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U.S. Medicare program scales back hospice drugs restrictions

Source: Reuters

The Obama administration on Friday backed down on restrictions of private insurance coverage for hospice drugs under Medicare, saying the regulations were preventing some terminally ill patients from having access to medicine.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) said it would now require prior-approval for coverage of only four categories of drugs: analgesics, anti-nauseants, laxatives and anti-anxiety drugs. In a regulation announced in March, the government had required prior approval for all hospice drugs under the Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit.

"Based on discussions with stakeholders, we are adjusting our rules so that beneficiaries enrolled in hospice will continue to have access to their medications," CMS spokesman Raymond Thorn said in a statement.

The change follows a June meeting between officials and stakeholders including hospice providers, insurers and pharmacies and patient advocates who described the operational challenges of requiring all hospice drugs to be approved before they could be dispensed.

Read more: http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/07/18/usa-medicare-hospices-idUSL2N0PT26D20140718?irpc=932

Washington Wildfires Update: Carlton Complex Fire Explodes in Size, 100 Homes Burned

Source: Weather.com

Two large wildfires fueled by hot, dry, windy conditions are burning out of control in Washington state, scorching an estimated 100 homes en route to the evacuation of an entire town.

According to weather.com senior meteorologist Jon Erdman, even though temperatures across the state will cool heading into the weekend, general weather conditions will remain unfavorable for the 1,000 firefighters battling multiple blazes across the state.

"The bad news is two-fold," Erdman said. "One, winds will still be an issue, particularly in the afternoon and evening, at least through the weekend."

"Secondly, this is the driest time of year in the interior Northwest. Any chance of showers or thunderstorms will be small, and rainfall amounts isolated or light, with shifting winds and lightning strikes potentially fanning existing flames or starting new fires."

Read more: http://www.weather.com/news/washington-wildfires-update-carlton-complex-fire-chiwaukum-creek-fire-20140718

Conservatives Attacked Obama Over 23 Dead Americans on Malaysia Airlines—Who Didn't Exist

By Brian Beutler @brianbeutler

Contrary to widely disseminated, unconfirmed reports that 23 Americans were killed in the missile attack on Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, we now know, thanks to BuzzFeed's Rosie Gray, that nobody boarded the plane using an American passport. That doesn't preclude the possibility that one or more American dual nationals were aboard, so we'd all benefit from further circumspection. (Indeed, as this article was in production, President Obama announced that one American was aboard the flight.)

But it wasn't too early for those who propagated the incorrect information to pick existing political bones to start issuing their mea culpas.

Townhall's Guy Benson: "An NBC analyst ripped the State Department for lagging far behind news reports of 23 American casualties. Minutes later, president said the government was still attempting to determine if any US citizens were aboard. At which point, he quickly pivoted and launched into his regularly-scheduled speech on the pressing need for more domestic spending on infrastructure."

National Review's Jim Geraghty wrote a post called "What's the Consequence for Killing American Citizens?" then followed it up with another post criticizing Obama for not being more willing to jump the gun.



GOP Senate Candidate: I Forgot About My Bank Account With Oodles of Money in It

—By Nick Baumann

Terri Lynn Land, the Republican candidate for US Senate in Michigan, has given nearly $3 million to her own campaign. That's perfectly legal—candidates can give as much as they want to their campaigns.

Here's the trouble: On the financial disclosure forms she filed last year and this May with the Federal Election Commission, Land reported she has assets of only about $1.5 million. So how could she give herself twice as much?

Don't fear, Land fans; her staff has an explanation. The other money was in a joint checking account she has with her husband Dan Hibma, a millionaire real estate developer. On Friday, the Land campaign told the Detroit Free Press (which broke this story) that in 2013 she "inadvertently" omitted the account from her disclosure form and in 2014 she "inadvertently" listed the account as solely owned by Hibma. In other words, Land claims she forgot about an account she had with an enormous amount of money in it—even as she was using that money to fund her campaign.

The Land campaign has not said how much money is in that joint checking account. "A candidate suddenly coming into possession of several million dollars raises questions," Paul Ryan, a campaign finance expert at the Campaign Legal Center (no, not that Paul Ryan), told the Free Press.

As Michigan's secretary of state from 2003 until 2011, Land was responsible for enforcing the state's campaign finance laws.


Todays Lesson from Prof. Warren

Today's Lesson

By Charles P. Pierce 7/18/2014 AT 11:55 AM

DETROIT -- If you ignored the signs, and the buttons, and the plastic straw hats, and the people in every corner of the ballroom bleeding from the teeth at the simple possibility of it, there was no indication that anyone at the Netroots Nation hootenanny was entertaining the notion that Senator Elizabeth Warren might be running for president of anything. In contrast to Ramblin' Joe Biden's sprawling address yesterday -- which, admittedly, had its own peculiar charms -- the Senator Professor was brisk and brief and bristling. The speech ran as though it were a class at Harvard Law, bounded at either end by bells. But its pith did not undermine its passion. The Senator Professor has been sharpening her message again. The game is rigged, and, as she says, "We can whimper. We can whine. Or we can fight back."

