Friday, September 30, 2011

Secrets of Debt Collectors

I don't usually think these 10 secrets of .... stories are very important, but this one has a ring of truth to it. So if you owe money, keep these tidbits in mind. Jennifer

Living With Chronic Illness: A Prescription for Advocacy

Read the results of our chronic illness survey, available FREE on our website now. Click here to read and enjoy. I think it's pretty interesting!


Finally Friday Edition

And I really mean it. I'm hanging on by the skin of my teeth, only one more day to get through before REST. So let's get to the news!

This is a really thoughtful piece about the two sides of the legal argument on health reform. There was opposition to a public option like Medicare for All. Conservatives were the ones who wanted to use the insurance companies to expand care instead. In order to do that, the individual mandate was created -- and it was a GOP idea! And now, it's under attack, whereas all sides agree Medicare for All would have been entirely legal. Who will win? You'll know by next June, when the Supreme Court's term ends. But what about the politics of health reform? Since the decision will come down in the midst of a Presidential campaign, the politics of it is important. The fact is that, although the country is divided on whether they like health reform, a majority of Americans don't want to see it repealed, and a lot of them want to see it expanded. And Dems are pressing for an investigation into Justice Thomas, who mistakenly forgot to report all of his wife's income from efforts to defeat the health reform bill. But why would the Obama Administration want to speed this up despite what it might mean for his re-election campaign? Here are a series of possible answers.

The House passed a stopgap spending bill that will keep the government open for FOUR DAYS! That's what we've come down to -- four day budgets. This was because Congress is on vacation this week and rather than scuttle vacation to deal with the people's business, they punted for four days and will take up a longer short-term fix into November when they get back.

Meanwhile, the GOP has released a 2012 budget proposal that cuts health care and education. It would also cut job training, National Public Radio. And it pretty much defunds health reform implementation. Really? Have these people not gotten the message that the American people are sick of this partisan bickering? Why else would they keep promoting proposals that cannot pass or would be vetoed? Is it all just posturing? I, for one, am getting really tired of it.

The Wall St. Journal reports that managers in the Social Security disability system have asked Administrative Law Judges to slow down so they can shift cases into the next fiscal year, which starts Monday, so they can meet targets and collect bonuses. People are struggling mightily, waiting for a hearing, and these folks have the nerve to slow things down just so they can get a fat bonus? I'm thoroughly disgusted.

The marvelous Dr. Pauline Chen on why doctors order so many tests. It's interesting to hear a doctor's perspective.

This is truly amazing. I'm doing several insurance appeals on a rare and controversial childhood illness called PANDAS -- an autoimmune disease triggered by strep. I never heard of it before and it's very rare, but here it is, a long article explaining one family's odyssey through diagnosis and treatment of PANDAS.

All of us who've spent time in an Emergency Room will find this story to be familiar.

Can you use Twitter to track people's moods? A study says yes. I'm still confused about how to use it!!!

And that, my friends, is the Friday news round-up. Have a great day and a great week-end. I know I will. "To sleep, perchance to dream." Jennifer

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Thursday Themes

Wow -- what a week! I don't think I've ever been more exhausted in my life. And still, there's news.

The Obama Administration has asked the Supreme Court to decide the health reform cases, making it likely that the Court will issue a decision by next June, the end of next year's term, and right in the middle of the Presidential campaign. WaPo predicts the Justices will uphold the law.

Senator Coburn and Senator Lieberman (we in CT apologize) press for $500 billion in cuts to Medicare as part of the super-committee's deficit reduction. They would raise premiums for those earning more than $150,000 per year.

Medicare launched an initiative yesterday to pay primary care physicians a bonus for engaging in care coordination. These are the kinds of innovations that ultimately will reduce health care costs, so this is great to see. Here's more on how the comprehensive primary care initiative would work.

Vouchers instead of Medicare isn't enough for Paul Ryan. Now, he wants vouchers instead of health reform. Of course, vouchers don't help anybody if you can't buy insurance because you have a pre-existing condition. And you can't force insurers to take on the most expensive patients without raising rates dramatically unless you also bring healthy people into the market. And that requires an individual mandate so young, healthy people carry insurance. And now we're back to the Supreme Court.

