Year-end fiscal negotiations continue to stall; 117 million Medicare claims denied in 2010, prompting more aggressive senior response; and Georges Benjamin, APHA executive director, discusses gun deaths with Huffington Post. Read these and other public health stories for Friday, Dec. 21, 2012.

Huffington PostGun deaths cost US billions each year while firearms makers thrive
Making and selling guns and ammunition is a lucrative business for U.S. firearms companies, which will earn nearly $1 billion in profit this year, according to the market research firm IBISWorld. But for the public, the prevalence of guns in American life comes at a steep price — more than 30,000 deaths a year that cost the health care system and the economy tens of billions of dollars, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data show. The full magnitude of these public costs and how to stem them remains crudely understood, in part because federal agencies are handcuffed by laws limiting their research on the subject — the result of lobbying by opponents of gun control laws. And efforts by the American Medical Association and other health care groups to treat gun injuries and deaths as a matter of public health have been met with fierce resistance from gun-rights activists and politicians.

Modern HealthcareFiscal cliff appears closer after House actions
The House narrowly approved a measure that would maintain across-the-board cuts to Medicare payments while rolling back other spending reductions scheduled for 2013, but the legislation drew a veto threat from the White House. Meanwhile, House GOP leaders failed to muster votes for their “Plan B” proposal to avert tax increases and pulled that bill from the floor. Thursday night’s votes appeared to set up yet another stalemate in the year-end fiscal negotiations, watched closely in the healthcare industry because the solution will likely require addressing a looming 26.5% cut to Medicare physician pay and because a deal might include new cuts to federal health programs.

Kaiser Health NewsSeniors need to be tenacious in appeals to Medicare
Dan Driscoll used to be a smoker. During a regular doctor’s visit, his primary-care physician suggested that Driscoll be tested to see if he was at risk for an abdominal aortic aneurysm, a life-threatening condition that can be linked to smoking. The doctor said Medicare would cover the procedure. So Driscoll, 68, who lives in Silver Spring, had the test done and was surprised when he got a bill from Medicare for $214.

Cincinnati EnquirerCan we really talk about mental illness?
Mary Bleisch knows people don’t like to talk about mental illness. She knows the subject can make them squirm and look away. Bleisch, 59, of Cincinnati, has lived with mental illness for most of her life. As a young woman in New Orleans, she was diagnosed with schizophrenia and institutionalized in a psychiatric ward. It was the early 1970s and the reaction to mental illness was devastating. “All of a sudden, people were not allowed to play with my younger sister because she had a sister in the nuthouse,” Bleisch said. After treatment, including medication, she enrolled at Louisiana State University where she decided not to shy away from her diagnosis. So she told her roommate. That night, the roommate’s mother picked up her daughter. “I never saw her again,” Bleisch said.