News

SPOTLIGHT: Americans support medical technology

A new Harris Interactive/WSJ.com poll released Friday shows strong support for medical technology and electronic medical records in particular. Most adults believe that medical technology will either reduce the cost of care or improve the quality of care patients receive. An overwhelming majority (81 percent) said they would like to be able to communicate via email with their physicians. About the same percentage said they support the idea of medical devices which allow …

ALSO NOTED: Pediatricians outline ways to beat SIDS; Medical billing berated; and much more...

> The nation's largest pediatricians group released new guidelines for preventing SIDS. Article

> Officials in Los Angeles have dropped a plan to close obstetric, pediatric and neonatal units at King Drew Medical Center. Article

> A look at the …

Editor's Corner


FierceHealthcare has been following two stories all year that both had big moments this week. One is the avian flu that's been popping up in Asia and may end up being as deadly as the 1918 epidemic. The other is the new Medicare Part D roll-out. For Medicare Part D, the complex mix of plans being offered to seniors will test their ability to understand the options on hand …

Debate over Katrina Medicaid relief continues

Concern over rising federal spending has led to a political show down in Washington which may impact healthcare funding in the future. Last night Congress voted for $500 million in aid for victims of Hurricane Katrina. The development triggered a revolt led by Rep. Jim Nussle (R-Iowa), who said major budget cuts are needed to offset increased spending. Critics say those cuts would probably be aimed at Medicare, Medicaid and other entitlement programs. Meanwhile, the fate of legislation …

HHS grants fund national HIT initiative

Despite the recent fiscal concerns in Washington, federal money continues to flow toward health IT--at least for now. This week HHS announced three big contracts which are an integral part of the government's national dive to push for increased technology adoption in healthcare. $3.3 million goes to the American National Standards Institute to help develop interoperability standards which will hopefully allow systems to communicate with each other and exchange data, or at the least cause …

US seeks 81M courses of Tamiflu

The potential for an avian flu pandemic remains a major national story. President Bush today meets with pharma company representatives to discuss ways to increase production. Unconfirmed reports suggest the administration is making plans to raise the nation's stockpile of Tamiflu from 12 million doses to 81 million doses. Critics say the move comes too late as other countries have already placed major orders with Roche, the antiviral's manufacturer. According to some estimates, the …

Ill. launches program for uninsured kids

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich introduced a new program to provide healthcare for uninsured children, which some critics are calling a model for other states. Blagojevich's "All Kids" program will fund insurance for kids from middle-income families earning between $40,000 and $80,000, a group which experts say earns too much to qualify for traditional forms of government assistance but too little to comfortably afford insurance. The idea drew praise from some health policy experts, …

AHRQ announces state HIT implementation grants

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) announced $22.3 million in grants to state health information technology projects intended to drive health IT adoption. Sixteen awards have been announced, bringing total AHRQ investment in health IT to $166 million so far. Key grants go to Franklin Foundation Hospital in coastal Louisiana, the Metro DC Health Information Exchange (MeDHIX), the University of Tennessee and the Holomua project in Hawaii.

- see this press release from AHRQ

SPOTLIGHT: Nev. docs get access to AllScripts

If e-prescribing really takes off, one major beneficiary is likely to be AllScripts. This week, in a move timed to coincide with the announcement that HHS is making changes to encourage the technology, AllScripts revealed a deal in which it is providing low-cost e-prescribing software to doctors who are part of Nevada's Sierra Health network. Nevada physicians who are not affiliated with Sierra will be able to get access to the software for a small monthly fee. Expect more developments like this as competition in this area of health IT intensifies. Report

ALSO NOTED: Legionnaire's blamed for nursing home deaths;Tier I trauma centers have better track record; and much more...