The Connecticut Insurance Department denied a request by Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield to increase their rates by 12.9%, instead reducing the increase to 3.9%. We suspect part of the motivation was to avoid another legislative move towards requiring rate hearings, but whatever the reason, this is good news for consumers. More states should follow.

Here's the story of one hospital that reduced its readmission rates by making sure the discharge and transition back to the community is smooth. However, another study shows that hospitals across the country are failing at discharge planning.

You probably know that there has been an outbreak of listeria, carried in cantaloupe melon, but now spreading to other produce. Be careful.

Reebok claimed its sneakers could tone the body -- a false claim that is costing them a $25 million settlement.

Even slightly high blood pressure can lead to strokes.

And that's it for this morning. Have a great day. Jennifer

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Hump Day Headlines

Not quite over the hump yet; gotta get through today first, and it's a busy one. But first, the news:

Health insurance premiums have sky-rocketed this year. It costs more to insure a family than to buy a new car. They say they're keeping pace with the cost of health care, but from the rate filings I've looked at, it appears to me that they are raising rates now because, starting in 2012, they will have to justify all rate increases over 10 percent under health reform. There's no question that utilization rates are going down because people are staying away from doctors due to cost in this economy. States are starting to crack down, though. Connecticut's Insurance Department has just denied a rate increase from Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield of CT, giving them much less than they asked for. The worst thing about the rate increases is that some people won't be able to afford insurance at all. More and more of the costs of health care are being shifted to employees. Check out this chart - scary. Of course, the GOP blames this on health reform even though the provisions of health reform designed to control cost have not taken effect yet.

Meanwhile, GOP Paul Ryan, who proposed turning Medicare into a voucher program and Medicaid into block grants, now says we should repeal health reform and provide everyone with some help to pay for health care. But he says we have to address the overutilization of health care. Overutilization. There isn't much that makes me madder than the baseless belief that people use more health care than they need. Every once in awhile, I try backing off one of my meds to see if I can get the number down some. I haven't had a colonoscopy in 2 years. I go to the doctor way less than the doctor would like me to. My underutilization is not good, but I think it's typical. People with chronic illnesses stay away from doctors as much as possible. We learn when we need them and when we can manage on our own, and we manage as much as we can.

Soldiers are coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan with a host of problems, both physical and emotional. Their need for attention strains their families. We must step up. Many have mild traumatic brain injuries, which are being diagnosed at an alarming rate.

Believe it or not, that's all I have for you today. Slow health-news day. Maybe no news is good news? Have a great day! Jennifer

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Tuesday Tidbits

Running late again today, although I didn't oversleep -- I'm just moving slowly, exhausted from working 2 week-ends in a row. No matter; here's the news:

The Senate reached agreement on a bipartisan short-term budget bill that will keep the government running into November. The House is expected to go along with this -- apparently, FEMA decided they weren't running out of money this week, so the additional funds for disaster relief weren't needed, meaning the battle over whether they would have to be offset by spending cuts can be avoided for now. But the House is not in session this week, so we don't yet know when they will vote. They have to do it this week some time to keep the government open.

The Obama Administration has decided not to ask the full 11th Circuit to hear the health reform appeal, signifying its intent to go right to the Supreme Court. That pretty much guarantees that health reform will be a big part of the Presidential campaign season. And that's a very risky move.

The loss of a health plan for low income adults in Pennsylvania has left many more people uninsured.

Doctors think they are providing more care than patients need, and their reason is the need to practice defensive medicine.

Some doctors are refusing to treat kids who are not immunized. Hmm.

Healthy vending machines? Really? Maybe not.

Coffee may help women lower their risk of depression. Since coffee's generally not great for your health, this may boost the confidence of coffee drinkers. But if it helps depression in women, why not in men? I guess that's why I'm not a scientist!

And there you go -- today's highlights. Have a great day! Jennifer

Monday, September 26, 2011

Monday Musings

It's going to be a quick and short blog post today. I'm still recovering from Saturday's board meeting and open house, so I overslept a bit today. Here are what appear to be the big deal stories of the day:

Are we going to have a government shut-down after all? The House finally passed a proposal to fund the government through November 18, but it ties disaster relief to funding cuts, which the Dem Senate has already rejected. Will someone cave again, or are we going to the 11th hour once again? Congress had planned a week out of session this week, but instead, they will stay in session and try to work this out.

