November unemployment rate declines (7.0%), payroll employment increases (+203,000)
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
The unemployment rate declined from 7.3 percent to 7.0 percent in November, and total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 203,000, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Employment increased in transportation and warehousing, health care, and manufacturing.
HealthCare.gov Progress and Performance Report (12/1/13) (PDF)
Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
mproving the user experience for HealthCare.gov required deeper real – time analysis to the system, additional technical expertise, and a strong management structure to drive the p rioritization and metric – driven execution of fixes. The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) appointed QSSI as the General Contractor and Systems Integrator. QSSI , with their dee p project management expertise, coordinat es all activity with CMS and other contractors. With one central command structure and “War Room” meetings of all key parties held twice a day for real – time, data – based decision making , the team has been able to implement high – performance management practices and drive through a priority set of fixes.
The newly installed technical monitoring instruments have allowed for constant real – time analysis of site performance. With this new data and managem ent structure the team has the capacity to rapidly respond to any incidents and to better understand root causes.
Over the last five weeks, s ubstantial pr ogress has been made improving HealthCa re.gov and getting the system to where it needs to be:
- Hundreds of software fixes, hardware upgrades and continuous monitoring have measura bly improved the consumer experience
- Site capacity is stable at its intended level
- Operating metrics are greatly improved, and activity levels demonstrate the site is working for consumers
While there is more work to be done, the t eam is operating with private sector velocity and effectiveness, and will continue their work to improve and enhance the website in the weeks and months ahead. The following charts provide data on the systems enhancements that have been executed, and the resulting improvements in the site’s key operating metrics over the last several weeks.
Danbury State’s Attorney Releases Report on Sandy Hook Investigation
Source: State of Connecticut Division of Criminal Justice
Stephen J. Sedensky III, State’s Attorney for the Judicial District of Danbury, today released his report on the investigation into the December 14, 2012, shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School and a private residence in Newtown.
The report concludes that the 20-year-old Adam Lanza acted alone when he fatally shot his mother at their home in Newtown and then went to the elementary school where he fatally shot 20 first-grade pupils and six adults and wounded two other adults.
Association of Nut Consumption with Total and Cause-Specific Mortality
Source: New England Journal of Medicine
In two large prospective U.S. cohorts, we found a significant, dose-dependent inverse association between nut consumption and total mortality, after adjusting for potential confounders. As compared with participants who did not eat nuts, those who consumed nuts seven or more times per week had a 20% lower death rate. Inverse associations were observed for most major causes of death, including heart disease, cancer, and respiratory diseases. Results were similar for peanuts and tree nuts, and the inverse association persisted across all subgroups.
Note: Supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health (UM1 CA167552, P01 CA055075, P01 CA87969, R01 HL60712, R01 CA124908, P50 CA127003, and 1U54 CA155626-01) and the International Tree Nut Council Nutrition Research and Education Foundation.
FACT SHEET: New Administration Proposal To Help Consumers Facing Cancellations
Source: White House
The law aimed to make Marketplace coverage optional for the less than 5 percent of Americans who have individual market coverage that they want to keep. Health plans that consumers had when the law was passed in 2010 are “grandfathered” in and do not have to adopt most of the new consumer protections. But, in order to provide consumers with better protections and coverage, health insurers in the individual and small group markets have to adopt consumer protections for any new plans purchased after 2010. In some instances, they are adopting those protections by canceling current policies and replacing them with new and sometimes more costly plans.
Many consumers receiving these cancellation letters will be able to find a better deal with financial assistance or better coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace, but we know a small slice of these consumers may not be eligible for a plan at a more affordable price. Last week President Obama directed his team to explore administrative actions that could be taken to help these consumers who are receiving cancellation letters.
To meet that commitment, today, HHS is using its administrative authority to:
- Allow insurers to renew their current policies for current enrollees without adopting the 2014 market rule changes. This will give consumers in the individual and small group markets the choice of staying in their plan or joining a new Marketplace plan next year. HHS will consider the impact of this transitional policy in assessing whether to extend it beyond 2014.
- Require insurers offering such renewals to ensure consumers are informed about their options. Specifically, insurers offering these renewals must inform all consumers who either already have or will receive cancellation letters about the protections their renewed plan will not include and how they can learn about the new options available to them through the Marketplaces which will offer better protections and possible financial assistance.
- To protect against the potential impacts this change will have on premiums, HHS will adjust the temporary risk corridor program which is designed to stabilize premiums as changes are implemented.
