Archive for April, 2012

Studies Reignite Mammography Debate For Middle-Aged Women

This story comes from our partner ‘s Shots blog.

Should women in their 40s routinely get mammograms to detect breast cancer?

Two studies released Monday aim to help resolve that question, which is one of the most intense debates in women’s health. The studies identify which women in their 40s are most likely to benefit from routine mammograms.

For years, the mantra was that regular mammograms save lives. So many people were stunned in 2009 when an influential panel of experts questioned that assumption.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommended against all women in their 40s getting a mammogram every year or two.

“The benefit of mammography in the 40s is not as large as it is later in life and is not as large as most people assume it to be. And there are some harms associated with mammography,” said Michael L. LeFevre of the University of Missouri School of Medicine, a task force member.

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Monday, April 30th, 2012

What Is The Future Of Health Care? Watson Has An Answer

IBM’s Watson frequently had the right answer when the supercomputer competed on Jeopardy last year. Now, the nation’s second largest health insurer is hoping it will have the right diagnosis and treatment for patients.

Photo by IBM

Representatives from IBM and Wellpoint discussed their developing partnership at a Friday Capitol Hill event. The tech company aims to make Watson useful to the health care industry, and Wellpoint believes it can help doctors practice evidence-based medicine.

The actual how-to part is still being worked out, but Watson could, for example, provide a list of likely diagnoses, or a list of potential treatments, when given a list of symptoms. Physicians and patients would remain in charge of any decisions, but Watson does have “the potential to transform health care delivery,” said Elizabeth Bingham, WellPoint’s vice president of health IT strategy.

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Monday, April 30th, 2012

Today’s Headlines – April 30, 2012

The New York Times: The Ticket: Ryan’s Rise From Follower To GOP Trialblazer
His prescriptions in the Republican budget plan he devised have become his party’s marching orders: cut income tax rates and simplify the code, privatize Medicare, shrink the food-stamp and Medicaid programs and turn almost all control over to the states, and reduce domestic federal spending to its smallest share of the economy since World War II (Weisman, 4/29).

Politico: States Could Be In A Bind On Mandate
If the Supreme Court strikes down the health reform law’s individual mandate, the states at the forefront of implementing the law could find themselves like Wile E. Coyote in the Road Runner cartoons: racing ahead only to discover there’s no ground underneath their feet. These states were all counting on the individual mandate to make health insurance exchanges viable — because without a requirement for most people to buy coverage, there’s a chance that healthy people could avoid paying into the system, making premiums skyrocket (Feder and Millman, 4/29).

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Monday, April 30th, 2012

Breaux: Bipartisanship Necessary To Fix Medicare Finances

Louisiana Democrat John B. Breaux left the Senate seven years ago, but old habits die hard. Today he fell back easily into his former role of compromise builder as he stressed the need for political common ground to overhaul Medicare next year.

Former Sen. John Breaux

After a House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee hearing to delve into “premium support” models, Breaux held court with reporters and concluded that his own blueprint from 1999 might just do the trick. “I didn’t realize how good it was until I was out of Congress,” he quipped.

Joking aside, Breaux, who is now senior counsel at the law firm Patton Boggs, argued that bipartisanship would be necessary to enact any major Medicare bill next year and that it would start in the political center. But he also insisted that this year’s retirement of Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, would not totally empty the Senate of moderates. He specifically named Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., and ranking Republican Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, “after the election,” as senators who could potentially start a movement working from the middle. Hatch is facing a tough re-election battle, including a primary challenge.

The key, Breaux said, is to change the way that health care is delivered in Medicare, to make it more efficient, and then have private health plans and the traditional, government-run program compete, with  federal premium assistance tied to the growth of health care costs, which, he said, would decline over time under a premium support model.

This approach, he said, would make Medicare more like the health care program for federal employees. Beneficiaries would get subsidies from the federal government to join a private or government-run health plan. Indeed, he cited the federal employee plan and Medicare’s prescription drug program as examples of premium support models that work.

The major premium support proposal under discussion right now is from House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis. Democrats – and one Republican at today’s hearing – expressed concern about Ryan’s linking of the growth of premium assistance to the overall growth of the economy, which historically has increased at a slower pace than health care costs. Because federal spending would be limited, additional costs would likely be borne by Medicare beneficiaries, critics of the Ryan plan say.

Breaux said that Ryan’s plan was a good start, but shared Democrats’ concerns that federal premium help would be insufficient for seniors. He made the case that the model he proposed together with then-Senate Republican Leader Bill Frist in the 1990′s would not shift costs to seniors and could lower overall Medicare costs 12 percent. Those were his own estimates, which he based on greater efficiency from competition between plans and organizing care better.

“The debate should be about a better delivery system that has benefits for seniors,” he said. “It’s not about changing Medicare. It’s about changing the way we give it to people.”