Most significantly, the speech now contains a pointed passage on international trade, in which deals like NAFTA and the upcoming TPP deal are framed as yet another way the dice are loaded, and another example of there not being any pea under any of the shells. "These trade deals," she said, "are done in secret so big corporations can do their dirty work behind closed doors, so they can have their insider access while worker's rights and environmental regulations are gutted. You know, I've actually had people who support these trade deals come up to me and say that they have to be done in secret because, if they weren't, the people would be opposed. To me, if people would be opposed, then we shouldn't do the trade deals."

Even if she doesn't run, and I still think the chances she will are almost nil, this is a shot directly across the bow of the putative Democratic frontrunner. There is nothing more central to the history of the last President Clinton than the Eisenhower-lite economics with which he triangulated himself, whether that's repealing Glass-Steagall, signing the Commodities Futures Modernization Act as he went out the door, or shepherding NAFTA through Congress and fast-shuffling it past the general population. There is no way for Hillary Clinton to detach herself from that legacy even if she wanted to, and it's not clear at all that she wants to. If Warren doesn't run, she nonetheless has an obvious constituency that is growing, and to which whoever the Democratic nominee is must respond.

(It is also to be noted that Warren was cagey enough not to mention the TPP specifically, but that her condemnation was general, and it was limited to the secrecy within which the deals are struck. Thus are options kept open. She's learning.)



This Is How Comcast Is Astroturfing the Net Neutrality Issue

By its own admission, Comcast is working with think tanks like the American Enterprise Institute. Fellows at the Institute are printing op-eds all throughout the media in support of killing Net neutrality--without disclosing the think tank's ties to Comcast.

By Ben Collins

In February, the Washington Post published a story detailing Comcast’s immense lobbying power in Washington—and how that might lead to potential astroturfing (or masked, artificial grassroots support spurred on by lobbies or corporations) on the web for issues like its merger with Time Warner Cable.

“They’ve spread a lot of money around town to a lot of places, just for moments like this,” said Craig Aaron, president of Free Press, a consumer advocacy group that opposes the Time Warner Cable merger. At a minimum, Comcast could encourage the deal’s critics to sit out the debate, he said. “At best, they’ve got a whole network of people advocating for them.”

Comcast “has worked with most of the major think tanks in town who are interested in communications issues,” including the Aspen Institute, the Brookings Institution and the American Enterprise Institute, Fitzmaurice said, declining to provide further details.

A Net neutrality proposal—one that Comcast publicly supports and has been subject of protest and mainstream media criticism from those who believe the rules would slow innovation, limit speech and drive up the cost of access to the Internet—is open for public comment.

And now, op-eds in favor of the unpopular proposal from Comcast-linked think tanks are appearing in major publications—from the Wall Street Journal to U.S News and World Report—without disclosing the institution's ties to Comcast.


U.S. researchers call for greater oversight of powerful genetic technology

By Elizabeth Pennisi

In 2011, experiments that allowed the potentially deadly H5N1 flu virus to spread between mammals ignited intense discussions about whether such research should be done at all, much less published. But most of the debate occurred after the research had been carried out.

Kenneth Oye, a social scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, thinks that the discussion needs to take place before the lab work starts. In an article appearing online today in Science, he and nine colleagues have outlined what they think needs to be done about an emerging technology called gene drive.

Gene drive involves stimulating biased inheritance of particular genes to alter entire populations of organisms. It was first proposed more than a decade ago, and researchers have been developing gene drive approaches to alter mosquitoes to slow the spread of malaria and dengue fever. Although progress has been quite slow, recent advances in gene editing could lead to a rapid application of gene drive approaches to other species, Oye and his colleagues predict. To avoid a repeat of the H5N1 brouhaha, Oye says, “what we would really like to see is good, well-informed discussion of the benefit and potential risks specific to the particular application, species, and context. … We need to do it before people get that hot about it.”

Oye is not alone in calling for government agencies, scientists, and the general public to figure out how to regulate the release of mosquitoes and other organisms with gene drive alterations. In June, the WHO Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases issued guidelines for evaluating genetically modified mosquitoes. A year earlier, the European Food Safety Authority came out with a six-step protocol for environmental assessments of all genetically modified organisms. “People are beginning to think through these issues,” says Austin Burt, an evolutionary geneticist at Imperial College London.



