California Lawmakers Reject Doctor-Assisted Suicide
In a recent vote, the California Senate Judiciary Committee narrowly rejected legislation to make California the second state to allow physician-assisted suicide. Bill AB651 was championed by Assemblywoman Patty Berg (D-Eureka), and would have allowed mentally competent patients not expected to live for more than six months to obtain a prescription for life-ending medication. The committee's vote was 3-2, with Joe Dunn (D-Garden Grove) casting the deciding vote. He told reporters that it was with a "heavy heart" that he voted no, but that he was afraid the legislation could open the door to assisted suicide for people not suffering terminal illnesses.
The bill was modeled after Oregon's assisted suicide law, which was enacted eight years ago. The issue remains controversial in California, with individual doctors, advocacy groups for seniors, and the state Commission on Aging among the bill's supporters. The California Medical Association, the Catholic Church, some advocates for the disabled, and hospice operators oppose it. Read More
Democrats Believe Buying in Bulk Is Key to Lower Drug Costs
In the continuing political fight over the Medicare prescription drug benefit, Democratic lawmakers have unveiled a new plan they say will close a gap in coverage that affects an estimated 6.9 million people this year alone. Currently, the benefit subsidizes costs for seniors and the disabled of up to $2,250. At that point, the subsidy stops until the recipient has paid $3,600 out of pocket. Following the $3,600 out-of-pocket spending, the government will pick up 95 percent of any remaining costs. Democrats believe they have found a way to close the $3,600 "doughnut hole"—buying in bulk.
Currently, beneficiaries can choose from dozens of plans run by private insurers, who negotiate prices subject to marketplace competition like anyone else. The new proposal would add another option—a government administered plan. Because the government would be buying drugs for so many people at once, it could use the size of its purchasing power—literally billions of dollars—to force companies to sell their drugs cheaper, in much the same way that Wal-Mart can use its size to dictate lower prices to its suppliers. Democratic lawmakers cited a Families USA study that showed that Veterans Affairs prices for drugs, which are negotiated in bulk, were consistently lower (often close to half the amount) than what Medicare Part D plans charge. Read More
California's Proposed Personal Attendant Overtime Bill Criticized
California State Assembly member Cindy Montañez (D-Mission Hills) has proposed a bill that requires personal attendants to be paid overtime when working more than 40 hours/week or 8 hours/day. According to the Sacramento Bee, personal attendants are defined in state law as "babysitters or companions who supervise, feed, dress, or provide other assistance, but do not spend more than 20 percent of their time doing unrelated housework." Exempt are babysitting minors, In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) workers, and those receiving more than 150 percent of minimum wage (that is, more than $10.13/hour).
But critics are worried that some care recipients won't be able to afford the wage hike, and that unscrupulous business owners will simply go underground to avoid raising rates on their clients. "This is a huge underground economy issue," said Barbara Biglieri of the California Association for Health Services at Home, according to the Bee. Another concern is that some agencies may split caregiver schedules into 8-hour blocks, thus disrupting the continuity of care. The relevant bill is Assembly Bill 2536. Read More
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