Archive for June of 2009

Health Policy Notes

June 30, 2009
HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has released a new report, "Hidden Costs in Health Care: Why Americans are Paying More but Getting Less," pointing out the increase in deductibles, co-payments and out-of-pocket expenses for families with insurance. The report is one in a series that can be found at the Web site.

The 6/18/09 CQ HealthBeat reported that US employers’ health care costs are expected to grow by 9% this year, which although lower than last year’s growth rate of 9.2% is still higher than inflation; 42% of employers surveyed said they plan to raise employees’ costs this year as well.

Rasmussen Reports on 6/23/09 reported that 85% of Americans support “fundamental changes” in our health care delivery system and 72% are in favor of the controversial “public plan” option, according to a recent New York Times/CBS News poll.

Health Policy Notes

June 29, 2009
The Institutes of Medicine has released its new report Combating Tobacco in Military and Veteran Populations, which recommends how to reduce tobacco initiation and encourage cessation in military and veteran populations.  A copy is available online.

The federal government has developed an excellent web site on pandemic flu to provide the public with a wealth of up-to-date information on frequently asked questions on flu pandemics and their impact on their offices and communities. Visit the Web site.

Two reports on comparative effectiveness research are due on 6/30/09: The HHS Federal Coordinating Council for CER is required to submit its recommendations on how to spend the $400 million provided for CER in the Recovery Act. Likewise, the Institute of Medicine is required to release a report with recommendations to HHS on the priorities for spending funds for CER. James Weinstein, DO, MPH is a member of the IOM Advisory Committee that will submit the report.

Health Policy Notes

June 25, 2009
After the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the Senate Finance Committee’s health system reform bill would cost $1.6 trillion over ten years last week, its Chair, Max Baucus (D-MT), announced that his Committee is close to paring the cost to below $1 billion, the 6/23/09 CQ HealthBeat reported.

The Institutes of Medicine has released Assessing Medical Preparedness to Respond to a Terrorist Nuclear Event, a report assessing the ability of emergency, health care, and governmental authorities to respond to a nuclear weapon detonated during a workday in a large US metropolitan area. Download a copy online.

The New York Times reported on 6/22/09 that a new study found that at least 7% of abnormal test results never were communicated to patients; in two of the largest academic medical centers, upwards of 23% of abnormal results were never relayed to patients.

Health Policy Notes

June 24, 2009
A New York Times/CBS News poll found that 63% of Americans approve of President Obama’s job performance; however, 60% think the Administration has not developed a clear plan for dealing with the budget deficit, the 6/18/09 New York Times reported.

The 6/17/09 Wall Street Journal reported that 22 million American children – about 25% - get their health insurance coverage through either Medicaid or SCHIP; threatening some kids’ access to health care, 18% of doctors no longer take new Medicaid patients.

To finance health system reform, a proposal being considered in the US Senate would limit the amount individuals can claim as tax deductions for health care costs by raising the threshold from 7.5% of one’s adjusted gross income to 10%, the 6/22/09 Wall Street Journal reported.

Health Policy Notes

June 23, 2009
President Obama has officially signed into law a bill to give the FDA regulatory authority over tobacco products, including how cigarettes are advertised and available to young people, although not the ability to ban tobacco, reported on 6/22/09.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced on 6/19/09 that the number of H1N1 influenza deaths in the US has grown to 87 and cases to 21,449, nearly double last week’s count of 44 deaths and 18,000 confirmed cases, the 6/23/09 Associated Press reported.

The 6/23/09 New York Times reported that a new Web site,, went live on 6/22/09 to gain support for a “Wired Patients Bill of Rights,” which aims to ensure that patients’ privacy and access rights are included in electronic health records movements and incentives.

Health Policy Notes

June 22, 2009
The Senate HELP Committee continues to mark up its health care reform legislation this week; the Congressional Budget Office estimates the cost of the legislation at $1 trillion over ten years while reducing the number of uninsured by about 16 million over that period.

The 6/22/09 Wall Street Journal reported that the pharmaceutical industry has agreed to forgo $80 billion in revenue over the next ten years by reducing Medicare drug costs as part of $313 billion in government spending cuts to pay for health system reform.

A 6/19/09 Alliance for Health Reform and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Forum found that social factors such as access to healthy foods and exercise are bigger factors in contracting chronic disease than medical care or insurance coverage, the 6/19/09 CQ HealthBeat reported.

Health Policy Notes

June 19, 2009
Twenty Democratic US Representatives have introduced a bill that would give financial incentives to primary care physicians, hospitals, and health care providers to form Accountable Care Organizations, which aim to improve quality while reducing costs, the 6/18/09 CQ HealthBeat reported.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on 6/18/09 that at least 81 US health care workers have contracted the H1N1 influenza virus, stating that at least 50% of them caught it while working, according to the 6/19/09 Los Angeles Times.

A University of Michigan poll of American adults found that over 25% of them fear losing their health coverage in the coming year and over 50% worry about being able to pay for their health care costs, but 86% reported receiving quality health care, the 6/17/09 Washington Post reported.

