Thursday, March 30, 2006
This analysis finds that the House Budget Committee's budget plan is harsher than the Senate plan in several respects. The House plan would cut funding for domestic “discretionary” (or non-entitlement) programs by $8.8 billion in fiscal year 2007 and $169 billion over five years, relative to CBO's current-services baseline. The plan also would reduce entitlement programs by $5.1 billion over five years. The savings from these program reductions would not, however, be used for deficit reduction. They would instead be used to offset a portion of the cost of the budget plan’s $228 billion in tax cuts, as well as its defense spending increases. The net result would be significant further increases in the deficit. The plan would increase the deficit over the next five years by $256 billion above what deficits would be if current policy was left unchanged.
Ed: Good going, Congress! What's another few trillion in debt to leave our children?
Wednesday, March 29, 2006
Find out here by taking the nerd test:
And in case you're curious, here are my results:
Your Score Summary Overall, you scored as follows: 65% scored higher (more nerdy), and What does this mean? Your nerdiness is:
35% scored lower (less nerdy).
Not nerdy, but definitely not hip.
Your Score Summary
Overall, you scored as follows:
65% scored higher (more nerdy), and
What does this mean? Your nerdiness is:
For anyone who took fifth-grade social studies or sang “I’m Just a Bill,” how legislation turns to law always seemed pretty simple: The House passes a bill, the Senate passes the same bill, the president signs it. “He signed ya, Bill – now you’re a law,” shouts the cartoon lawmaker on “Schoolhouse Rock” as Bill acknowledges the cheers.
But last month, Washington threw all that old-fashioned civics stuff into a tizzy, when President Bush signed into law a bill that never passed the House. Bill – in this case, a major budget-cutting measure that will affect millions of Americans – became a law because it was “certified” by the leaders of the House and Senate. After stewing for weeks, Public Citizen, a legislative watchdog group, sued Tuesday to block the budget-cutting law, charging that Bush and Republican leaders of Congress flagrantly violated the Constitution when the president signed it into law knowing that the version that cleared the House was substantively different from the Senate’s version. The issue is bizarre, with even constitutional scholars saying they could not think of any precedent for the journey the budget bill took to becoming a law.
Opponents point to elementary school civics lessons to make their case, while Republicans are evoking an obscure Supreme Court ruling from the 1890s to suggest a bill does not have to pass both chambers of Congress to become law. “We believe that the law is constitutional and that this is yet another political attempt by the Democrats to stop us from cutting spending,” said Ronald D. Bonjean Jr., a spokesman for Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill. But liberal interest groups hoping to bring down the budget law have the backing of many legal scholars, who say that a $2 billion mistake cannot be ignored. “The Deficit Reduction Omnibus Reconciliation Act of 2005 may be something, but it is not law within the meaning of the Constitution,” said Jamin Raskin, an American University law professor. No one disputes the central facts of the lawsuit: Last December, Vice President Cheney broke a tie vote in the Senate to win passage of a bill that would cut nearly $40 billion over five years by reducing Medicaid rolls, raising work requirements for welfare, and trimming the student loan program, among other changes
Thanks to Mike Stelmack for this tip.
Tuesday, March 28, 2006
Attorney General Peg
Lautenschlager and Helen Marks Dicks, Director of the Coalition of
Wisconsin Aging Groups' Elder Law Center has announced the creation of
a joint effort to combat the growing number of Medicare Part D scams
and coverage problems affecting seniors who have enrolled or who are
trying to enroll in the federal government's new prescription drug
The joint effort, called Medicare D Watch, is a statewide project to uncover fraudulent practices and coverage problems with the new Medicare Part D program and to help seniors who have been hurt as a result.
“This new drug plan can be confusing, which could make Medicare beneficiaries vulnerable to exploitation,” Lautenschlager said. “The Wisconsin Department of Justice aggressively enforces the law against those who would exploit seniors - and we will be watching those who attempt to take advantage of the new system.”
