News

CMS to hike pay for Medicare Advantage plans

CMS plans a slightly higher raise for Medicare Advantage plans than had been expected. The agency is expected to announce that it will pay 6.5 percent increase to private health plans for Medicare members this year. That's in contrast to lower price rises for fees for physicians and hospitals. On the other hand, after 2007 CMS will move toward budget neutrality, with perhaps just a 2 percent increase. At that time there will also be risk-adjustment between Medicare Advantage plans; Plans …

Colorado case leads to whistle-blower legislation

The case of a Colorado nurse who was fired after complaining about the treatment patients receive in her hospital's emergency room is drawing attention. The hospital that fired her argues there is no law protecting healthcare workers who complain about quality or safety issues. In response, Colorado state Rep. Morgan Carroll (D) has introduced the "Healthcare Workers Protection Act," a state law that would protect whistle blowers at hospitals and clinics.

- see this article from The Denver Post

Study: Celebrex doubles heart attack risk

The Cox-2 controversy is back in the news. A study published in The Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine has found that people who take the painkiller Celebrex roughly double their chances of having a heart attack. The research was conducted by Dr. Richard Beasley of the Medical Research Institute of New Zealand. Beasley and his team looked for data for about 13,000 patients, drawn from 6 earlier clinical trials. Celebrex, made by Pfizer, is in the same class as Vioxx, which …

Stem cell therapy ineffective

A supposedly revolutionary new treatment for heart attacks that uses stem cell therapy to heal damaged areas of the heart is not as effective as earlier reports had suggested, according to a new study. Researchers hoped that the treatment might help the heart repair damaged tissue, a goal that medicine has never been able to attain. The research, which was led by Dr. Albert Schömig of the German Heart Institute in Munich, found little evidence to back the thesis. Critics say other …

SPOTLIGHT: Quality groups merge


The National Quality Forum and National Committee for Quality Health Care have completed their merger. The new organization will be known as the National Quality Forum (NQF) and will be headed by Janet Corrigan. NQF develops standards for the measurement and public reporting of healthcare performance data. Recently, the forum has worked to develop reporting standards for hospital-acquired infections and other patient safety projects. Release

ALSO NOTED: Medco beats expectations; Parkland Memorial hires consultant; and much more...

> Pharmacy benefit manager Medco reported better-than-expected fourth quarter numbers, beating analyst expectations. Article

> New York Gov. George Pataki (R) remains hospitalized with an infection two weeks after undergoing an emergency appendectomy. Pataki is being treated at New York-Presbyterian. …

Big cuts in store for Veterans care?

A preliminary budget leaked from the White House to a liberal group indicates that the Veterans Administration budget will receive large cuts in future years. While the VA budget has increased over 69 percent since Bush took office and by 11 percent in the coming year, it may be scheduled for three percent annual cuts for the next three years. Of course, Administration opponents are claiming that with the increasing number of wounded Iraq war veterans needing complex care, these cuts are …

Medical bankruptcy data disputed

Last year, a Harvard group led by single-payer proponent David Himmelstein published a study in Health Affairs which suggested that up to 54 percent of all bankruptcies were medically-related. Today Health Affairs publishes a review of that study from David Dranove and Michael Millenson at Northwestern in which they re-jig the numbers provided by the Harvard group and suggest that only 17 percent of bankruptcies can be attributed to high medical costs. They also argue …

Lawsuit data reveals turmoil at Guidant

Last year, just as it was putting itself up for sale to J&J, device maker Guidant was the feature of a series of articles in The New York Times in which it was accused of poorly communicating about problems with its pacemakers to physicians. Eventually, several pacemakers were recalled. Note that replacing a pacemaker means expensive and painful surgery, so this was not a trivial decision.

