News

SPOTLIGHT: Cigna posts good Q2 results


Shares of Cigna jumped $8 this morning to $116 per share after the insurer reported excellent second-quarter results and forecast better earnings for next year. Earnings were up 43 percent despite little change in the company's healthcare business thanks to a strong showing by its disability and life insurance units. Yesterday, the company announced it is acquiring New Hampshire software maker Choicelinx. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. Story

ALSO NOTED: Medicare DM project kicks off; Baby delivered to brain-dead mother; and much more...

> The Washington Post examines one of the trial Chronic Care Improvement Programs for Medicare run by American Healthways in Maryland, which uses nurse telephonists to provide care to the chronically ill. Story

> A pregnant mother who was dying of cancer and was kept alive to try to save her baby had a successful C-section yesterday. The 1 lb., 13 oz. baby appears to …

IT: National EHR network could cost $200B

The nationwide electronic medical records system proposed by the Bush administration could end up costing taxpayers as much as $200 billion, according to a new study released Monday in the Annals of Internal Medicine. A panel of experts who looked at the issue concluded that a national network could cost up to $156 billion to set up and an additional $48 billion to operate annually. The team from the Harvard Interfaculty program for Health Systems Improvement concluded that the …

Medicare reimbursement rates to be cut 4.3%

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) said it will cut physician reimbursement rates by 4.3 percent on Monday. CMS said the cuts are necessary because of recent increases in overall Medicare spending. Under US law, payments to physicians and other healthcare providers must be adjusted downward to help control spending as the program's overall costs increase. The announcement had been anticipated by doctors groups, which have warned that many doctors may reduce the number of …

Microsoft criticized over Vista OS name

Veterans groups and open-source software supporters have responded with anger to Microsoft's decision to give the latest version of the Windows operating system the name Vista. The name, as most people in healthcare know, just happens to be the same as that of the open-source EHR developed by doctors and programmers at the Veterans Affairs administration and in use at hospitals throughout the agency for more than 20 years. The VistA software alliance and WorldVistA, two NGOs involved in …

FDA expected to announce review of DTC ads

The Food and Drug Administration is poised to formally initiate a review of its policies regarding drug company ads, and an announcement to that effect may come as early as today, The Wall Street Journal reports. The review would be the first look the regulatory body has taken at DTC ads in the 10 years since the government opened up the airwaves to advertising by drug companies. Analysts do not expect major changes, such as the all-out ban on ads which some pharma industry …

Tenet posts narrower loss

Dallas-based Tenet Healthcare continues to work its way back from the problems which threatened to bankrupt the company a year ago, posting a narrower second-quarter loss despite a drop in overall admissions. The hospital chain reports losses of $21 million this quarter, down from a loss of $426 million in the same quarter a year ago. The company said a small increase in emergency room admissions and a drop in doubtful debt helped improved its financial picture. Tenet remains under SEC …

SPOTLIGHT: Military fighting mystery bacteria

The US military is fighting to contain the spread of drug resistant bacteria believed to be indigenous to Iraq, Forbes reports. Acinetobacter baumanii is thought to be related to a similar bacteria which stalked military hospitals in Vietnam during the US involvement there. Five patients at military hospitals have died after contracting infections. The Army is investigating a suspected 250 cases. Story

ALSO NOTED: Coventry Health Q2 profit doubles; Study questions value of EMR for diabetes care; and much more...

