News

Medicare Part D premium lower than expected

The Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) announced this morning that the premium for participants in the new prescription drug benefit for Medicare will be significantly lower than expected. Officials said those signing up for the plan can expect to pay about $32.20 per month, about 15 percent less than earlier estimates. That will "make the benefit more attractive to more people," said CMS administrator Mark McClellan.

The decision is likely to be seen by critics as a …

Consumer Reports releases HMO, PPO ratings

Consumer Reports has released its annual ranking of HMOs and PPOs in its September issue, which goes on sale this week. Although the list is not one that many people in the industry have historically put much stock in, it does provide insights on how consumers feel about some major plans. And, of course, it is a list that becomes increasingly important as the industry moves toward the consumer-driven care model, which stresses consumer involvement in the healthcare purchasing …

Docs at St. Luke's unhappy about naming tower after lawyer

Doctors at St. Luke's Episcopal in Houston are angry about a $25 million gift to the hospital system from a local trial lawyer who made his fortune suing the healthcare industry, the Houston Chronicle reports. Doctors at St. Luke's say renaming the hospital's landmark medical tower after John O'Quinn is an insult and are trying to block the deal. Thus far, the administration has been unmoved. O'Quinn is perhaps best known locally for a series of suits targeting Dow Corning on …

Gilmartin: 'Vioxx could be back on the market'

Former Merck CEO Raymond Gilmartin told jurors that the drug company is "in discussions with the FDA as to whether or not and under what circumstances," Vioxx should be allowed back on the market, in testimony in the Ernst v. Merck case. In a videotaped deposition, Gilmartin told jurors that the company believed Vioxx was safe until researchers uncovered evidence linking the drug to cardiovascular events in 2004. That, of course, was essentially the script which the former executive, who …

Tenet hospitals settle class action suit

Tenet has settled a class-action lawsuit which alleged the healthcare system systematically overcharged patients and targeted the uninsured with high bills. The agreement covers California and eight other states, including Pennsylvania and Florida. More than 35,000 former patients have filed suits against the provider, which moved its headquarters from Santa Barbara, California, to Dallas last year. People who received treatment at Tenet hospitals between June of 1999 and December of 2004 …

SPOTLIGHT: IBD examines electronic health records

Investor's Business Daily takes a look at the economics of building the nation's health IT network and thinks about what the transition to a paperless system may mean in the future. Forrester analyst Eric Brown says the benefits may transcend the numbers game most people focus on. "Imagine if Americans have a 10-year medical history in electronic form, not just free text, but coded and usable. We don't know what we will find." Story

ALSO NOTED: UCI researchers perform surgery over web;PBMs challenged on transparency; and much more...

> Consumer groups want an investigation into why the FDA decided to allow silicon implants back on the market. Story

> Researchers at the University of California Irvine and UCSD have made history in a long-distance experiment which saw a team in Australia use a laser to conduct microsurgery over the web. …

Metric: HMO profits up 10.4% in 2004

HMO profits were up again last year, although the increase is not as large as in previous years, a new survey by Weiss Ratings finds. Overall, health maintenance organization profits were up 10.4 percent in 2004, rising to $11.4 billion. Those numbers, while impressive, were not as good as the spectacular 80 percent jump the group reported in 2003. Humana saw its profit rise $164.9 million, …

Insider trading scandal hits academic medicine

The news that researchers at a number of major academic research centers sold investors access to clinical trial data is getting major media play this morning. Reporters at the Seattle Times uncovered 26 cases in which researchers sold access to their work for large consulting fees, and the stock prices of the affected companies moved markedly before the official results were announced. The New York Times features the story today. In response to the news, Senate Finance …

HIT: CMS VistA program could aid bigger players

ComputerWorld examines the possible impact of the much-talked-about CMS program which will offer small to midsize physician practices access to VistA, the open-source electronic health records software developed by the Veteran's Administration. Reaction to the government's announcement so far has been mixed, ranging from polite skepticism about the program's impact, particularly from health IT veterans, to enthusiastic praise from open-source supporters pleased that the …