The super-committee's prospects of success are dimming, says the NY Times. The parties are digging in their heels -- the GOP says no new taxes; the White House says no deal without new taxes.

There were oral arguments on Friday in another federal Court of Appeals on the health reform law. There was some suggestion that the challenge might be premature since the individual mandate doesn't take effect until 2014. The case was brought by families who say health reform infringes on their religious freedom because they believe that God provides whatever is needed, so they don't get health care and shouldn't have to buy insurance. Um, if god makes all things, then didn't she make health reform?

How patients can learn to make better medication decisions. Very important story.

I reported last week that the Obama Administration seems to be putting the long-term care plan -- the CLASS Act -- that's part of health reform on the back burner. Some lawmakers aren't happy about that and are evaluating their strategy.

An oncology nurse writes about her father's death process, how to die well. Excellent piece.

Video-conferencing with your therapist? I don't think that would work for me. Not only are there the limitations set in the article, but doesn't body language count? I just think there's something to be lost by not being in the same room.

Kaiser Health News is running a three-day series on kids' care, focusing on children's hospitals, which have become quite profitable.

The 40th anniversary of Our Bodies, Ourselves. Most of you are too young to remember this, but it was the first inkling that women's health was different, that we needed to understand our bodies. It greatly contributed to the "women's lib" movement in 1971. Even today, it helps women understand how their bodies differ from men's.

And that's the fastest blog post ever, but I think I got the big stories and even a couple of small ones. Have a great day. I should be back to my regular schedule tomorrow. Meanwhile, have a great day. Jennifer

Friday, September 23, 2011


From Politico: The Democratic Senate on Friday blocked the House Republican funding bill on a 59-36 vote, intensifying a fight between the two bodies ahead of a Sept. 30 deadline to keep the government operating. The fight centers around disaster relief funding for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, whose coffers will dry up by early next week without additional aid. Republicans want that money to be partially offset with spending cuts to programs considered Democratic priorities. The bill - passed by the House early this morning on a 219-203 vote -- would keep the government funded through Nov. 18.

Seven days to a government shut-down. Jennifer

Finally Friday Edition

Getting ready for our annual in-person board meeting and our little open house tomorrow. But first, there's today to get through, and that starts with the news.

The House did finally pass a spending bill to fund the government until November 18, but they did it by cutting more spending, which cannot pass the Dem-controlled Senate. Gridlock again. And the new spending cuts? Again, to offset disaster relief -- we can't spend money to save struggling communities that have lost everything due to hurricanes and tornadoes without cutting something. In other words, they moved further away from compromise with the Senate. The Dems are clear -- they will not accept disaster relief offsets. And look at what disaster relief projects are being held up as a result of this politicking.

Some states are giving federal dollars for beefing up health insurance rate review to consumer groups, and insurers cry foul. The insurers say that this undermines the credibility of the consumer groups.

The super-committee is struggling with overhauling the tax code and asking whether tax cuts pay for themselves, as the GOP seems to believe. This is part of how we got into the mess we're in, with the Bush Administration convincing Congress that its tax cuts for the wealthy would stimulate the economy and, thus, pay for themselves. It didn't quite work. How could anybody not have noticed that? Meanwhile, Medicaid directors ask for more flexibility from the super-committee. License to slash benefits. A survey shows that Americans don't trust the super-committee. I'm with them.

The GOP Presidential debate gives you a good idea of where the poor will stand with a GOP president. Rick Perry wants to end Social Security. Newt Gingrich says it's wrong to pay people unemployment compensation for doing nothing.

The CLASS Act -- part of health reform that would have created a long-term care health insurance program -- has been put on hold. No surprise here; it's been widely reported that the funding isn't there. But still, it's too bad. It was near and dear to Ted Kennedy. That makes me think, what would Ted Kennedy have done with the partisan gridlock in Washington?

Dr. Pauline Chen explains how doctors' pay is set, contributing to the shortage of primary care physicians. Fascinating insight.

A new study undermines the theory that chronic fatigue syndrome is caused by a virus, dashing hopes that a cure was not far off.