New ACC/AHA Prevention Guidelines Address Blood Cholesterol, Obesity, Healthy Living and Risk Assessment
New ACC/AHA Prevention Guidelines Address Blood Cholesterol, Obesity, Healthy Living and Risk Assessment
Source: American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association
The ACC and the American Heart Association (AHA), in collaboration with the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) and other specialty societies, have released four guidelines focused on the assessment of cardiovascular risk, lifestyle modifications to reduce cardiovascular risk and management of elevated blood cholesterol and body weight in adults.
These four prevention guidelines released Nov. 12 were among five initially commissioned by NHLBI starting in 2008 and transitioned to the ACC and AHA in June 2013 as part of a collaborative arrangement to facilitate their completion and publication. A fifth guideline addressing hypertension will be initiated in early 2014. Each provides important updated guidance for primary care providers, nurses, pharmacists and specialty medicine providers on how best to manage care of individuals at risk for cardiovascular-related diseases based on the latest scientific evidence.
FDA takes step to further reduce trans fats in processed foods
Source: U.S. Food and Drug Administration
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced its preliminary determination that partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs), the primary dietary source of artificial trans fat in processed foods, are not “generally recognized as safe” for use in food. The FDA’s preliminary determination is based on available scientific evidence and the findings of expert scientific panels.
The agency has opened a 60-day comment period on this preliminary determination to collect additional data and to gain input on the time potentially needed for food manufacturers to reformulate products that currently contain artificial trans fat should this determination be finalized.
“While consumption of potentially harmful artificial trans fat has declined over the last two decades in the United States, current intake remains a significant public health concern,” said FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D. “The FDA’s action today is an important step toward protecting more Americans from the potential dangers of trans fat. Further reduction in the amount of trans fat in the American diet could prevent an additional 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths from heart disease each year – a critical step in the protection of Americans’ health.”
Consumption of trans fat raises low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad” cholesterol, increasing the risk of coronary heart disease. The independent Institute of Medicine (IOM) has concluded that trans fat provides no known health benefit and that there is no safe level of consumption of artificial trans fat. Additionally, the IOM recommends that consumption of trans fat should be as low as possible while consuming a nutritionally adequate diet.
Department of Homeland Security Abuses Overtime Payments (PDF)
Source: U.S. Office of Special Council
Employees of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) routinely abuse a form of overtime pay called Administratively Uncontrollable Overtime, or AUO, according to a letter sent yesterday to President Obama from the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC). Improper claims of AUO cost the government up to $9 million annually at six DHS offices identified by whistleblowers. The total amount of annual AUO abuse throughout DHS is unknown. However, the problem is pervasive, according to OSC’s letter.
Portable Electronic Devices
Source: Federal Aviation Administration
The FAA has determined that airlines can safely expand passenger use of Portable Electronic Devices (PEDs) during all phases of flight, and is immediately providing the airlines with guidance. Expanded use will not happen overnight. The process will vary among airlines, but the agency expects airlines to allow passengers to safely use their devices in airplane mode, gate-to-gate, by the end of 2013.
September payroll employment increased (+148,000); unemployment rate little changed (7.2%)
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 148,000 in September, and the unemployment rate was little changed at 7.2 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Employment increased in construction, wholesale trade, and transportation and warehousing.
Human influence on climate clear, IPCC report says (PDF)
Source: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
Human influence on the climate system is clear. This is evident in most regions of the globe, a new assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concludes.
It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century. The evidence for this has grown, thanks to more and better observations, an improved understanding of the climate system response and improved climate models.
Warming in the climate system is unequivocal and since 1950 many changes have been observed throughout the climate system that are unprecedented over decades to millennia. Each of the last three decades has been successively warmer at the Earth’s surface than any preceding decade since 1850, reports the Summary for Policymakers of the IPCC Working Group I assessment report, Climate Change 2013: the Physical Science Basis, approved on Friday by member governments of the IPCC in Stockholm, Sweden.
United Nations Mission to Investigate Allegations of the Use of Chemical Weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic: Report on the Alleged Use of Chemical Weapons in the Ghouta Area of Damascus on 21 August 2013
United Nations Mission to Investigate Allegations of the Use of Chemical Weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic: Report on the Alleged Use of Chemical Weapons in the Ghouta Area of Damascus on 21 August 2013 (PDF)
Source: United Nations
In transmitting simultaneously to the Security Council and the General Assembly the report on the incident which took place on 21 August 2013 in the Ghouta area of Damascus (see annex), the Secretary-General expresses his profound shock and regret at the conclusion that chemical weapons were used on a relatively large scale, resulting in numerous casualties, particularly among civilians and including many children. The Secretary-General condemns in the strongest possible terms the use of chemical weapons and believes that this act is a war crime and grave violation of the 1925 Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or Other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare and other relevant rules of customary international law. The international community has a moral responsibility to hold accountable those responsible and for ensuring that chemical weapons can never re-emerge as an instrument of warfare.
