News

ALSO NOTED: Allergies have doubled since the 1970s; More on the PhRMA DTC rules; and much more...

> Researchers at the National Institutes of Health report that the number of Americans with allergies has doubled since the 1970s. Story

> The Washington Post writes that the Pentagon has drawn up new plans calling for "unprecedented military involvement" in domestic emergency response and crisis management in the event of attacks on the mainland US. …

Editor's Corner


This week two studies confirmed that employment based health insurance, or the lack of it, is becoming a political issue. Harris Interactive's poll of employees (reported in FierceHealthcare today) shows that American workers continue to view health insurance as a crucial employee benefit. In addition, while they perceive other aspects of compensation such as pay to be …

Employees want health coverage from employers

A new poll conducted by Harris Interactive looks at the attitudes of American workers toward their health coverage and finds that if forced to make a choice, most would forego a raise rather than lose access to employer-provided benefits. Sixty-one percent of respondents with employer-provided insurance said they would "choose to have no pay increase but maintain their current health insurance benefit." Forty-two percent said their benefits have "gotten worse over the last two or …

China reconsiders healthcare privatization

Plans to privatize the Chinese healthcare system -- considered a potential blockbuster market by many observers -- appeared to hit a snag this week with the release of a report critical of the country's move toward a free market for healthcare services. Following the release of a critical World Bank Report earlier this week, China's Health Minister admits recent changes to the system have led to unexpected problems. Minister Gao Qiang says private hospitals are charging patients …

Cardinal Health reports poor Q4 results

Despite hitting an all-time high in revenue for the fourth quarter, Cardinal Health reported a loss, with earnings down 27 percent. The Dublin, Ohio-based company says costs related to its restructuring plan are to blame. Cardinal launched an ambitious three-year reorganization, announcing plans to lay off nearly 5,000 workers and move to a fee-for-service business model.

- see the …

HIT: Auto supplier portal moves into healthcare

A web portal set up by the big three auto makers is now offering healthcare. Covisint, which was formed by DaimlerChrysler, Ford and General Motors to establish a web portal for their suppliers, said yesterday that it has signed Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan as its first healthcare customer. CompuWare acquired the joint project in 2004 from the automakers for an undisclosed sum. The Michigan healthcare market is historically closely watched by analysts. GM alone has …

HIT: Cerner signs military to services contract

In its first major deal of the quarter, Cerner announced that it has signed a 10-year contract with the US Army to provide medical records software to 100 army hospitals and 400 clinics around the world. The Kansas City-based company said the deal is the largest laboratory technology deal it has yet signed. The Army said the deal could be worth $51 million over the next decade. Cerner stock hit a 52-week high of $79.73 on Thursday, although it's slightly lower now.

- see …

SPOTLIGHT: Texas AG clamps down on health cards

The Texas attorney general froze the assets of two Houston companies which sell health "discount" cards, saying they are taking advantage of people desperate to acquire insurance. Family Health and Family Care/NAPP charge monthly fees of up to $100 per family. Texas says the two companies promised customers savings of between 20 percent and 80 percent on medical care, a claim with little basis in fact. Many consumers appear to have believed the coverage they were purchasing was insurance. Story

ALSO NOTED: LA wants to close part of King/Drew; EDS gets CMS contract; and much more...

> In a twist guaranteed to ignite controversy, health officials in Los Angeles say they want to close the pediatrics, obstetrics and neonatology wards at King/Drew Medical Center. Story

> Trial watchers in the Ernst v. Merck case say the drug company's lawyers may have overdone their cross examination of Carol Ernst yesterday. …

Consultant admits it knew of problems at King/Drew

Navigant, the hospital management specialist which took over the management of day-to-day operations at troubled Martin Luther King/Drew Medical Center in Los Angeles, has admitted it failed to inform regulators of two serious incidents at the hospital. The Los Angeles Times reports that officials at the consulting company have admitted that they learned of the incidents -- one of which involved the death of a patient after nurses failed to respond to a bed side alarm -- but did …

