The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and USA Today lead with Medicare's decision to consider obesity an illness—a change that will, after decades of maintaining the opposite, allow the program to cover weight-loss treatments including stomach-shrinking surgery, counseling, and diet programs. The shift is expected to pressure private insurance companies into also covering similar treatments. The New York Times leads with the Senate's approval of a buyout of tobacco growers—federal legislation that includes allowing the Food and Drug Administration to regulate the sale and advertising of tobacco products. Legislators from tobacco-growing states have previously opposed such oversight but conceded for the financial boost ($12 billion over 10 years) to their struggling constituents.
For decades Medicare's coverage manual had maintained that obesity could not be considered an illness—a sticking point because legally only illnesses and injuries can be covered by the federal program. The new language changes the technical definition of the condition from a personal problem to a legal sickness.
The tobacco proposal was added to a tax bill that is awaiting House negotiations. A Times editorial calls the tobacco compromise "an unseemly $12 billion handout to tobacco growers, who have already been coddled for far too long by protectionist quotas meant to keep out cheaper foreign-grown tobacco," noting that disassembling other crop supports—advisable for the domestic budget and international trade rules—will only be harder after such a move.
A car bomb exploded in the Iraqi city Haditha Thursday, killing 10 people and injuring dozens more. The papers note that the second major car bombing in 24 hours led Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi to declare his intention to "annihilate" militants by establishing a new security service.
Roundups of Iraqi news also mention the appearance on Al Jazeera by a Philippine hostage who thanked his government for agreeing to remove their troops in exchange for his freedom. Allawi and U.S. officials have criticized Philippines' decision to negotiate with the terrorist group, Iraqi Islamic Army-Khaled bin Waleed Corps. On Wednesday night, Iraqi police found a decapitated body clad in an orange jumpsuit floating in the Tigris River near the town of Baiji. Officials are investigating if the body is that of a Bulgarian hostage that was being held by a different militant group.
The NYT runs a startling editorial regretting its near silence in the face of shaky Bush administration claims about Iraqi WMDs. The edit board spanks itself for failing to thoroughly consider the weapons issue and those who maintained that the stockpile was not what the president claimed. Politicians who authorized the war and remain unapologetic are also targeted, with the Times concluding that their own anti-invasion arguments should have come "earlier and faster" and that they should have done more to stand up to the president. As Slate's Jack Shafer has noted, it's rare that news organizations issue such sweeping apologies, though the Times does so more often than others.
The NYT fronts the expected guilty plea by drug company Schering-Plough, who will agree to pay $350 million in fines for cheating Medicaid. Federal law compels companies to sell drugs at their lowest price to Medicaid, but Schering-Plough is accused of selling medicine to health care providers for far less as part of a kick-back system.
The Post fronts a Washington bank manager's refusal to answer questions from senators investigating his handling of millions of dollars in questionable transactions for Equatorial Guinea President Teodoro Obiang Nguema. Riggs Bank is suspected of aiding the dictator and his wife in moving money from government bank accounts into their personal coffers. The financial institution is also reported to have helped former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet hide millions of dollars.
The papers bury a U.N. oversight board's rebuke of the American occupation authority's lax accounting controls in Iraq. The board stopped short of making fraud accusations, but said it was considering investigating the Halliburton and other noncompetitive contracts. Only the Post, in their headline and lead, emphasizes the auditors' claims that the Bush administration is refusing to provide information about the questionable contracts: "U.S. Won't Turn Over Data for Iraq Audits."
The NYT reports that the congressional inquiry into abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison has slowed to a near standstill. A "senior Senate Republican" tells the paper that at the earliest, new hearings on the matter will occur in the fall. Sen. John Warner, the Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he is waiting for several criminal trials and Pentagon investigations to finish; other Republicans are whispering that the delay has more to do with avoiding controversy too near to the upcoming election.
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Sen. John Kerry outlined his three-part test for pulling American troops out of Iraq. If elected president he would measure the current level of stability, the outlook for stability and the capability of Iraqi security before removing forces.
Getting serious … Americans United for Separation of Church and State is challenging the tax-exempt status of an organization run by Rev. Jerry Falwell, who they say improperly violated the regulations of tax-exempt groups by endorsing the re-election of President Bush. On a Web site and in an e-mail letter, Falwell wrote that "voting for principle this year means voting for the re-election of George W. Bush," calling the alternative "unthinkable." Falwell said the lobbying group that funded the messages "doesn't support candidates or endorse them," despite the message on the web site they're funding urging readers to "get serious" about re-electing the president.