This Week in Washington

March 27, 2012
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The Beltway is abuzz this week — and not just due to the cherry blossoms. For starters, last Friday marked the 2nd anniversary of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the federal health care reform law enacted by President Obama in an effort to expand health insurance coverage for Americans nationwide. Meanwhile, earlier in the week, Representative Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) unveiled part of his hotly-debated 2013 budget proposal that aims to reduce the federal deficit.

The Beltway is abuzz this week — and not just due to the cherry blossoms. For starters, last Friday marked the 2nd anniversary of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the federal health care reform law enacted by President Obama in an effort to expand health insurance coverage for Americans nationwide. Meanwhile, earlier in the week, Representative Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) unveiled part of his hotly-debated 2013 budget proposal that aims to reduce the federal deficit.  In other news, the Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease (PFCD) was delighted to see WellPoint’s efforts with Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and Watson, IBM’s supercomputer, to enhance decision-making for cancer treatment. More details on these news developments, as made popular by the media this week, can be found below.

  • As reported by the National Journal, President Obama offered these words about the ACA in an official statement released by the White House:  “Today, two years after we passed health care reform, more young adults have insurance, more seniors are saving money on their prescription drugs, and more Americans can rest easy knowing they won’t be dropped from their insurance plans if they get sick. The law has made a difference for millions of Americans, and over time, it will help give even more working and middle-class families the security they deserve.” The release also cited several results in support of the ACA, including that 5.1 million people with Medicare saved an average of $635 on the cost of their prescription drugs, everyone on Medicare is eligible for preventive services, like mammograms and recommended vaccinations, at no cost to them. In opposition, Republicans issued their own reports that said the law would raise costs and reduce choice for Americans. Oral arguments before the Supreme Court to discuss whether the law is unconstitutional began on Monday.
  • Rep. Ryan’s budget proposal would provide a set amount of money for future Medicare beneficiaries – those currently under the age of 55 — to purchase either a private health plan or the traditional government-administered program through a newly created Medicare exchange.  According to The Washington Post, the proposal would cut $770 billion over 10 years from Medicaid and other health programs for the poor, compared with President Obama’s budget. He takes an additional $205 billion from Medicare, $1.6 trillion from the Obama health-care legislation and $1.9 trillion from a category simply labeled “other mandatory,” which Ryan defines as cuts to food stamps, welfare, federal employee pensions, and support for farmers.
  • ABC News reported that Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York has partnered with IBM to incorporate the company’s Watson supercomputer throughout their treatment facilities. Watson is best known for dominating its human competition on the trivia show “Jeopardy” by interpreting spoken queries and then using statistical analysis to deliver “evidence-based statistically-ranked responses.” The hospital will use Watson to develop tools to help improve decision making for diagnosis and therapy in cancer. “We are going to work with the machine and teach the machine how to make medical decisions,” Memorial’s Dr. Larry Norton told ABC News. “It’s going to take not only molecular disease and clinical research findings into account but also the patients’ social and psychological situations and patients’ expressed wishes, lifestyle — all that comes into play when making a high quality medical decision.”
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PFCD is currently teaming up with WellPoint to host a spring event spotlighting the WellPoint’s own integration of IBM’s supercomputer, Watson, as a major technological innovation for the advancement of quality health care. The event is tentatively scheduled for late April. We’ll, of course, keep everyone posted on the event as more details become available in the weeks ahead.