Now the Times features some of the discoveries from one of a number of …

Questions over NIH womens' health study

The Womens Health Initiative was a massive study started in 1991 that enrolled over 161,000 women to study low-fat diets, hormone replacement therapy and other health issues. Several of the findings, such as those suggesting that hormone therapy had adverse side effects and that low-fat diets don't do much to reduce heart disease and cancer, are now being challenged. The Wall Street Journal has an in-depth article looking at the initiative. It suggests that some of the …

Democrats use Part D to bash Administration

Democrats in Congress have begun to hearings to highlight the many (and frequently reported) problems with Medicare Part D. With one eye on the President's low approval ratings and the other on the November election, Sen. Byron L. Dorgan (D-ND) held a hearing in which a Fargo pharmacist described how some pharmacists must take out bank loans to cover reimbursement delays. "This is simply unacceptable," Dorgan said. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) called for "a complete …

SPOTLIGHT: Intel spreads the word on its healthcare designs


Chip giant Intel has been working quietly behind the scenes in healthcare with a team of over 200 people looking at ways to implant its technology within the fabric of healthcare. It has focused on developing smart communication and sensing devices for the elderly in their home. Intel is also working with partners to develop a prototype tablet specifically designed for clinical use. While these were revealed at a press conference yesterday in San Francisco, it's still unclear exactly what Intel's grand design is. Blog

ALSO NOTED: Economically, hospitals are a big deal in Calif.; Qwest in big win at Allina; and much more...

> The Los Angeles Economic Development Corp was surprised to find that hospitals make up 12 percent of economic activity in Southern California, and that they don't always get paid for what they do. Report

> The Cleveland Clinic is being sued because a doctor there accused parents of faking their child's illness and recommended removing the child into foster care. The doctor never examined the child who was later …

Tech companies to combat pandemic disease

The new head of Google's philanthropic wing said he is organizing an initiative that will use information technology to provide early warning in the event of a possible outbreak of pandemic influenza or other communicable disease. Dr. Larry Brilliant, who was named head Google.org last week, announced the International Networked System for Total Early Disease Protection at a meeting of the Technology, Entertainment and Design Conference in Monterey California. The initiative has early …

Drive to privatize care in Canada moves forward

The ruling by Canada's Supreme Court that allowed the privatization of some care in Quebec has led to a major shift in the Canadian healthcare system away from the country's national care. Canadian doctors are "no longer waiting" and are opening new private clinics in defiance of a national ban on charging for procedures that are available through the government-run system, the New York Times reports. The paper reports that new clinics are opening at the rate of one a week and that …

Wal-Mart CEO asks states for help

Wal-Mart's CEO asked the states to "work with him" to help develop a solution to rising healthcare costs during a speech at annual meeting the National Governor's Association. Wal Mart CEO Lee Scott said his much-criticized company is working to improve health coverage for workers and gave more details of the plan. More than 20 states have introduced legislation that would requires companies like Wal-Mart to provide insurance to their employees. Scott said Wal-Mart will do more to extend …

Personalized medicine initiative hopes for grant

Ohio State University is participating in a regional effort to build a major new data warehouse that will focus on personalized medicine, allowing researchers to compare clinical and therapeutic data with patient genetic histories to develop personalized treatment plans and assist research. The Institute for Personalized Medicine would be funded by cash from several companies, including Siemens. The project would pool data from regional hospitals and share it among doctors working at …

Illinois staffing ratio proposal draws fire

The Illinois Hospital Association is fighting a proposed new law that would impose nurse staffing ratios similar to those already in place in California. The legislation, which is sponsored by state Rep. Mary Flowers (D) and Sen. Iris Martinez (D), would require hospitals to increase the number of nurses on staff or face penalties. The plan has won the backing of nurses groups who argue the new rules would help improve care quality by reducing the workload on staffers. Critics say a new …

SPOTLIGHT: Tech initiative to address privacy concerns


The Berkman Center for Internet & Society is working with major tech companies including IBM and Novell to create software that will allow Internet users to safely manage their personal data. Organizers of the initiative, which will be officially unveiled later today, say it will allow users to safely share personal, financial and medical information. The system will rely on an "open security" approach that will allow users to designate who is able to access certain information. …

ALSO NOTED: Illicit organ trade thriving in China; RFID bracelets linked to EMR; and much more...

> Spiraling costs leave government with little choice but to intervene in healthcare. However, the lessons of Medicare Part D suggest that there is a right and a wrong way to do it, argues Highmark CEO Kenneth Melani. Article

> "Crimeware" programs that secretly log user keystrokes are set to become the most serious computer security issue, according to The New York Times. That, of course, is …