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Monthly Archives: February 2014

Dark chocolate 'good for the heart,' study suggests

Nutritionists have long said that eating dark chocolate in moderation can be good for our health. Now, researchers have discovered why. It may reduce the risk of atherosclerosis – thickening and hardening of the arteries – by restoring flexibility of the arteries and preventing white blood cells from sticking to the blood vessel walls.The research team, including Prof. Diederik Esser of the Top Institute Food and Nutrition and the Division of Human Nutrition at Wageningen University, both in the Netherlands, published the study in The FASEB Journal.

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Viruses in 700-year-old human feces have antibiotic resistance genes

Though digging through a latrine from the 14th century is not the most glamorous of tasks, scientists have found viruses that contain genes for antibiotic resistance in fossilized human feces from ancient Belgium.The feces are from a time long before antibiotics were used, and the investigators say it provides evidence that the human gut has remained unchanged after centuries.They publish the results of their study in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology.But how does one find fecal samples from 700 years ago?

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Could Google Glass be used to predict disease outbreaks?

Experts at the University of California, Los Angeles, have developed a Google Glass app that they claim could help stop emerging public health threats around the world.Glass is a pioneering “wearable computer” designed by the software and computing corporation Google. It takes the form of a pair of eyeglasses with a small transparent computer screen in the right eye and a touchpad built into the right arm of the frame.

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Insurers Gather New Customers' Health Information — A Critical Step In Calculating Prices For Next Year's Exchange Plans

Meanwhile, Reuters reports that chronically ill consumers who obtain coverage from the online insurance marketplaces may still face high drug costs despite the health law’s ban on discriminatory insurance practices. Also, news outlets report on Time magazine’s cover story that details how the Obama administration almost shutdown healthcare.gov during its early, fitful days.

The Wall Street Journal: Health Plans Rush To Size Up New Clients
Insurers are rushing to gather health information from the new customers they won on public marketplaces in a high-stakes outreach effort crucial to their hopes of profiting from the health-care law. Health plans need to know the health status of those signing up for coverage so they can project whether the costs are likely to outrun the premiums coming in. That information will be critical in figuring out prices for next year, among other things. But, under the law’s new rules, enrollees don’t have to disclose pre-existing conditions to buy insurance (Mathews, 2/27).

Reuters: Chronically Ill Facing High Drug Costs Under US Health Law
President Barack Obama’s ban on discriminatory health insurance practices against the sick has not stopped insurers from increasing up-front charges for the expensive drugs needed to control chronic illnesses from leukemia to multiple sclerosis. Actuarial studies of plans sold through health insurance marketplaces in some states found that many make consumers responsible for as much as 50 percent of the price of specialty drugs, which can cost $8,000 or more a month (Morgan, 2/28).

CBS News: Time Report: Obama Weighed Shutting Down Healthcare.Gov During Rollout
President Obama considered shutting down the HealthCare.gov website and starting over during its rollout, Time magazine reports in its new cover story. The administration was “pretty desperate,” according to Time contributor Steven Brill, who reported the story. “Two weeks into the launch, as the government shutdown ended, they knew all the attention was now going to be focused this website, which just wasn’t working,” he said. “So the president ordered his chief of staff to have a team come in and decide whether they should scrap the whole thing and start over or whether they could fix it” (Cochran, 2/27).

The Hill: Report: Obama Considered Scrapping Healthcare.gov And Starting Over
President Obama considered scrapping HealthCare.gov and starting over at the height of the website’s problems last fall, according to a report in Time magazine. The revelation underscores the total chaos that faced the White House and federal health officials in October when ObamaCare’s enrollment website was barely functioning (Viebeck, 2/27).

The Wall Street Journal’s Washington Wire: CMS’s Marilyn Tavenner: ‘Tired Of Talking’ About Healthcare.gov
Marilyn Tavenner, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said CMS should have hired a systems integrator to implement HealthCare.gov, the federal health exchange, rather than trying to do it on its own. She also said that testing HealthCare.gov prior to its Oct. 1 rollout was tough because it was such a large project. CMS only expected 10 to 12 states to work with HealthCare.gov, which ended up serving 36 states (Boulton, 2/27).

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Republicans Block Senate Bill To Expand Veterans' Benefits

Republican senators expressed concerns about how the bill would be funded.

