Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Hump Day Edition

I'll be spending most of my day today at the rate hearing on Anthem's newest rate hikes. I'll be testifying on behalf of consumers, making two main points. First, Anthem says it needs to raise its rates due to higher health care utilization. However, it's parent corporation, WellPoint, has said over and over that it's profits this year are due to reduced utilization. So not exactly consistent. Second, there's a TON of important information missing. In fact, WellPoint submitted comments to the federal government on what should happen at rate review hearings, and Anthem hasn't even done what WellPoint says it should have done. We'll see what happens at the hearing, but it could be most of the day.

Anyway, just so you don't feel lost without me, here's an early morning news round-up:

Hearings start today for the expansion of the Americans with Disabilities Act, seeking to use technology to accommodate people with disabilities and move beyond wheelchair ramps to new and challenging ways of making our society more accessible. Very exciting.

Coping with the stress of a medical emergency -- the patient (or her family) gets angry, the doctor gets angry, and things just fall apart. How can we do better?

Remember newly-elected health reform opponent Congressman Harris, who complained that he will have to wait 28 days for his new government-run health care to take effect? Well, Representative Crowley (D-NY) says all of the Republicans who oppose government run health care for their constituents should decline it as members of Congress.

The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services launched its promising Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation yesterday. This is one of the most exciting pieces of health reform -- an office dedicated to finding new types of delivery systems that help control the costs of care while improving quality. They will focus on things like patient centered medical homes -- and innovations so new that they don't have names yet. These innovations will be public-private partnerships, with the government encouraging private sector stakeholders to try new ways of doing business in health care. We may not know what will work to control costs while maintaining quality, but this Center should help us find out.

Speaking of which, one experiment -- daily check-ins by phone for heart patients to try to maximize health and minimize hospital readmissions -- has been found not to work very well. A "good, commonsense idea" that simply didn't work. On to the next experiment.

Here's an opinion piece by Republican Senator John Barasso saying we should use GOP ideas to fix reform -- get rid of the employer mandate, the individual mandate, eliminate the Independent Payment Advisory Board (which is supposed to role on which treatments are cost effective -- a critical piece in controlling costs, unless controlling costs isn't your real goal), and eliminate an arcane piece that Democrats already agree needs to go, which would require additional 1099 reporting by small businesses. The employer mandate only applies to large employers to avoid them from dropping insurance and forcing employees out onto the Exchanges. And as I've explained a thousand times, how do we convince the insurance companies to cover everyone with pre-existing conditions unless we push healthy people to buy insurance, too? There doesn't seem to be a whole lot of meat here.

The Governor of Montana asks permission from the federal government to allow anybody to buy drugs through the Medicaid program, where the cost of drugs is very low due to government purchasing power. Right now, Congress doesn't allow Medicare to negotiate the price of drugs, but Medicaid can and does, and it's way less expensive. So let anybody buy through Medicaid?

A study finds wide disparities in late stage cancer care, in the number of patients going to hospice or who died in the hospital, who got chemotherapy very late in their illness, who got feeding tubes and CPR. Those in metropolitan areas got more treatment, but is that necessarily a good thing?

Meanwhile, health care sector CEOs are raking it in, says the Wall St. Journal.

The FDA has approved the first new drug for lupus in many years. A great breakthrough for lupus sufferers.

The hardest decision -- do you choose treatment no matter what?

Pot smokers who start before age 16 are most likely to develop cognitive deficits. No comment.

How to deal with job stress so it doesn't harm your health, from the LA Times.

Don't be so fast to give your kid antibiotics for a garden variety ear infection, says USA Today.

Wow -- busy news day today. Read on! Jennifer

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