Jan. 30, 2015


Higher Education News:

Counting Students Equally?

A core premise of the Obama administration's college ratings plan -- and one that makes it controversial -- is that colleges and universities need to be held more accountable for student outcomes. U.S. Department of Education officials working on the ratings have long said they're going to overcome that problem by comparing colleges' performance only to that of other institutions with similar missions. But in the 17-page ratings framework released last month, officials also said they're eyeing an additional strategy to make fair comparisons: adjusting a college's outcomes based on the demographics of the students it enrolls. That approach is largely unprecedented in federal higher education policy. (Inside Higher Ed - Jan. 30, 2015)

Federal Agency Asks Banks for Straight Talk on Help for Student-Loan Borrowers

Federal regulators are keeping up the pressure on banks to do more to help struggling student-loan borrowers. A year ago, Richard Cordray, director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and Arne Duncan, the secretary of education, convened the nation's largest lenders and loan servicers to urge them to offer modified repayment plans to borrowers facing default. Despite that encouraging talk, the bureau says most lenders have not made information on their plans readily available. On Tuesday, the bureau sent a letter to the banks, asking them for more information on the loan-modification options. Regulators also issued guidance to lenders on offering graduated repayment options to new borrowers. (Chronicle of Higher Education - Jan. 29, 2015)

Research News:

White House Proposes $215 Million, New Regs for Precision Medicine

The White House is proposing $215 million in new funds and new regulations in a sweeping effort involving the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Food and Drug Administration, and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology to help fulfill the promise of what President Barack Obama has termed precision medicine. The bulk of investment, $130 million, will be devoted to the NIH, which will stitch together existing cohorts of genomic database and recruit new volunteers in an effort to create a million-patient-strong cohort. Another $70 million will go to the NIH's National Cancer Institute, to scale up current efforts to link genomic variation and cancer, along with potential treatments. (Modern Healthcare - Jan. 30, 2015)

NIH Responds to Calls for Investigation of Monkey Lab

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has responded to calls from members of Congress to investigate monkey experiments being carried out at a government lab. In a letter to the representatives sent late last week, NIH Director Francis Collins said that his agency "takes animal welfare allegations seriously" and that it had recently conducted an investigation into the lab. The review, he wrote, found no major problems with the research, though he did say additional steps would be taken to "further protect and improve animal welfare." (ScienceInsider - Jan. 29, 2015)

The Money Chase, 2016: A Historian Who Oversees NIH's Budget Looks to Compromise and Takes the Long View 

If you’re shocked that a member of the Republican leadership in the U.S. House of Representatives would cite a Marxist historian in defending peer review at a federal agency, then you don’t know Rep. Tom Cole, R–Okla. [T]his month he takes the reins of what is traditionally the most contentious of the 12 appropriations panels that set federal budgets, the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (Labor-H) subcommittee. Its portfolio includes [the National Institutes of Health] and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. [Cole has] earned the reputation as a pragmatic legislator, someone who seeks common ground rather than ideological purity on contentious issues. (ScienceInsider - Jan. 30, 2015)

Health News:

Senate GOP Eyes Major Reforms for Health Agencies

Senate Republicans are pledging to reform two of the government's largest health agencies as part of their effort to fix a medical industry that they say "takes too long and costs too much" to find new cures. In a wide-ranging report released Thursday, the GOP leaders of the Senate Health Committee announced plans to modernize both the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), two agencies they said "every American is personally affected by." But Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Richard Burr, R-N.C., warn that "regulatory realities" of these agencies, particularly the FDA, often hinders private companies that are trying to create or sell their products. (The Hill - Jan. 29, 2015)

CMS Announces Intent to Revisit Some Aspects of EHR Incentive Program

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) today announced that it will explore possible changes to the Medicare Electronic Health Record Incentive Program (EHR) in rulemaking this spring. In a blog post, Patrick Conway, M.D., CMS chief medical officer and deputy administrator for innovation and quality, said the agency will consider shortening the reporting period to 90 days in 2015, as [the American Hospital Association] and hospitals have advocated. The agency also will consider modifying other aspects of the program to "match long-term goals, reduce complexity, and lessen providers' reporting burdens," he said.  (American Hospital Association - Jan. 29, 2015)

Senators to Discuss Measles Outbreak in Hearing

Capitol Hill will broach the topic of the California measles outbreak in a hearing on Feb. 10, a committee chairman said Thursday. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said his panel will hold an event on vaccines for preventable diseases, including measles, which has sickened 73 people in California. The discussion will be one of the first times federal lawmakers have discussed the measles outbreak publicly. (The Hill - Jan. 29, 2015)

Other News:

Obama Budget Proposes 7% More in Spending Above Sequestration Caps

President Barack Obama will propose government spending that is 7% -- or $74 billion -- over caps he and congressional Republicans agreed to in a bipartisan deficit-reduction deal over three years ago, a White House official said Thursday. Obama's fiscal 2016 budget, due to be released Monday, will propose some $561 billion in defense spending and $530 billion in nondefense spending, the official said. The amounts exceed the levels set under the 2011 budget law by $38 billion for defense and $37 billion for nondefense, the official said. (Wall Street Journal - Jan. 29, 2015)

Other Items of Note:


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