Depression can lead to stroke. More proof of a mind-body connection, more justification for insurance coverage of mental health services to the same extent as physical (mental health parity).

Bedbugs are gross, but people are getting sick from the insecticide used to kill them. Ew.

And that's today's news. Have a great day and a great week-end. Jennifer

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Thursday Themes

It seems to me that the death penalty is the ultimate health care issue. I hope we will reflect on what we as a society just did, and keep doing.

In other news ..................

As reported late yesterday, the House rejected a measure that would have funded the government through November 18, largely because funds for disaster relief were tied to spending cuts -- a notion that offended both Dems and GOP. Another count-down to another shut-down. The Senate passed a bill last week that contained twice as much disaster relief. Will the House pass it? We shall see.

The Federal Reserve is shifting some debt around to push down long-term interest rates, only a day after the GOP called on them not to engage in any further stimulus.

Young adults are becoming insured at an unexpectedly fast pace as health reform allows them to stay on their parents' policies to age 26. One million young adults have become insured since this part of the law took effect about a year ago.

One of the Medicare proposals floating around has been to change Medigap policies so consumers have to pay more, thinking that they won't get unnecessary medical care as a result. Yesterday, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners urged against this bad policy, saying it will be disruptive to seniors.

Low income people on disability may, in some states, be on both Medicaid and Medicare. They are known as "dual eligibles." The failure of the two programs to coordinate has cost a ton of money. Congress is getting impatient with the inability of these two programs to get their act together and coordinate care. As much as $125 billion could be saved by better coordination.

Hundreds of people with disabilities protested yesterday against cuts to the Medicaid program on the federal level which, when combined with state cuts, would severely limit access to medical care for poor Americans.

Economists expect health care costs to grow at the slowest rate since 1997 next year -- but the cost to employees will still outpace any increase in their income.

Companies are pushing workers to use lower cost health care -- but will that sacrifice quality?

The 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act was intended to make new technology -- smart phones, tablets, etc. -- more accessible to the disabled. But manufacturers of technology are pushing back, urging the FCC to gut the law with regulations. Members of Congress are urging the FCC to resist these efforts and stay strong.

Health insurers in Connecticut deny coverage to up to one-third of the people who apply for individual coverage.

Wealthy donors contributed $42 million to the University of Chicago to create an institute to teach medical students how to better handle the doctor-patient relationship. Can you teach compassion? I hope so.

Meanwhile, hospitals are working on patient satisfaction, with one Florida children's hospital hiring Disney as consultants to teach them how to better keep patients happy.

GET YOUR FLU SHOT! I already got mine!

Wow -- busy news day! Have a great day! Jennifer

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Not this Again?!

The House has failed to pass a short-term budget that would have extended the September 30 deadline to November 18. Forty-eight Republicans voted with almost all of the Democrats, who are opposed to a little detail -- disaster relief funding was only included because it was offset against a spending cut to the program that funds fuel-efficient cars. Some of the more conservative Republicans voted against the measure because it did not cut spending enough.

Eight days to a government shut-down, folks. Jennifer

Hump Day Headlines

The GOP doesn't like the idea of a millionaires' tax. Of course, part of that is a desire to protect their own wealth. The GOP wants the Federal Reserve to stop engaging in any stimulus activity. And more here. The GOP will only pay for disaster relief if it's offset by reducing funding for fuel efficient vehicles. And because it's attached to a continuing resolution to keep the government open without a budget, it may lead to a government shut-down. And the GOP cuts spending on nutrition for Women, Infants and Children, Pell Grants, low income legal assistance, and Head Start. Who is it exactly who's engaged in class warfare?

Two conservative Reps are holding up the Health and Human Services budget bill. They want deeper cuts, of course, in line with the Ryan budget which, as you will recall, ended Medicare as we know it and turned Medicaid into a block grant program.

The President and others who propose cuts to Medicaid and Medicare providers believe they can do so without hurting patients. Not so.

