May 15, 2009 | 1
Heads up, America, the wave-making health commissioner from the Big Apple is heading to Atlanta to run the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The White House tapped Tom Frieden, controversial commish of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, as head of the CDC, where he'll start working early next month.
He's been a tough guy on public health issues in New York, pushing past opposition to ban transfats in restaurants and require calorie counts on the menus of chains, and raising an alarm (some say prematurely) about a multidrug resistant strain of HIV.
Supporters say he gets results. Critics say his focus on ends has justified some questionable means. “He doesn’t hesitate to use public health policy to kind of step all over civil liberties," a spokesperson for Housing Works, a nonprofit agency for homeless and low-income New Yorkers living with HIV and AIDS, told The New York Times.
Feb 27, 2009 | 11
Pres. Obama's budget proposal for fiscal year 2010 throws White House support behind two of the more controversial NASA plans of the Bush era: retiring the space shuttle in 2010 and returning humans to the moon by 2020.
The shuttle's scheduled phaseout, part of Pres. Bush's 2004 Vision for Space Exploration, is opposed by thousands of people who work at Cape Canaveral or in jobs tied to the shuttle missions as well as lawmakers such as Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, who don't want the U.S. to rely on Russia for transport to and from the International Space Station. As currently planned, the U.S. will not ready a replacement manned transport system before 2015.
But many in the space community, including the nonprofit Planetary Society, have encouraged NASA to hold fast to the 2010 retirement, citing the orbiter's spotty safety record, outmoded technology and limited reach—shuttle flights can only reach low Earth orbit, leaving the moon, let alone Mars, well out of reach. (The Obama budget leaves the door open for an additional shuttle flight beyond the nine currently scheduled, "if it can safely and affordably be flown by the end of 2010.")
Feb 25, 2009 | 14
The need to reform the U.S. healthcare system was a key theme of President Obama's address to Congress last night, and there's early word that the budget proposal he's set to release tomorrow will create a 10-year, $634 billion "reserve fund" to pay for it.
The Washington Post, citing administration documents and an unidentified White House official, is reporting that the money would come from reducing tax breaks for the wealthy (which Obama said last night includes those who make more than $250,000 a year) and lowering payments to insurers, hospitals and physicians.
The plan, according to the Post, would force private insurers who sell Medicare managed-care plans to undergo a competitive bidding process, which would save an estimated $175 billion over the next decade. Drug makers would have to increase their medication rebates to Medicaid patients from 15 percent to 21 percent. And hospitals that have high readmission rates would be paid less by Medicare, using a system of flat fees for the first hospitalization and 30-day follow-up.
Feb 18, 2009
Is Pres. Obama getting closer to filling a key health post? The role of Food and Drug Administration (FDA) chief is down to two candidates, the Washington Post says in an unsourced report: Baltimore Health Commissioner Joshua Sharfstein and former New York City Health Commissioner Margaret Hamburg. Sharfstein's name has been floated repeatedly since Obama was elected, and Hamburg's surfaced early this month.
Feb 17, 2009 | 2
Among the provisions in the economic stimulus package that President Obama signed today is $1.1 billion in federal funding to investigate how different treatments stack up against each other. The money will likely go to comparing drugs, devices and medical procedures, in an effort guided by a council of 15 civil servants.
The stimulus bill doesn’t direct the 15-member council to dictate coverage. But the council will make recommendations about what to study and coordinate research between three federal agencies: the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
Feb 2, 2009
Pres. Obama says he's ordering a “complete review” of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) after state and federal inspectors failed to detect and crack down on a Georgia plant that knowingly sent out tainted peanut butter products that have sickened 529 people in 43 states and may have killed eight.
The oversight is only the most recent of “instances over the last several years” in which “the FDA has not been able to catch some of these things as quickly as I expect them to catch,” Obama told the Today Show this morning. “At bare minimum, we should be able to count on our government keeping our kids safe when they eat peanut butter.”
Jan 27, 2009 | 2
If a picture is worth a thousand words, this panorama is a J. K. Rowling–esque tome. Stitched together from 220 individual photographs, New York City photographer David Bergman's composite image of Pres. Barack Obama's inaugural address last week boasts a whopping 1,474 megapixels.
To capture the historic moment, Bergman utilized a GigaPan system, a robotic camera mount that NASA helped develop and that is closely related to the swiveling camera mount on the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity. According to Bergman's blog, it took a Macbook Pro six and a half hours to assemble the individual snapshots into the finished panorama.
Jan 27, 2009 | 4
The Obama White House was so 1996 yesterday: the new administration’s e-mail crashed, forcing the president’s aides to rely on cell phones, text messaging and (gasp) paper to communicate.
The White House e-mail system uses Microsoft Outlook, and a server outage caused the collapse, an unidentified staffer told The Washington Post. The glitch hit the press office, first lady’s office and other departments, but by this morning was resolved, according to The Washington Times.
Jan 23, 2009 | 2
Federal regulators have green-lighted the first trial of an embryonic stem-cell treatment in humans.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave the go-ahead for Geron Corporation to start a phase I safety trial of its therapy GRNOPC1 for spinal cord injuries, the Menlo Park, Calif.–based company announced today. It first sought permission for the trial four years ago and spent much of the last year trying to satisfy the FDA’s concerns about it.
"This marks the beginning of what is potentially a new chapter in medical therapeutics—one that reaches beyond pills to a new level of healing: the restoration of organ and tissue function achieved by the injection of healthy replacement cells,” Thomas Okarma, Geron's president and CEO, said in a statement today.
The trial will involve up to 10 patients and will test whether it is safe to inject nerve cells from embryos into the site of their injuries, according to Geron. A study published in 2005 in the Journal of Neuroscience found that giving rats the injections seven days after a spinal cord injury improved their motor function.
Jan 21, 2009 | 13
Pres. Barack Obama yesterday put all pending regulatory changes made in the waning months of the Bush administration on hold until he has a chance to review them.
Obama spokesperson Bill Burton told The Washington Post he's not sure how many regs are affected by the order. Former Bush official Susan Dudley of the Office of Management and Budget said the administration had issued 100 rules since November. But it’s not clear how many of them have already taken effect.
A spokesperson at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said today that one of the most controversial of the last-minute Bush measures took effect yesterday. That reg, known as the "right to conscience" rule, allows the government to withhold money from federally funded health care facilities that do not make allowances for workers who refuse on moral grounds to help administer certain procedures, such as abortions. Reproductive rights groups last week sued to block the reg from taking effect, charging that it's unlawful.
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