Metric: Drug industry cuts DTC advertising

Hammered by a wave of criticism over the way it handles direct-to-consumer advertising, the drug industry curtailed ad spending in the first six months of this year -- the first drop in six years. Overall spending per month slipped to $351 million from $358 million, a 2 percent drop. Overall spending had surged 20 percent in the past four years as the pharmaceutical industry has sought to shape consumer demand for drugs, some of which turned out to have hidden health threats. In response, …

Baylor pathologist: Vioxx not to blame in Ernst death

Most media reports have suggested that Merck is not faring well in the wrongful death suit over Vioxx after two weeks of testimony generally hostile to the drug maker. But now the drug company gets its turn, as Merck lawyers introduce witnesses of their own. On Monday, the head of pathology at the Baylor College of Medicine testified that he does not think Vioxx was to blame for the death of Robert Ernst in 2001. Dr. Thomas Wheeler said he thinks hardened arteries, not Vioxx, were …

SPOTLIGHT: NY Presbyterian decision support program

Doctors in the New York Presbyterian Hospital system will use a new artificial intelligence-based database system which recommends suggested courses of treatment based on previous patient outcomes. Unlike many CPOE systems, which generally rely on rules-based decision making, the New York Presbyterian system, called the Patient Health Monitor Project, uses an inferencing algorithm designed by a resident physician. Story

ALSO NOTED: Quest buys LabOne; Natrecor panel continues to intervene; and much more...

> Lab giant Quest Diagnostics bought LabOne, the sixth-largest lab company, for $984 million. Analysts say the No. 1 rated company in the medical laboratory sector hopes to dominate the market for personalized medicine. Story

> The FDA is expected to issue much anticipated new rules covering the controversial "morning after" pill by the end of the month. …

Calif. prescription drug initiative examined

The Associated Press examines the battle over two ballot measures in the upcoming November 8 special election in California, each of which purports to contain rising prescription drug prices. Proposition 79, which is sponsored by consumer groups and unions, would give the uninsured price breaks and ban drug makers from selling to the state Medicaid program under certain conditions. Significantly, the initiative would also allow Californians to sue drug companies for "illegal …

Modern Healthcare ranks top Health IT consultants

Modern Healthcare has released its annual survey of healthcare consultants ranked by their healthcare practice revenue for 2004. Coming in at No. 1 is Deloitte with $830 million in revenue. Following close behind are Accenture ($800 million) and CapGemini ($750 million). Not surprisingly, many analysts see the most significant deal of the year in the consulting space is Accenture's purchase of CapGemini, which created a consulting titan with $1.5 billion in combined revenues. The recent …

Med Tech: Kaiser Permanente program trains technologists

While shortages of doctors and nurses in the healthcare system gain a lot of media play, they are by no means the only problem area. The shortage of skilled technologists is a significant issue as well. The San Jose Mercury News examines a program at Kaiser Permanente which trains the health system's lab techs in-house. The Kaiser Permanente School of Health Sciences offers certificates in radiography, nuclear medicine, phlebotomy and several other specialties.

- see this …

Sanofi-Pasteur vaccine may offer protection from bird flu

An experimental vaccine produced by drug maker Sanofi-Pasteur has shown strong promise in protecting recipients from the HN51 virus, also known as the avian flu. A limited clinical trial conducted by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the French drug maker found the vaccine produced a strong immune response in the patients who were given it. Experts say the development is a major step in the fight to prevent a catastrophic outbreak of the virus, which worst case …

Merck seen as 'behind' in first Vioxx trial

Many legal observers say testimony in the first half of the Ernst v. Merck trial has favored the plaintiff, a development which could be an ominous sign for the drug maker. The New York Times reports that after a bumpy start, plaintiff attorney W. Mark Lanier seems to be making progress in winning over the jury in the case. The evidence presented in the case appears to have bolstered Lanier's argument that Vioxx was responsible for the death of Robert Ernst. The occasionally …

SPOTLIGHT: Drug researchers accused of selling inside info

A Seattle Times investigation has found "scores" of cases where doctors have sold investors access to information about ongoing clinical trials in violation of SEC rules. Researchers at top institutions "from UCLA to the University of Pennsylvania" are implicated. This morning, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R -Iowa) called for an SEC inquiry. Investigation | Grassley's response