UK case brings attention to NHS wait times, international surgery

A case in the UK involving a woman who has decided to take her son to India for surgery rather than endure a long wait with the National Health Service is drawing media attention. Elliot Knot, who suffered a serious back injury in January while ice skating, was told by NHS doctors that he would have to wait another nine months for his operation. After learning that surgery at a private hospital would be prohibitively expensive, his mother decided to fly him to India. The incident comes in …

Jury in Vioxx trial to hear testimony from Carol Ernst

The jury in the Ernst v. Merck Vioxx trial heard testimony from the daughter of Carol Ernst, who has filed a lawsuit blaming Merck for the death of her husband. A weeping Shawna Sherril testified yesterday that her mother has been distraught since her husband's sudden death four years ago. The lawsuit, which alleges that the painkiller Vioxx is responsible for the heart attack that killed Robert Ernst in May of 2001, is being closely watched by both critics of the drug industry and Wall …

HIT: Carolinas Healthcare launches WiFi drive

ComputerWorld examines a large scale WiFi deployment at Carolinas Healthcare, which runs hospitals in both North and South Carolina. According to the magazine, the provider has added 500 wireless access points throughout its 14 hospitals and plans to add a further 500 in the next year. The tech savvy provider is also conducting a Voice over IP trial for respiratory therapists and other staff to see if equipping them with hands free devices improves efficiency.

- see this …

Medicare to pay for Genentech stroke drug

The Wall Street Journal reports a significant development for biotech firm Genentech. Medicare officials say the program will cover the clot dissolving drug tPA for patients who have suffered serous strokes. Officials note the drug costs about $2,000 per dose but say the drug's track record merits the investment.

- see this story from The Wall Street Journal (sub. req.)

SPOTLIGHT: Brain-dead woman allowed to die after giving birth


Doctors allowed a brain dead woman who gave birth yesterday to die by switching off the systems which had been keeping her alive. The case of Susan Torres has been closely watched for months as doctors attempted to save the life of her child. Torres gave birth yesterday to a 1 lb., 13 oz. baby girl. Doctors say the chances are very good that the cancer that killed Torres has not spread to the infant. Story

ALSO NOTED: Caremark beats profit expectations; Molina's results not so good; and much more...

> A Malaysian state-owned investment fund has bought a 13.2 percent stake in Indian hospital company Apollo. Story

> Caremark reports a healthy 53 percent jump in second-quarter net income; the company credits sales of specialty drugs. Release

> California's Insurance …

PhRMA introduces new DTC ad guidelines

As expected, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association (PhRMA) released a new set of guidelines this morning intended to address criticism that the drug industry's ads sometimes mislead consumers. If the self-enforced rules are obeyed, the result could be a major change in the drug advertising campaigns Americans see on television. Drug companies will be required to submit spots to the FDA for approval. The new policy also outlaws the brief 15-second spots known as …

Calif. insurance commish condemns HSAs

California's insurance commissioner is expected to release a report this morning highly critical of health savings accounts (HSAs) and the trend in healthcare towards "consumer driven plans." Commissioner John Garamendi's report concludes that California's healthcare system is headed towards "a complete breakdown." Garamendi, a Democrat who plans to run for lieutenant governor in 2006, is a supporter of universal coverage.

The report notes that the cost of healthcare premiums has …

HHS discusses avian flu, bioterror plans

Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt said his agency is considering a plan which would deliver vaccines to Americans through the postal service or at distribution points such as firehouses, in the event of a major flu outbreak or bioterrorist attack. Leavitt also noted his agency plans to purchase 20 million doses of tamiflu to guard against a possible outbreak of avian flu and a further 20 million doses of a vaccine when it becomes available. Leavitt said the agency hopes to …

HIT: Brailer praises Kaiser's effort

National Health IT coordinator Dr. David Brailer told an audience of about 200 physicians, software engineers and executives from Kaiser Permanente at a health IT conference that the company's new electronic health records system should "serve as a national model." Kaiser's HealthConnect initiative will see the company spend $3.3 billion on modernization technology throughout its health care network over the course of the next decade. "The way Kaiser has gone about doing this is a great …