Nation roundup for April 1


Cut to Medicare docs to be halted

WASHINGTON (AP) — With just hours to spare, Congress stepped Monday to finalize legislation to prevent doctors who treat Medicare patients from being hit with a 24 percent cut in their payments from the government.

The Senate’s 64-35 vote sends a measure to delay the cuts for a year to President Barack Obama, who’s expected to quickly sign it. The House passed the measure last week.

The $21 billion measure would stave off a 24 percent cut in Medicare reimbursements to doctors for a year and extend dozens of other expiring health care provisions such as higher payment rates for rural hospitals. The legislation is paid for by cuts to health care providers, but fully half of the cuts won’t kick in for 10 years.

It’s the seventeenth temporary “patch” to a broken payment formula that dates to 1997 and comes after lawmakers failed to reach a deal on financing a permanent fix.

The measure passed the House on Thursday, but only after top leaders in both parties engineered a voice vote when it became clear they were having difficulty mustering the two-thirds vote required to advance it under expedited procedures.

Several top Democrats opposed the bill, saying it would take momentum away from the drive to permanently solve the payment formula problem.

There’s widespread agreement on bipartisan legislation to redesign the payment formula that would doctors 0.5 percent annual fee increases and implement reforms aimed at giving doctors incentives to provide less costly care.

Riders wowed by Las Vegas wheel

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Tourists are taking in the view from a skyline-changing observation wheel that offers a unique look at sparkling casinos and distant mountains from high above the heart of the Las Vegas Strip.

Van Kim, from Phoenix, declared the experience “unanimously awesome” after standing in line for six hours Monday to be on the first gondola to complete the 30-minute ride on the 550-foot High Roller.

Caesars Entertainment Corp. officials christened the attraction as the world’s tallest Ferris-style wheel.

It eclipses the 541-foot Singapore Flyer and the nearly-443-foot London Eye.

The High Roller is part of the $550 million LINQ development at the heart of the glittery Strip resort corridor.

It has 28 glass-enclosed, air-conditioned gondolas that can each hold up to 40 people.

Tickets are $24.95 during the day and $34.95 at night.

Apple-Samsung trial is underway

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — The world’s two leading smartphone makers were back in federal court on Monday, accusing each other of stealing ideas and features.

The trial in Silicon Valley, which got underway with jury selection, marks the latest round in a long-running series of lawsuits between Apple Inc. and Samsung.

If Apple prevails in the current case, the cost to Samsung could reach $2 billion. Apple’s costs, if it loses the litigation, were expected to be about $6 million.

Whatever the outcome, it could be the consumer who ends up paying the ultimate price. Experts say the litigation could lead to more expensive smartphones and devices and slow the overall pace of mobile innovation.

“The most direct effect of this patent fight on consumers would be if the judge blocked one of these popular phones from the market,” said Rutgers Law School professor Michael A. Carrier.

Carrier said patent litigation costs businesses time and money.

In the case in U.S. District Court, Apple is accusing Samsung of infringing on five patents on newer devices, including Galaxy smartphones and tablets. In a counterclaim, Samsung says Apple stole two of its ideas to use on iPhones and iPads.

Jury selection could be challenging because the federal courthouse in San Jose is just a 15-minute drive from the Cupertino headquarters of Apple.

Most prospective jurors said they were at least somewhat familiar with the dispute, including many who work for companies affiliated with either Samsung or Apple. Some locals had strong opinions.

“Neither company has been a particular favorite of mine. Both have been bullies with their patent libraries,” said prospective juror Armen Hamstra, a LinkedIn software engineer and patent holder who was not immediately excused from the jury pool despite requests from attorneys.

The two tech giants have battled in litigation around the world. Less than two years ago, a federal jury in the same court found Samsung was infringing on Apple patents. Samsung was ordered to pay about $900 million but is appealing and has been allowed to continue selling products using the technology.

Throughout three years of litigation, Samsung’s global market share has grown. One of every three smartphones sold last year was a Samsung, now the market leader. Apple, with its typically higher priced iPhones, was second, with about 15 percent of the market.

Experts say the case underscores a much larger concern about what is allowed to be patented.

“There’s a widespread suspicion that lots of the kinds of software patents at issue are written in ways that cover more ground than what Apple or any other tech firm actually invented,” Notre Dame law professor Mark McKenna said. “Overly broad patents allow companies to block competition.”

In court filings, Apple said Samsung has “systematically copied Apple’s innovative technology and products, features and designs, and has deluged markets with infringing devices.”

 

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