Arsenic in Rice and Rice Products
Source: U.S. Food and Drug Administration
Arsenic is present in the environment as a naturally occurring substance or as a result of contamination from human activity. It is found in water, air, soil and foods. In foods, arsenic may be present as inorganic arsenic (the most toxic form of arsenic) or organic arsenic. FDA has been monitoring the levels of arsenic in foods for decades, and in 2011, increased its testing.
On September 6, 2013, FDA released the analytical results of approximately 1,100 new samples of rice and rice products as part of a major effort to understand and manage possible arsenic-related risks associated with the consumption of these foods in the U.S. marketplace. These 1,100 new samples are in addition to the approximately 200 samples of rice and rice products that the FDA initially tested and released the findings in September 2012.
- FDA Statement on Testing and Analysis of Arsenic in Rice and Rice Products
The levels FDA found in its testing are too low to cause immediate or short-term adverse health effects. FDA’s work going forward will center on long-term risk and ways to manage it with a focus on long-term exposure.
- Consumer Update: FDA Explores Impact of Arsenic in Rice
This news feature is intended for consumers interested in knowing about arsenic in rice and rice products.
- Updated Questions & Answers: Arsenic in Rice and Rice Products
- Blog: On Farms and in Labs, FDA and Partners Are Working to Get Answers on Arsenic in Rice
FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D., recounts her experience touring farms and research facilities to better understand safety issues and the challenges of rice farming.
USDA Office of Inspector General — Food Safety and Inspection Service: Inspection and Enforcement Activities At Swine Slaughter Plants
Food Safety and Inspection Service: Inspection and Enforcement Activities At Swine Slaughter Plants (PDF)
Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Office of Inspector General
The Food Safety and Inspection Service’s (FSIS) enforcement policies do not deter swine slaughter plants from becoming repeat violators of the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA). As a result, plants have repeatedly violated the same regulations with little or no consequence. We found that in 8 of the 30 plants we visited, inspectors did not always examine the internal organs of carcasses in accordance with FSIS inspection requirements, or did not take enforcement actions against plants that violated food safety regulations. As a result, there is reduced assurance of FSIS inspectors effectively identifying pork that should not enter the food supply.
We also found FSIS could not determine whether the goals of a pilot program—Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP)- based Inspection Models Project (HIMP)—were met because FSIS did not adequately oversee the program. In the 15 years since the program’s inception, FSIS did not critically assess whether the new inspection process had measurably improved food safety at each HIMP plant, a key goal of the program.
Finally, we found that FSIS inspectors did not take appropriate enforcement actions at 8 of the 30 swine slaughter plants we visited for violations of the Humane Method of Slaughter Act (HMSA). We reviewed 158 humane handling noncompliance records (violations) issued to the 30 plants and found 10 instances of egregious violations where inspectors did not issue suspensions. As a result, the plants did not improve their slaughter practices, and FSIS could not ensure humane handling of swine. FSIS concurred with all of our recommendations.
August payroll employment increases (+169,000); unemployment rate little changed (7.3%)
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Total nonfarm payroll employment increased by 169,000 in August, and the unemployment rate was little changed at 7.3 percent. Employment rose in retail trade and health care but declined in information.
All Legal Same-Sex Marriages Will Be Recognized for Federal Tax Purposes
Source: U.S. Department of the Treasury
The U.S. Department of the Treasury and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) today ruled that same-sex couples, legally married in jurisdictions that recognize their marriages, will be treated as married for federal tax purposes. The ruling applies regardless of whether the couple lives in a jurisdiction that recognizes same-sex marriage or a jurisdiction that does not recognize same-sex marriage.
The ruling implements federal tax aspects of the June 26th Supreme Court decision invalidating a key provision of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act.
“Today’s ruling provides certainty and clear, coherent tax filing guidance for all legally married same-sex couples nationwide. It provides access to benefits, responsibilities and protections under federal tax law that all Americans deserve,” said Secretary Jacob J. Lew. “This ruling also assures legally married same-sex couples that they can move freely throughout the country knowing that their federal filing status will not change.”
