MASSDEVICE ON CALL —Senate Democrats have unleashed a strong message to Republicans who want to tie Medicare to negotiations on raising the debt ceiling: it’s not going to happen.
"Our message is simply: Take Medicare off the table. Let’s solve the default crisis. And let’s talk about fixing the system so that our middle class has a little bit better shape," Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said during a conference call with reporters.
The response comes on the heels of Republican promises to include Medicare in debates regarding raising the debt ceiling.
"Medicare will be part of any agreement to begin to reduce our long-term debt," Sen. Republican leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said last week, adding that any suggestions to the contrary were "silly talk" and "nonsense."
Harkin and fellow Democrat Jack Reed (R.I.) lambasted the GOP plan to replace Medicare with subsidies for private insurance in 2022, and pushed back against accusations that the Democrats had no backup plans to deal with Medicare’s insolvency, Healthwatch reported.
Drug price negotiations, covering low-income Medicare recipients under Medicaid and investments and changes implemented by the health care reform law were cited as alternatives to the GOP proposal.
"Those four things alone, I believe, will be more than adequate to help save Medicare," Harkin said.
Medicare data opens up to providers
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced that they will open up Medicare data to qualified organizations in an attempt to better measure the quality of care that doctors and hospitals provide.
Medicare is the largest payer in the U.S. healthcare system, and its claims data can help make quality assessments more accurate.
"Performance reports that include Medicare data will result in higher quality and more cost effective care. And making our health care system more transparent promotes competition and drives costs down," said CMS administrator Donald Berwick in a release.
Qualified organizations will be able to use the Medicare data, which will be stripped of patient-specific information, to combine with their own private records, and they must agree to share their findings with CMS prior to public release.
FDA keeping an eye on European produce
The U.S. Food & Drug Administration flagged imports of fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce and raw salads coming out of Europe for increased surveillance in response to the E. coli outbreak that has killed an estimated 22 people and left more than 600 in intensive care.
The FDA has had no reports of E. coli in the U.S. to date, but has established additional import controls as a precaution.
The EU is not a significant source of fresh produce for this country, especially at this time of year, the FDA said in a statement. The source of the European outbreak has not yet been identified.
Republican Rep. drafting medical device regulatory overhaul
U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen (R-Minn.) started drafting legislation to overhaul he medical device regulatory process that he promised late last month.
"It’s getting harder and harder to bring lifesaving devices to the marketplace in the United States because of a lack of consistency, predictability, and transparency," Paulsen testified at an Oversight and Government Reform Health Care subcommittee hearing regarding the Food & Drug Administration’s approval process for medical devices.
The congressman from Eden Prairie, Minn., is a strong advocate for the medical device community. Paulsen, co-chairman of the House Medical Technology Caucus, gave the keynote address to the Advanced Medical Technology Assn.’s annual conference in Washington, D.C., last year.
High on Paulsen’s priorities are the development of an "Innovation Pathway" for pioneering medical devices and blocking a proposed $20 billion tax on the medical device industry.
Paulsen said he hopes to have a bill ready within the next month and a half, Healthwatch reported.
Docs push back against ACOs
Doctors and hospitals continue to push back against Obama administration initiatives that urge providers to create accountable care organizations to coordinate care of Medicare patients, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Health care groups say they agree with the goals of the program, but argue that the rules are too burdensome and the incentives too low. The American Medical Group Assn. said a survey of its members found that 93 percent wouldn’t enroll in the program as it is now.
CMS is "actively seeking input at every stage of the rule-making process, and we’re confident that the final rule will reflect the valuable input we’ve received," said deputy administrator Jonathan Blum in a statement.