Archive for March of 2008

Health Policy Notes

March 31, 2008
The Chicago Tribune reported on 3/26/08 that Medicare and Social Security Trustees are facing “enormous challenges,” predicting that the Social Security trust fund will be depleted by 2041 and the Medicare trust fund will run out by 2019.

A study published on 3/27/08 in the New England Journal of Medicine found that prescription drugs approved by the FDA under deadlines imposed by Congress are more likely to have safety issues than those given additional time for review.

A 3/27/08 Yahoo/Associated Press article reported that carrying excess abdominal fat during ages 40 to 45 puts a person at a higher risk for developing Alzheimer’s or dementia later in life, even if the person is not overweight.

Health Policy Notes

March 28, 2008
The Washington Post reported on 3/27/08 that Americans are living longer and with better health and security than ever before: In 2006, the 37.5 million Americans over age 65 accounted for 2% of the population, but by 2030 an estimate 71.5 million people over 65 will comprise 20% of the population.

The percentage of employers offering “consumer-driven” health plans, such as high-deductible plans, has risen to 8.8% this year, up from just 2.5% last year, according to a Cowden Associates survey and reported in the 3/27/08 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Researchers have found previously undetectable genetic variations that may place a person at a higher risk for schizophrenia; the “extremely rare and unknown” mutations were observed three to four times more often in schizophrenics than in normal people, the 3/28/08 New York Times reported.

Health Policy Notes

March 27, 2008
The AFL-CIO commissioned an online poll, results of which were released on 3/25/08, finding that 95% of Americans believe that “health care in America needs fundamental change or to be completely rebuilt,” The Hill reported on 3/25/08.

A 3/24/08 US News & World Report article found that hospitals that participate in clinical trials provide better care and have lower death rates for patients with heart attacks or other acute heart events, based upon data from 174,000 heart attack patients.

The New York Times reported today that researchers in Germany, using advances in neuroscience, have found evidence supporting the common, but heretofore unproven, concept of a “runner’s high,” finding that running floods the brain with mood-altering endorphins.

Health Policy Notes

March 26, 2008
Researchers studying the eating habits of adolescents found a direct relationship between eating breakfast and body mass index, as boys and girls who skipped breakfast were more likely to be overweight than those who regularly ate breakfast, the 3/25/08 New York Times reported.

This year’s nationwide flu outbreak, with every state except Florida reporting widespread flu activity, has impacted many workplaces, with healthy workers having to work longer hours; as of 3/15/08, 32 states reported continuing flu activity, the 3/24/08 USA Today reported.

The 3/25/08 Washington Post reported on the largest-ever study of the long-term effects of premature birth, finding that premature babies have higher death rates in childhood and are more likely to be childless as adults.

Health Policy Notes

March 25, 2008
The US Supreme Court has ruled that employers can reduce health benefits for retired workers once they turn 65 and become eligible for Medicare, finding that the “coordination of retiree health benefits with Medicare” is not age discrimination, the 3/25/08 Los Angeles Times reported.

The 3/25/08 Wall Street Journal reported on how the federal government is contributing to America’s uninsured population by outsourcing service jobs to privately contracted firms, which unlike the government do not provide employees with health care coverage.

Researchers analyzing several studies on sinus infections announced that antibiotics to treat them are prescribed far too often, and are only effective for the 5%-10% of sinus infections that are bacterial; 20 million Americans get sinus infections annually, the 3/25/08 Washington Post reports.

Health Policy Notes

March 24, 2008
The 3/18/08 Chicago Tribune reported that a new study has shown that people who start drinking moderate amounts of alcohol, particularly wine, in middle age can lower their risk for a heart attack by up to 68%.

US Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) has introduced the “Save Medicare Act of 2008,” which aims to address the projected physician payment cuts for the next 18 months and extend incentive payment programs for physician scarcity areas.

Researchers analyzing the results of five previous studies found that children who take vitamin D supplements are about 30% less likely to develop type I diabetes later in life than children who do not take vitamin D, according to the 3/21/08 Health Day News.

Health Policy Notes

March 20, 2008
New Jersey is the latest state to consider a proposal for universal health car, which would require all residents to have health care coverage within three years and redistribute more efficiently state and federal dollars, the 3/18/08 New York Times reported.

Walgreens announced that it has purchased two operators of worksite health centers and plans to create a Health and Wellness Division to manage its health centers and pharmacies at large company work sites, the Chicago Tribune reported on 3/18/08.

