The federal government released its first overall hospital quality rating on Wednesday, slapping average or below average scores on many of the nation's best-known hospitals while awarding top scores to many unheralded ones.

Prescription drug prices continue to climb, putting the pinch on consumers. Some older Americans appear to be seeking an alternative to mainstream medicines that has become easier to get legally in many parts of the country. Just ask Cheech and Chong.

A program that has helped seniors understand the many intricacies of Medicare, as well as save them millions of dollars, would be eliminated by a budget bill overwhelmingly approved last week by the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee.

Aetna and Cigna inked deals last month with drug maker Novartis that offer the insurers rebates tied to how well a pricey new heart failure drug works to cut hospitalizations and deaths. If the $4,500-a-year drug meets targets, the rebate goes down. Doesn't work so well? The insurers get a bigger payment.

In another approach, pharmacy benefit firm Express Scripts this year began paying drug makers a special negotiated rate for some cancer drugs. The goal is to reward the use of medicines that are most effective for certain cancers.

This week, I answered questions from readers about Medicare coverage and the rules for repaying premium tax credits for marketplace coverage after a divorce.

I have insurance through my federal employee retirement plan. Why should I pay an additional monthly premium for Medicare Part B?

More men are getting colonoscopies to screen for cancer since the Affordable Care Act reduced how much Medicare beneficiaries pay out of pocket for the preventive tests, a recent study found. The change, however, didn't affect women's rates.

When Republicans took over both chambers of Congress in January, party leaders vowed they would prove to the country that Republicans could govern. They promised to stop with the self-made crises, such as government shutdowns, and rack up legislative accomplishments. So in the first year of a GOP-controlled Congress in nearly a decade, how well did Republicans prove they can govern?

The federal government is penalizing 758 hospitals with higher rates of patient safety incidents, and more than half of those places had also been fined last year, Medicare records released late Wednesday show.

This post was updated at 5:30 p.m. ET Wednesday

The House has passed a budget proposal that funds the government for two years and raises the debt ceiling, preventing a default on the nation's debt. The proposal will now move to the Senate, where a vote is expected as early as Monday.

Remember so-called death panels?

When Congress debated the Affordable Care Act in 2009, the legislation included a provision that would have allowed Medicare to reimburse doctors when they meet with patients to talk about end-of-life care.

But then Sarah Palin loudly argued that such payments would lead to care being withheld from the elderly and disabled.

Her assertions greatly distressed Dr. Pamelyn Close, a palliative care specialist in Los Angeles.