Friday, April 27th, 2012

Why We Still Have Faith In Physicians

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

National Journal: Why We Trust Doctors
This patient is no fool, and she does’t award trust liberally. … Yet, somehow, (Mary) Morse-Dwelley never lost faith in Pellegrini. She’d hear the click of her doctor’s shoes in the hallway, see her blond hair and funky glasses, and feel confident that she was in good hands. This, too, represents a broad trend: As we have become better-informed patients, we have grown more cynical about a health care system that is ever more corporate and reliant on technology. Nevertheless, our faith in physicians has proved incredibly durable. Gallup, which has polled on public trust in professionals every year since 1976, reports high and rising marks for doctors. In the latest survey, from 2011, 70 percent of respondents rated medical doctors as high or very high when asked about their “honesty and ethical standards,” a record. When the Kaiser Family Foundation asked Americans whom they trusted in 2009—the height of the debate over the health care law—78 percent said they believed that their doctors put patients’ interests ahead of their own (Margot Sanger-Katz, 4/26).

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Friday, April 27th, 2012

Today’s Headlines – April 27, 2012

Happy Friday from Kaiser Health News.  Here are today’s top headlines:

Los Angeles Times: Obama Healthcare Reforms Lead To $1.3 Billion In Insurance Rebates
U.S. consumers and businesses will receive an estimated $1.3 billion in rebates from insurance companies this year, according to a new study quantifying a key early benefit of the healthcare law that President Obama signed in 2010 (Levey, 4/26).

The Wall Street Journal: Health Insurers To Pay Rebates
Health insurers are expected to give rebates of more than $1 billion to consumers and employers this year, under a provision of the federal health overhaul that forces them to offer refunds if they don’t spend enough of the premium dollars they take in on health care (Mathews, 4/26).

For more headlines … (more…)

Friday, April 27th, 2012

Respite Programs For Family Caregivers Face Cuts Despite Growing Need

Family caregivers provide 80 percent of long-term care needs in the U.S., but many need time away from that job so they can continue to care for their loved ones. Respite can provide short-term relief through several options, including a paid home care worker or providing temporary stays for patients at a residential care facility or adult day care center. Some families pick up the cost of such care out-of-pocket, but many must rely on state and community programs.

However, as states face tough budget decisions, such programs are increasingly on the chopping block.

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Thursday, April 26th, 2012

Today’s Headlines – April 26, 2012

Politico: Government Shutdown On The Horizon?
Plunging ahead along party lines, the House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday approved a set of Republican-backed spending targets that break with the August debt accords by demanding more than $27 billion in additional savings from non-defense programs. The 28-21 vote sets up a long summer of political skirmishing, all leading to what could be another government shutdown fight Oct. 1 when a new fiscal year begins and the GOP must come to terms with the White House and Democratic Senate (Rogers, 4/25).

The New York Times: Two Parties Find A Way To Agree, And Disagree, On Student Loan Rates
Republicans were equally indignant at what they saw as game-playing, saying that they, too, want to forestall the rate increase. They quickly tried to outmaneuver the president. Late Wednesday afternoon, Mr. Boehner hastily called a news conference to announce that the House would vote Friday on a student loan bill that seemed to take shape just as suddenly. The proposal would extend the current interest rate for federal student loans for one year. The $6 billion cost would be offset by eliminating the remainder of the money from the Prevention and Public Health Fund, a portion of the health care law (Baker and Steinhauer, 4/25).

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Thursday, April 26th, 2012

Few Doctors Consider Themselves Rich, Survey Says

Source: Medscape Physician Compensation Report

Few doctors think of themselves as rich, and only about half think they’re fairly compensated, according to survey results released this week by Medscape.

The annual survey isn’t scientific – and perhaps, not surprising, either — but it offers insights into what nearly 25,000 physicians earn, and how they view that number. In 2011, compensation self-reported by surveyed physicians ranged from an average of $156,000 for pediatricians to $315,000 for radiologists and orthopedic surgeons.

The survey showed that 51 percent of all physicians — and 46 percent of primary care physicians – think they’re compensated fairly.

Only about 11 percent of doctors consider themselves rich, mostly because of their debts and expenses, according to Medscape.

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Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

Today’s Headlines – April 25, 2012

The Associated Press/Washington Post: GOP Pulls Its Budget Punches As Follow Up Legislation Advances On Capitol Hill
Instead of big reductions in Medicaid and Medicare, top GOP lawmakers are sticking mostly with familiar proposals like cutting money for President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul and federal employee pensions while reaching out to Democrats to help pass annual spending bills (4/24).

The New York Times: Disability Insurance Causes Pain
Every year, when the trustees of Social Security and Medicare publish their report on the programs’ finances they set off a round of partisan bickering about the solvency of the twin programs covering pensions and health care for retired Americans. Every year, a vitally important issue gets lost in the din: disability insurance payments, which account for almost $1 out of every $5 spent by Social Security, are growing out of control (Porter, 4/24).

For more headlines … (more…)

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

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