News

ALSO NOTED: Wall Street fears for hospital stocks; Grim reality of uninsured in America; and much more...

> Wall Street worries that both Tenet and HCA are at risk from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Shares in both companies have fallen slightly in morning trading. Story

> More on the Kaiser Family Foundation study about the perils of being uninsured in America. …

New Orleans hospitals evacuated

As flood waters caused by Hurricane Katrina continued to rise this morning, the governor of Louisiana ordered the complete evacuation of New Orleans. Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt said that 2,500 patients at Hospitals in Orleans Parish, including 300 at Charity Hospital, are being evacuated. Some hospitals, like the famed Oschner Clinic, continued to operate, receiving patients delivered by boat rather than ambulance. As the slow motion disaster played out, authorities …

Uninsured hits record 45.8M

The US Census Bureau released a new report on Tuesday which says the number of uninsured Americans has hit an all-time high. According to 2004 data, the number of people without health insurance rose 800,000 to 45.8 million. However, as a percentage of population the number was steady at 15.8 percent. In addition, the number with employment-based insurance continued to fall and is now below 60 percent. The government says the number of Americans living in poverty also increased, rising to …

Some Americans willing to use docs not covered by insurance

A Wall Street Journal/Harris Interactive poll finds that Americans with insurance are willing to pay out of their own pockets for access to quality care. According to a poll released Tuesday, one-in-six patients say they "sometimes use a doctor who does not take their health insurance." A further 42 percent percent said they would be willing to "pay the full cost of a doctors visit for specialized treatments or services." Tellingly, about 33 percent say they would …

UnitedHealthcare rating plan draws opposition from physicians

A controversial physician-rating program sponsored by two insurers is leading to protests from some doctors. United Healthcare and Aetna are collaborating on the initiative, which sees doctors in some markets rated on quality of care and cost according to criteria set by the insurers. Doctors judged to be outstanding have stars placed next to their names in both the United and Aetna directories. Patients are able to access the ratings online. Doctors in Ohio, one of the markets where the …

HIT: Think tank hosts webinar on health plan web strategies

The Dolphin Group, a new think tank focusing on technology issues facing health plans, hosted a webinar to discuss what health plans need to do to develop an effective web strategy. One important theme discussed was the need to communicate different messages to internal and external constituents, such as employers, providers, and members. Participant Bruce Madderhorn, director of eComerce at Affinity Health Plan in New York, said, "If the development of a comprehensive web strategy …

SPOTLIGHT: Union looks to Boston hospitals


A chapter of Service Employees International specializing in hospitals has announced plans to organize workers in the Boston area. The New York-based labor organization, which already represents 250,000 healthcare workers at 76 hospitals on the east coast, is not revealing much about its plans. The Boston Globe, however, reports that "likely targets" are Mass General, Beth Israel Deaconess, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Tufts New England Medical Center and Children's Hospital Boston. Story

ALSO NOTED: HCA, Tenet hurt by Katrina; Managed care or mangled care?; and much more...

> The wider economic damage inflected by Katrina looks likely to include the health system. Already bruised Tenet HealthCare appears to be one local player at risk. Tenet has five hospitals in the New Orleans area. Story

> A Kaiser Family Foundation study looks at the high costs of healthcare and its impact on the uninsured and the insured alike. …

Serious health threats follow Katrina

What's left of Hurricane Katrina has moved well inland, but it has left hospitals in New Orleans and Southern Mississippi badly damaged. Tulane Medical Center was forced to evacuate patients to an increasingly squalid Louisiana Superdome, while the American Red Cross has launched what is believed to be the largest relief effort operation in its history, mobilizing thousands of volunteers across the country and putting out a call for disaster relief. The Centers for Disease Control said it …

HIT: Survey finds progress for HIEs

The eHealth Initiative released details of a new survey on the state of health information exchanges (HIEs), which suggest that the networks are gaining traction after years of delays. The organization reports that the number of HIEs describing their networks as "fully operational" has risen from nine to 25 over the last year. Of the 109 groups participating in the study, a majority said "obtaining funding for start up costs and ongoing operations" remains a key priority. A …

Bush sells prescription drug plan in Calif., Ariz.