A recent telephone survey of 14,000 Americans found many gender differences in eating habits, with men eating more meat than women and women eating more fruits, vegetables, and yogurt, according to the 3/19/08 New York Times.

Health Policy Notes

March 19, 2008
The 3/12/08 USA Today reported that college-educated people whose households earned more than $75,000 were at a lower risk for heart disease, although this benefit can be “cancelled out” by being overweight.

A Washington University study found that many patients were relieved to be told they had dementia, as it provided an explanation for their symptoms and alleviated much of their anxiety and concerns, the Chicago Tribune reported on 3/14/08.

USA Today also reported on 3/19/08 that 18% of Baby Boomers, or 14 million Americans, are expected to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia in their lifetimes, and Americans as a whole are developing Alzheimer’s at an accelerating rate.

Health Policy Notes

March 18, 2008
Over 91,000 Oregonians have signed up for a health lottery to win one of only a few thousand open spots in the Oregon Health Plan’s standard benefits package, which was capped due to budget constraints in 2004, the 3/11/08 Chicago Tribune reported.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has created the Commission to Build a Healthier America to examine how issues outside of the health care system, such as income, education, and the environment, affect individuals’ well being, according to the 3/5/08 CQ HealthBeat.

The 3/18/08 New York Times reported that the Center for Genomics and Health Disparities will lead a new study on the interaction between health and race, “seeking to untangle the genetic, economic, and social factors that contribute to differences in disease rates and medical responses among races.”

Health Policy Notes

March 17, 2008
Senators Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Sam Brownback (R-KS) and Representatives Mark Udall (D-CO) and Zach Wamp (R-TN) have introduced the “Physical Activities Guidelines for Americans Act,” which would direct HHS to prepare and promote physical activity guidelines similar to dietary and nutritional guidelines.

A National Eye Institute survey found that while 71% of Americans said losing their sight would rank “10” on a 1-10 scale of the impact it would have on their lives, only 8% knew that glaucoma had no early warning signs, and only 11% knew that diabetes carried vision risks as well, suggesting the need for more eye health awareness, HHS reported on 3/13/08.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has released the Fiscal Year 2007 State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) Annual Enrollment Report, which includes the number of children enrolled in SCHIP this year and the increase in enrollment from the 2006 Report. A copy of the Fiscal Year 2007 SCHIP Annual Enrollment Report is available on the CMS Web site.

Health Policy Notes

March 14, 2008
More than 70% of leading economists surveyed last week by the Wall Street Journal said that the US economy has entered a recession after a loss of 63,000 jobs and retail sales falling 0.6% in February, the paper reported on 3/13/08.

A University of Maryland School of Medicine study of 880 adults found that those who were depressed had stiffer heart tissue, which worsens heart failure, the 2/12/08 USA Today reported.

The Detroit Free Press reported on 3/13/08 that a lack of health insurance is attributed to the deaths of 650 Michiganders every year, nearly two each day; nationwide, the rate of premature deaths among the uninsured is almost twice that of homicide death rates.

Health Policy Notes

March 13, 2008
The federal government has reached a $666 million settlement with 667 hospitals seeking back payments resulting from a 1986 Medicare rule that excluded low-income patients from reimbursement eligibility calculations, the 3/13/08 Wall Street Journal reported.

The 3/11/08 USA Today reported that prescription drug sales grew by only 3.8% in 2007, which is the slowest rate of growth since 1961, with total sales reaching $286.5 billion last year. Reasons cited included expiring patents, more generic medications, and leveling out of the Medicare Part D program.

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study has found that 26% of American teenage girls admitting having a sexually transmitted disease, with experts citing abstinence-only education and the teens’ sense of invulnerability as contributors to this high number, reported on 3/11/08.

Health Policy Notes

March 12, 2008
The Kentucky legislature has passed a bill that would allow parents to cover their unmarried children up to age 25 on their health insurance policies in an effort to reduce the number of uninsured young adults in the state, the Louisville (KY) Courier-Journal reported on 3/11/08.

Iowa lawmakers likewise passed a health insurance reform bill this week that would cover all Iowa children by 2011 and adults by 2013, at a cost of $30.8 million per year, by expanding the HAWK-I low-income insurance program and other measures, the 3/11/08 Des Moines Register reported.

A group of hospital associations has filed a lawsuit aiming to block the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services from implementing a series of seven proposed Medicaid regulations that would severely cut hospitals’ funding, according to the 3/11/08 CQ HealthBeat.

Health Policy Notes

March 11, 2008
The 3/11/08 Washington Post reported that the number of practicing geriatricians in the US has fallen rapidly to about 7,000, while the number of elderly patients continues to rise; low reimbursement, long hours, and treating home-bound patients may be behind this decline.

