Archive for May, 2012

Feds Seek To Reduce Disparities In Childhood Asthma Rates

What do agriculture, transportation and justice have to do with childhood asthma? More than you think.

Federal public health officials today announced a new inter-agency task force designed to eliminate the racial and ethnic gap among children suffering from asthma. The Departments of Agriculture, Justice and Transportation — as well as the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Health and Human Services — are teaming up to combat the respiratory disease in minority communities.

The task force’s purpose is to pool the knowledge and resources of these various federal entities to ultimately lower asthma’s sizeable public health costs. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates the total cost of asthma to the public, in both medical costs and lost school and work days, is $56 billion a year.


Thursday, May 31st, 2012

Today’s headlines – May 31, 2012

Good morning, here are your headlines for this Thursday!

The Washington Post: Medical Device Tax Repeal Bill Gains Some Ground
Makers of medical devices are gaining some momentum in a vigorous campaign to persuade Congress to scrap a tax imposed on their industry by the 2010 health-care law. A bill to void the tax sponsored by Rep. Erik Paulsen (R-Minn.) will be marked up in the House Ways and Means Committee Thursday. Republican House leaders say a floor vote could be scheduled as soon as next week (Aizenman, 5/30).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: House To Vote On Whether To Make Abortions Based On Gender Of Fetus Illegal
Legislation coming up for a House vote would make it a federal crime to carry out an abortion based on the gender of the fetus. The measure takes aim at the aborting of female fetuses, a practice more common to countries such India and China, where there is a strong preference for sons, but which is also thought to take place in this country (5/30).

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Thursday, May 31st, 2012

Poll: 42% Of Women Take Action In Response To Contraception Debates

More than four in 10 women have taken action, such as donating money or trying to change a friend’s opinion, in response to recent controversies over women’s reproductive health issues, according to a new survey.

Debates over the Obama administration’s decision to implement the health law’s requirement that health plans cover birth control, state and federal disputes over public funding for Planned Parenthood and a temporary decision by the popular Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation to end its support for Planned Parenthood have spurred the activities, the poll reported.

The Kaiser Family Foundation’s May tracking poll, released Thursday, found that 42 percent of women say they took some sort of action in the past six months on the issue. Some say they attempted to influence a friend or family member (23 percent); others donated money to a nonprofit organization working on reproductive health issues (15 percent) or contacted an elected official (14 percent), according to the poll. (KHN is an editorially independent program of the foundation).

On the issue of the 2010 health law, the survey also found that the public’s support of the measure dropped five percentage points in May, with unfavorable views outnumbering favorable ones by a margin of 44 percent to 37 percent.


Thursday, May 31st, 2012

Need Help Navigating Patient Data Laws? New Website Offers One-Stop Shop

As more patient information goes digital, health providers, insurers and government officials are having a tougher time navigating the patchwork of state and federal laws that dictate what information can be shared without violating patient confidentiality.

“Frankly there’s a lot of confusion out there about what types of information can be shared, what parties can share this information and how the information can be used,” said Jane Hyatt Thorpe, co-director of Legal Barriers Project, a collaboration between George Washington University’s School of Public Health and Health Services and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The partnership created a new website called Health Information and the Law in late April in an effort to guide those seeking state by state information on privacy and security requirements for patient health data, Thorpe said.

Thorpe says that in addition to providing analysis about the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) —the federal law that sets rules to protect patient confidentiality and security — the site details state laws and regulations that govern the use and exchange of health information. “What we were finding was a lot of confusion about what was possible and what was not possible [for health information sharing], and we thought it might be helpful if we could—in a centralized location—pull together federal and state laws to address the use and release of health information,” she said.

So far, the website includes information from 14 states, but Thorpe says the goal is to include laws and guidance from all 50. She said the site also plans to publish data from a 50-state survey on topics such as patient care quality and safety, as well as information on the updated HIPAA regulations, which are expected to be released this summer.