The federal government has given 29 states grants to boost oversight of insurance companies. 20 of those states already have laws allowing them to challenge or even veto rate increases. Here in Connecticut, we had a law, and the Governor vetoed it. Now we have a "deal" that allows the Healthcare Advocate to request a hearing when there's a rate increase over 15%. Under federal law, insurers have to provide justification for rate increases over 10%. So most insurers are raising rates 9.9% -- but Anthem is going for 12.9%, still under the 15% threshold to have a hearing.

States that haven't taken steps to create an exchange may face the feds stepping in and doing it for them. So the feds proposed a state-federal partnership, and the states seem unhappy with that, too.

The Washington Post has a special section on global health and noncommunicable (chronic) illnesses. Check it out. Very interesting.

Seniors are volunteering to help root out Medicare fraud, and teach other seniors what to look for.

A young autistic man struggles to make a place for himself in the adult world. Poignant story.

A week or so ago, there was a story that insulin might help Alzheimer's. Now, a study has found diabetes is tied to an increased risk of Alzheimer's. Sounds like the researchers are narrowing in on something.

How to make the most of a pediatrician visit. Great advice.

And that's it for now. Have a GREAT day! Jennifer

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

From the White House

The federal government wants to re-invent how it delivers information and services online, and we need your help. We want to bring the best of the web to the .gov domain. So share your ideas to help us answer: What practices, policies, and principles should guide federal websites. You can submit ideas on any of the campaigns from Sept 19 - Sept 30, but we will also be hosting one hour dialogue-a-thons with our discussion catalysts on each campaign. You can also follow comments about the dialogue on Twitter under the hashtag #dotgov.

Accessibility Dialogue-A-Thon

Monday September 26, 3:00 PM ET.

We invite you to participate in the one-hour long, live "dialog-a-thon" on Universal Access to have a targeted, real-time conversation with a critical mass of participants. Sharron Rush will be hosting the accessibility dialog-a-thon on Monday, September 26, from 3-4 pm ET. If you are unable to join, you can still participate in the National Dialog for the full 2 weeks. The dialogue-a-thon is a time we've devoted to specifically addressing ideas for improving accessibility of federal websites.

More information:

Two -Week National Dialogue on Improving Federal Websites

The National Dialogue for Improving Federal Websites is sponsored by the White House and the U.S. General Services Administration. The dialogue is a critical part of the .gov Reform Initiative launched in June 2011, to streamline how we manage federal websites and provide a better customer experience when people access government information and services online. The online conversation lasts from September 19 through September 30, 2011.

The online conversation features eight different discussion areas open for two weeks, including one on accessibility. You will have the opportunity to submit and vote on ideas for improving how people access government information and services online, with different devices and assistive technology. We hope this conversation will complement the ongoing work of our group and other public discussions that have happened recently around accessibility.

Please spread the word about the National Dialogue to your networks, friends, and colleagues. We're looking for a very broad and diverse set of ideas.

The 508 compliant IdeaScale platform is being used to host the Dialogue. Our 508 specialist has rigorously tested the platform; however, if you find things that aren't accessible, please let us know and we'll work to address them.

The purpose is to allow people to submit and vote on ideas for improving various aspects of improving federal websites, such as: content, search, usability, accessibility, social media, multilingual content, and online services. The .gov Task Force will review the ideas and consider them as they develop a National Web Strategy and make recommendations for streamlining federal websites, strengthening federal web policy, and improving citizens' experience with federal websites.

We know there is a goldmine of good ideas from the community, so we hope--and expect-- that you'll actively participate in the discussion and share your expertise and knowledge. We want to hear what's working well, what can be improved, innovative ways to rethink the federal web, and specific examples you have from your industry or organization.

You can also follow comments about the dialogue on Twitter under the hashtag #dotgov.

Many thanks for helping promote this. We hope you can chime in to submit, vote, and comment on ideas:

Tuesday Tidbits

It's PJ20 today -- and if you don't know what that means, well, you're missing the best rock and roll band on the planet. Not to mention my dear friend Mike McCready and his amazing wife Ashley, who are instrumental in keeping Advocacy for Patients going -- not just through fundraising, but by keeping me energized and focused. This is their day. But first, the news:

The President has drawn a line in the sand: If Congress sends him a deficit reduction plan of all cuts and no new tax revenue, he will veto it. About time. However, he also would cut Medicare payments to some providers and increase Medigap premiums, deductibles and copays. Once again, there is this pernicious theory that Medicare recipients use less health care than they need, so if we create disincentives for them to use care, they will spend less without compromising their health. This is so wrong. People will get sicker and poorer.

