Archive for September, 2011

HHS Announces $ 103 Million In Community Transformation Grants

The Department of Health and Human Services awarded Tuesday more than $103 million through its Community Transformation Grants program, which was established by the 2010 health law. A total of 61 groups as well as state and local government agencies, spread across 36 states and one territory, will receive funding to promote healthy living and prevention locally over the next five years.

The grants are funded by the law’s Prevention and Public Health Fund. President Barack Obama recently proposed cutting $3.5 billion from the fund as part of his deficit reduction plan, leaving $13.8 billion. The fund could be targeted by the ‘super committee’  in its pursuit of savings, and has also been eyed by congressional Republicans.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Thomas Frieden said the transformation grants will “do exactly what the name says: change the way communities promote health.” Project managers at the CDC will work with individual grantees now through early 2012 to finalize their plans.

Key focuses include discouraging tobacco use, promoting healthy eating and activity and encouraging preventive medicine. Success will be measured in terms of changes in weight, nutrition, physical activity, tobacco use and emotional well-being, said Ursula Bauer, director of the CDC’s National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.

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Tuesday, September 27th, 2011

Federal Employee Health Premiums Announced

As health plan enrollment season gears up, premiums for federal employees and retirees will increase on average about 3.8 percent – less than half of the increase they saw last year.

Photo by feck_aRt_post via Flickr

Last year, plan costs increased an average of 7.3 percent. But an official at the federal Office of Personnel Management (OPM) said today that “lower than anticipated utilization of health care services by our enrollees and, to a lesser extent, moderation in prescription drug costs due primarily to brand name drugs coming off patent and thus greater use of generic drugs” kept health costs down and allowed the rise in premiums to moderate.

The federal government is the largest employer in the country. More than 8 million federal workers, retirees and dependents are enrolled in the Federal Employee Health Benefits program (FEHB). The plan next year will offer 206 health plan options.

According to information released by OPM today, the new rates mean that individual coverage will increase, on average, $2.32 per bi-weekly paycheck and family coverage $6.18.  However, in the most popular plan, Blue Cross and Blue Shield standard, the individual coverage premium will fall on average $0.81 and family coverage will be down $0.72 per pay period.

No significant changes in benefits were announced, but the federal government share of premiums will increase by 4 percent.

Open season, or the period when federal workers can change their coverage or sign up for new coverage, runs from Nov. 14 until Dec. 12.

Tuesday, September 27th, 2011

Minority Trauma Patients Are More Likely To Die At ‘Minority’ Hospitals

Source: Archives of Surgery

Dr. Adil Haider, a trauma surgeon and assistant professor at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, thought trauma would be the one medical area free from racial disparities — emergency rooms don’t check insurance, and they are required to treat anyone who comes through their doors.

“With trauma, you call and the ambulance comes. We think we treat everyone the same when they come into the Emergency Department,” he said. But he and his research colleagues found Hispanic and black trauma patients faced a higher risk of death compared to whites—especially if they are served in hospitals with a high percentage of minority patients.

“Patients treated at hospitals with higher proportions of minority trauma patients have increased odds of dying. … Differences in outcomes between trauma hospitals may partly explain racial disparities,” the researchers wrote in the study, which was published this month in the Archives of Surgery. The study also found that “minority patients, whether black or Hispanic, did not have worse outcomes at predominantly majority hospitals. Similarly, there was no difference in odds of mortality for whites, blacks, or Hispanics at predominantly minority hospitals.”

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Tuesday, September 27th, 2011

Today’s headlines – Sept. 27, 2011

In today’s headlines, reports that the Obama administration decided not to ask the full 11th Circuit Court of Appeals to take up a challenge to the health law, making it likely that the Supreme Court could rule on the measure’s constitutionality early next year. Also in the news, part 2 of KHN’s “Building Ambitions” series.

