Archive for August of 2009

Health Policy Notes

August 21, 2009
The average American’s life expectancy rose to 77.9 years this year, its highest level ever, the Centers for Disease Control announced on 8/19/09. Women live an average of five years longer than men at about 80 years vs. 75 years, Reuters/Yahoo News reported on 8/19/09.

The Agency for Healthcare Research & Quality will host a free 90-minute Web conference on the role of health information technology in medication management, from prescribing to adherence. The event will be held 8/27/09 and will explore what is known about e-prescribing and suggest future research topics. Learn more online.

The 8/20/09 CQ HealthBeat reported that scientists studying fish from America’s streams found mercury contamination in every fish they sampled from 291 streams across the country, and about 25% of those fish had mercury levels above the level that is safe to eat.

Health Policy Notes

August 20, 2009
Yahoo News reported today that the federal government, through the stimulus package, will make available almost $1.2 billion in grants to help hospitals implement electronic medical record systems.

The 8/19/09 CQ HealthBeat reported that the FDA has launched a new Center for Tobacco Products with a $5 million budget to regulate and prevent tobacco use. In related news, sales of tobacco to teens 18 and under have reached all-time lows, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reports.

The 8/10/09 USA Today reported that 44% of Americans do not believe in evolution, instead believing that “God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years.”

Health Policy Notes

August 19, 2009
The 8/18/09 Wall Street Journal reported on a safety study of Merck’s cervical cancer vaccine, Gardasil, which found that Gardasil recipients had higher rates of fainting and blood clots than those receiving other vaccines.

After initial clinical trials for the H1N1 vaccine did not show immediate safety concerns for adults, National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) officials announced on 8/18/09 that it would begin clinical trials on children, the 8/18/09 CQ HealthBeat reported.

Health Leaders reported on 8/19/09 that all of the 10 physician groups participating in Medicare’s Physician Group Practice (PGP) demonstration project achieved benchmark performance on at least 28 of the 32 measures, earning performance payments totaling $25.3 million.

Health Policy Notes

August 18, 2009
On 8/18/09, National Public Radio reported on the “staggering” price tag associated with medical fraud; although the true extent is unknown, experts estimate that medical fraud costs anywhere from $60 to $600 billion a year. reported on 81/7/09 that people who live in Southern states fill more prescriptions per capita than those in other regions of the country: West Virginia, the state with the highest average, filled about 17.7 prescriptions per person last year, compared to the national average of 11.5.

PhRMA, FamiliesUSA, the American Medical Association, and others in the "Americans for Stable Quality Care" coalition have launched TV ads in support of President Obama's health care reform efforts; the ads are running in states of swing vote senators and cost a total of $12 million.

Health Policy Notes

August 17, 2009
The 8/17/09 Wall Street Journal reported that the Obama Administration may be willing to compromise on the controversial “public plan” option, after HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius stated that it was not an “essential element” of any health system reform plan.

On 8/19/09, President Obama will participate in a conference call with a diverse group of progressive/liberal religious organizations to discuss the moral imperative of providing health insurance coverage to the uninsured.  Register and submit a question online, or listen online.

The 8/13/09 New York Times reported that elderly people who do regular physical activity and those who follow heart-healthy Mediterranean-style diets have a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease than those more sedentary or who eat less healthily.

Health Policy Notes

August 14, 2009
Reuters reported on 8/14/09 that cancer death rates in all age groups, but especially for those aged 35-45, have steadily declined over the past thirty years, according to a new study by Eric Kort, MD, who cites cancer screening and preventive measures as reasons driving these decreases.

In order to meet the World Health Organization’s recommendation on how many doctors, nurses, and midwives each African nation should have, Africa needs to gain 800,000 more health workers by 2015; the continent currently has only 30% of the health professionals it needs according to the 8/11/09 New York Times.

Health Leaders reported on 8/14/09 the House Committee on Energy and Commerce's package on health reform includes a provision that would reward states who pass PLI reform laws with incentive payments; however, the laws could not impose caps on damages nor limit attorney fees.

Health Policy Notes

August 13, 2009
The 8/12/09 Wall Street Journal reported that the FDA has set new regulations that are designed to give critically ill patients who have not responded to approved treatments greater access to experimental drugs.

The 8/11/09 New York Times reported that over 65% of Americans are now overweight or obese, according to data for 2005 to 2009 gathered by the CDC and state health departments; the data show that the percentage of overweight Americans is still expanding.

J. James Rohack, MD, President of the American Medical Association, will appear on CNN's Larry King Live at 9:00 pm EDT on 8/13/09 to discuss myths and facts in the current health system reform debate. Other panelists will include former Sen. Bill Frist, MD, and Michael Roizen, MD, from the Cleveland Clinic.

Health Policy Notes

August 12, 2009
A study reported in the 8/10/09 New York Times found “experimental evidence” that a five-second touch can convey emotion. When study participants attempted to convey one of eight emotions by touching another, accurate understanding of the emotion ranged from 50% to 74%.

Modern Healthcare reported on 8/11/09 that US patients who do not comply with their recommended prescription drug regimens cost about $290 billion per year, according to a study of New England Healthcare Institute data showing that half to one-third of patients to not properly follow prescription orders.

Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas Elmendorf wrote in an 8/7/09 that “although different types of preventive care have different effects on spending, the evidence suggests that for most preventive services, expanded utilization leads to higher, not lower, medical spending overall,” the 8/11/09 CQ HealthBeat reported.

Health Policy Notes

August 11, 2009
Reuters reported on 8/10/09 that several religious groups, including liberal-leaning evangelicals, some mainline Protestant clergy, and some Catholic groups, will partner with President Obama to support his health system reform plan. The campaign will feature an 8/19/09 call in with the President and religious leaders, prayer meetings, and national TV ads.

A column in the 8/11/09 Washington Post addressed whether we could fight America’s obesity epidemic by shifting the economic balance between healthy and unhealthy foods, limit junk food advertisements, and tax soda, all ideas proposed by Yale University professor Kelly Brownell.

Teams of physicians and nurses who worked together to provide proactive, evidence-based care to patients with chronic conditions saved an average of $1,364 per patient and averaged 24% fewer hospital days and 15% fewer emergency department visits, according to a Johns Hopkins study reported by MedPage Today on 8/7/09.

Health Policy Notes

August 10, 2009
Many large newspapers have published articles and guides that aim to clear up misinformation and clarify the provisions of several major health system reform proposals, the 8/10/09 Kaiser Health News reported; the White House has launched its own “Reality Check” Web site for the same purpose.

The Institute of Medicine has released The US Oral Health Workforce in the Coming Decade, which reports that the oral health workforce fails to meet the needs of many segments of the US population, often due to geography, insurance status, and income levels. Get a copy online.

According to the Campaign Media Analysis Group, health care industry stakeholders representing all positions on the health care reform spectrum have spent more than $52 million on advertisements so far this year.

Health Policy Notes

August 07, 2009
The FDA announced on 8/6/09 that it will now take a stronger role in enforcing violations through five procedural changes: post-inspection deadlines, speedier warning letters, closer work with regulatory partners, a priority on enforcement, and acting swiftly to protect the public, the 8/6/09 CQ HealthBeat reported.

The News-Observer reported on 8/6/09 that only 17% of Americans thought obesity to be a major problem for themselves or their families, and only 4% reported themselves as “very overweight”; CDC data, on the other hand, shows that over 25% of people in two-thirds of US states are obese.

The 8/6/09 Chicago Sun-Times reported that women are more likely than men to “bargain hunt” in health care by comparing the costs of doctors and medical procedures and by purchasing generic medicines over name brands, according to a CIGNA-commissioned survey.

Health Policy Notes

August 06, 2009
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will host a Health Insurance Reform Webcast at 1:00 PM EDT on 8/7/09 (learn more online), during which federal health officials will answer questions from the public. Email questions to and watch the Webcast tomorrow.

The World Health Organization announced on 8/4/09 that a total of 1,154 people worldwide have died from swine flu since the virus emerged in April, including 338 deaths last week alone; US officials expect a widespread flu outbreak this fall once school systems re-open, according to the 8/5/09 Chicago Sun-Times.

The 8/5/09 USA Today reported that several medical associations, including the American Diabetes Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, are creating an Obesity Medicine Physician Certification, which they expect to be available in 2010.

Health Policy Notes

August 05, 2009
Health Leaders has drafted a brief analysis that compares and contrasts the three main health system reform proposals being considered in Congress: HR 3200, the America's Affordable Health Choices Act, aka The Tri-Conference Bill; the Affordable Health Choices Act, aka the Senate HELP Committee bill; and the Senate Finance Committee bill.

USA Today reported on 8/4/09 that the number of Americans taking antidepressants has doubled from about 13 million in 1995 to 27 million in 2005, or 10% of all Americans, according to a study of 50,000 children and adults published in yesterday’s Archives of General Psychiatry.

The 7/31/09 Health Day News reported that rates of childhood obesity have tripled over the last quarter-century. From 1976-1980, 0.8% of children were “severely obese”; by 2004, that rate rose to 3.8%, or as many as 2.7 million children, according to a study in Academic Pediatrics.

Health Policy Notes

August 04, 2009
The 8/3/09 CQ HealthBeat reported that the Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) has taken a stand against HR 3200, saying the legislation will “kill jobs” and “hurt patients.”

The Washington Post reported on 7/31/09 that some physicians have started to practice “self-referrals,” often purchasing imaging and other equipment to provide such services in-house, rather than referring patients to other physicians; only Maryland bans this practice.

USA Today reported on 8/3/09 that hospitals vary widely in quality and cost data across the country, according to a Dartmouth analysis of Medicare data; this analysis show that hospitals in higher-performing regions had up to 14% fewer admissions, 17% fewer days in the hospital, and 36% fewer visits to specialists.

Health Policy Notes

August 03, 2009
On 7/28/09 the US Department of Health and Human Services announced its plans to allocate over the next few months $200 million appropriated in the stimulus package for health professions training programs. Learn more online.

House Republicans have released the outlines of a proposal, the "Empowering Patients First Act," which contains four pillars of reform: universal access to coverage; coverage is owned by the patient; improving health care delivery structure; and reining in health care costs. They will introduce the legislation in the fall. A one-page summary is available online.

The 7/30/09 USA Today reported that President Obama stated that the costs of health care reform over ten years would be less than the Iraq War; since 2001, Congress has approved $864 billion for military operations launched after 9/11, including $642 billion for Iraq.