Questionable activities range from deceptive sales practices such as enrolling a Medicare beneficiary, without his or her knowledge, into a more expensive Medicare Advantage plan rather than a Medicare Part D plan to problems resulting from Part D plans changing their formularies without notice.
If seniors have experienced these or other problems with Medicare Part D enrollment or a particular Medicare Part D plan, Medicare D Watch wants to know about it.
“We strongly encourage folks to call or e-mail Medicare D Watch,” said Helen Marks Dicks, Director of the Elder Law Center. “Using Medicare Part D to treat our elderly citizens poorly is not just bad business; it could be against the law. Medicare beneficiaries have the right to be treated fairly -and we're here to help.”
Read more at http://www.dunnconnect.com/articles/2006/03/27/variety/ourtime03.txt
"Terri's death was a gross injustice that marked a sad day in our history when our society allowed Terri, a woman with a severe disability, to be discarded in such a cruel and inhumane manner," says Burke Balch, the director of medical ethics for the National Right to Life Committee.
Balch said his group wants Americans to do two things to make a difference: complete a Will to Live form from NRLC and contact your state legislators and urge laws to protect disabled people.
The Will to Live form allows patients to clearly express the kinds of treatment they want should they be unable to make their own health care decisions down the road.
Balch says the form is vitally important because an NRLC study shows the laws of all but ten states may allow doctors and hospitals to disregard advance directives when the directives call for treatment, food, or fluids. The form is designed to make it clear that a patient wants food and fluids continued.
Following Terri Schiavo's death, many groups and the media have focused on urging Americans to complete living will forms. However, NRLC reports that, increasingly, health care providers who consider a patient's "quality of life" too low are defying these directives in order to deny treatment against patient and family wishes.
"We believe most Americans will be frightened to learn that four-fifths of the states do not clearly protect their right to choose food, fluids, or life-preserving medical treatment," explains Dorothy Timbs, legislative counsel for NRLC's medical ethics center.
Medical futility policies permit health care facilities to terminate treatment of a patient when treatment would be futile, or transer the patient to a facility that will provide treatment irrespective of the patient's chance for recovery.. Read more here about medical futility--get the facts.
Ed: Look out! The "life" they seek to prolong may be your own!
The Bush administration on Monday sent letters to hundreds of thousands of Medicare beneficiaries to notify them that they are enrolled in two Medicare prescription drug plans and will soon be removed from one plan, the New York Times reports. According to the Times, many beneficiaries who switched plans remained enrolled in the first plan. Beneficiaries in many cases "continued to use the first plan for some or all of their prescriptions, and pharmacies found that they could bill both plans for the same prescription."
The administration has said that beneficiaries enrolled in two plans might be charged two premiums or improperly billed for other costs. CMS Administrator Mark McClellan said that "[w]ell over a million" beneficiaries are enrolled in more than one plan, but many of them have only filed claims with one plan. An estimated 500,000 beneficiaries will receive notices, which are being sent by Medicare drug plans on government letterhead, as part of the "enrollment reconciliation process," HHS spokesperson Christina Pearson said.
Ed: how the heck did they end up in two plans in the first place? Could there have been something wrong with the process? Nah......
Monday, March 27, 2006
As a former member of Congress, I understand the challenges you face as you and your staff work through the FY07 budget proposals. So I want to highlight an important, yet easy to overlook, item in the budget � Social Security private accounts. In the Hall of the House, the President called for a bipartisan solution to the challenges facing Social Security. In his budget, however, he once again includes the same plan to privatize our nation's most successful program.
The budget analysis makes it clear that the President's privatization plan would increase the deficit dramatically, make significant cuts in Social Security benefits, and cause the Social Security Trust Fund to face a cash-flow crisis earlier than it otherwise would. The President would finance private accounts by taking money out of the Social Security Trust Fund beginning in 2010. According to the Administration's budget, the President's privatization plan would increase the deficit by $712 billion over 10 years. The costs of privatization would balloon thereafter and continue for several decades placing a huge new debt burden on current and future workers.