Kaiser Health News: Building Ambitions: The Big Money World Of Kids’ Care – Influential Charity Applies Political Pressure To Win Hospital Approval On Third Try (Part 2 of 3)
Reporting for Kaiser Health News, in collaboration with McClatchy, Gilbert M. Gaul writes: “With strict limits on medical facilities and equipment, Florida seems to set a high bar for building costly new hospitals. … In 2006, regulators twice rejected applications from the Nemours Foundation to build a children’s hospital in Orlando, concluding it wasn’t needed. The area already had two large children’s hospitals, they noted. Adding another could fuel health inflation and hurt quality by cutting into the business at the existing hospitals. But Nemours refused to accept no as an answer” (Gaul, 9/26). KHN also offers regional reports on the business of children’s hospitals in Arizona, Chicago, Denver, Ohio, Pittsburgh and Texas.

And, you can read yesterday’s story, Growing Size And Wealth Of Children’s Hospitals Fueling Questions About Spending, or check back here tomorrow for the final installment.

Los Angeles Times: Supreme Court Could Rule On Healthcare Law Early Next Year
The Obama administration set the stage Monday for the Supreme Court to rule early next year on the constitutionality of the president’s healthcare law by declining to press for a full appeal in a lower court. The Justice Department announced it will forgo an appeal to the full U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. Such an appeal to the 11-member court could have taken months and delayed a final decision from the high court until at least 2013 (Savage, 9/26).

For more headlines … (more…)

Tuesday, September 27th, 2011

Today’s Headlines – Sept. 26, 2011

Good Monday Morning! Let’s get this week started: Today’s early morning highlights from the major news organizations, including the first installment of KHN’s three-day series, “The Big Money World Of Kid’s Care.”

Kaiser Health News: Building Ambitions: The Big Money World Of Kids’ Care (A Three-Day Series)
Reporting for Kaiser Health News, in collaboration with McClatchy, reporter Gilbert M. Gaul filed this story: Growing Size And Wealth Of Children’s Hospitals Fueling Questions About Spending. He writes: “Rising from a 60-acre field of old cypress swamp and cattle pasture near the Orlando airport, the 7-story Nemours Children’s Hospital will be a monument to ‘best-in-class’ care, its leaders boast. That may be the case. But at a cost of about $400 million, the equivalent of $4.2-million for each of its 95 beds, Nemours will also rank among the more expensive children’s hospitals ever built when it is completed next year. Some people believe construction never should have begun.” (Gaul, 9/25).

For more headlines … (more…)

Monday, September 26th, 2011

Today’s Headlines – Sept. 23, 2011

Happy Friday! In today’s headlines, the skinny on how health policy issues played in Thursday night’s GOP presidential primary debate.

Los Angeles Times: Obama Alienating Some Democratic Moderates With Fiscal Stance
Staking out fiscally conservative positions, Democrats over the last several elections have managed to steal voters from Republicans in some unlikely places, such as Montana and Virginia. But many moderates lost their seats in 2010, and those who remain are nervous about the campaign and aren’t eager to embrace the president’s call for tax hikes, even increases aimed at the wealthiest Americans (Hennessey, 9/22).

The Washington Post: Rick Perry, Mitt Romney Spar In Republican Presidential Debate
Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney tangled over Social Security, health care and other issues here Thursday in a debate in which the Republican presidential candidates sharply criticized the policies of President Obama and joined in an assault on the federal government (Balz and Bacon, 9/22).

For more headlines … (more…)

Friday, September 23rd, 2011

Survey: ‘Super Committee’ Has Yet To Earn Americans’ Trust

Americans have little faith the bipartisan congressional “super committee” will reduce the federal deficit, according to a survey released Friday.

Sixty-two percent of respondents said they either trust the super committee “just a little” or “not at all” to make the right recommendations to cut the deficit, according to the poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation (KHN is an editorially-independent program of the foundation).

Just 5 percent of respondents said they had “a great deal” of trust in the committee. More people believe the right recommendations would be made by President Barack Obama (23 percent), Democrats in Congress (13 percent) and Republicans (8 percent).