President Bush made visits to Rancho Cucamonga, California, and El Mirage, Arizona, to talk up the Medicare prescription drug plan on Monday. In his comments Bush acknowledged that the details of the benefit may be difficult for some seniors to absorb, but he said that the savings the program enables make it worth the trouble. The President said children with elderly parents have an obligation to help their parents understand and sign up for the plan. Enrollment for the benefit begins …

Profile: Fly-by-night online pharmacies

The Wall Street Journal profiled Mark Kolowich, a San Diego entrepreneur who made his fortune selling prescription drugs online and eventually found himself in jail on federal drug counterfeiting charges. Online pharmacies are proving as difficult to stop and/or regulate as unsolicited commercial email, the paper reports. Although some of the enterprises are legitimate, the vast majority are fly-by-night operations. The immensely profitable businesses are becoming more of a …

Research shows benefit of statins

New research published in the American Journal of Cardiology suggests that statin therapy should begin in the first hours after a patient suffers a heart attack. The study, which was led by UCLA cardiology professor Greg Fonarow, found that patients who were given a statin with 24 hours of admission were more than 50 percent more likely to survive. Consequently, Fonarow argues that hospitals should change their guidelines to encourage early use of the drugs. That recommendation …

SPOTLIGHT: Study finds deficiencies at public clinics

at public clinics
The Santa Monica, California-based RAND Institute has released a new report which finds that public health clinics often provide inaccurate or incomplete medical advice. RAND employees posed as emergency room doctors calling for information. Some described patients with the symptoms of bubonic plague and others cases of botulism. According to researchers, the answers they got were alarming. Story

ALSO NOTED: BCBS of Michigan launches consumer website; Presumed consent seen as answer to organ donation problem; and much mor

> Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Michigan and partner Subimo have launched a new website to serve the plan's 4.5 million customers. Release

> The FDA said it has approved Actoplus Met, a new diabetes drug developed by Japan's Takeda pharmaceuticals. …

FEMA goes into action as Katrina strikes New Orleans

One of the most powerful hurricanes in recent memory makes its way past New Orleans, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) officials raced to put disaster response plans into action. Authorities in Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida and Alabama were placed on their highest state of alert. Medical teams, army troops and rescue squads arrived in large numbers as the storm struck. Although initial estimates are that the damage from Katrina may not be quite as severe as some worst-case …

Plan B delayed 'indefinitely'

The FDA Friday announced it will postpone a ruling to approve the Plan B "morning-after" pill for OTC status indefinitely, drawing criticism from Democrats and abortion-rights groups. Officials at the agency are denying charges that its slow review process is politically motivated. Critics say the delay breaks a promise made by Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt that the agency would rule on the issue by September 1. It was that promise that persuaded three key Democrats to …

HIT: Per-Se, Wolters Kluwer to acquire NDCHealth

Software maker Per-Se Technologies and Wolters Kluwer said they would pay $1 billion to essentially split up Atlanta-based healthcare information provider NDCHealth. NDC had been shopping itself for some time. The deal gives physician services giant Per-Se control of the company's physician, hospital and retail pharmacy transaction businesses. Wolters Kluwer gets NDCHealth's information management unit for $382 million. That unit competes with pharma information giant IMS Health, itself …

HIT: Massachusetts EMR pilot

A $50 million electronic medical record pilot program sponsored by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Massachusetts is experimenting in three local communities: Brockton, North Adams and Newburyport. The project is being "closely watched" by health officials around the country, according to the Boston Globe. The fact that an insurer is footing the bill is considered a major plus by many observers. In many initiatives physicians are expected to pay for implementing EMRs and deal with …

Japanese researchers claim heart disease breakthrough

Japanese researchers at Saitama Medical School said that a heart patient treated with his own bone marrow cells had recovered sufficiently to go home. The patient, who was not eligible for a heart transplant, was injected with cells in the hope that the infusions would help strengthen his heart. Those transplants appear to have enabled the man to become the first to stage a full recovery. Doctor Satoshi Gojo, who led the team that treated the man, said, "Although we have not yet reached …