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Daily News

January 09, 2003

Attacking the European Union as anti-technology, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick said Jan. 9 the United States should launch a case in the World Trade Organization against the EU's moratorium on approving new genetically engineered crops in the near future. But he said he couldn't say if a decision on whether to bring such a case would be made within the month, or whether there would be a cabinet-level meeting this month to discuss the issue.

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Rep. Thomas Allen (D-ME), an outspoken lawmaker on prescription drug pricing, is one of four new House Democrats appointed to the Energy and Commerce Committee. Reps. Janice Schakowsky (IL), Jim Davis (FL) and Hilda Solis (CA) are the other new Democrats on the panel.

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House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Billy Tauzin (R-LA) "has a few reservations" about recently introduced legislation that would overturn CMS' physician payment regulation, according to a committee aide. But sources say that the Energy and Commerce Committee informed the American Medical Association (AMA) last night that it will likely endorse Rep. Bill Thomas' (R-CA) legislation.

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The Department of Justice (DOJ) Jan. 9 filed suit against Tenet Healthcare, alleging that the hospital chain violated the False Claims Act by upcoding inpatient claims submitted to Medicare.

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January 08, 2003

The U.S. government will argue both for and against a Maine drug discount program scheduled for Supreme Court review this month. Having successfully petitioned the court to take part in the Jan. 22 hearing, the Office of the Solicitor General will present divided arguments on the Maine Rx plan, said a spokesperson for the federal government's top lawyer.

The drug industry has appealed to the high court over the state's drug law, which would require drug makers to pay Medicaid-priced rebates for drugs sold to all residents, not just those eligible for Medicaid.

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FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) is scrapping plans to publish a proposed rule that would require animal drug manufacturers to gather data on antibiotic use in food animals, according to FDA's semi-annual regulatory agenda. The agency suggests that the proposal has been put on the backburner because of possible difficulties in getting the rule past the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and a desire to instead focus on the recent antibiotic resistance guidance.

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Senate Republicans are expected to announce later this week the appointment of four new Finance Committee members including Majority Leader-elect Bill Frist (TN) and Sens. Rick Santorum (PA), Jim Bunning (KY), and Gordon Smith (OR), congressional sources said. Bunning and Santorum each gave up seats on the Armed Services Committee in order to be eligible to serve on Finance, because of a GOP rule that prevents members from serving on more than one of the four "Super-A" committees simultaneously.

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OSHA today (Jan. 8) extended the comment period for its plan to eliminate or revise provisions in 23 health standards, following through on a pledge to organized labor it would give stakeholders an extra 30 days to file comments on the standards improvement project, according to a key source.

The deadline for stakeholders to submit comments officially ended Dec. 30, 2002, but OSHA announced in a Jan. 8 Federal Register notice that it will accept comments until Jan. 30.

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A bipartisan group of House lawmakers is planning to ask leaders from both parties to make it a "high priority" to address provider reimbursement issues "as soon as possible." In a letter to be sent to House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), lawmakers say they "are seriously concerned that many Medicare beneficiaries...are losing access to vitally important health care services due to the inadequacy of current Medicare payment rates."

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National health care spending rose 8.7 percent to $1.4 trillion in 2001 -- the largest jump in a decade, according to a new federal report. It is the fifth consecutive increase in annual health care spending.

Released today (Jan. 8), the CMS report states that an increase in the quantity and intensity of health care services used, particularly hospital services and prescription drugs, coupled with steady price increases contributed to the acceleration.

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As House Republicans once again move to pass legislation that would avert looming Medicare cuts to physicians, Senate lawmakers will likely oppose the House plan and instead pursue a comprehensive approach to increasing provider payments, according to key Senate sources. Senate lawmakers are worried that Rep. Bill Thomas' (R-CA) plan to overturn CMS' physician payment rule could have negative, unintended consequences, the sources add.

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January 07, 2003

In a move surprising OSHA stakeholders, Eugene Scalia is stepping down as acting DOL solicitor. Scalia, who was a recess appointee to the solicitor's position after then Senate Majority Leader Thomas Daschle (D-SD) indicated that Scalia would not get a Senate floor vote, will leave DOL Jan. 17.

Deputy Commissioner Howard Radzely will take over for Scalia as acting director of the department's top legal post, DOL announced.

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The future of therapeutic cloning is growing dim as Sen. Bill Frist (R-TN), who supports banning therapeutic cloning, becomes the Senate majority leader. A biotechnology industry source says the recent announcement by a religious sect claiming -- without evidence -- that they have cloned a human likely will spur Frist to take up legislation by Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) that would do away with all cloning.

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Despite ongoing court action, CMS is moving ahead with its Medicare-endorsed prescription drug discount card program.

The agency intends publishing its official drug card sponsor solicitation soon in the Federal Register. Applications will be due March 7, according to a draft copy of the notice published last month.

CMS plans to announce those entities it has chosen to endorse in May, following which card sponsor enrollment will begin Sept. 30, the draft notice states.

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The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has announced that occupational injury and illness rates have dropped to an historic low. While DOL Secretary Elaine Chao applauded the data, an organized labor official said the numbers do not match other indicators measuring workplace injuries and illnesses.

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Upcoming revisions to the tripartisan drug plan could include higher beneficiary cost-sharing to reflect current fiscal confines judging by recent comments from the top health aide to incoming Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA).

Speaking at a Dec. 19 Alliance for Health Reform briefing, Finance Committee Republican health policy director Linda Fishman indicated that while the costs associated with providing a drug benefit have escalated, cost-sharing levels have remained static.

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House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas (R-CA) Jan. 7 introduced legislation that would overturn CMS' physician payment rule, which is slated to go into effect March 1. Thomas is using a provision under the Congressional Review Act of 1996 (CRA) to reject the rule. Only one federal regulation, OSHA's ergonomics standard, has been overturned through a CRA joint resolution of disapproval. -- Bob Cusack

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A prominent law firm in Washington, DC has hired Jason Poblete, who has been a key strategist for Rep. Bill Thomas (R-CA). Poblete started this month at the law firm Reed Smith LLP and will work on a range of issues, including health care and trade.

Poblete was a member of Thomas' trusted inner circle and his opinion "mattered in Thomas' office," according to a House GOP official. Poblete was Thomas' communications director for over five years.

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Senate Minority Leader Thomas Daschle (D-SD) Jan. 7 unveiled his party's legislative agenda for the 108th Congress, and swiftly introduced Democratic bills to provide Medicare prescription drug coverage, bolster homeland security and expand health care coverage. The Democrats' prescription drug bill would also reform drug patent law and allow reimportation of drugs from Canada -- two proposals passed by the Senate last year but never taken up by the House.

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Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) plans to introduce a bill Wednesday (Jan. 8) that would strip a provision from the new homeland security law protecting producers of thimerosal from class-action suits, according to a Stabenow spokesperson. Stabenow plans to hold a press conference Jan. 8 to rally support for her bill, which she may try to attach to an omnibus appropriations bill.

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