Preventive care is free under health reform, but what counts as preventive care?

Health reform will establish a minimum benefits level. The Institute of Medicine is supposed to make recommendations first, and then the Department of Health and Human Services will issue regulations. This will be a political hot potato. So will HHS release the regulations before the election in November 2012?

Four insurers -- Kaiser, UnitedHealthgroup, Humana and Aetna -- will provide claims data to researchers. The hope is that this information will help us better understand the rising cost of health care.

Employers are cutting disability benefits and shifting costs to employees. However, most workers don't have disability insurance. We all should -- but this is another kind of insurance you can't possibly get with a pre-existing condition except through a group plan.

HHS has issued regulations that would give patients direct access to their lab results. Currently, in most states, you can't get your lab results unless your doctor writes the order saying that. But under this new rule, patients could get their results right away.

Noncommunicable diseases -- heart disease, lung disease, mental health, diabetes and cancer - will cost $47 trillion by 2030, according to the World Health Federation.

When people who should know better, like Michelle Bachmann, make false statements about a fictional danger of vaccines, they succeed in discouraging people from being vaccinated -- which is a real problem.

New rules for organ transplants have critics concerned that people will be treated like tissue banks. Are you an organ donor?

Anthem canceled a policy because the woman was paying with her credit card automatically -- Anthem stopped accepting automatic credit card payments August 1.

There are 100 million unmarried people in America, but we have a pro-marriage bias, and the unmarried miss out on some benefits.

And that's it for now. Have a great day! Jennifer

Monday, September 19, 2011

Huh? Again!

So John Fleming, GOP Congressman from Louisianna made $6.3 million last year -- which, by his calculations, netted him $400,000 AFTER "feeding his family" -- and he can't afford a tax increase. AND ... get this ... he's complaining that people are bashing him for being so successful and ... you guessed it ... creating jobs. Yup, we have to protect the rich because they are the job creators.

All day every day, I talk to people who have nothing -- no jobs, no insurance, no bank accounts, no nothing -- and this man has the gall to complain that he only netted $400,000?!

I am beyond disgusted. Jennifer


GOP-ers are upset about President Obama's proposal to tax the wealthy, calling it class warfare. However, they disagree with his proposal to extend payroll tax cuts not only to workers but also to small employers. So it's class warfare when the President wants to tax the rich, but it's not class warfare when the GOP wants to protect the rich and raise taxes on workers.

To whom does that make sense? Jennifer

Monday Musings

I'm so tired. I overslept this morning. Had fun speaking to the Manhattan Chapter of the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation of America yesterday, but my body really notices when I don't get my full week-end in -- and I have to work this Saturday, too. Oh, well. First, a quick read on the news:

The President will offer a plan to cut the deficit by $3 trillion. Half will come in the form of tax increases on the wealthy, but there are steep cuts to Medicaid and Medicare, as well. The word is that the Medicare cuts will NOT come from raising the eligibility age. $1.1 trillion comes from ending the war in Iraq. The President is forecasted to announce that he will veto any deficit reduction plan that doesn't balance cuts against revenue. The GOP already are calling this class warfare. But cutting spending on the poor and seniors through cuts to Medicare and Medicaid would seem to balance out tax increases on the rich -- everyone hurts. And the high income tax - known as the Buffett Rule (after Warren Buffett, who's been leading a charge among millionaires and billionaires to advocate making them pay their fair share) -- says that the rich shouldn't pay tax at a lower rate than their employees.

It's almost Medicare open enrollment time. How to shop for a Medigap plan? Read away!

The feds are getting worried that states are not doing what they need to do to set up exchanges in time for enrollment in October 2013, but rather than take over the job in those states, they are pushing state-federal partnerships.

A pilot program has paramedics checking on the chronically ill before they call for an ambulance. I'm not sure this is the most cost-effective way to avoid emergencies, but the concept of getting to people before an emergency is a good one.

Schools struggle on how to deal with "new" disabilities like chronic fatigue syndrome, which result in many absences. I don't know -- we work with schools on issues like this every day. It's not difficult if you want to do it.

