Thursday, January 6, 2011

Thursday's Themes

I can't start without noting that the new slate of Constitutional officers was sworn in here in Connecticut yesterday. My friend Kevin Lembo, who was the GREAT Healthcare Advocate, is now Comptroller. We have a wonderful new Governor, Dan Malloy, the fabulous Nancy Wyman as Lt. Governor, and a great new leadership team. Reason for both congratulations and optimism.

Of course, at the same time, the GOP took control of the House of Representatives and John Boehner was sworn in as Speaker of the House. The talk about health reform repeal and amendment moves on. Democrats who are up for re-election are looking for ways to replace the individual mandate with some alternative that will get people into the pool while eliminating one of the most controversial pieces of reform. And Democrats filed amendments to the repeal legislation seeking to retain the benefits of the reform law that already have taken effect. However, the GOP leadership says it won't allow any amendments.

Health spending rose in 2009, but at a slower rate than in recent years, most likely due to the recession. Still, health spending represents 17.6% of gross domestic product (GDP) -- crazy high. And the recession swelled Medicaid rolls. But an awful lot of trips to the emergency room were due to prescription drug abuse or misuse.

Blue Cross of California is seeking rate hikes on individual policies up to 59 percent! This is a horrible outrage that will squeeze people out of insurance entirely. But the State of California has been doing pretty rigorous rate reviews, so hopefully this rate hike won't take effect.

Commissions to health insurance brokers are shrinking. The new medical loss ratio rules (percentage of premium dollars spent on health care) place broker commissions in the administrative side of the calculation, so insurers are looking to reduce them, with resulting harm to brokers. This is an issue that's been discussed a lot, but not yet resolved.

Here's some welcome news. The antibiotic rifaximin (Xifaxan) has been shown to relieve the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. I've been on mega-doses of Xifaxan for my Crohn's for years; this would be very welcome news for IBS sufferers.

And while I do not want to wade into the controversial waters of whether or not vaccines are a good thing, today the news is clear that the first study linking autism to the measles vaccine was a fraud. It's so wrong to play with people's emotions and health this way.

And that's the Thursday morning round-up. Jennifer

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