A recent analysis by the Social Security actuaries concludes that the President's plan would actually deepen the cash-flow problems of the Social Security Trust Fund. The plan would deplete the Social Security Trust Fund so quickly that the trust fund would face a cash-flow crisis in 2012, five years earlier than projected under current law.
Under the President's privatization plan, Social Security benefits for future workers would be reduced dramatically. First, the plan would reduce benefits for Social Security private account holders by cutting benefits based on assumed rates of return in their accounts. Second, the President would use �progressive� price indexing to cut Social Security benefits even further, leaving the vast majority of tomorrow's retirees with only a minimal Social Security benefit. In the long run, the plan would effectively dismantle Social Security.
During the past year, private accounts have been fully debated by the American people and overwhelmingly rejected. The President's own White House Conference on Aging repudiated privatization, which, by itself, does nothing to strengthen the long-term viability of the Social Security system. The President is disingenuous when he uses his State of the Union address to call on Congress to work together on a bipartisan solution to our long-term retirement and health needs while offering a budget with exactly the same polarizing and politicized Social Security provisions that have already been rejected.
Barbara B. Kennelly
President and CEO
Saturday, March 25, 2006
Take a monstrous url and make it small:
Thursday, March 23, 2006
From various wire reports: KOLKATA, India -- A giant aldabra tortoise thought to be around 250 years old has died in the Kolkata zoo of liver failure, authorities said on Thursday. The tortoise had been the pet of Robert Clive, the famous British military officer in colonial India around the middle of the 18th century, a local minister in West Bengal state said. Local authorities say the tortoise, named "Addwaitya," meaning the "The One and Only" in Bengali, was the oldest tortoise in the world but they have not presented scientific proof to back up their claim. "Historical records show he was a pet of British general Robert Clive of the East India Company and had spent several years in his sprawling estate before he was brought to the zoo about 130 years ago," West Bengal Forest Minister Jogesh Barman said. "We have documents to prove that he was more than 150 years old, but we have pieced together other evidence like statements from authentic sources and it seems that he is more than 250 years old," he said.
Ed: I reported on Addwaitya's illness a while back. Goodbye, little tortoise!
Tuesday, March 21, 2006
A new report prepared for the California Health Foundation report says that dual eligibles don't have the same access to medications that they did under Medi Cal.
From the onslaught of TV ads to stacks of direct mail appeals, California’s 4.3 million Medicare beneficiaries face a dizzying array of choices for the new prescription drug benefit. Depending on the county where they live, Medicare consumers in California have 50 to 71 Part D plans to choose from. In the first analysis of its kind, The Medicare Drug Benefit: How Good Are the Options? examines the state’s Medicare drug plan offerings and attempts to answer two important questions. First, does it matter which plan a beneficiary chooses? And second, is coverage for low income beneficiaries better under Medicare Part D or Medi-Cal?
Among the positive findings of the issue brief are:
- Federal protections for certain drug classes have led to more extensive coverage by all plans for drugs in protected classes than in unprotected classes.
- On average, the ten auto-enrollment plans for dual-eligibles—low income beneficiaries who qualify for Medicare and Medi-Cal—do not offer distinctively different coverage than higher-cost plans.
Other key findings should be of concern to policymakers and consumer advocates, including:
- There are significant differences in coverage among the plans, yet several factors, including the sheer number of plans and the absence of a clear relationship among plan features like premiums and the number of drugs covered, contribute to a very complex decision-making process for beneficiaries.
- On average, Part D coverage for dual-eligibles is inferior to coverage under Medi-Cal. Moreover, coverage varies widely for dual-eligibles depending on the plan into which they were auto-enrolled. Both findings have important implications for the health of these beneficiaries.
The Beazley Institute for Health Law and Policy at Loyola University
Chicago School of Law is currently accepting applications for our LL.M.
in Health Law Fellowship for the 2006-2007 school year.
