Health Roundup: HHS to unveil tobacco strategy

HHS is scheduled to announce the government’s new tobacco prevention efforts this morning. 

From a Food and Drug Administration advisory: "Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, responsible for more than 440,000 premature deaths each year. Over the past 40 years, our nation has dramatically reduced tobacco use, but recently it has experienced a stall in those declines. Currently, 20.6 percent of adults and 19.5 percent of high school students smoke cigarettes.

"Reducing the nation’s tobacco use rate - and preventing people from starting in the first place - is a top public health priority for the Administration. Comprehensive and sustained tobacco control efforts are necessary to effectively eliminate this epidemic. Please join HHS officials as they discuss the Administration’s actions to achieve this goal."

Shimkus pushes for top E&C spot: Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) is highlighting the fundraising and mentoring help he has given colleagues and is touting his conservative credentials as he launches a campaign to chair the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee. 

A letter Monday from Shimkus to House Republicans shows he’s using a different strategy than Energy and Commerce ranking member Joe Barton (R-Texas), who is seeking another two years as top Republican on the panel.

Dialysis expose sparks response: The chief medical officer at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) responded Tuesday to a scathing article on dialysis care in the U.S. by acknowledging that his agency is failing to adequately oversee the taxpayer-funded procedure.

"We have been not able to perform the oversight functions as frequently or as thoroughly as we might like to," Barry Straube told NPR. 

"We are hindered by funding that comes from Congress in order to perform regulatory oversight visits for all of the 17 different provider sites that CMS is charged with regulating. And the funding that is provided to the agency is insufficient in order to be able to meet the statutory requirements in terms of frequency and thoroughness of those sites."

Chinese heparin prompts call for tougher FDA import controls: The Food and Drug Administration allowed Chinese heparin to be imported into the United States from firms that refused to grant inspectors full access to records and labs, according to a Government Accountability Office report released Tuesday.

The GAO report, requested by House Energy and Commerce ranking member Joe Barton (R-Texas), also faulted FDA's reliance on outside experts with links to heparin companies. FDA boosted its inspections of Chinese heparin plants in 2008 after the deaths of more than 80 people were linked to contaminated heparin, an anticoagulant made of pigs' intestines.

"It’s now obvious that FDA has a fundamental weakness in how it deals with the surge of Chinese medical and food imports," Barton said in a statement. "The FDA allowed importation of heparin from Chinese processors who refused to permit full inspections of their labs and plants. This was a mistake."

Doctors' lobby supports greenhouse-gas regulations: The American Medical Association voted Tuesday to adopt policy supporting the Environmental Protection Agency's authority to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions. The AMA is currently holding its semi-annual policymaking meeting in San Diego.

"Changes to our climate pose serious risks to public health," AMA Board Member Edward Langston said in a statement. "This new policy shows the AMA's support for the EPA's authority to protect the health of all Americans by regulating greenhouse-gas emissions."

Advocates prepare for lame-duck nutrition battle: Advocates on behalf of poverty and children's issues are gearing up for a lame-duck session that many see as their last chance to get a childhood nutrition bill passed.

Supporters expect that a Senate-passed bill could pass as a stand-alone or be incorporated into an omnibus package if it doesn't get the votes it needs, but they're split over how to pay for it. Poverty advocates favor the bill, but not if it's paid for by cutting the food-stamp program.

"We cannot trade off one excellent nutrition program for another," said Mariana Chilton of Witnesses to Hunger during a conference call announcing a new report from the Food Research and Action Center.

The report, released Tuesday, found that 17.7 percent of Americans reported having struggled to get food on the table between April and September. That's down from the last quarter of 2009 and much less than what advocates say would have happened in a faltering economy if last year's recovery act hadn't boosted food stamp spending.

Bennet: Dems likely to revisit health law: The Senate is likely to revisit the new healthcare measure that became law earlier this year, a member of the chamber's Health committee said Tuesday.

Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), a member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said he thought the majority Democrats would look at making changes to the bill President Obama signed into law in March.

"I think we will," Bennet said in an interview on NPR. "I think we didn't do enough the first time around on cost containment — there's more to be done there, on the Medicare incentive structure."

Timeline of Medicare changes released: The Congressional Research Service has released a handy, 143-page summary and timeline of the myriad Medicare provisions in the healthcare reform law. CRS also has a report on Accountable Care Organizations out.

Lowest-premium Part D plan launches: Humana and Walmart will launch their new Medicare prescription drug plan next Monday. The typical Medicare Part D beneficiary will be able to save $450 in 2011 by enrolling in this plan, according to the companies, making it the lowest nationwide monthly premium Medicare Part D Plan in all 50 States and D.C.