Star Trek 'engine' goes where no one has gone before

By Ken Croswell
The world’s largest laser, a machine that appeared in a Star Trek movie, has attained a powerful result: It's squeezed diamond, the least compressible substance known, 50 million times harder than Earth's atmosphere presses down on us. The finding should help scientists better understand how material behaves at the great pressures that prevail deep inside giant planets.

Physicist Ray Smith of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, California, and his colleagues achieved the feat at the National Ignition Facility (NIF), also in Livermore. Spanning 10 meters and armed with scores of lasers, the instrument is so sci-fi–looking that it appeared as the "warp core" of the starship Enterprise in the 2013 movie Star Trek Into Darkness. NIF has a practical purpose, however: to trigger nuclear fusion, the same type of reaction that powers the sun, in the hope of someday solving our energy needs. Scientists also use it for basic research, such as investigating how various materials respond when compressed—data relevant to the interiors of planets.

In the new study, Smith's team fired 176 lasers at a small gold cylinder measuring 1.1 centimeters long and 0.6 centimeters in diameter. The lasers heated the gold so that it emitted x-rays, which squeezed a tiny diamond attached over a hole in the cylinder's outer wall. The diamond reached a pressure of 50 million atmospheres—14 times greater than the pressure at Earth's center.

As the researchers report online today in Nature, the x-ray assault nearly quadrupled the diamond's density. "That's a record," Smith says. "No one's compressed diamond to that extent before." The blast pulverized the diamond into dust, but before the mineral's destruction the scientists successfully measured its density as the pressure rose. For a billionth of a second, the diamond, which is normally 3.25 times denser than water, became denser than lead and 12.03 times denser than water.


Report: Climate changing more rapidly than at any point on record

By Sid Perkins

A new look at the “vital signs” of Earth’s climate reveals a stark picture of declining health. As global temperatures rise, so do sea level and the amount of heat trapped in the ocean’s upper layers. Meanwhile, mountain glaciers and Arctic sea ice are melting away beneath an atmosphere where concentrations of three key planet-warming greenhouse gases continue to rise.

“Data show that the climate is changing more rapidly now than it has at any time in the historical record,” says Thomas Karl, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA’s) National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, North Carolina. “The numbers speak for themselves.”

The numbers speak pretty loudly, too. Depending on which data set scientists look at, 2013 falls somewhere between the second warmest and sixth warmest year since record keeping began in 1880. Global sea level reached a new record high last year—about 3.8 centimeters (1.5 inches) above the average measured by satellites between 1993 and 2010. Overall, sea level is rising about 3 millimeters (one-eighth of an inch) each year. And for the 23rd straight year, mountain glaciers on the whole lost more ice than they gained, says Jessica Blunden of ERT Inc., who works with Karl at the climate monitoring agency in Asheville. “Changes in these are visible and obvious signs of climate change,” Blunden says.

The new study, State of the Climate in 2013, was released online today in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. The detailed, peer-reviewed analysis was based on data from environmental monitoring stations on land, sea, and ice and from sensors on satellites and planes. More than 400 scientists from 57 countries contributed to the report. (Previous State of the Climate reports, issued annually since 1991, can be found here.)



Earth-like soils on Mars?

Soil deep in a crater dating to some 3.7 billion years ago contains evidence that Mars was once much warmer and wetter, saysUniversity of Oregon geologist Gregory Retallack, based on images and data captured by the rover Curiosity.

NASA rovers have shown Martian landscapes littered with loose rocks from impacts or layered by catastrophic floods, rather than the smooth contours of soils that soften landscapes on Earth. However, recent images from Curiosity from the impact Gale Crater, Retallack said, reveal Earth-like soil profiles with cracked surfaces lined with sulfate, ellipsoidal hollows and concentrations of sulfate comparable with soils in Antarctic Dry Valleys and Chile's Atacama Desert.

His analyses appear in a paper placed online this week by the journal Geology in advance of print in the September issue of the world's top-ranked journal in the field. Retallack, the paper's lone author, studied mineral and chemical data published by researchers closely tied with the Curiosity mission. Retallack, professor of geological sciences and co-director of paleontology research at the UO Museum of Natural and Cultural History, is an internationally known expert on the recognition of paleosols -- ancient fossilized soils contained in rocks.

"The pictures were the first clue, but then all the data really nailed it," Retallack said. "The key to this discovery has been the superb chemical and mineral analytical capability of the Curiosity Rover, which is an order of magnitude improvement over earlier generations of rovers. The new data show clear chemical weathering trends, and clay accumulation at the expense of the mineral olivine, as expected in soils on Earth. Phosphorus depletion within the profiles is especially tantalizing, because it attributed to microbial activity on Earth."

The ancient soils, he said, do not prove that Mars once contained life, but they do add to growing evidence that an early wetter and warmer Mars was more habitable than the planet has been in the past 3 billion years.


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