While enrolled full-time in our nationally ranked LL.M. in Health Law
program, the LLM Fellow may serve as an instructor and/or tutor to
health care professionals enrolled in the Master of Jurisprudence in
Health Law program; conduct research for faculty members; author
scholarly articles; serve as an editor of the Institute's online
health law newsletter, and represent the Institute at professional
meetings and associations. Compensation includes a full-tuition
scholarship and a $5000 stipend. To apply, please send a writing
sample, resume, and cover letter to:
LLM Fellowship Committee
Beazley Institute for Health Law and Policy
Loyola University Chicago School of Law
25 East Pearson Street, Suite 1400
Chicago, Illinois 60611
Applications are due May 1, 2006. Fellowship applicants must apply and
be accepted into the LLM in Health Law degree program at Loyola before
being considered for the fellowship.
Monday, March 20, 2006
MEDICARE TAKES STEPS TO HELP PEOPLE WITH LIMITED INCOMES AND RESOURCES TAKE ADVANTAGE OF COMPREHENSIVE MEDICARE DRUG COVERAGE
Everyone in Medicare now has access to prescription drug coverage, regardless of their income or how they get their Medicare. For those with limited incomes, there is extra help providing comprehensive coverage with no or low premiums and low or no deductible.
To ensure that beneficiaries receive the benefit of the extra help, CMS is facilitating the enrollment of certain beneficiaries into prescription drug plans. This week, CMS will begin mailing letters to approximately 1.2 million people with Medicare who have applied for and been approved for the extra help and those who are enrolled in other federal assistance programs such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicare Savings Programs.
The letters let the beneficiary know in which Medicare prescription drug plan they will be enrolled if they take no action before April 30. Unless they enroll on their own during March, these beneficiaries will have their prescription drug coverage begin on May 1. CMS is enrolling these beneficiaries earlier to make sure that they receive the benefit of the extra help immediately, and without having to pay a penalty. These beneficiaries can still decline the enrollment before it becomes effective, and would not be charged a premium.
A copy of the letter will be available online at www.cms.hhs.gov. The letter will be printed on green paper so that it can be readily identified by beneficiaries, their family members, and other organizations that counsel beneficiaries about their Medicare Choices.
Many of these individuals will not be charged a premium for this drug coverage. However, some of these individuals qualify for sliding-scale premium assistance. But if those beneficiaries don’t enroll in a plan by May 15, 2006, and don’t have prescription drug coverage that is as good as Medicare’s, they will have to pay more for this coverage if they want to enroll later.
Beneficiaries whose employer or union plan sponsor is claiming the retiree drug subsidy on their behalf will not be included in this facilitated enrollment process. However, it is possible that a beneficiary with other drug coverage that is as good as or better than Medicare prescription drug coverage will still be enrolled by CMS because he or she qualifies for extra help. These beneficiaries may want to keep their current coverage and decline enrollment from Medicare.
Sunday, March 19, 2006
The 16th International Congress on Care of the Terminally Ill, to be held September 26-29, 2006 at the Palais des Congrès in Montréal, Canada.
Founded by Dr. Balfour Mount in 1976, and presented by the Palliative Care Division of the Departments of Medicine and Oncology of McGill University, this biennial Congress has grown to become one of the premier international events in palliative care.
Healthcare professionals, therapists, volunteers and all those involved in care for the dying come to renew themselves as providers of care and to obtain the inspiration that will help them shape the palliative care of the future.
This year’s outstanding programme will feature five plenary sessions, seventy-four workshops, and numerous special seminars, research fora, and symposia.
Among the highlights:
- a plenary by Dr. Terry Tafoya, executive director of Tamanawit Unltd.
- a special presentation by Dr. Balfour Mount, Eric M. Flanders Professor of Palliative Medicine, McGill University (retired), and
- in-depth symposia addressing topics such as Pediatric Palliative Care, Healing and Whole-Person Care, Non-Cancer End of Life Care, Self-Esteem, Respiratory Palliative Care, and Volunteerism.