Under the ruling, same sex couples will be treated as married for all federal tax purposes, including income and gift and estate taxes. The ruling applies to all federal tax provisions where marriage is a factor, including filing status, claiming personal and dependency exemptions, taking the standard deduction, employee benefits, contributing to an IRA, and claiming the earned income tax credit or child tax credit.
Any same-sex marriage legally entered into in one of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, a U.S. territory, or a foreign country will be covered by the ruling. However, the ruling does not apply to registered domestic partnerships, civil unions, or similar formal relationships recognized under state law.
Legally-married same-sex couples generally must file their 2013 federal income tax return using either the “married filing jointly” or “married filing separately” filing status.
Vital Signs: Obesity Among Low-Income, Preschool-Aged Children — United States, 2008–2011
Source: Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (CDC)
The prevalence of obesity among U.S. preschoolers has doubled in recent decades. Childhood obesity increases the risk for adult obesity and is associated with negative health consequences. Trends in the state-specific prevalence of obesity among low-income U.S. preschool children have not been examined since 2008. State-specific obesity prevalence surveillance helps determine the need for and impact of state and local obesity prevention strategies.
Measured weight and height data from approximately 11.6 million low-income children aged 2–4 years from 40 states, the District of Columbia, and two U.S. territories who participated in the Pediatric Nutrition Surveillance System during 2008–2011 were used to estimate state obesity prevalence. Obesity was defined as having an age- and sex-specific body mass index ≥95th percentile, according to the 2000 CDC growth charts. Logistic regression models adjusted for age, sex, and race/ethnicity were used to examine trends in the state-specific obesity prevalence.
During 2008–2011, statistically significant downward trends in obesity prevalence were observed in 18 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Florida, Georgia, Missouri, New Jersey, South Dakota, and the U.S. Virgin Islands had the largest absolute decreases in obesity prevalence, each with a decrease of ≥1 percentage point. Twenty states and Puerto Rico experienced no significant change, and obesity prevalence increased significantly in three states.
Conclusions and Implications for Public Health Practice:
Small but significant declines in obesity among low-income preschoolers were observed in 19 of 43 states/territories examined. Continued prevention efforts are needed to sustain and expand the implementation and evaluation of population-level interventions to prevent childhood obesity.
Department of Justice Report on Review of News Media Policies (July 12, 2013) (PDF)
Source: U.S. Department of Justice
In May 2013, at the President’s direction, the Attorney General initiated a comprehensive evaluation of the Department ofJustice’s policies and practices governing the use of law enforcement tools, including subpoenas, court orders, and search warrants, to obtain information or records frQm or concerning members of the news media in criminal and civil investigations. As part of this process, the Attorney General convened a series of meetings to solicit input from a wide range of news media stakeholders, First Amendment academics and advocates, and Members of Congress. Based on this review, the Attorney General is making significant revisions to the Department’s policies regarding investigations that involve members of the news media.
As an initial matter, it bears emphasis that it has been and remains the Department’s policy that members of the news media will not be subject to prosecution based solely on newsgathering activities. Furthermore, in light of the importance of the constitutionally protected newsgathering process, the Department views the use of tools to seek evidence from or involving the news media as an extraordinary measure. The Department’s policy is to utilize such tools only as a last resort, after all reasonable alternative investigative steps have been taken, and when the information sought is essential to a successful investigation or prosecution.
The changes in policy outlined in this report are intended to further ensure the Department strikes the appropriate balance between two vital interests: protecting the American people by pursuing those who vio late their oaths through unlawful disclosures of information and safeguarding the essential role ofa free press in fostering government accountability and an open society. As set forth in more detail below, the Department’s policy revisions strengthen protections for members of the news media by, among other things, requiring more robust oversight by senior Department officials and by clarifying and expanding the presumption of negotiations with, and notice to, members of the news media when Department attorneys request authorization to seek newsgathering records.
In addition, as the President and Attorney General have long stated, the Administration will continue to support efforts within Congress to pass a media shield law, which would codify many of the principles that inform the policy guidance described in this report. While the Department intends to take significant steps to improve its policies with respect to investigations involving the news media, the Department calIDot adopt certain measures without legislative action. A media shield law would, for example, provide a new mechanism for advance judicial review of the use of investigative tools such as subpoenas when they involve the news media, within a framework that establishes procedures for review and appeal, including expedited judicial determinations and under seal or ex parte review for good cause. The Department looks forward to working with Congress as it considers media shield legislation.