Wednesday, May 30th, 2012

Health Savings Account Membership Up 18 Percent

Enrollment in health savings accounts grew 18 percent last year as employers continued to steer workers into high-deductible medical plans, an insurance group said this morning.

HSA membership rose from 11.4 million in January 2011 to 13.5 million in January 2012, with most of the growth occurring in plans offered by large employers, according to an annual census by America’s Health Insurance Plans, an industry lobby. Since 2008 HSA membership has more than doubled.

Created by legislation in 2003, HSAs let employers and workers make tax-free contributions to finance out-of-pocket medical costs. They differ from the better-known flexible-spending health accounts because with HSAs unspent money can be rolled over from one year to the next. Leftover money in flex accounts reverts to the plan sponsor.

Also, HSAs always are paired with high deductible insurance coverage — at least $1,200 for individuals and $2,400 for families. Deductibles are what patients spend before insurance kicks in. The idea behind HSAs is to contain medical inflation and make patients smarter consumers by giving them a bigger stake in health-care purchases. Critics, however, contend that such “consumer-directed” health plans are simply a way for employers to shift costs to workers.

Today’s AHIP report doesn’t include health reimbursement arrangements, another kind of spending account that’s usually paired with a high deductible plan. Last year 17 percent of U.S. workers with employer-based insurance were enrolled in an HSA or an HRA, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.  (KHN is an editorially independent program of the foundation)

States with the highest portion of HSA enrollees were Vermont, at 20 percent; Minnesota, with 14 percent; and Montana and Utah, both with 12 percent. Fifty-nine percent of HSA enrollment was in large-group plans, up from 55 percent last year. AHIP surveyed 97 insurance companies for its census.

Wednesday, May 30th, 2012

Today’s headlines – May 30, 2012

Good morning! Here are your headlines to get your Wednesday started:

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Few Takers For Obama’s Small-Business Health Care Tax Credit; Congress Unlikely To Fix Flaws
Time-consuming to apply for and lacking enough financial reward to make it attractive, the credit was claimed by only 170,300 businesses out of a pool of as many as 4 potentially eligible million companies in 2010. That’s put the Obama administration in the awkward position of asking Congress to help fix the problems by allowing more businesses to qualify and making it simpler to apply (5/30).

USA Today: Conservatives Campaign Against Insurance Exchanges
Without state exchanges, the federal government will be unable to implement the 2010 health care law, ALEC, the Cato Institute and other conservatives say. Exchanges are websites where consumers can compare costs and benefits of available insurance plans in the state, as well as buy insurance (Kennedy, 5/30).

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Wednesday, May 30th, 2012

Psychiatric Manual May Soon Include ‘Gambling Disorder’

Can someone actually be hooked on a behavior, like gambling?

Problem gambling isn’t considered a true addiction in medical circles. But that may change as psychiatrists revise the diagnostic manual that spells out criteria for more than a dozen varieties of mental disorders.

Photo by Doug Wheller via Flickr

The proposed revisions to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM-5, would add “gambling disorder” to alcohol and drug problems as a “substance use and addictive disorder” that insurers and others would use to make decisions about treatment and coverage.

“Research and clinical work [indicate that] the underlying pathology and genetics of addiction involve not only substances but may also involve behavior,” says David J. Kupfer, chair of the DSM-5 task force overseeing revisions to the manual, which is produced by the American Psychiatric Association.

The proposed revisions, which are open for public comment, will be finalized and published in May 2013.

The proposed guidelines would add only problem gambling as an addictive disorder, but the designation would clear a path to add other behavioral problems — such as sex or Internet addiction — in the future.

“We’re being very conservative about this,” Kupfer says.

So what sort of behavior makes for a gambling addict? In the past year, people with this diagnosis would have manifested four or more of nine specific behaviors, including a need to gamble with more money to maintain excitement and lying about how much they gamble. Also, to qualify, the gambling excesses couldn’t be explained by an episode of manic behavior.