Bringing together over 1200 participants from around the world, the Congress provides an opportunity to review and share the latest developments in research as well as perspectives on end-of-life care from different cultures, spiritual traditions, and professions.
For more information or to register, please visit www.pal2006.com or call 514-481-7408, ext. 227.
In April, the Detailed Programme will be mailed out and posted on the Web site. If you would like to be added to the mailing list, please e-mail us your postal address.
The EARLY-BIRD DEADLINE for registration at the preferential rate has been extended to March 24, 2006.
Friday, March 17, 2006
Issue Briefs Examine Medicare Advantage Plans
Kaiser this week released two issue briefs describing the different types of private plan options available to people on Medicare, identifying key characteristics of the organizations offering the new Medicare drug benefit, and analyzing how companies are positioning themselves to attract Medicare enrollees.
Thursday, March 16, 2006
ALBANY The Elder Law Section of the New York State Bar Association wants to reward law students who are taking the initiative to help the indigent and underserved elderly with an award and membership in the section. The Clinical Excellence Award honors law students participating in a clinical program at a New York law school during the 2005-06 academic year.
Clinical activities that could be eligible for consideration may include work on individual cases, law reform issues, community education, legislative advocacy and other projects. A panel of section members will make the award based on the quality and nature of the second- or third-year student's work in the clinic, particularly the extent to which the work reflects excellent lawyering, service to elderly clients and an understanding of how to use the law to make a difference in the lives of individual clients, communities and the legal system.
To be eligible, applicants should submit an application form, supporting materials, a verification form and a recommendation from at least one clinical professor no later than May 1 to Daniel Fish, Esq., Freedman, Fish, & Grimaldi, 521 Fifth Avenue, 25th Floor, New York, New York 10175. For details and applications, visit http://www.nysba.org/content/contentGroups/Elder_Law_Section_Summer_Meeting/Clinical ExcellenceAwardFinal.pdf.
The recipient will receive $500, recognition at the Elder Law Section's annual meeting in January 2007 and free membership in the section for one year following the recipient's admission to the New York bar.
The Elder Law Section is one of 23 sections of the NYSBA. These groups publish material dealing with their fields of expertise, much of which is not available through commercial publishers. Sections also sponsor conferences, seminars and institutes, monitor legislation and conduct studies. Each of the sections contributes to policy-making, both in their subject areas and Association-wide, and originate many of the recommendations that become NYSBA policy positions.
The Republican-led Senate, worried that seniors will punish GOP lawmakers at the polls for missteps in the new Medicare prescription drug program, voted Wednesday to authorize the government to lengthen the sign-up period for the benefit and to negotiate cut-rate prices with drug companies.
The Senate action provided fresh evidence that the prescription drug insurance program, which President Bush has held up as one of the leading achievements of his presidency, had turned into a political liability.
Wednesday, March 15, 2006
It used to be thought there was some inbuilt limit on lifespan, but a group of scientists meeting at Oxford University for a conference on life extension and enhancement consigned that idea to the dustbin.
Paul Hodge, director of the Harvard Generations Policy Program, said governments around the world — struggling with pension crises, graying workforces and rising healthcare costs — had to face up to the challenge now.
"Life expectancy is going to grow significantly, and current policies are going to be proven totally inadequate," he predicted.
Just how far and fast life expectancy will increase is open to debate, but the direction and the accelerating trend is clear.
Richard Miller of the Michigan University Medical School said tests on mice and rats — genetically very similar to humans — showed lifespan could be extended by 40 percent, simply by limiting calorie consumption.
Translated into humans, that would mean average life expectancy in rich countries rising from near 80 to 112 years, with many individuals living a lot longer.
Aubrey de Grey, a biomedical gerontologist from Cambridge University, goes much further. He believes the first person to live to 1,000 has already been born and told the meeting that periodic repairs to the body using stem cells, gene therapy and other techniques could eventually stop the aging process entirely.