Forty-one percent of Democrats said they either had a “great deal” or “fair amount” of trust in the committee, compared to 31 percent of Republicans.

Members of the super committee have until Nov. 23 to make recommendations and Congress must vote on them by Dec. 23. If Congress doesn’t act, spending cuts totaling $1.2 trillion over 10 years would automatically be triggered.

The survey of 1,207 adults was conducted Sept. 7 to Sept. 12 and has a +/-3 percent margin of error.

Friday, September 23rd, 2011

Breast Cancer Fundraising; Treating Autism

Every week, reporter Jessica Marcy selects interesting reading from around the Web.

Marie Claire: The Big Business Of Breast Cancer
Though breast cancer researchers and advocates perpetually plead for more money, the disease is, in fact, awash in it. Last year, the National Institutes of Health, the nation’s top agency for health-related research, allocated $763 million to the study of breast cancer, more than double what it committed to any other cancer. … All that is in addition to the money raised by the roughly 1,400 IRS-recognized, tax-exempt charities in this country devoted to breast cancer. … All told, an estimated $6 billion is raised every year in the name of breast cancer. … Which seems like great news for the fight against breast cancer … But it’s also been a boon for charity scammers — the charlatans who prey on the public’s beneficence and its inveterate laziness when it comes to due diligence (Lea Goldman, 9/14).

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Thursday, September 22nd, 2011

Today’s Headlines – Sept. 22, 2011

Today’s early morning highlights from the major news organizations, including reports that young adults are making gains in health coverage rates.

Los Angeles Times: AARP To ‘Supercommittee’: Hands Off Social Security And Medicare
AARP,  which lobbies on behalf of seniors, has launched a television campaign designed to persuade members of the congressional “super committee” charged with finding $1.5 trillion worth of deficit reduction to leave Social Security and Medicare alone (Muskal, 9/21).

The New York Times: Lobbyists Line Up To Sway Special Committee
As lobbyists and executives in education, agriculture, social services and other areas game out the possibilities, some say their sectors could conceivably be better off, and the sting of cutbacks less painful, if the automatic cuts take effect. … Real estate insiders want to preserve mortgage interest deductions for higher-priced residences and second homes. Pharmacies oppose cuts in medical reimbursements. And advocates for the elderly want to protect Social Security and Medicare (Lichtblau, 9/21).

For more headlines … (more…)

Thursday, September 22nd, 2011

Report: Savings of $125B Possible for Coordinating Care of Dual Eligibles

The federal government could save $125 billion over ten years by requiring all people who get both Medicare and Medicaid – dual eligibles – to enroll in team-based coordinated care programs, according to a report written by Emory University’s Kenneth Thorpe and funded by America’s Health Insurance Plans. States could save $34 billion, and the savings would be less at both the federal and state level if dual eligibles were allowed to opt out, Thorpe wrote.

The report comes as the deficit reduction supercommittee contemplates how to save more than $1 trillion. Health care interests, fretting over the prospect of big cuts, are beginning to point members of the committee toward proposals that would save money by creating efficiencies.

This proposal also would improve the quality of care, Thorpe writes. As of 2010, more than 9 million people were eligible for both programs, yet fewer than 2 percent were in coordinated care programs that managed all of their Medicare and Medicaid benefits.

Coordinating their care would save money because dual eligible have high rates of chronic illness. Over half are in treatment for five or more chronic conditions. Some of these conditions, such as diabetes, pulmonary disease and hypertension could be managed with team-based care, which has been successful in reducing hospitalizations, readmissions, and nursing home admissions, he wrote.

Patients might benefit from health coaching and patient education to help them achieve goals set out in personalized care plans. Nutrition, exercise and smoking cessation could be part of the plan, for example.

States could design their own models, and dual eligibles would be automatically enrolled unless they specifically opt out.

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011

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