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Friday, March 25, 2005; Page A05

4 Senators Want Rule On Mercury Withheld

Three Senate Democrats and Sen. James M. Jeffords (I-Vt.) called on the Environmental Protection Agency yesterday to stay regulations issued last week to control mercury emissions from power plants.

The request follows concerns that the agency excluded a Harvard University analysis that found significantly greater health benefits from mercury controls than were estimated by the EPA.

"The Administration sought above all to maintain its story line and to adhere to industry assertions that stronger controls could not be implemented because of cost concerns and questionable health benefits," wrote Jeffords, Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and John F. Kerry (D-Mass.).

Kerry separately called on President Bush to intervene, saying that the rulemaking was "marred by repeated problems that undermine the fundamental goal of protecting the public health and the independence of the regulatory process."

The EPA has questioned the Harvard study and said its results were excluded because of quality concerns and because the final study was submitted late.

Justice Dept. to Review Background-Check Law

FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III is forming a study group to review the law that allowed suspected terrorists to buy guns in the United States after they cleared background checks.

Mueller unveiled his plan to form the Justice Department working group, which will include the FBI, in a letter Wednesday to Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.). The group will also review the Government Accountability Office report that said more than 40 terrorism suspects were able to buy firearms in the United States last year because background checks showed they had no felony convictions and were not illegal immigrants.

The day the GAO report was released, Mueller told a House subcommittee that perhaps the law could be altered. In his letter to Lautenberg, Mueller said, "I believe a review of the law regarding the National Instant Criminal Background Check System is warranted given the findings of the GAO report."

The Justice Department's Office of Legal Policy will head the review.

Medicare Premiums Could Go Up 12%

Medicare may raise U.S. seniors' health insurance premiums 12 percent next year because of higher payments to physicians, a government report showed.

The increase would push premiums for physician visits up 49 percent over three years to $87.70 a month, the health insurance program's trustees said in an annual report. A separate premium for drug coverage would be $37.37 a month.

"The direct costs associated with Medicare are enormous, and what's amazing is how fast that's rising," said Ron Pollack, executive director of consumer-advocacy group Families USA.

Out-of-pocket health care costs for seniors have been rising faster than pension benefits under Social Security. While Medicare premiums, which are deducted from Social Security checks, rose 13.5 percent last year and 17.4 percent in 2005, Social Security payments increased by 2.7 percent in 2004 and 2 percent this year. The retirement program's trustees projected a 2.2 percent raise for next year.

-- From News Services

and Staff Reports

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