First Edition: September 7, 2010
Today's headlines look at a surprise some Medicare beneficiaries find when they leave the hospital, new studies on malpractice costs and the heavy use of hospitals for primary care needs and how Democrats are treating the new health law in their congressional campaigns.
Growing Number Of Patients Find A Hospital Stay Does Not Mean They're Admitted
Susan Jaffe, writing for Kaiser Health News and The Washington Post, looks at an increasing use of hospital observation care for Medicare beneficiaries rather than admission as an inpatient: "After Ann Callan, 85, fell and broke four ribs, she spent six days at Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring. Doctors and nurses examined her daily and gave her medications and oxygen to help her breathe. But when she was discharged in early January, her family got a surprise: Medicare would not pay for her follow-up nursing home care, because she did not have the prerequisite three days of inpatient care. She was in observation care, which Medicare considers outpatient care. That means beneficiaries must cover a bigger share of drug costs and other expenses than they would when receiving inpatient care" (Kaiser Health News).
Medicare Will Experiment With Expansion Of Hospice Coverage
In this Kaiser Health News consumer column, Michelle Andrews writes: "Many people may not realize that, in some ways, the new health law will expand options for patients at the end of life. One of these involves hospice care, in which a team of specially trained providers treats dying patients' pain and other symptoms but doesn't try to cure the underlying disease" (Kaiser Health News).
Participation In Children's Health Insurance Program Varies Widely Across Country
Kaiser Health News staff writer Phil Galewitz writes: "The hunt for the nearly 5 million uninsured U.S. children who are eligible for free or low-cost coverage through Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program just got a road map. A new study published today in Health Affairs shows that 39 percent of the uninsured but eligible kids live in three states: California, Texas and Florida" (Kaiser Health News).
KHN Column: Social Security's Disabled Adult Child Program: A Key Program Often Below The Radar
In a column, Harold Pollack writes: "Intellectual disability is often accompanied by costly illnesses and social service needs. Even if someone spends his entire life in the house he grew up in, his family may eventually need public help to make ends meet. For many families, a little-known aspect of Social Security, awkwardly labeled the Disabled Adult Child program, makes a huge difference" (Kaiser Health News).
Health Care Wastefulness Is Detailed In Studies
In a snapshot of systemic waste, researchers have calculated that more than half of the 354 million doctor visits made each year for acute medical care, like for fevers, stomachaches and coughs, are not with a patient's primary physician, and that more than a quarter take place in hospital emergency rooms. The authors of the study said it highlighted a significant question about the new federal health care law: can access to primary care be maintained, much less improved, when an already inadequate and inefficient system takes on an expected 32 million newly insured customers? (The New York Times).
Cancer Educates A Med Student
Joshua Lilienstein lined up for treatment this summer at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center's general oncology clinic. A medical student who'd been battling cancer for four years, Lilienstein had little choice. In June 2009, he lost his insurance after maxing out on the lifetime benefit (Los Angeles Times).
Medicare Head Pushes Health Care Test Sites
Newly installed Medicare chief Donald Berwick, keeping a low public profile after encountering controversy over his appointment, is moving quickly behind the scenes to seed the US health care system with 100 to 300 sites to test new models of caring for patients (Boston Globe).
Researchers Peg Malpractice Costs At Over $55 Billion
Medical malpractice costs average about $55.6 billion annually, or 2.4% of annual healthcare spending, according to a new Health Affairs analysis. The estimate includes defensive-medicine activities, such as ordering tests or treatments physicians in order to avoid lawsuits, which alone costs an estimated $45.6 billion per year, the study found (Modern Healthcare).
Democrats Run Away From Health Care
A handful of House Democrats are making health care reform an election year issue - by running against it. At least five of the 34 House Democrats who voted against their party's health care reform bill are highlighting their "no" votes in ads back home. By contrast, party officials in Washington can't identify a single House member who's running an ad boasting of a "yes" vote - despite the fact that 219 House Democrats voted in favor of final passage in March (Politico).
Patients' Choices May Narrow As Insurers Adjust Standards For Doctors, Hospitals
The new federal health care law is bringing additional demands by insurance companies that doctors and hospitals be held to higher quality standards (Chicago Tribune).
Mental Health Parity Act May Affect Your Medical Benefits
The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008, by some estimates, could affect the health coverage of approximately 113 million Americans. Exactly how it will affect them, though, will vary widely (Los Angeles Times).
Flu Vaccine Readily Available, And Free For Many This Year
Getting a flu shot will be far easier this fall than last, with retailers already stocking millions of doses and free shots available through Medicare and private insurance, officials say. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius says the federal Affordable Care Act mandates for the first time that Medicare and private health plans offer flu vaccine coverage without co-pays or deductibles (USA Today).
Study Finds Doctor-Patient Disconnect
The heart patients at Springfield's Baystate Medical Center almost all thought the stents used to prop open their arteries would prevent a heart attack. But their doctors had told most of them before the procedure that it would do nothing more than relieve chest pain. This yawning disconnect between what doctors say and patients hear was reported in a study published yesterday in the Annals of Internal Medicine (The Boston Globe).
In Young Kids, Lack Of Sleep Linked To Obesity Later
a new study finds that even for infants and preschoolers, a good, long night's sleep may be just as important as diet and physical activity (NPR).
Whooping Cough Diagnoses Lagged In Eight California Deaths, Analysis Shows
A disturbing theme has emerged in an analysis of all eight cases of California infants who died from whooping cough this year: Despite the patients' multiple visits to clinics and hospitals, doctors typically failed to make a swift, accurate diagnosis (Los Angeles Times).
Thousands Of Returning Soldiers Face A New Enemy
More than seven years after U.S. troops first invaded Iraq on March 20, 2003, President Obama addressed the nation on Tuesday to commemorate the official end of the Iraq War. However, the legacy of one of America's longest combat missions will continue to affect the thousands of troops who came home suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries (NPR).
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