Saturday, September 30, 2006



ROBERT PEAR, NY TIMES - Higher-income people will have to pay higher
Medicare premiums than other beneficiaries next year, as the government
takes a small but significant step to help the financially ailing
program remain viable over the long term. It is expected to affect one
million to two million beneficiaries: individuals with incomes exceeding
$80,000 and married couples with more than $160,000 of income. For
individuals with incomes over $200,000, the premium, now $88.50 a month,
is expected to quadruple by 2009. The surcharge was established under a
little-noticed provision of the 2003 law that added a prescription drug
benefit to Medicare. Supporters of the surcharge say it makes sense for
wealthy people to pay more at a time when Medicare costs are soaring.
But some Medicare experts worry that wealthy retirees will abandon the
program and rely on private insurance instead, leaving poorer, sicker
people in Medicare. . .

Theodore R. Marmor, a professor of political science at Yale, said the
surcharge was more important for the politics of Medicare than for the
financing of the program.
"The new income-related premium is fundamentally at odds with the
premises of social insurance," Mr. Marmor said. "Large numbers of
upper-income people will eventually want to find alternatives to Part B
of Medicare and will no longer be in the same pool with other people who
are 65 and older or disabled. Congress will then have less reluctance to
cut the program."



TOM ARRANDALE, GOVERNING MAGAZINE - Every day, the pharmaceuticals,
personal care products and human hormones they secrete or rinse from
their bodies are flushed down the drain. . . . Federal regulators have
proposed limits on perchlorate, a compound from rocket fuel known to
affect endocrine glands, but EPA's review of thousands of pesticides,
plastics and other commonly used compounds is dragging on. At the same
time, concern has emerged that frequently prescribed pharmaceuticals and
ubiquitous personal care products such as soap, shampoo and detergents
could be causing similar environmental damage. Increasingly accurate
laboratory technology makes it possible to identify much smaller
chemical residues, down to minuscule parts-per- trillion levels, in
sewage effluent and drinking-water samples. "Birth-control pills have
been around since the 1960s, but now we are actually able to detect them
at these lower concentrations," notes Joe Gully, an environmental
scientist for the Los Angeles County Sewer District's ocean research
program. Meanwhile, Snyder and others have documented that Las Vegas'
treated sewage plant discharges carry traces of codeine, Prozac, Valium,
common antibiotics, insect repellents and a host of chemicals termed
endocrine disruptors into the Lake Mead reservoir. And they have linked
those human byproducts to abnormal female characteristics in carp, bass
and razorback suckers, which swim and feed in the effluent the city's
treatment plants release into the lake. So far, the results have
detected "essentially no human health concern," according to Snyder. . .

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