Medicare Rule Hikes Suicide Risk; TSA Terror Detectives Strike Out

Sunday, 09 Feb 2014 01:58 PM

By Special From Newsmax's Most Informed Sources

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Headlines (Scroll down for complete stories):
1. TSA's Behavior Detection Program a Costly Bust
2. New Medicare Rules Could Increase Seniors' Suicides
3. Bridge-gate Adds 40 Percent to MSNBC's 'Tiny Audience'
4. Planned Parenthood: 1 Adoption Referral per 149 Abortions
5. Demands for Kosher Food Hiking Prison Costs
6. New Jersey, Connecticut in Worst Fiscal Condition
 

1. TSA's Behavior Detection Program a Costly Bust

Here's the amount of money the Transportation Security Administration has spent for behavior detection officers to identify airline passengers suspected of being a high risk for terrorism: $900 million.

And here's the number of passengers flagged by the program and charged with terrorism: zero.

The TSA fully deployed the Screening of Passengers by Observation Technique (SPOT) program in 2007, and by fiscal year 2012, about 3,000 behavior detection officers were stationed at 176 of the more than 450 TSA-regulated airports in the country.

The officers "are intended to identify high-risk passengers based on behavioral indicators that indicate mal-intent," according to a report from the General Accountability Office.

Through the SPOT program, behavior detection officers "are to identify passenger behaviors indicative of stress, fear, or deception and refer passengers meeting certain criteria for additional screening of their persons and carry-on baggage," the report stated.

The officers can then refer passengers to a law enforcement officer for further investigation and possible arrest.

But the GAO concluded that the "published research we reviewed did not support whether nonverbal behavioral indicators can be used to reliably identify deception."

The GAO told the House Subcommittee on Transportation Security that for fiscal years 2011 and 2012, it analyzed the SPOT program at 49 airports and found that there were 61,000 passengers who displayed "behavioral indicators that indicate mal-intent."

Of those, 8,700 or 13.6 percent were referred to a law enforcement officer, and of the 8,700, only 365 were arrested — just 0.59 percent of the passengers flagged by the SPOT program.

And none of them were arrested for "terrorism."

Rather, they were charged with offenses such as possessing fraudulent documents, having an outstanding warrant, or drug possession.

Given the SPOT program's poor performance, the GAO clearly indicated its recommendation in the title of its report: "Aviation Security: TSA Should Limit Funding for Behavior Detection Activities."

Editor's Note:



2. New Medicare Rules Could Increase Seniors' Suicides

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has proposed a new regulation limiting the drugs covered under Medicare's Part D, the prescription drug component of the program — a rule that could have "serious consequences."

Currently, Part D plans must include medications in six drug categories. But with the new regulation, published in the Federal Register in January, CMS would no longer require all drugs from the antidepressant and immunosuppressant drug classes to be covered by Part D.

"Seniors would no longer necessarily have access to insurance for these drugs, with serious consequences," Diana Furchtgott-Roth, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, wrote in an article published by RealClearMarkets.

"Depression is the most frequent mental health problem in the elderly, and lack of treatment can lead to suicide," she observed. "Depressed patients can cause difficulties for family members and caregivers."

Immunosuppressant drugs are used to prevent the body from rejecting a transplanted organ, and cutting back on these drugs would make transplants more risky and less successful.

CMS calculates that disallowing drugs in those two classes would save $720 million from 2015, when the regulation would take effect, to 2019. That's just $144 million a year, two-tenths of one percent of net Medicare outlays in 2019.

"Reducing access to major classes of drugs that were required from the beginning of the Part D program would cut Medicare costs by shortening seniors' lives, but that is not the direction in which our society wants to go," Furchtgott-Roth said, adding that the regulation "should be changed" before it becomes final.

Editor's Note:



3. Bridge-gate Adds 40 Percent to MSNBC's 'Tiny Audience'

MSNBC's ratings have surged since the cable news network launched into its obsessive coverage of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and the Bridge-gate scandal.

But the size of the viewership increase is due in large part to the fact that MSNBC's ratings were so low to begin with.

"When you deal with relatively tiny audiences, the ratings are subject to severe 'wobble' and have to be averaged over time," an industry source told Newsmax.

In one week in early December, MSNBC averaged 209,000 viewers in the key 25-to-54-years-old demographic during prime time (8 p.m. to 11 p.m.) on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday of that week, according to the source.

The following week, the network averaged just 178,000 viewers in that age group over the three days.

Then allegations began to surface that lane closures on the approach to the George Washington Bridge during several days in September, which resulted in gridlock in Fort Lee, N.J., were an act of retribution by Christie staffers against the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, who did not endorse the Republican governor's re-election efforts.

Christie is currently facing multiple state and federal inquiries related to both the Bridge-gate controversy and the alleged misuse of superstorm Sandy funds, and MSNBC has been covering the potential 2016 GOP presidential candidate's troubles almost nonstop.

In mid-January, as the network's coverage raged on, MSNBC averaged 260,000 viewers in the key demo on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday of that week, and averaged 291,000 on those days the following week.

