First Edition: September 30, 2014
Today's headlines include preview stories regarding the launch of the Open Payments database -- a federal government website which will provide information on drug company payments to tens of thousands of physicians.
Kaiser Health News: Many Rural Hospitals Are Excluded From Government's Push For Better Quality
Kaiser Health News staff writer Jordan Rau reports: “The Department of Health and Human Services has not yet incorporated the 1,256 primarily rural, “critical access” hospitals such as Crawford into Medicare’s pay-for-performance programs. With no more than 25 beds, these hospitals are generally located in isolated areas, making them the only acute-care option for local residents. Medicare repays them their cost plus 1 percent, more than it pays other hospitals, to ensure they do not close. While some of the facilities deliver exemplary care, a study published last year by Harvard School of Public Health researchers found that death rates at critical access hospitals in 2010 were higher than at other small, rural hospitals and the industry overall” (Rau, 9/30). Read the story, which also appeared in the Chicago Tribune.
Kaiser Health News: Medicare Open Enrollment Is Fast Approaching -- Here's What We Know So Far
Kaiser Health News consumer columnist Michelle Andrews writes: “Medicare beneficiaries who want to make changes to their prescription drug plans or Medicare Advantage coverage can do so starting Oct. 15 during the Medicare's program’s annual open enrollment period. There will be somewhat fewer plans to pick from this year, but in general people will have plenty of options, experts say. And although premiums aren’t expected to rise markedly overall in 2015—and in some cases may actually decline—some individual plans have signaled significantly higher rates. Rather than rely on the sticker price of a plan alone, it’s critical that beneficiaries compare the available options in their area to make sure they’re in the plan that covers the drugs and doctors they need at the best price” (Andrews, 9/30). Read the column.
Kaiser Health News: Capsules: California To Launch Medicaid-Funded Teledentistry
Now on Kaiser Health News’ blog, Daniela Hernandez writes: “California Governor Jerry Brown has signed into law a bill that would require Medi-Cal, the state’s insurance program for the poor, to pay for dental services delivered by teams of hygienists and dentists connected through the Internet. California is among the first states to launch such teledentistry services, which are intended to increase the options for patients in remote and underserved areas. Other states, like Oregon, Colorado, Hawaii and West Virginia, are interested in creating their own teledentistry programs but are farther behind, advocates for the projects said” (Hernandez, 9/29). Check out what else is on the blog.
The Wall Street Journal: Hundreds Of Thousands Face Health Law Subsidy Deadline
Hundreds of thousands of Americans face a Tuesday deadline to verify their income and are at risk of losing or having to pay back their federal health-insurance subsidies under the Affordable Care Act. The need for people to pay back the government could become a headache during next year's tax season, when Americans are expected to pay back any subsidies they weren't eligible for. The Obama administration has told more than 300,000 individuals who obtained coverage through the federal HealthCare.gov site that they may lose some or all of the subsidies if they don't provide additional income information that jibes with Internal Revenue Service data. That information includes tax returns, wages and tax statements, pay stubs and letters from employers (Armour, 9/29).
Los Angeles Times: As Election Nears, Control Of Senate Looks Surprisingly Uncertain
Democrats have tried to shift the focus from a debate over big government, embodied by the unpopular national healthcare law, to the merits of popular programs, such as Social Security and Medicare, and issues that are especially resonant to minorities, young people and single women. All are Democratic-leaning voter groups that tend to sit out midterm elections. … That tactic — one party trying to nationalize the election, the other trying to make contests more localized and issue-specific — is also typical of midterm elections (Barabak and Mascaro, 9/29).
USA Today: Federal Doctor Ratings Face Accuracy, Value Questions
Consumers searching this fall for the best doctor covered by their new public or private insurance plan won't get very far on a federal database designed to rate physician quality. The Affordable Care Act requires the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to provide physician quality data, but that database offers only the most basic information. It's so limited, health care experts say, as to be useless to many consumers (O’Donnell, 9/29).
