Explaining Medicare’s ‘Premium Support’

Every week, Kaiser Health News reporter Jessica Marcy selects interesting reading from around the Web.

Washington Monthly: The Yaz Men: Members Of FDA Panel Reviewing The Risks Of Popular Bayer Contraceptive Had Industry Ties
Last month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration convened a committee of medical experts to weigh new evidence concerning the potential dangers of drospirenone, a synthetic hormone contained in popular birth control pills including Bayer AG’s Yaz and Yasmin. … the committee concluded by a four-vote margin that the benefits of drugs with drospirenone outweigh the risks. However, an investigation by the Washington Monthly and the British medical journal BMJ has found that at least four members of the committee have either done work for the drugs’ manufacturers or licensees or received research funding from them. The FDA made none of those financial ties public. … When asked whether the agency was aware of any financial ties between its advisors and manufacturers or distributors of drospirenone, FDA spokeswoman Morgan Liscinsky said, “No waivers were issued” (Jeanne Lenzer and Keith Epstein, 1/9).

CNN: Doctors Cheated On Exams
For years, doctors around the country taking an exam to become board certified in radiology have cheated by memorizing test questions, creating sophisticated banks of what are known as “recalls,” a CNN investigation has found. The recall exams are meticulously compiled by radiology residents, who write down the questions after taking the test, in radiology programs around the country, including some of the most prestigious programs in the U.S. … Dozens of radiology residents interviewed by CNN said that they promised before taking the written test to memorize certain questions and write them down immediately after the test (Scott Zamost, Drew Griffin and Azadeh Ansari, 1/13).

Governing: Why Are Dentists Opposing Expanded Dental Care?
Try finding a dentist in the remotest rural or deepest urban pockets of the land, and for blatantly economic reasons, they just aren’t there. That’s why states are looking to fix the problem by creating a so-called mid-level dental provider. Much like a nurse practitioner (NP) or physician assistant (PA) is to a doctor, this provider would be educated and licensed to perform basic dental services — routine checkups, cleanings, filling cavities and extracting teeth — under the supervision of a fully trained dentist. … Yet in much the same way that the American Medical Association fought against the creation of NPs and PAs, the American Dental Association (ADA) and its state chapters are lobbying hard to thwart state legislatures as they work to create this new level of dental care providers (David Levine, January 2012).

American Medical News: Former Drug Reps Eyed To Pitch Physicians On Referrals
The Laser Spine Institute, a Tampa, Fla.-based endoscopic spine ambulatory surgery center with locations in seven cities … is expanding its marketing beyond the public and aiming at physicians in the community who might send them new patients. To help in the effort, the 25-doctor group is looking to hire four new representatives — called physician liaisons or physician relations associates — who have at least five years’ experience as drug or device-company detailers. …  people in the field say demand is growing for professionals with the ability to call on doctors in person to help drive referral business in profitable areas such as cardiac care, cancer care and orthopedic surgery (Kevin B. O’Reilly, 1/16).

See related Kaiser Health News article: Hospitals Adopt Drug Industry Sales Strategy (Galewitz, 12/13)

Columbia Journalism Review: Medicare Vouchers Explained
In the Republican presidential debate Monday, Mitt Romney came out in favor of a “premium support program, which allows people to buy either current standard Medicare or a private plan.” He said he supported the proposal made by Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan … So far, the mainstream media has done little to explain the concepts and terms being tossed around by politicians on all sides. Campaign Desk sat down with Henry Aaron, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, to sort all this out (Trudy Lieberman, 1/18).

Health Affairs: New Federal Policy Initiatives To Boost Health Literacy Can Help The Nation Move Beyond The Cycle Of Costly ‘Crisis Care’
Health systems often function as if all patients have health literacy skills and can be vigilant advocates for themselves. In reality, however, a wide chasm often separates what providers intend to convey in written and oral communication and what patients understand. … Fortunately, many organizations have already responded to the call to make health literacy a key element of health care improvement. … The time is right to accelerate our national commitment to providing the American people with clear, understandable, and actionable science-based health information (Howard K. Koh, Donald M. Berwick, Carolyn M. Clancy, Cynthia Baur, Cindy Brach, Linda M. Harris and Eileen G. Zerhusen, 1/18).