That means MSNBC's prime-time viewership "after Christie" has risen more than 40 percent compared to "before Christie."

But "in the overall scheme of things," the source pointed out, "we're still talking about a tiny universe here."

Editor's Note:



4. Planned Parenthood: 1 Adoption Referral per 149 Abortions

Planned Parenthood performed 327,166 abortion procedures in one year and made only 2,197 adoption referrals, according to its latest annual report — about 149 abortions for each referral.

The report documents the "patient care" Planned Parenthood said its "affiliated centers" did from Oct. 1, 2011 to Sept. 30, 2012.

The 2,197 adoption referrals the organization did in that period were down from 2,300 in the previous year.

The report does not say how many of the referrals to other agencies actually resulted in an adoption.

The report stated: "We are the most effective advocate in the country for policies that protect access to legal abortion."

It also disclosed that 2.13 million women received birth control information and services from Planned Parenthood health centers during the one-year period.

The organization's net revenue rose 5 percent to $1.21 billion in its fiscal year ending on June 30, 2013. About 45 percent of the revenue, $540.6 million, came from government grants and reimbursements.

Planned Parenthood lobbied heavily in favor of the Affordable Care Act's mandatory contraception coverage, and its report called Obamacare "a historic advance for women's health."

Editor's Note:



5. Demands for Kosher Food Hiking Prison Costs

Florida's Department of Corrections is facing increased costs after a court issued an order to serve kosher meals to eligible inmates — whether they are Jewish or not.

Most states already offer kosher meals to many of those who demand them. But in 2007, Florida stopped serving a religious diet to inmates, citing higher costs.

Last year, the U.S. Department of Justice sued Florida for violating a 2000 law intended to protect prisoners' religious freedom, forcing the state to begin serving kosher meals by July until the issue is decided at trial.

To be eligible for kosher meals, inmates need only to declare that they hold a sincere belief in Judaism, The New York Times reported.

Michael Crews, the incoming secretary of Florida's Department of Corrections, said he knew of 4,417 requests for kosher meals from inmates, but added that "once they start having the meals, we could see the number balloon."

The problem: Kosher meals cost far more than standard prison fare.

In Florida's prison system, which is facing a $58 million deficit, three individually boxed kosher meals cost $7 a day, compared to $1.54 for standard meals. In New York, kosher meals cost $5 a day, and in California, $8 a day.

Prison officials in Florida are concerned that the tab for kosher meals in prison could top $54 million statewide.

Some non-Jewish inmates believe kosher dishes taste better than standard fare. Others who are concerned about the quality and safety of ordinary meals prefer the prepackaged, sealed kosher meals, according to The Times.

At Crews' confirmation hearing, Sen. Greg Evers, Republican chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, quipped: "Is bread and water considered kosher? Just a thought. Just a thought."

Editor's Note:



6. New Jersey, Connecticut in Worst Fiscal Condition

New research explores the ability of each state to meet its financial obligations, and finds that Alaska is in the best fiscal shape — and New Jersey the worst.

"Fiscal simulations by the Government Accountability Office suggest that despite recent gains in tax revenues and pension assets, the long-term outlook for states' fiscal condition is negative," according to George Mason University's Mercatus Center.

"These simulations predict that states will have yearly difficulties balancing revenues and expenditures due in part to rising healthcare costs and the cost of funding state and local pensions."

The research was carried out by Sarah Arnett, a public policy researcher with the Mercatus Center, who used four indices to analyze state solvency in the 2012-13 fiscal year and create a State Fiscal Condition Index.

The four indices are cash solvency, budget solvency, long-run solvency, and service-level solvency.

Cash solvency looks at how easily a state can access cash to pay its bills in the near term, indicating a state government's liquidity. Alaska is the best state for cash solvency, followed by Ohio and South Dakota. Illinois is worst, followed by California and Connecticut.

Budget solvency looks at a state's ability to create sufficient revenue to cover its expenditures over a fiscal year. Again, Alaska is best, followed by North Dakota and Wyoming.

Long-run solvency is a measure of a state's ability to cover its expenditures long-term, including its pension obligations and infrastructure costs. Nebraska leads all other states in this category, followed by Alaska and Indiana. New Jersey is worst, ahead of Illinois and Connecticut.

Service-level solvency reflects whether a state will have the resources to provide its residents with an adequate level of service, based on revenue and expenditures per capita. Nevada ranks highest, followed by Florida and New Hampshire, while Alaska is worst, followed by North Dakota and Wyoming.

Arnett uses the four indices to create an overall Index for the 50 states. The top five, in order, are Alaska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Nebraska, and Wyoming.

The worst overall is New Jersey, followed in order by Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, and California.

The states at the bottom are there in large part due to "years of poor financial management decisions," the Mercatus Center observed. "New Jersey and Connecticut face similar problems: tax revenues that have not kept up with expenditures, use of budget practices that only appeared to balance their annual budgets, and significant debt levels as a result of decades of using bonds without being able to pay for them.

"In addition, both states have underfunded their pension systems, resulting in billions in unfunded liabilities."

Editor's Note:



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