Health Policy Notes

June 18, 2009
ABC News will host a nationally televised one-hour special tonight on health system reform from the White House, during which President Obama will answer questions from audience members selected by ABC News. Learn more online.

CMS has become aware of a scam where perpetrators, posing as Medicare carriers, send faxes to physician offices and instruct staff to provide an account information update in order to prevent a gap in payments.  More information can be found on the Web site.

The 6/17/09 USA Today reported that the number of adults who use the Internet to find health information has doubled from 31% in 2006 to over 60% in 2008; the Internet ranks third in a list of health information sources behind health professionals (86% use them) and family/friends (68%).

Health Policy Notes

June 17, 2009
US Representative Charles B. Rangel (D-NY) reported that the House of Representatives’ health care reform bill may eliminate the tax deduction pharmaceutical companies can currently take for their advertising, potentially directing $37 billion to finance health system reform, according to the 6/16/09 CQ HealthBeat.

General Electric announced on Monday that it has set aside $100 million to give loans to doctors and hospitals who buy its Centricity electronic health records; the loans will be interest-free until physicians begin receiving government incentive funds as provided in the stimulus package, the 6/15/09 New York Times reported.

The 6/12/09 USA Today reported that medical insurers and drug companies spent 41% more on lobbying this year: Pfizer spent $6,140,000 on lobbying in the first quarter of 2009, a 119% increase over the same time period last year; Cigna grew its lobbying 109% to $450,000; and PhRMA spent $6,910,000, a 91% increase.

Health Policy Notes

June 16, 2009
HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius stated last week that the US health care system is “tilted towards a disease system rather than a wellness system;” UnitedHealth Group estimates that Medicare could save $24.8 billion over the next ten years by counseling high-risk patients on preventive measures according to the 6/13/09 Wall Street Journal.

The 6/10/09 National Journal Hotline reported that 65% of voters believe that President Obama will bring “real change” to Washington, DC, and that 62% of voters support a major overhaul of the US health care delivery system, including 35% of Republicans polled.

The New York Times reported on 6/11/09 that a bill has been introduced in the US House of Representatives that would create a database of patients who have received artificial hips and knees; the database could be used as part of comparative effectiveness research initiatives to track effective surgical practices.

Health Policy Notes

June 15, 2009
In his weekly address on 6/13/09, President Obama proposed a series of Medicare and Medicaid reforms like reducing payments to private insurers, cutting fraud and abuse, and improving payment accuracy; these cuts are projected to save over $300 billion over the next ten years to help pay for health care reform.

A recent survey of more than 500 US health care providers found that over 50% believe the stimulus package’s millions in incentives will not be successful in encouraging providers to adopt HIT, the 6/8/09 Tech Herald reported.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that the number of “probable and confirmed” US swine flu cases has grown to 18,000, with 5,000 new cases reported in the last week; the number of US deaths rose to 45 last week from 27, the Associated Press reported on 6/13/09.

Health Policy Notes

June 12, 2009
On 6/9/09, the Agency for Healthcare Research & Quality reported that 52% of hospital staff surveyed did not report any medical errors in their hospitals over the past year; the survey results are published in the AHRQ’s Hospital Survey on Patient Safety Culture.

The World Health Organization has declared that the H1N1 influenza virus outbreak is now a pandemic: There have been 28,774 confirmed cases and 144 deaths from the virus in 74 countries, according to the 6/12/09 Chicago Tribune.

The Institutes of Medicine has released a new report, A Review of the HHS Family Planning Program: Mission, Management, and Measurement of Results, which broadly evaluates the Title X Family Planning Program since its establishment in 1970. A copy is available online.

Health Policy Notes

June 11, 2009
CQ HealthBeat reported on 6/10/09 that White House Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag expects medical malpractice reform to be a part of anticipated health care reform discussions.

The 6/5/09 Medicine & Health reported that HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius released $81.7 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act on 5/28/09 to expand the services offered at community health centers through the Health Center Program.

On 6/10/09, AOA staff attended a bipartisan briefing where pollsters reported that the economy still trumps health care with the American people. They found that when people talk about lowering the cost of health insurance, they are talking about lowering the cost of their premiums.

Health Policy Notes

June 10, 2009
A study sponsored by the NIH and several pharmaceutical companies found that expensive new diabetes drugs and treatments like stents are no better at preventing deaths, heart attacks, or strokes than cheaper treatments for diabetics with heart disease, the 6/8/09 Wall Street Journal reported.

The 6/5/09 edition of Medicine & Health reported that Harvard researchers have developed a prototype return-on-investment calculator that aims to measure the value of preventive services; in initial tests of the calculator, researchers found that every dollar invested in preventive care would return $36 in the long-run.

The Kaiser Family Foundation released a new study today analyzing women's health care disparities at the state level, finding wide disparities in level of care, quality, and access among women of different races and geographic locations; read the report online.

