Healthcare Wednesday

"With each new disruption come loud claims — some from insurance executives — that the health overhaul is damaging American health care. On the surface, these claims can sound credible. But when you dig a little deeper, you often discover the same lesson that the McDonald’s case provides: the real problem was the status quo." http://nyti.ms/bXviKS

Grassley takes on Dems over MA changes: Sen. Charles Grassley (Iowa), senior Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, is none too happy about local reports estimating that 21,000 Iowans will be forced to switch health coverage next year because their Medicare Advantage (MA) plans will no longer exist. And he has a good idea who's to blame.

"Seniors face fewer choices, fewer benefits and higher costs because of the partisan health care overhaul and previous changes to the Medicare program under Democratic leadership," Grassley said in a statement.

The news that some MA plans wouldn't still be around in 2011 is not, well, news. Last month, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) projected that about 5 percent of seniors in stand-alone MA plans would need to find new coverage because their current plans aren't renewing contracts with the agency — mostly due to a 2008 law that applied new consumer protection to a particular type of MA plan called private fee for service.

Nationwide, all but 2,300 seniors forced out of their current MA plans will have the option to enroll in another one. http://bit.ly/cPIsI0

FDA chief makes an appearance: Margaret Hamburg, head of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), will speak during a luncheon at the National Press Club Wednesday afternoon. The agency is generating headlines at the moment on a diversity of issues, including changes to its approval process for second generation medical devices, and its potential approval the first genetically modified animal (a salmon) for human consumption.

House GOP leaders wonder how states intend to pay for health reform: GOP leaders on the Energy and Commerce Committee — including Reps. Joe Barton (Texas), John Shimkus (Ill.) and Michael Burgess (Texas) — have an inkling that the new health reform law will saddle states with costs they can't afford.

The lawmakers have asked all 50 governors and D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty (D) for a host of information about how the states plan to pay for the changes. Included in their request, the lawmakers want to see projected costs "through at least 2023" and the estimated increase in Medicaid enrollment.

"Given the important role states play in implementing the legislation and the difficult budgetary situation in many states," the Republicans wrote in their Oct. 5 letter, "Congress must understand the impact of the legislation on each state's budget and what steps each state will take in order to finance these additional outlays." http://bit.ly/dpraXa

How bad does Manchin want that Senate seat? West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin (D), a former coal broker who's vying to replace the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), is expected Wednesday morning to announce a law suit against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over the administration's efforts to rein in mountaintop removal coal mining, The Charleston Gazette's Ken Ward reports. 

Aside from the obvious energy and economic implications surrounding the suit, there are public health issues lurking here as well. Mountaintop removal mining — in which companies blast away mountain peaks and push the debris into adjacent streams — is popular in Appalachia, saving coal companies money on both trucking and labor. 

But it’s also ravaged neighboring communities by poisoning wells and waterways, contaminating air, killing off wildlife and flooding nearby homes. 

"While the coal industry favors mountaintop removal's efficiency, and local political leaders praise the jobs provided, there is a growing scientific consensus that the practice is causing widespread and irreversible damage to the region's forests, water quality and communities," Ward writes. 

People living near streams polluted by coal mining are more likely to get cancer, researchers at West Virginia University and Virginia Tech reported earlier this year. http://bit.ly/cFREkj

The EPA estimates that nearly 2,000 miles of Appalachian streams have been buried already by mountaintop projects.

Reports like that caused Byrd, a longtime supporter of mountaintop coal mining, to come out adamantly against the practice in the last years of his life. Manchin, it seems, has no intention of doing the same. http://bit.ly/9wbVvr

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