> A new study by researchers at USC Keck Medical School finds patients taken to Tier II trauma centers are 20 percent more likely to die than those taken to Tier I centers. Article

> Tests revealed that a mysterious respiratory ailment which killed nearly 20 people this week in Toronto is Legionnaire's Disease. …

HHS takes steps to bolster vaccine production

The Department of Health and Human Services is making preparations to fight a potential outbreak of pandemic influenza. On Wednesday, HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt said the administration will ask Congress for between $6 billion and $10 billion to bolster vaccine production in the US and develop adequate stockpiles of antiviral drugs. In the short term, the development is good news for Sanofi-Aventis, which announced a successful clinical trial of an experimental vaccine in August. It is …

HIT: HHS issues e-prescribing, EMR rules

As expected, HHS issued new rules designed to encourage electronic medical records and e-prescribing yesterday. CMS will be announcing a foundation standard for ePrescribing and provide $6 million in funding for e-prescribing pilots using that standard. The new Medicare Part D will not, however, require the use of ePrescribing, and some industry participants are unhappy that those standards will only apply to transactions in that program and not all ePrescribing. In addition, CMS …

Error in Medicare Part D handbook could cause trouble

An error in the Medicare and You handbook mailed out to millions of Americans may lead some people to apply to prescription drug plans they will be unable to afford. CMS officials sent out a memo detailing the problem yesterday. According to the agency, the handbook erroneously states that low-income beneficiaries will not have to pay any monthly premium. That is only true of some plans, however. Democrats were quick to attack the mistake, calling it more evidence of how …

Express Scripts cuts out some Pfizer drugs

In another noteworthy development, Deutsche Bank analyst Barbara Ryan said that Express Scripts is removing Pfizer drugs from its preferred formulary. The pharmacy benefits manager refused to comment on the development, but the signs suggest the report is credible. According to the report authored by Ryan, Express Scripts will give preference to generics over four drugs made by Pfizer, including the cholesterol drug Lipitor, blood pressure medicine Norvasc, ED treatment Viagra and …

Avian flu linked to 1918 pandemic

Findings published in the journals Science and Nature yesterday by researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conclude that a variant of avian flu was responsible for the great pandemic of 1918, which is estimated to have killed 50 million people worldwide. In a series of a controversial experiments, researchers were able to resurrect the 1918 virus in a lab and study its characteristics. Their conclusion: the virus circulating in poultry populations …

SPOTLIGHT: A little pain relief for Merck

After months of bad news about the company's Cox-2 painkiller Vioxx, things are upbeat at Merck today after word of a successful final stage trial of its cervical cancer vaccine Gardasil. Researchers say the vaccine works by stopping HP 16 and HP 18, two common viruses which have been shown to cause the majority of cervical cancers. Article

ALSO NOTED: Trend: Employee benefits portals; Defibrillators cost-effective; and much more...

> The Supreme Court heard the government's case against Oregon's physician-assisted suicide law yesterday. Article

> Six more people have died from a mysterious respiratory virus at the Seven Oaks Home for the Aged in Toronto, bringing the toll to 16. …

Analysts see pattern at HCA

The suspicious June trades which led to a formal SEC inquiry into possible rules violations at HCA are part of a pattern at the company, some analysts say. HCA insiders have always had a knack for good timing and understanding "when their company's stock is undervalued and when it isn't." In the late 1990s, executives at the company sold heavily as the value of the company's shares rose, notes insider trading expert Michael Painchaud. It happened again in 2001 and 2002.

The …

Military role in avian flu pandemic debated

How effective would the army be at stopping an avian flu pandemic? Probably not as effective as good vaccines and adequate advancing planning, critics are saying. In a speech Tuesday, President Bush suggested that the military could be used to quarantine areas of the country in the event of a major pandemic. The unexpected comments have drawn major media play. Critics say the plan is a ploy to gain broader powers for the military to take the lead in responding to major public health …

The AOL-ization of healthcare

AOL founder Steve Case has picked a dream team of big names with "interesting" pasts for his new start-up, Revolution Health. On the board are Carly Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett-Packard; Franklin Raines, who was ousted from Fannie Mae; Steve Wiggins, the man who built and was later ousted from Oxford Health Plans; former Netscape CEO Jim Barksdale; and former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who's performance at the UN in 2003 may have prepared him well for the healthcare …