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

Today’s Headlines – May 29, 2012

Los Angeles Times: Insurers Forcing Patients To Pay More For Costly Specialty Drugs
Thousands of patients in California and across the nation who take expensive prescription drugs every month for cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and other ailments are facing sticker shock at the pharmacy. Until recently, most of these patients typically paid modest co-pays for the advanced drugs. But increasingly, Anthem Blue Cross, Aetna and other insurers are shifting more prescriptions to a new category requiring patients to shoulder a larger share of the drug’s cost. The result: Pharmacy bills are going up by hundreds of dollars a month — on top of insurance premiums (Terhune, 5/29).

Los Angeles Times: Many Hospitals, Doctors Offer Cash Discount For Medical Bills
A Long Beach hospital charged Jo Ann Snyder $6,707 for a CT scan of her abdomen and pelvis after colon surgery. But because she had health insurance with Blue Shield of California, her share was much less: $2,336. Then Snyder tripped across one of the little-known secrets of healthcare: If she hadn’t used her insurance, her bill would have been even lower, just $1,054. … Unknown to most consumers, many hospitals and physicians offer steep discounts for cash-paying patients regardless of income. But there’s a catch: Typically you can get the lowest price only if you don’t use your health insurance (Terhune, 5/27).

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Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

When Is A Life Too Long?; The Rising Cost Of Children’s Health Care

Every week, KHN reporter Shefali S. Kulkarni selects interesting reading from around the Web.

New York Magazine: A Life Worth Ending
I will tell you, what I feel most intensely when I sit by my mother’s bed is a crushing sense of guilt for keeping her alive. Who can accept such suffering—who can so conscientiously facilitate it? … In 1990, there were slightly more than 3 million Americans over the age of 85. Now there are almost 6 million. By 2050 there will be 19 million—approaching 5 percent of the population. … By promoting longevity and technologically inhibiting death, we have created a new biological status held by an ever-growing part of the nation, a no-exit state that persists longer and longer, one that is nearly as remote from life as death, but which, unlike death, requires vast service, indentured servitude really, and resources. … The longer you live the longer it will take to die (Michael Wolff, 5/20).

CNN: Cost Of Children’s Health Care Hitting Families Harder
[Heather Bixler] was leaving her New York apartment with her 4-year-old daughter and infant son, who was in a baby carriage. … The doorman, perhaps just to play around, picked up the stroller and held it almost vertical. Sean, the baby, fell out. His head bashed against the marble stair. … Two years ago, the seizures started. So did the never-ending medical expenses. The Bixler family is just one example of how a child’s chronic illness can strain a family emotionally and financially — and children represent the fastest growing health care spending group in America, according to a new report (Elizabeth Landau, 5/21).


Friday, May 25th, 2012

Today’s Headlines – May 25, 2012

Memorial Day weekend. Enjoy, but first, here are your Friday headlines …

Politico: FDA User Fee Bill Passed By Senate
With little bickering and no effort to repeal the Obama administration’s health reform law, the Senate passed the massive Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act on Thursday well ahead of schedule. … The $6.4 billion, five-year reauthorization of FDA-industry user fee agreements partially funds the agency’s review of drugs and medical devices, which would have expired at the end of September without action. Previous user fee authorizations have been contentious affairs. But notwithstanding the election-year and health care politics that dominate Congress, the bill sailed through with hardly a complaint (Norman, 5/24).

The New York Times: Senate Backs Bipartisan Bill To Speed Drugs And Avert Shortages
The Senate passed a major bipartisan bill on Thursday to prevent drug shortages and to speed federal approval of lifesaving medicines, including lower-cost generic versions of biotechnology products. A similar bill is on a fast track to approval in the House, perhaps as early as next week. President Obama, consumer groups and pharmaceutical companies strongly support the legislation (Pear, 5/24).

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Friday, May 25th, 2012

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