Speaking of the elderly, the 3/11/08 Baltimore Sun reported that over 50% of seniors mismanage one or more of their prescription medications and are twice as likely to visit the emergency room due to drug safety issues.

Post-menopausal women who took Novartis’s breast cancer pill Femara for one to seven years reduced their risk for a cancer relapse by 63%, after finishing a five-year course on the estrogen blocker tamoxifen, whose benefits stop after five years, reported on 3/10/08.

Health Policy Notes

March 10, 2008
The 3/5/08 USA Today reported that women who have undergone long-term hormone therapy with estrogen and progestin can face an increased risk of cancer for up to three years after stopping taking the pills, long after heart attack, stroke, and blood clot risks return to normal levels.

United Network for Organ Sharing data showed that hospitals that perform more than 14 heart transplants per year see significantly fewer patients die within 30 days of the surgery than those that perform fewer than 14, according to the 3/3/08 American Medical News.

The National Institutes of Health today announced the creation of a new “Women's Health Resources” Web site to provide the public with the latest scientific information regarding women's health research, available online.

Health Policy Notes

March 07, 2008
Michigan lawmakers are considering a measure asking whether marijuana should be legalized for medical purposes; if they do not act on the measure within 40 days, a proposal will be placed on the state’s November ballot, according to the 3/4/08 USA Today.

A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the current “war on terror” has improved public health preparedness and paved the way for better data collection and information sharing, though challenges still remain, the 2/21/08 CQ HealthBeat reported.

The American Medical Association analyzed 10 independent studies on tort reform, finding that caps on non-economic damages are successful in reducing insurers’ claims payouts, translating to lower rates for physicians, the American Medical News reported on 3/3/08.

Health Policy Notes

March 06, 2008
A class-action suit has been filed in Texas seeking to nullify the Medical Malpractice and Tort Reform Act of 2003, claiming that caps on non-economic damages in malpractice cases are unconstitutional, the 2/28/08 Southeast Texas Record reported.

The Indianapolis insurer WellPoint, Inc., also has been named in a lawsuit filed in New York alleging that the company failed to pay overtime wages to nurses in violation of state and federal labor laws, reported.

The 3/4/08 USA Today reported results from a survey it conducted on pharmaceutical drugs, finding that 75% of Americans believe prescription medications have improved lives while 79% say the cost of such drugs are unreasonable.

Health Policy Notes

March 05, 2008
Pennsylvania’s Montgomery County has launched a pilot project where physicians and attorneys will work together to mediate conflicts between patients and the hospital or doctors in malpractice cases to avoid taking them to court, the 3/4/08 Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

The 3/5/08 Wall Street Journal reported that hospitals are trying to reduce errors by focusing on “high-alert” medications, which can cause death in incorrect doses. Although there are 19 categories of them, 8 high-alert drugs cause 31% of all medication errors that harm patients.

A national USA Today survey, reported on 3/4/08, found that prescription drug ads prompt over 33% of patients to ask their doctor about the advertised drug, and 82% of those patients get the drug they asked about; drug advertising cost $4.8 billion in 2006.

Health Policy Notes

March 04, 2008
Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) wrote to fifteen pharmaceutical companies on 2/26/08 asking them to publicly post the educational grants they provide to physicians; many companies, including Pfizer and Eli Lilly & Co., have already started to do so, the 2/26/08 USA Today reported.

A California woman whose medical coverage was cancelled as she was undergoing breast cancer treatment has been awarded $9 million in damages; the insurance company, Health Net, is also being sued for related alleged illegal practices, according to the 2/24/08 Miami Herald.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that a recent outbreak of hepatitis C at a Nevada clinic could signal a larger safety issue, as the unsafe practices leading to the outbreak could be prevalent at clinics around the country, the 3/3/08 Washington Post reported.

Health Policy Notes

March 03, 2008
The 2/26/08 USA Today reported that consumer spending on health care will reach $4 trillion per year by 2017, or $1 for every $5 spent; the current 6.7% annual increase in spending (triple the rate of inflation) is due to increased demand and higher prices for care.

The Washington Post reported on 2/26/08 on the top special interest groups contributing to presidential candidates, including health professionals, health services, hospitals/nursing homes, lawyers, and pharmaceutical companies on the list.

The Kaiser Family Foundation has announced the creation of a "Pulling It Together" series for its Web site, which will sift through health policy information and provide a bigger picture of the various health policy issues. The first installment is available online.