News

ALSO NOTED: Washington signs $100 million flu vaccine deal with Sanofi-Aventis; Mr. Scrushy wants his job back

> The Department of Health and Human Services says it has reached terms with Sanofi-Aventis on a deal which will see the French pharma company produce its experimental HN51 vaccine. Story

> Private equity firm Blackstone is paying $1.7 billion for specialist health insurer UICI. Story

> …

Lawmakers want more data on heart devices

On Wednesday, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) said they will call for new rules requiring the FDA to collect more data on defibrillators and pacemakers. Critics have charged that not enough information is gathered from manufacturers, making it difficult for regulators to reliably assess the risks involved with specific models. Health plans and other providers have argued for a long time that they need access to the information in order to better compare …

Study: Calif. HMO care improves

California released a report card this week showing that HMOs in the state are doing a little bit better than in the past. The Office of the Patient Advocate ranks health management organizations in the state in categories such as preventive care, treatment of acute and chronic illnesses and patient opinions. The report also ranks 150 physician medical groups. Kaiser Permanente Southern California received the top ranking, while Aetna Health, Universal Care and Blue Cross of California …

Trend: ADHD prescriptions for adults soar

A study by pharmacy benefits manager Medco has found that prescriptions for attention-deficit disorder drugs have soared over the past four years, trailing only hot-selling rheumatoid arthritis drugs in the marketplace. The number of prescriptions written to treat ADHD more than doubled between 2000 and 2004, according to the pharmacy benefits manager. Some analysts say the trend reflects a growing feeling among doctors that the condition is not just a childhood problem. Others warn the …

Med Tech: FDA approves device for paralyzed patients

Neurologist Dr. John McDonald, probably best known for having treated paralyzed actor Christopher Reeve, is the founder of Baltimore-based Restorative Therapies, a medical device start-up specializing in technologies that help people with neurological damage recover motor functions. This week the company received FDA approval for the RTS-300, a functional electrical stimulation (FES) motorized cycle ergometer. According to the company, the device works by delivering electrical currents to …

Judge rebukes Merck attorney in Vioxx case

The second Vioxx trial is underway in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Although you'd expect attorneys representing Merck to be a little more deferential to jurors and tread a little more lightly after the disastrous verdict in Ernst v. Merck, that does not appear to be the case. This morning Superior Court Judge Carol Higbee threatened to declare a mistrial because of negative comments about lawyers from defense attorney Diane Sullivan in her opening remarks. "It's simply playing to the bias …

SPOTLIGHT: N.O. hospitals may face lawsuits

The Dallas Morning News is reporting that lawsuits may be filed over the deaths of patients during Hurricane Katrina. Dallas-based Tenet Healthcare, which on Monday denied media reports that patients in its charge were left alone to die at Memorial Medical Center, is expected to be one of the providers at the focus of any legal action. Louisiana State University law professor Edward Richards said major disasters like Katrina and 9/11 may not be the sort of thing which providers …

ALSO NOTED: Starbucks spends more on healthcare than coffee; Calif. to ban junk food in schools; and much more...

> Starbucks has always taken pride in the health coverage it offers workers. The company now spends more on healthcare costs than it does on coffee. Story

> California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is expected to sign the nation's toughest legislation against junk food in schools. …

Nursing home operators charged in patient deaths

Louisiana authorities charged the operators of a nursing home in New Orleans in the deaths of 34 elderly patients entrusted to their care. Mable and Salvador Magano, the owners of St. Rita's Nursing Home, turned themselves in to authorities and were charged with 34 counts of criminally negligent homicide. Nearly all of the patients at the home died on August 29 as rising flood waters swamped the one-story facility. Officials say the couple had adequate advance warning but failed to …

HHS names IT commission members

Officials yesterday named the 16 industry figures, government officials and non-profit stakeholders who will serve on the American Health Information Community, the public-private consortium which will lead federal efforts to modernize technology use in the healthcare sector. The commission will look at ways in which the federal government can encourage hospitals and doctors to adopt electronic medical records, make independent systems interoperable and otherwise use technology to improve …

Study: Mature health IT system could save $162B annually

The September/October issue of Health Affairs spotlights health information technology, offering two studies by the RAND Corporation which assess the potential impact of a mature national technology infrastructure. In one study, the research group projects that the healthcare system as a whole could save as much as $162 billion per year if electronic medical records were implemented widely and doctors and hospitals used systems capable of communicating with each other.