> Coventry Health reported second-quarter profit up 54 percent thanks to surging management services revenue. Story

> Top executives at PacifiCare will get bonuses of $230 million if the health system's merger with UnitedHealth Group goes through, according to details made public on Monday. Expect more controversy about this.  …

Bush signs medical error bill into law

On Friday, President Bush signed into law legislation designed to encourage hospitals, doctors and other healthcare providers to report medical errors. Supporters say the legislation will help improve of the quality of the US healthcare system by highlighting potentially dangerous trends. Crucially, the legislation does not require that hospitals report mistakes and also guarantees that facilities will remain anonymous -- two stipulations which critics say are likely to hurt its …

Tauzin discusses industry's future

In a New York Times interview, former Louisiana congressman W.J. "Billy" Tauzin, one of the main authors of Medicare Part D and the current head of PhRMA, discusses the future of his industry and the motivations behind his decision to take the helm of one of the most powerful lobbying groups in Washington. Tauzin says his own experience fighting cancer was a major factor in his decision. Although many critics have focused on problems afflicting the industry, such as cost and …

Guidant reintroduces defibrillator line

Guidant is making its return to the market for defibrillators for patients with congestive heart failure. On Friday, the Indianapolis-based company won FDA approval for a fix for a defect which caused a small number of units to malfunction. The highly expensive devices, which cost around $30,000 each, were pulled from the market in June. Guidant shares rose in response to the news this morning, climbing 4 percent to $71.62 in morning trading.

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Medtronic enters drug-eluting stent market

European regulators gave their blessing to a drug coated stent made by Medtronic this morning, clearing the way for the company to enter a market seen as extremely lucrative by many analysts. Industry analysts say the Endeavor stent could do extremely well if it performs as well as competitor's devices. The Minneapolis-based company will now compete with Johnson & Johnson and Boston Scientific for market share in a global market believed to be worth $5.5 billion. The stent …

Official response to Avian Flu examined

The Washington Post looks at measures being taken by public health agencies around the world to guard against a possible avian flu pandemic. Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt is scheduled to review updated US response plans this week. Despite some signs of progress, the Post notes that much work remains to be done, and the worst case scenarios remain disturbing.

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SPOTLIGHT: Nurses group takes on Schwarzenegger online

The California Nurses Association, the group which has made life decidedly uncomfortable for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger over the last year, has launched its own blog to continue its political fight against his administration. Schwarzenegger originally angered the nurses group with his opposition to new staffing requirements at California hospitals. Since then, relations between the governor and nurses have gone steadily downhill. Blog

ALSO NOTED: Humana profits up; Celebrex gets heart warning; and much more...

> Humana said its second-quarter net profit was up 4.2 percent, largely thanks to its booming Medicare business. Story

> Pfizer's Cox-2 inhibitor Celebrex will get a label warning of risks of heart disease. Story

> After Sen. Bill Frist's (R-Tenn.) change of heart on stem cells, Wall …

Editor's Corner


It's not exactly major health reform, not universal health insurance, not even anything on the scale of the 2003 Medicare bill, but Congress is starting to put some legislation together on health reform. The new patient safety bill sets up a system for error reporting. It may be voluntary and underfunded, but at least it's a response to something healthcare policy wonks know has been …

Frist reverses position on stem cell research

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) reversed his position on funding for research on embryonic stem cell research in a speech to lawmakers today. The news that Frist is now saying he supports legislation which would end on a moratorium on funding passed in 2001 is a front page story in newspapers across the country. Analysts say the Senate majority leader's support is likely to make a "crucial difference" in the political battle over the bill, creating political cover for …

House passes malpractice legislation

On Thursday, the House passed malpractice legislation which would cap jury awards in medical malpractice cases. The bill would cap pain and suffering awards at $250,000 and limit punitive damages in certain situations. Analysts said the law is unlikely to make it much further this year since there may be no time on the Senate's schedule. However, there may be a better chance for the legislation in the Senate compared to previous years given its new make-up. House Democrats were quick to …

UK docs get final say on withholding care

A British high court has ruled that a disabled man may not legally overturn his doctors decision to end his life, backing the right of doctors to have the last word in such cases. The Leslie Burke case has raised frequent comparisons with the Terri Schiavo controversy, underscoring differences in attitudes in the two countries. Doctors in the UK may now deny a therapy to a terminally ill patient in situations in which they feel it is appropriate. Analysts note, however, that the decision …