First Edition: October 7, 2010

Today’s headlines include stories on waivers given some companies that offer only minimal health insurance coverage, insurers’ political efforts during this campaign season and efforts in New York to bar the use of food stamps to buy soda.

Reminding Ourselves What Has Gone Right With The Health Law 

Kaiser Health News has a column by former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, who has a new book about the health care debate: “Six months after the passage of health care reform, it is easy to forget how far we have come in such a short time. With the daily drumbeat of attacks on the law, full of distortions and appeals to people’s fears, it is no wonder that many Americans still have serious doubts about whether they will be better off. So this is a good time to remind ourselves of what has gone right with the law – and how much better our health care will be in the coming years if we give the new law a chance and work together to make it a success” Kaiser Health News.

Waivers Address Talk Of Dropping Health Coverage 
As Obama administration officials put into place the first major wave of changes under the health care legislation, they have tried to defuse stiffening resistance — from companies like McDonald’s and some insurers — by granting dozens of waivers to maintain even minimal coverage far below the new law’s standards (The New York Times).

McDonald’s, 29 Other Firms Get Health Care Coverage Waivers 
Nearly a million workers won’t get a consumer protection in the U.S. health reform law meant to cap insurance costs because the government exempted their employers. Thirty companies and organizations, including McDonald’s (MCD) and Jack in the Box (JACK), won’t be required to raise the minimum annual benefit included in low-cost health plans, which are often used to cover part-time or low-wage employees (USA Today).

Democrats In Tight Races Put Focus On Abortion Rights 
Republicans have won points with many voters by promising a conservative overhaul of taxes and spending, but Democrats are working hard in the closing weeks of the campaign to convince voters that a conservative social agenda is waiting in the wings, too, should Republicans be elected in large numbers. Abortion rights is the flash point, being wielded by the left in hard-fought races from New York’s contest for governor, to Senate races in Florida and California (The New York Times).

Health Insurers Pour Money Into GOP Campaigns, Hoping To Limit New Regulations 
The insurance industry is pouring money into Republican campaign coffers in hopes of scaling back wide-ranging regulations in the new healthcare law but preserving the mandate that Americans buy coverage. Since January, the nation’s five largest insurers and the industry’s Washington-based lobbying arm have given three times more money to Republican lawmakers and political action committees than to Democratic politicians and organizations (The Los Angeles Times).

Doc Groups Helping Their Own 
A slate of Republican doctors seeking House seats is benefiting from a group of deep-pocketed medical groups that are funneling thousands of dollars to their campaigns and providing support on the airwaves (Politico).

Insurer-Funded PAC Bankrolls Ads Backing GOP Insurance Commissioner Candidate 
For the second time in a month, a California Chamber of Commerce political action committee funded in part by major insurance companies is bankrolling TV ads to help Republican Mike Villines in his race against Democrat Dave Jones for state insurance commissioner (Los Angeles Times).

Health-Care Law’s Guidelines On Premiums’ Use Take Shape 
At first blush, the mandate in the new health-care law sounds simple: Starting next year, health insurers must use at least 80 to 85 percent of the premium dollars they collect to pay medical bills or otherwise improve their customers’ health. But deciding which expenses insurers can include has been proving a monumental and controversial task for the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (The Washington Post).

FAA To Unveil Medical Helicopter Safety Proposals
Federal aviation regulators on Thursday are expected to propose long-awaited regulations imposing more safety equipment, enhanced pilot training and tighter operating restrictions on hundreds of emergency medical helicopters flying around the U.S. (The Wall Street Journal).

Agency Acts To Ease Delay Of Pills For Elderly
The Drug Enforcement Administration has issued a new guideline intended to help ease the delay some nursing home residents face in receiving certain painkillers and anti-anxiety medications (The New York Times).

FDA Chief Focuses On Antibiotic Resistance 
The Food and Drug Administration is intensifying its focus on problems caused by antibiotic resistance among humans and feed animals through the widespread use of those drugs over the past several decades, said FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg (The Wall Street Journal).

Web Site To Offer Health Advice, Some Of It From Marketers 
Starting on Thursday, the Web site Sharecare.com is to arrive, offering what its proprietors call an interactive social Q.& A. platform to provide consumers with what they want to know on health and wellness subjects — with the A’s being contributed by, among others, marketers (The New York Times).

New York Asks to Bar Use of Food Stamps to Buy Sodas
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg sought federal permission on Wednesday to bar New York City’s 1.7 million recipients of food stamps from using them to buy soda or other sugared drinks (The New York Times).

Soda Is Target Of New Assault 
Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Gov. David Paterson have asked the federal government to bar New York City food-stamp recipients from using the benefit to buy sugary drinks, an effort to determine if the move would decrease obesity and diabetes problems (The Wall Street Journal).

Whooping Cough Vaccine To Be Required Of California Seventh-Through-12th-Graders 
Next fall, seventh-through12th-grade students in California will be required under a new state law to get a whooping cough booster shot before starting school, health officials said this week (The Los Angeles Times).

Tobacco Lawsuits Puff Along In Florida 
Lawsuits seeking compensation from cigarette makers for cancers and other illnesses are on the wane in much of the country, but in one state, Florida, tobacco litigation has never been hotter (The Wall Street Journal).

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