Health Policy Notes

June 09, 2009
The Joint Committee on Taxation, an arm of the US Congress, estimates that “capping the exclusion” by taxing employer-sponsored health insurance coverage could raise $418.5 billion over the next ten years to pay for health care system reform, according to the 6/8/09 CQ HealthBeat.

The 6/6/09 New York Times reported that increasing numbers of primary care physicians are utilizing new strategies to provide patient-centered care like giving out their direct cell phone numbers, emphasizing prevention, and spending more time with patients; these strategies may well earn physicians payment incentives for such care under health reform legislation.

The Wall Street Journal reported on 6/5/09 that HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius supports creating a public, government-run health care insurance plan to give consumers more choice about their coverage and to create competition in the private insurance market.

Health Policy Notes

June 08, 2009
President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers has released its “Economic Case for Health Care Reform,” which finds that slowing the annual growth rate of health care costs by 1.5% would increase America’s GDP by 2% in 2020 and by 8% in 2030.

The 6/5/09 CQ HealthBeat reported that illnesses and/or medical bills were involved in up to 62% of bankruptcies filed in 2007, according to a study published in the American Journal of Medicine; of those bankrupted, over 75% had health insurance but were still “overwhelmed by their medical debts.”

A Microsoft Corp. survey found that 62% of Americans think that personal health record services are valuable and 66% would like to receive health care reminder/encouragement emails from their insurer, according to the 6/5/09 Health Care IT News.

Health Policy Notes

June 05, 2009
Americans across the country are hosting Health Care Organizing Kickoff events on 6/6/09 through Organizing for America, a project of the Democratic National Committee; these events will feature a special message from the President urging like-minded reform supporters in all communities to help put health care reform plans into action. Learn more and sign up online.

The US Department of Health and Human Services is offering free hands-on training for the Quick Health Data Online system to provide an overview on health indicators available, preparing custom queries, generating tables, graphs and maps, and learning about special new features in the database. Register online today.

The 5/29/09 Wall Street Journal reported that over 1,000 Americans die every year while awaiting a kidney transplant. About 7,000 kidney transplant surgeries are performed each year; as many as 250,000 patients require dialysis, about half of which may warrant transplants.

Health Policy Notes

June 04, 2009
A draft summary of Senate HELP Chairman Kennedy's health care reform plan, released this week, calls for individual and employer insurance mandates, a public plan option, and opening Medicaid to a larger population. Committee markup could begin as early as 6/16/09.

Supporting this urgency, a recent poll found that 46% of Americans think the government should move forward with health reform; however, 45% of Americans think that health system reform should wait until the economy improves, according to Rasmussen Reports on 6/3/09.

In a letter to two Senate Chairs on 6/3/09, President Obama reiterated his support for the inclusion of a government-run “public plan” option in any health care reform package, stating that many could not afford to buy mandated coverage and that private insurance plans need competition, the 6/3/09 CQ HealthBeat reported.

Health Policy Notes

June 03, 2009
The 5/28/09 Wall Street Journal provided an update on the H1N1 influenza virus: As of 5/28/09, the virus has sickened 13,398 people in 48 countries and has caused 95 deaths, according to the World Health Organization. In the US, 7,927 people in 47 states were infected, with 11 dying from H1N1.

Medical Economics reported on 5/22/09 that physicians have until 1/1/11 to purchase and become a “meaningful user” of electronic health records, thus qualifying for a potential $44,000 incentive payment from the economic stimulus act.

Sanofi-Aventis’ subsidiary Aventis Pharmaceuticals has reached a $95.5 million settlement, the Justice Department announced; the company allegedly misreported drug prices in order to reduce its obligations under the Medicaid drug rebate program, according to the 5/28/09 Modern Healthcare.

Health Policy Notes

June 02, 2009
The 5/28/09 USA Today reported that insured Americans pay a “hidden tax” to finance uninsured Americans’ care: a Families USA study found that the average US family and their employers paid an extra $1,017 in health insurance premiums in 2008 to compensate for the uninsured.

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has appointed Cindy Mann, a former Clinton Administration official who helped to implement the SCHIP program, as the Director of the Center for Medicaid and State Operations, the 6/1/09 CQ HealthBeat reported. reported on 5/27/09 that many US hospitals failed to report cases of physician misconduct or medical incompetence to the National Practitioner Databank, according to a report released last week by Public Citizen.

Health Policy Notes

June 01, 2009
The 5/28/09 New York Times reported that the US government spent $486 billion in 2005 on costs related to smoking and the abuse of alcohol and illegal drugs, including direct medical costs, law enforcement expenses, prevention, and research.

The Wall Street Journal reported on 5/26/09 that many small businesses are being forced to eliminate employees’ health coverage plans due to both rising premiums and declining revenue; at least 10% of small companies are considering ending coverage, and only 38% of them offered coverage at all in 2008.

The Washington advocacy group Men’s Health Network is lobbying Congress to create an Office of Men’s Health; Congress has already established the Office on Women’s Health and the Office on Minority Health, according to the 5/28/09 Chicago Tribune.