MASSDEVICE ON CALL — Democratic senators and the White House are backing down from the controversial nomination of Dr. Donald Berwick to lead the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, after running into a buzzsaw of vociferous Republican opposition.
President Barack Obama tapped Berwick last year for the top Medicare spot with a recess appointment that angered GOP members eager to score political points in a confirmation hearing. Berwick was due for re-confirmation hearings that were sure to be contentious, with Republicans taking him to task for his avowed admiration of the British healthcare system.
A "person familiar with the situation" told Politico.com that the writing on the wall became clear after 42 Republican senators — two more than the 40 votes needed to veto Berwick’s impending confirmation — sent a letter to Obama last week, asking him to withdraw Berwick’s nomination to lead the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.
The Politico source said Dems and the Obama administration "can do the arithmetic" now that it’s a mathematical impossibility for Berwick’s nomination to win 60 Senate votes. That leaves him as a lame duck through 2011, but still charged with implementing the beginning stages of Obama’s landmark healthcare reform law.
Democratic Senate Finance Committee aides told healthcare lobbyists March 4 that the nomination is DOA, the confirmation hearing is off and they’re already considering "next steps," according to the website.
Scientists discover heart attack genes
Researchers have discovered 13 new genes liked with heart attack and confirmed 10 others as presaging a risk for developing heart disease, according to Reuters.
"With such information we should be able to better identify people at high risk early on in life and quickly take the steps to neutralize that excess risk," said researcher Themistocles Assimes of Stanford University School of Medicine. "Although we are inching closer to that day, we will probably need to reliably identify many more variants … over the next few years before it becomes useful to perform this genetic profiling in a doctor’s office."
An international consortium analyzed data from 14 " genome-wide association" studies of human genetic profiles for more than 22,000 people of European descent with coronary heart disease or a heart attack history. They compared those data with that from 60,000 healthy people, making it the largest genome association study ever.
HHS offers states $3.7 billion for Medicaid alternatives
The U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services is making billions in new cash for states to provide alternatives to long-term care for Medicaid patients — a 6 percent increase in federal matching funds for the services.
The total pool is $3.7 billion, according to the American Medical Assn., contingent on the states developing plans for individuals receiving care to remain independent.
"There is more evidence than ever that people who need long-term care prefer to live in their own homes and communities whenever possible," according to outgoing CMS chief Berwick.
Findings indicate Alzheimer’s starts in liver, not brain
The plaques linked to Alzheimer’s disease start in the liver, not the brain, according to scientists from the Scripps Research Institute and ModGene LLC.
Writing in The Journal of Neuroscience Research, the researchers reporting discovering
three genes that protected mice from developing protein deposits in the brain associated with Alzheimer’s.
They hypothesize that the proteins originate in the liver and travel through the bloodstream to enter the brain. That opens to door to potential treatments that would block the protein from entering the brain.
The lung cancer-toenails link
Men with high levels of nicotine in their toenails were about 3.5 times more likely to develop lung cancer than those with lower levels regardless of their smoking historie., according to a study in the American Journal of Epidemiology.
Researchers examined data from 33,737 men dating back to 1986. Their findings suggest that the long-term consequences of smoking may be underestimated.