- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 28, 2009

HEALTH CARE

Insurer suggests Medicare savings

A major health insurer says the government can save more than $500 billion in Medicare spending by sending patients to less expensive, more efficient doctors, reducing hospital visits by the elderly and cutting down on unnecessary care.

Those are among 15 suggestions made Wednesday by UnitedHealth Group Inc., a Minnesota-based health management company that is the biggest participant in the government’s Medicare insurance program for the elderly. United said the proposals added up to $540 billion in savings over 10 years.

The proposals come as Congress and the Obama administration are working on a major health care overhaul aimed at reducing costs and extending coverage to millions of uninsured Americans.

Some of the proposals could be cast as attempts to ration health care - one of the criticisms some conservatives have been using against emerging proposals from the Democrat-controlled Congress.

STATE DEPARTMENT

Clinton to Israel: Halt settlements

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton urged Israel in unusually blunt terms Wednesday to completely halt settlements on land that Palestinians claim as part of a future state of their own.

In remarks to reporters at the State Department, Mrs. Clinton said President Obama had made clear last week during talks at the White House with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that stopping settlements is a key part of moving toward a deal establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

“He wants to see a stop to settlements - not some settlements, not outposts, not ‘natural growth’ exceptions,” Mrs. Clinton said, referring in the last case to population growth on existing Israeli settlements in the West Bank from births and from allowances for adult offspring of settlers to buy homes near their parents.

“We think it is in the best interests [of the peace process] that settlement expansion cease,” Mrs. Clinton added, with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit at her side. “That is our position. That is what we have communicated very clearly. … And we intend to press that point.”

DIPLOMACY

U.S. willing to talk about Cuba, OAS

With Latin American countries pushing hard for Cuba’s re-entry into the Organization of American States, U.S. officials said Wednesday they would be willing to talk about the move if the communist state adopts democratic principles.

The suggestion, included in a resolution submitted to a council meeting of the hemispheric group, reaffirmed a long-standing U.S. position on Cuba, but also offered hints of the growing willingness for a dialogue with Havana.

“Some of the circumstances since Cuba’s suspension from full participation in the Organization of American States may have changed,” the U.S. resolution said, noting a “frank and open dialogue” was a hallmark of multilateral relations.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will attend the OAS general assembly Tuesday in Honduras, where a majority of the group’s 34 members are likely to support Cuba’s re-entry, but no vote is expected.

The OAS council appointed a task force to evaluate the U.S. proposal and two others that could more directly lead to reinstatement of Cuba, suspended from the OAS in 1962.

ELECTION

Case dropped; lawmaker irked

Federal prosecutors have dropped their case against a Republican organizer they accused in a plot to jam Democratic phone lines in New Hampshire during an election, drawing a sharp response Wednesday from a congressman who said he will continue to press for an explanation.

The legal case against James Tobin may be over, but questions remain unanswered, said Rep. Paul W. Hodes, New Hampshire Democrat. Mr. Tobin had been accused of making false statements to FBI agents investigating the case.

“New Hampshire’s citizens deserve a full airing of what transpired in 2002,” Mr. Hodes said. “Granite Staters deserve fair elections, and hopefully, this case will serve as a warning to those who would seek to tamper with New Hampshire’s electoral process.”

The case against Mr. Tobin, of Bangor, Maine, came to a quiet conclusion last week when a U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston dismissed an appeal by prosecutors.

Mr. Tobin was cleared in federal court in New Hampshire of taking part in the plot. Then the government brought charges in Maine of lying to investigators, and a judge dismissed those before the case went on to the federal appeals court.

RELIGION

Suit tests ouster of Democratic club

RICHMOND | Americans United for Separation of Church and State wants the Internal Revenue Service to investigate whether Liberty University violated federal tax law when it withdrew recognition of a student-run Democratic club.

Americans United on Wednesday urged the IRS to review the tax-exempt status of the private university in Lynchburg, Va., founded by the Rev. Jerry Falwell.

Liberty officials earlier this month informed the fledgling College Democrats club that it can no longer use the university’s name or apply for school funding, saying the party’s support of abortion and gay rights is inconsistent with the conservative Christian school’s moral principles.

Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United, said in a letter to the IRS that Liberty has supported a Republican club for years. Such political clubs often work on behalf of candidates, he wrote, and Liberty’s action offers Republican candidates “a type of in-kind contribution” not available to Democrats.

“By banning a Democratic club while permitting a Republican club to exist and offering funding to the latter but not the former, university officials appear to be operating in violation of federal tax law,” Mr. Lynn wrote.

Mathew Staver, dean of the Liberty University law school, called the complaint “frivolous” and said the school has not banned the club, which can continue to meet on campus.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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