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News Briefs

Medicare Offers New, Expensive Treatments -- With A Catch

For the first time in its history, Medicare is offering to systematically use its vast population of patients as research subjects to determine if new, expensive and complex treatments actually work and, if so, in whom.

The move is part of an agenda being pushed by the agency’s recently appointed director, Dr. Mark McClellan. Over the past six months, he has been fundamentally transforming Medicare’s scope by offering to pay for a number of new and expensive treatments and diagnostic tests -- ranging from $30,000 a dose cancer drugs to brain scans to diagnose Alzheimer’s -- but with a catch. Patients can only have them if they enter into studies that evaluate how well they work. And someone other than Medicare will have to pay for those studies.

In the past Medicare just paid the bills or said no to treatments. Now, with a flood of promising, but astronomically expensive treatments, and little data on how they work in the real world, Medicare has decided to use its 41 million beneficiaries to get some answers. And it is using the threat of refusing to pay unless patients are in a study as a cudgel to get companies or foundations or professional groups to pay for the research.

Ivory Coast Cease-Fire Ends With Airstrikes Against 2 Rebel Towns

Government planes in Ivory Coast conducted bombing raids against two rebel-held towns starting shortly after sunrise on Thursday, ending a tenuous yearlong cease-fire and signaling a possible resumption of civil war.

A spokesman for the French military in Ivory Coast, Col. Henri Aussavy, said the raids began at 7:15 a.m. against a rebel base in Bouake, a guerrilla stronghold in the north. Two more raids followed, one on the rebel-run television station in Bouake and a third farther north, at Korhogo, an official with the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Ivory Coast said.

There were no confirmed reports of casualties, but a spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross said in a telephone interview that at least a dozen wounded had been evacuated from Bouake.

There were no reports of rebel retaliation.

Record Sums Pour Into Hedge Funds Despite Weak Performance

Barton M. Biggs, the well-known stock strategist who left Morgan Stanley last year to set up a $2 billion hedge fund, has been writing a book, “Diary of a Hedge Hog,” that promises to “describe the agonies and ecstasies of creating and running a new hedge fund.”

So far this year, the experience for Biggs’ investors has been agonizing.

After rising 16 percent last year, Biggs’ fund, called Traxis Partners, is down 8.3 percent as of the end of October, according to a person briefed on the results. Earlier this year, Biggs made an aggressive bet that the price of oil would fall. Instead, it hit record highs, recently peaking at more than $55 a barrel.

In the meantime, Biggs has postponed the release of his book, which was scheduled for next month, his publisher, John Wiley, said. Biggs could not be reached for comment.

Investors in Traxis are not the only ones to experience disappointment this year. These days, lots of funds are failing to meet expectations.