the discount that is set to take effect March 1 now stands at 21 percent" (Villegas, 2/1).

White House Wants To Scale Up War On Medicare Fraud

The White House plans to ask Congress to increase funding for fighting Medicare fraud by 80 percent, in hopes of curbing billions of dollars in abuses, Dow Jones Newswires/NASDAQ reports. Already, "The administration has stepped up enforcement and prevention efforts targeting Medicare claims. Rather than rely on tips, it has begun combining Medicare claims data into a single, searchable database, making it easier to pinpoint suspicious claims among the more than $1 billion spent on such claims each day" (Burns, 1/28). However, USA Today reports those efforts have not made much of an impact. "Federal prosecutors charged 803 people with defrauding medical insurers in the fiscal year that ended in September, Justice Department records show. That's up about 2% since the government began deploying 'strike forces' to target fraud in 2007. Nearly all of the charges involved attempts to cheat Medicare" (Heath, 1/28). Main Justice, a news Web site that covers the Justice Department, reports that Attorney General Eric Holder said at a federal summit on health-care fraud Thursday that "more than $60 billion in public and private health-care spending was lost to fraud each year.

Republicans Tout Alternative Health Care Reform Plans, React To Dems

Following President Barack Obama's challenge to "let me know" if they had better ideas for a health overhaul, Rep. John Boehner, the House Republican leader, said that their plan, rejected last November by the Democratic majority in the House, would satisfy Obama's goals to "bring down premiums, bring down the deficit, cover the uninsured" and improve Medicare, BusinessWeek reports. "The Republican ideas ... may have a bigger role in defining party differences this election year than in crafting a compromise on the health bill. That's because the gap between the two approaches is so wide." Boehner's plan "would expand coverage to just 3 million uninsured Americans, compared with more than 30 million in bills passed in the Democratic-controlled House and Senate, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. It would cost $61 billion over 10 years. It doesn't require Americans to obtain insurance" (Litvan and Dodge, 1/29). Inn an interview with Fox News, Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, said that, during negotiations, "I had given a number of ideas in the direction that health care should take, and unfortunately those ideas weren't incorporated" (Van Susteren, 1/29).

New York State Health Foundation Names Medicare Rights Center Project As One Of Its Ten Best Of 2009

The New York State Health Foundation has named its grant to the Medicare Rights Center as one of its ten "strongest achievements" in its "Best of 2009" Annual Report. With funding from the New York State Health Foundation, Medicare Rights partnered with the Benefits Data Trust and New York State's Elderly Pharmaceutical Insurance Coverage (EPIC) program to identify and enroll older New Yorkers in programs that help them with their Medicare-related expenses. These programs, the Medicare Savings Programs (MSPs) and the Medicare Part D Low-Income Subsidy program (LIS, also known as "Extra Help"), are designed to help people with limited incomes get the health care and medications they need, but are greatly underutilized by those who might benefit from them. "There are many reasons why enrollment in MSPs and Extra Help are consistently low, but two of the biggest reasons are that people don't know about them, and the enrollment process is too complex, " said Joe Baker, president of the Medicare Rights Center.

High Demand For Psychological Services Is A Healthy Sign, Australia

The Australian Psychological Society (APS) rejects claims that the higher than expected demand for psychological services under Medicare is bad news. "We have known for several years that the public demand for professional psychological help is considerably higher than was anticipated when psychological services were included in Medicare, " said APS President, Professor Bob Montgomery. "The high take up indicates just how much unmet need there has been for evidence-based psychological assistance in the Australian community. That's what our own survey has found, that many people now consulting with psychologists tell us that they couldn't afford to before the Medicare rebate was made available and they are finding it very helpful now that they can." "Rather than complaining about the success of this scheme in meeting a clear need within the community, we should be celebrating it and congratulating the governments for introducing and maintaining it." "There are some who believe that first call on mental health spending should be for the treatment of the seriously mentally ill, predominately people with psychosis and bi-polar disorders, including support for their carers.

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