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Senate Blocks Dems’ Bill Boosting Vets’ Benefits
A divided Senate on Thursday derailed Democratic legislation that would have provided $21 billion for medical, education and job-training benefits for the nation’s veterans. The bill fell victim to election-year disputes over spending and fresh penalties against Iran (2/27).

Politico: Republicans Derail Senate Vets Bill
Members of both parties are typically reticent to oppose legislation designed to help veterans and their families, but the downfall of Sanders’s bill underscored the frosty relations in the Senate and Congress at large, where it’s been tough to get much done (Summers, 2/27).

Meanwhile, in other news from Capitol Hill –

CQ HealthBeat: Suppliers Of Rogue Drugs Must Face Tougher Penalties, Lawmakers Say
House lawmakers agreed Thursday they should do more to combat the growing problem of counterfeit prescription drugs, including increasing criminal penalties and overseeing a new system of tracking drugs through the supply chain. Officials from the Food and Drug Administration and Department of Homeland Security testified that illegal drug supply chains are expanding quickly, often reaching through multiple countries as drug counterfeiters become more sophisticated (Ethridge, 2/28).

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CBO: Republican 'Fix' To Health Law Would Hurt Coverage, Cost $74 Billion

The Congressional Budget Office report comes out as House Speaker John Boehner discusses whether there’s a future for a GOP bill.

The Fiscal Times: GOP Obamacare Fix Kicks One Million Off Private Insurance
The Congressional Budget Office just poured cold water on a popular Republican proposal to “fix” Obamacare. The GOP’s bill would change the Affordable Care Act’s definition of a “full time employee” from a worker logging 30 hours each week to someone logging 40 or more hours a week. The nonpartisan CBO found that under Obamacare, the GOP bill would increase the deficit by about $74 billion over the next decade and cause one million people to lose their work-based insurance (Ehley, 2/27).

Politico: Vote On GOP Obamacare Alternative In Doubt
Suddenly, a House vote on a Republican alternative to Obamacare seems less likely. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) declined to commit to an alternative measure coming up for a vote this year but said GOP leadership is going to “continue to having conversations with our members” about items like tax reform and replacing President Barack Obama’s signature domestic legislation (Sherman, 2/27).

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GOP Signals It Would Attack Hillary Clinton On Health Care

The Wall Street Journal reports that Republican strategists say they would target Clinton’s stance on health care, should she run for president.

The Wall Street Journal’s Washington Wire: GOP Targets Hillary Clinton With Obamacare Attacks
Republicans see the Affordable Care Act as prime ammunition in the midterm elections. But party strategists are bent on getting mileage out of President Barack Obama’s biggest domestic initiative long after the battle for control of congress ends in November. The Republican National Committee is signaling that one line of attack against Hillary Clinton, should she run for president in 2016, will be her stance on health care (Nicholas,ł/27).

CBS News: Hillary Clinton Open To “Evidence-Based” Obamacare Changes
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took a baby step into the radioactive politics of Obamacare on Wednesday, using a pair of speeches in Florida to stake out a nuanced defense of the law that Republicans have used to criticize President Obama for years — and one they hope to deploy against Clinton if she runs for president in 2016. “I think we are on the right track in many respects but I would be the first to say if things aren’t working then we need people of good faith to come together and make evidence-based changes,” Clinton said during a speech in Orlando before the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, according to CNN. She singled out Obamacare’s impact on small businesses for review, particularly the law’s requirement for businesses with over 50 employees to provide health coverage to those employees (Miller, 2/27).

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Ads Critical Of The Health Law Trigger Attacks And Counter Attacks

The Washington Post fact checks another Americans for Prosperity ad featuring a so-called “Obamacare” victim and the AFP president responds to criticism waged at the group by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.  

The Washington Post’s The Fact Checker: The Missing Context In Yet Another AFP Ad Featuring Yet Another Obamacare Victim
The Fact Checker is a little late in fact checking this ad—our colleagues at PolitiFact looked closely at it earlier in February—but given the controversy over Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s claim that the “vast majority” of the AFP ads are “lies,” we decided it was necessary to delve into the facts behind it. It certainly packs a punch, with Lamb’s personal anger at the president apparent …. Why was the plan [she lost] so inexpensive? For one thing, it had a $25,000 cap on annual benefits. It also had no limit on out-of-pocket costs, and it would only cover generic medications (Kessler, 2/28).