Spurred by election-year jitters and anxious seniors, Congress might consider changes in the new Medicare prescription drug plan even as President Bush works to convince the public that he is getting the troubled program on track. Bush, who counts the enactment of the program as one of his signature domestic achievements, is stepping up his efforts this week to defend it and prod people to join, scheduling appearances such as the one today at Riderwood Village in Silver Spring in an effort to calm seniors' worries about the plan.
"It's a good deal," Bush said yesterday at a Canandaigua, N.Y., senior center. The president said he was "aiming to convince people to - the very minimum - to take a look. I think you're going to like what you see." The president is also working closely behind the scenes with health insurers who offer the drug benefits in order to counter a campaign-style effort that liberal groups began this week to bash the program and help Democrats exact a political price from those who backed it. The bigger challenge might come from uneasy Republicans who are increasingly signing on to proposals to modify the program or shield seniors from its difficulties.
Ed: numerous bills have already been introduced that would correct deficiencies in the current Part D program. See, for example,
Medicare-Guaranteed Prescription Drug Act of 2006 (Introduced in Senate)
S 2342 IS
To amend title XVIII of the Social Security Act to deliver a meaningful benefit and lower prescription drug prices under the Medicare program.
Or visit thomas.loc.gov and search using the term "medicare prescription".
Long Term Leaders Express Concern About Squeeze on State Medicaid Budgets, Ability to Sustain Care Quality Gains
As the federal Medicaid Advisory Commission met today in Atlanta to discuss and deliberate upon pending federal Medicaid reform proposals, Georgia and national long term care leaders expressed concern about the incremental squeeze on state Medicaid budgets, and said the growing disparity between the rising cost of providing quality care and actual government reimbursement levels threatens the ability to sustain nursing home care quality gains. "As we are seeing federal efforts to significantly reduce states' ability to utilize provider fees and inter-governmental transfers as revenue sources, it is more important than ever for transitional funding strategies to be pursued concurrent with the development and implementation of broader Medicaid reforms," stated Fred Watson, president of the Georgia Nursing Home Association. "Reducing funding without identifying and allowing the use of alternative revenue sources would undoubtedly harm Georgia's most vulnerable, medically-fragile seniors in need of high quality facility care."
Bruce Yarwood, President and CEO of the American Health Care Association (AHCA), said there is some cause for optimism that the Bush Administration is hearing the plea of the nation's Governors when it comes to the growing squeeze on state Medicaid budgets due to proposed federal cuts, and pointed out that National Governors' Association (NGA) Chair Mike Huckabee (R-AR) believes headway is being made on this front. "The nation's governors just ended their annual winter meeting in Washington saying they continue to have concerns about elements of President Bush's budget that would shift more health care costs to the states, but they also expressed confidence that headway is being made in convincing the Administration to rethink proposals affecting Medicaid payments," Yarwood said. "We have worked successfully with this Administration to help enhance the quality of America's nursing home care, and we seek continued progress through the implementation of rationale, fair policies that will facilitate continued progress."
Tuesday, March 14, 2006
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) warns seniors and people with disabilities to be aware of a scheme that asks Medicare beneficiaries for money and checking account information to help them enroll in a Medicare Prescription Drug Plan.
This scheme is called the “$299 Ring” for the typical amount of money Medicare beneficiaries
are talked into withdrawing from their checking accounts to pay for a non-existent prescription drug plan. Consumers can report these cases to their local law enforcement agencies or 1-877- 7SAFERX (1-877-772-3379).
Medicare has received complaints from Indiana, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts New Jersey and Georgia. Complaints have been made against a number of different companies, but authorities believe that the companies are the same and are typically based outside the U. S. As soon as CMS receives these complaints, they are investigated and referred to federal law enforcement authorities.
No Medicare drug plan can ask a person with Medicare for bank account or other personal information over the telephone. No beneficiary should ever provide that kind of information to a
caller. They should contact their local police department if they believe someone is trying to
take money or information from them illegally.
Read the rest of this alert. Report fraud to the FTC at https://rn.ftc.gov/pls/dod/wsolcq$.startup?Z_ORG_CODE=PU01