An …

Trend: Docs sue patients who post complaints online

A growing number of physicians are suing former patients over complaints and derogatory postings they leave online. Industry observers say the trend is likely to continue, as more doctors and other healthcare providers realize the sort of things that are being written about them online and posted in Internet chat rooms, bulletin boards, blogs and websites specializing in rating healthcare businesses. The Wall Street Journal examines the implications for both healthcare providers …

Study: Survey shows continued decline in employer-based insurance

A new survey from The Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research and Education Trust confirms that the number of people with employer-based health insurance is falling rapidly. Sixty percent of firms offered coverage to workers in 2005, down significantly from 69 percent in 2000 and 66 percent in 2003. The drop stems almost entirely from fewer small businesses offering health benefits, as nearly all businesses with 200 or more workers offer such benefits. This survey confirms a …

SPOTLIGHT: Dignified settlement after medical error


The family of a former teacher who died after a preventable medical error at Seattle's Virginia Mason Medical Center has reached an unusual settlement with the hospital. Mary McClinton died during surgery to repair a blood vessel after being injected with a surgical cleaning solution. Virginia Mason publicly apologized for the error and accepted responsibility. The healthcare provider will make a charitable contribution to a foundation set up in McClinton's name to advance medical …

ALSO NOTED: Celebrex cancer study on; FDA rejects Xinlay; and much more...

> Despite parallels to the Vioxx study which damaged Merck, Pfizer has given the go ahead for the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center to study Celebrex's potential value as a cancer treatment. Story

> WebMD Health Holdings (the website businesses which are being spun off from the newly renamed Emdeon) priced shares in its …

Frist confirms Medicaid cuts unlikely

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) told reporters that it is unlikely that Medicaid cuts pursued by the administration will go through this year as a direct result of the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina. Meanwhile, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and Max Baucus (D-Mont.) are expected to announce legislation which would guarantee Medicaid payments for program recipients who were displaced by Katrina and relax eligibility requirements so that more people qualify for the …

Tenet says Memorial Hospital report wrong

A spokesman for Tenet Healthcare said a report carried by the Associated Press and on the front page of this morning's New York Times concerning 45 bodies found on the flooded grounds of Memorial Hospital in New Orleans is inaccurate. The AP quoted hospital officials as saying the bodies were those of patients who may have drowned after staff evacuated the hospital. "No living patient was left behind," Tenet spokesman Larry Anderson said. "We evacuated every living …

HIT: VistA-Office EHR still 'on track'

Contradicting earlier media reports which had suggested the government's release of discounted VistA-Office for physicians was about to be placed on "indefinite hold," CMS said the release of the software will go ahead as scheduled. On Monday, CMS spokesman Don McLeod denied that the product launch had been canceled, saying the release will probably go ahead "in the next couple of days." The plan to distribute the discounted product to physicians has run into some cynicism from …

HIT: CMS launches P4P and eRx projects

The government is launching an ambitious five-year project which will look at ways to improve healthcare quality using pay-for-performance techniques. The Medicare Health Care Quality Demonstration will fund local and regional projects which use incentives to promote quality. CMS issued a request for proposals on Monday.

CMS administrator Dr. Mark McClellan also said his agency will shortly be releasing a call for proposals for e-prescribing demonstration projects that would test …

Headphones may increase hearing loss

New earphones for cell phones and MP3 players which fit snugly in the ear may be leading to serious hearing problems for Americans over the long term, according to researchers at Purdue University. That may be bad news for heavy cell phone users who rely on new head sets designed to keep their phones away from their heads. Robert Novack, head of audiology at the school, says he is seeing "older ears on younger bodies," a trend that began with the arrival of the Walkman two decades …