CNN: AFP President: Reid Tries To ‘Silence And Intimidate’ Americans
One day after Senate Majority Harry Reid repeatedly attacked the conservative billionaire activists, the Koch brothers, and their well-financed conservative organization Americans for Prosperity, the head of that group, Tim Phillips, said Reid is using scare tactics against detractors. “For a politician to try and silence and intimidate an American citizen solely because they don’t like the facts that are coming out and the story they are telling says more about the politician than it says about Americans for Prosperity,” Phillips told CNN in a sit-down interview near his office in Arlington, Virginia Thursday morning (Caldwell, 2/27).

In related news –

NBC News: GOP Weighs Adding to ‘Obamacare’ Attack In Midterms
Republicans in Congress are counting on “Obamacare” being the gift that keeps on giving in this fall’s midterm elections, though some others in the GOP question whether that’s enough. Decrying the Affordable Care Act has become a fixture of the GOP’s election year strategy. To boot, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, opened his press conference on Thursday decrying the “devastating consequences” of the law for Americans. But some Republicans are questioning whether staking the 2014 campaigns on Obamacare alone is a wise wager (Russert, 2/28).

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Utah Gov. Rejects Full Medicaid Expansion, Opts Instead For A 'Private' Approach

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert unveiled a proposal that would use federal money to help qualifying state residents buy private health insurance and would, he said, keep the state in control of the program. In Virginia, the political back-and-forth over expanding the program continues.    

Salt Lake Tribune: Medicaid Plans Divide Utah GOP
After months of anticipation, Gov. Gary Herbert released a proposal Thursday to use federal money to help 111,000 low-income Utahns buy private health coverage, saying the state has a “moral obligation” to its citizens. … It is not, Herbert said, an expansion of Medicaid, but a three-year, Utah-run pilot program that “will not only help us meet our moral responsibility to care for the poorest among us … but it will do it in a way that will keep the state in control” (Gerhke and Steward,ł/27).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Utah Governor Rejects Full Medicaid Expansion
Utah’s Republican governor announced Thursday he wants to reject a full Medicaid expansion that would enroll more people in the government program, and instead seek federal dollars to cover the poor in private plans. Gov. Gary Herbert’s decision came after months of pushing back an announcement, making him one of the last governors in the country to announce his intentions about expanding Medicaid (2/27).

The Richmond Times-Dispatch: Senate Democrats Offer Medicaid Audit
Senate Democrats have offered a four-year audit of Virginia’s Medicaid program as a compromise to extend health insurance coverage to hundreds of thousands of uninsured Virginians. However, they also drew a line in the sand by insisting on a commercial insurance marketplace in the two-year state budget as an alternative to straight expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. “We are here as long as it takes,” warned Sen. Donald A. McEachin, D-Henrico, chairman of the Senate Democratic Caucus, in a news conference at the Capitol on Thursday (Martz,ł/27). 

The Richmond Times-Dispatch: On WRVA, McAuliffe Prods Lawmakers On Medicaid Expansion
Gov. Terry McAuliffe spent a significant slice of his monthly radio show on WRVA in Richmond Thursday making the case for the state to accept federal money available to the commonwealth for the expansion of Medicaid. McAuliffe made the economic argument — Virginia is losing $5 million a day and $270 million to date — by failing to recover the taxes it has paid to Washington under the Affordable Care Act and accept federal money that closes the coverage gap for up to 400,000 residents. “All we’re trying to do is bring it back,” he told host Jimmy Barrett (Nolan, 2/27).

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President's Budget To Include Billions For Training New Doctors

President Barack Obama’s budget will be released next week.

Bloomberg: Obama Budget To Seek Increased Health-Care Training Funds
President Barack Obama will propose a $14.6 billion expansion of health-care and medical-training programs in the fiscal 2015 budget he’s releasing next week, the administration said in a statement. The spending is meant to “improve delivery of health-care services, particularly primary care” from inner cities to rural areas and finance specialty training for doctors and other health-care givers in underserved areas, the administration said (Runningen, 2/27).

USA Today: Obama Budget Will Seek Record Funding For New Doctors
The budget, which Obama will reveal Tuesday, marks the first time Medicare funds will be used to increase the number of medical residents, and it’s the largest-ever proposed increase of the corps, officials said. The administration hopes to boost both team-based care, as well as send residents out to rural areas and areas with lower access to care (Kennedy, 2/27).

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