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News Briefs

Retirees Object to Feared Loss Of Drug Benefits

THE NEW YORK TIMES -- WASHINGTON

As Congress works on legislation to cover prescription drugs under Medicare, lawmakers have been deluged with complaints from retirees who fear losing drug benefits they already have from former employers.

Some lawmakers say this issue is emerging as the most immediate threat to the legislation.

Congress is frantically seeking ways to address the concern, by offering tax credits, subsidies or other incentives for employers to continue providing drug benefits to retirees. The tax credits would be available to employers who maintain drug coverage or supplement what Medicare provides.

Medicare generally does not cover out-patient prescription drugs. Some employers voluntarily provide such coverage though they are not required to do so.

In the last month, members of Congress say they have realized that any Medicare drug benefit they may approve will have a profound effect on the health coverage provided to retirees by their former employers.

Rep. Michael Bilirakis, R-Fla., who is chairman of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health, said his constituents were “up in arms” over the possible loss of retiree health benefits.

“If we don’t have a plan to keep that from happening,” Bilirakis said, “we will catch an awful lot of flak.” He said he feared a repetition of events in 1989, when elderly people forced Congress to repeal a law charging them extra for Medicare coverage of catastrophic medical expenses. Many retirees already had such coverage.

Winfrey’s Trainer Is Helping Mcdonald’s Cut Calories

THE NEW YORK TIMES

How many footsteps would it take to burn off the calories in a supersize Big Mac value meal? Bob Greene, Oprah Winfrey’s personal trainer, may soon have the answer.

Greene, who helped Winfrey lose weight again and again, has pledged to help Americans get in shape -- at McDonald’s.

Executives at the company are scheduled to announce Greene’s new role on Tuesday in Indianapolis, where he will endorse the restaurant’s food for the first time.

Greene will be promoting the Go Active Meal, a $4.99 adult version of the Happy Meal, which comes in a supersize Happy Meal box and has a salad and a bottle of water or a medium fountain drink. Dessert? The meal includes a clip-on pedometer, to encourage customers to increase daily walking, and a 10-page booklet with exercise tips from Greene. The meal is part of a pilot program in several Indiana cities.

“I view McDonald’s as the largest provider of food in the world, and it is such an enormous opportunity when they are interested in talking about healthy lifestyles and offering really healthy meal choices,” said Greene, who will also help McDonald’s develop educational tray liners that promote health and fitness. “I’m definitely on board and very excited about it.”

Greene’s appointment is McDonald’s latest attempt to recast itself as a purveyor of healthy food in the face of criticism that fast-food companies have contributed to the increasing number of obese people. In March, the company introduced a line of salads, topped with Newman’s Own salad dressing. In Britain, McDonald’s is selling fruit bags with children’s Happy Meals.

Senior U.S. Official to Level Weapons Charges Against Syria

THE NEW YORK TIMES -- WASHINGTON

The Bush administration says that despite pledges, Syria has not stopped militant “volunteers” from crossing into Iraq to kill U.S. soldiers.

In testimony prepared for a House hearing on Tuesday, John R. Bolton, undersecretary of state for arms control, says that the administration also remains concerned about what it sees as Syria’s continuing support for terrorist groups like Hamas, and what administration officials say is the country’s ambitious program to develop chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.

But Bolton’s testimony says there is “no information” that Syria has transferred unconventional weapons to the terrorist groups it is said to harbor and support. He also says the administration “has been unable to confirm” reports that Iraq covertly transferred weapons of mass destruction to Syria “in an attempt to hide them from United Nations inspectors and coalition forces.”

Syria has denied it has unconventional weapons.

East Coast Braces For Hurricane Isabel

THE NEW YORK TIMES -- KITTY HAWK, N.C.

The East Coast girded for the worst on Monday as Hurricane Isabel, its maximum sustained winds easing to a still-powerful 125 miles per hour, churned up the Atlantic. Weather officials said that if the storm stayed on track, it would slam into the fragile Outer Banks of North Carolina in three days and grind on up Chesapeake Bay.

As emergency-management officials from South Carolina to Massachusetts activated disaster plans, the Navy ordered 40 warships and submarines in Norfolk to put to sea on Tuesday, the Air Force ordered fighter jets at coastal bases to fly inland as far as Oklahoma, and the governor of Virginia declared a state of emergency.

For longtime residents of coastal communities who know to monitor weather reports and Web sites come September, preparations for Isabel were already well under way over the weekend, a result of a new government effort to provide five-day forecasts of hurricane movements.