First Edition: November 23, 2011

Today's early morning highlights from the major news organizations include an examination of changes in Medicare that the Democrats have endorses and a Kansas abortion case.

Kaiser Health News: Committed To Randol: One Family's Long-Term Care Journey (Video)
Kaiser Health News staff writer Jessica Marcy visited Kentucky and tells the poignant story of Randol Brock. When he was three years old, he "had a high fever that caused brain damage. Now 52, there are two things Randol loves more than anything else: tractors and his sister-in-law Doris, who helps take care of him" (Marcy, 11/21).

Kaiser Health News: Where 'Hospital Food' Takes On A New Meaning
Kaiser Health News staff writer Sarah Barr has the story of the pediatric clinic at the Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis which "gives its patients what they need to stay healthy: screenings, immunizations, prescriptions. And, in an uncommon twist, food" (Barr, 11/22).

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: U.S. Tops Health Spending--Again; Funding Tight For Seniors Programs; JAMA Joins The iPhone Generation
Now on Capsules, Kaiser Health News' blog, Julie Appleby reports on new international figures that show: "The United States far outpaces other countries in how much it spends on health care, although Americans have a lower rate of doctor visits and hospitalizations than most of the other 34 member countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development" (11/23). Also on Capsules, Susan Jaffe reports: "Money for the federal programs that millions of seniors rely on to live independently in their own homes will not rise with the growing demand" (11/22). And, Shefali S. Kulkarni looks into a new phenomenon: a medical journal reaches out to the iPhone generation (11/22). Check out what else is on the blog.

Politico: Medicare Genie Is Now Out Of The Bottle
The supercommittee failed to strike a deficit deal, but the terrain still changed for entitlement reform. And once Democrats -; starting with President Barack Obama -; gave ground on Medicare and other entitlements, it may be hard to take it back. ... Democrats still vehemently oppose any move to radically restructure Medicare or Medicaid, as House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan and other top Republicans propose. But a lot of other ideas that were once taboo for Democrats are now part of the mainstream (DoBias, 11/22).

The Washington Post: Democrats Lobby Against Any Broader Exceptions To Contraceptive Coverage
Democratic lawmakers, fearful that President Obama is on the verge of significantly diluting a proposed regulation that would give millions of women access to birth control without out-of-pocket insurance charges, are furiously lobbying the White House to hold the line (Aizenman, 11/22).

The New York Times: Abortion Case Loses Ground, But Issue Stays Hot In Kansas
The prosecution of a Planned Parenthood affiliate here, the first such criminal case in the nation, has been treated locally as something of a proxy in the battle over abortion rights. Derided by supporters of the organization as politically motivated, the prosecution was celebrated by opponents as the capstone of increasingly aggressive actions here and elsewhere against Planned Parenthood, which provides abortions and other services at clinics around the country (Sulzberger, 11/22).

The Wall Street Journal: Emergency Docs Warn Of Challenges In New Payment Models
In a new editorial in the Annals of Emergency Medicine, several emergency physicians warn of the challenges of incorporating what ER docs do into new models that move away from the current fee-for-service payment to an episode-of-care approach that reimburses providers for caring for a population of patients over time (Landro, 11/23).

The Wall Street Journal: At the Mall: New Clinics Let Patients Skip The ER
Clinics like PrimaCare's-;and others in many drugstores that offer fewer services-;are increasingly cropping up nationwide to address a widening deficit in care: The number of patients seeking emergency care rose more than 43% between 1990 and 2009, while the number of hospital emergency departments declined 27% over the same period, says Renee Hsia, an emergency-medicine researcher at the University of California, San Francisco. While the array of options can be confusing, for patients who do some research before an illness or accident, non-traditional care providers can help them cut costs and avoid excruciatingly long ER wait times (Landro, 11/22).

Politico: House Judiciary's Lamar Smith Asks For Elena Kagan Documents
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) on Tuesday asked the Obama administration to provide documents and internal correspondence on Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan's role in defense of the health reform law. Republicans argue that Kagan, while she was solicitor general in the Obama administration, participated in the early defense of the law and should recuse herself as the law goes before the Supreme Court (Haberkorn, 11/23).

The Wall Street Journal: Merck To Pay $950 Million In Vioxx Settlement
Merck & Co. agreed to pay $950 million and plead guilty to a criminal misdemeanor charge to resolve government allegations that the company illegally promoted its former painkiller Vioxx and deceived the government about the drug's safety. The settlement of a seven-year U.S. government investigation brings Merck closer to resolving the mountain of litigation that followed the company's 2004 withdrawal of the big-selling drug from the market after a study showed it increased the risk for heart attacks and strokes (Loftus and Kendall, 11/23).

The Associated Press/Los Angeles Times: Merck To Pay $950 Million To Settle Vioxx Investigation
The Justice Department said Tuesday that drug maker Merck & Co. will pay $950 million to resolve investigations into its marketing of the painkiller Vioxx. ... In 2007, the company paid $4.85 billion to settle about 50,000 Vioxx-related lawsuits. The Justice Department said the settlement resolves allegations that Merck made false, unproven or misleading statements about Vioxx's safety to increase sales and made false statements to Medicaid agencies about its safety (11/22).

NPR: Remember Vioxx? Merck Settles Marketing Charges From Way Back
The settlement of those charges "does not constitute any admission by Merck of any liability or wrongdoing," the company said in a statement. "We believe that Merck acted responsibly and in good faith in connection with the conduct at issue in these civil settlement agreements, including activities concerning the safety profile of Vioxx," Bruce N. Kuhlik, Merck's general counsel, said in the statement. The settlement has been expected for a while. Merck set aside money to cover the cost more than a year ago (Hensley, 11/22).


http://www.kaiserhealthnews.orgThis article was reprinted from kaiserhealthnews.org with permission from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent news service, is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health care policy research organization unaffiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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