The Associated Press: Gov’t To Reveal Drug Company Payments To Doctors
Striving to shine a light on potential ethical conflicts in medicine, the Obama administration is releasing data on drug company payments to tens of thousands of individual doctors. As conceived, the so-called Open Payments program was intended to allow patients to easily look up their own doctors online. That functionality won’t be ready yet. And although preliminary data to be released Tuesday will be incomplete, it’s expected to be useful for professional researchers (9/30).
Propublica/NPR: 4 Years Of Lessons Learned About Drugmakers' Payments To Doctors
On Tuesday, the federal government is expected to release details of payments to doctors by every pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturer in the country. The information is being made public under a provision of the 2010 Affordable Care Act. The law mandates disclosure of payments to doctors, dentists, chiropractors, podiatrists and optometrists for things like promotional speaking, consulting, meals, educational items and research. It's not quite clear what the data will show — in part because the first batch will be incomplete, covering spending for only a few months at the end of 2013 — but we at ProPublica have some good guesses. That's because we have been detailing relationships between doctors and the pharmaceutical industry for the past four years as part of our Dollars for Docs project (Ornstein, Groochowski Jones and Sagara, 9/29).
The Wall Street Journal: Medical Devices Lack Safety Evidence, Study Finds
The majority of moderate- to high-risk medical devices approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration lack publicly available scientific evidence to verify their safety and effectiveness despite requirements in the law, according to a study released Monday (Burton, 9/29).
The Associated Press: Viagra Ads Target Women For 1st Time
The maker of the world’s top-selling erectile dysfunction drug on Tuesday will begin airing the first Viagra TV commercial that targets the less-obvious sufferers of the sexual condition: women. In the new 60-second ad, a middle-aged woman reclining on a bed in a tropical setting addresses the problems couples encounter when a man is impotent (9/30).
NPR: Vaccine Controversies Are As Social As They Are Medical
When essayist Eula Biss was pregnant with her son, she decided she wanted to do just a bit of research into vaccination. "I thought I would do a small amount of research to answer some questions that had come up for me," she tells NPR's Audie Cornish. "And the questions just got bigger the more I learned and the more I read." In the U.S., vaccination rates are high; for measles, mumps and rubella, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about 90 percent of infants receive vaccinations. The vaccination of children born between 1994 and 2013 will prevent 322 million illnesses, according to the CDC (9/30).
The New York Times: Cuomo’s Ad Faults Astorino On Health Care For Older Adults
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has attacked his Republican opponent, Rob Astorino, over his views on issues like abortion rights, same-sex marriage and gun control. Now Mr. Cuomo is trying to focus attention on health care for older adults. While Mr. Cuomo holds a wide lead in polls, he has not relented in airing negative commercials about Mr. Astorino, and the advertisements appear to be working: In a statewide poll conducted by Siena College from Sept. 18-23, 29 percent of likely voters had a favorable view of Mr. Astorino, compared with 30 percent who had an unfavorable view of him (Kaplan, 9/29).
The New York Times: De Blasio’s Executive Order Will Expand Living Wage Law To Thousands More
Mayor Bill de Blasio plans to sign an executive order on Tuesday significantly expanding New York City’s living wage law, covering thousands of previously exempt workers and raising the hourly wage itself, to $13.13 from $11.90, for workers who do not receive benefits. … The executive order will immediately cover employees of commercial tenants on projects that receive more than $1 million in city subsidies going forward. Workers who receive benefits such as health insurance will earn $11.50 an hour, compared with $10.30 before (Flegenheimer, 9/29).
The Washington Post: D.C. Government’s Infant-Mortality Program Eyed For Cuts As Mayor Touts New Initiative
A loss of $4 million in federal funding is threatening to curtail District services to young mothers and infants, complicating the city’s efforts to care for its youngest residents even as officials tout a new focus on reducing infant mortality. Over two decades, the city received tens of millions of dollars in funding through the federal Healthy Start program. But that program recently changed its structure, dispensing with a long-standing preference for previous grantees and instituting a more competitive funding process (DeBonis, 9/29).
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