Healthcare Thursday

Stem cells on the docket when Congress returns? So says Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), a member of the Energy and Commerce panel and a vocal supporter of expanding embryonic stem cell research. A federal judge this week blocked President Obama's efforts to expand federal funding for such research, leading DeGette to call for legislation overturning that decision.

"This is going to have to be addressed very, very quickly," DeGette told TPM Wednesday, adding that Democratic leaders already have the issue on their radar. "It's gone up to the top of the list for leadership, and it will happen shortly after we get back."

The issue hasn't been lost on Democrats in the upper chamber. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) has called a hearing on the topic the week lawmakers return from their summer break.

Good news for long-time smokers: The White House on Wednesday expanded Medicare to cover more counseling services for seniors trying to kick their tobacco habits. 

Previous rules limited Medicare coverage of tobacco-cessation counseling only to those who'd already developed a tobacco-related disease (or symptoms hinting at one). The new guidelines will expand payments to include counseling services — up to eight sessions per year — for all Medicare smokers.

"Most Medicare beneficiaries want to quit their tobacco use," Health and Human Services Department (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a statement announcing the move. "Now, [they] can get the help they need."

The lobbying power of half-a-billion bad eggs: The recent egg recall continues to ignite the push for Congress to bolster the nation's food safety rules this year. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) became the latest advocate, urging lawmakers to "act quickly … and protect the public from future harm."

“The first responsibility of government," Klobuchar said Wednesday in a statement, "is to protect its citizens. This massive recall is just another example of the broken system that continues to allow contaminated food to make it to our store shelves."

The Marine Corps battles mental illness: The Associated Press highlights the steps taken by Marine commanders to combat a suicide rate that's doubled in the past year.

It's money, stupid: Healthcare experts at Atlanta's Emory University Medical School say there's only one way to ensure that more med students fill the primary care spots that have gone empty in recent years: Pay them what specialists make.

"The income of primary care physicians as a whole is half or less than that of most specialists," the professors wrote in the Atlanta Journal Constitution. "To fix inequities in compensation, we need simple, but politically difficult decisions to adjust reimbursement so that it is reasonably equivalent for primary care as for specialist physicians. This has been argued but has never proved politically possible."

McCain vows repeal of healthcare reform: After soundly defeating his GOP primary opponent this week, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) went out on a limb, predicting Republicans will win back control of Congress in November — and use their new majority status to "repeal and replace Obamacare.”

A nasty battle for Florida governor could focus on Medicare: Before this race, GOP contender Rick Scott was best known for heading Columbia/HCA — then the nation's largest for-profit hospital chain — amid charges that his facilities were committing massive Medicare fraud. (The company ultimately pleaded guilty to 14 felonies and paid a $1.7 billion fine — the largest ever of its kind.) 

Scott was never charged and has insisted he knew nothing about the fraud. But his Democratic opponent, Alex Sink, is vowing to make the episode a high-profile issue on the campaign trail.

"It’s important for Floridians to understand what the past experience of the potential future governor is," Sink told the St. Petersburg Times, "And so, obviously, is his experience and what he's been involved in."