A Princeton economist (not Paul Krugman) explains the role of prices in health care spending.

Virtual colonoscopy -- a tool whose time has not quite come. But I can't wait until it does!

And that, my friends, is Monday's news. Have a great day. Jennifer

Friday, September 16, 2011

Finally Friday Edition

Short week-end for me -- I'll be speaking to the Manhattan Chapter of the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation of America on Sunday. But I'll take even one day off. But before I get there, here's the news:

I'd like to celebrate a group called the Caring Collaborative -- they help each other out, pick up their meds, cook a meal, accompany each other to the hospital -- making life a little less lonely. Now, if only all of us would do this. If only.

In contrast, there was Speaker Boehner telling the super-committee that the GOP will not accept any tax increases. He's vetoed the revenue side of the equation before the committee ever did a thing. So the gridlock is back, making it much less likely that a deal can be made. Meanwhile, the President has taken Social Security cuts off the table.

Premiums for Medicare Advantage Plans are dropping. Don't forget -- you get what you pay for. But really, this proves that the cuts to these Plans that were part of health reform did NOT make things more difficult for seniors, who are enrolling at increasing rates. Meanwhile, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners is asking Congress not to change Medigap plans. There has been some push towards higher copays and deductibles to discourage Seniors from getting so much health care. Yeah, you read that right.

Health reform regulations that determine which plans are grandfathered and, thus, exempt from parts of the law are under House GOP attack. They want more plans to be able to opt out of the reform requirements. Just so we're clear, the requirements affected by grandfathering are things like the phase-out of annual limits on benefits, the new appeal requirements -- in other words, consumer protections.

The National Practitioners Databank -- the database of doctors who have been disciplined or sued for malpractice -- no longer is available for public access. The public access version always had names and addresses hidden; it was used by reporters and researchers for statistical purposes. And now it can't be used at all.

In a fascinating study, researchers found that by exploring the genome of a family of four, they were able to make very specific findings, including the daughter's tendency to blood clots, allowing her to get preventive care.

A lawsuit has been filed on behalf of African-American children who were knowingly exposed to lead paint as part of a research study.

"Venture philanthropy" -- a wealthy family making donations to try to find medical cures -- turns to chronic fatigue syndrome. This is great news.

And that's today's news. Have a great day and a great week-end. Jennifer

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Thursday Themes

I was actually going to let myself sleep late and skip blogging this morning, but my gut would not cooperate. So here's the news:

The President is facing opposition to his jobs bill not only from the GOP, but from Dems who are afraid to do something that looks like stimulus. However, poverty is spreading and people are feeling such pain - I honestly don't understand why there's opposition to providing help that may save lives.

Federal employee labor unions are preparing to fight cuts to employee pensions, benefits that they are afraid the super-committee will make. Meanwhile, the President is going to present a detailed plan to deal with the debt next Monday. It's likely to include raising Medicare eligibility from age 65 to 67, but the word is that he will not put Social Security on the table since it's not contributing to the debt. The super-committee is clear, though, that the public's confidence in Congress hangs in the balance. And Speaker Boehner will urge the committee to reform the tax code -- by lowering corporate tax rates, not raising revenue. And without a 2012 budget, Congress is working on a stopgap measure that would fund government -- with some cuts -- through mid-November.

The insurance industry and large provider groups, along with large consumer-based organizations like AARP and Families USA, have teamed to create Enroll America, which will help to get people enrolled in new health plans starting in 2014. They know it's better for them if everybody enrolls. It's better for everybody. So we're in with this. More about Enroll America here. Meanwhile, in California, as the state struggles with budget deficits, they are asking permission to cut Medicaid for many in the state -- and this could affect its implementation of health reform.

The World Health Organization again warns of increased deaths due to noncommunicable diseases -- in other words, chronic illness. This is a world-wide problem that can be addressed, but no government seems prepared to do so.

The wonderful Dr. Pauline Chen writes about the stresses of being a doctor. If you've been following this blog, you know I'm a fan of Dr. Chen's. This essay talks about how difficult it can be to respect patient choices when you know they're wrong, at least medically. It's good to know that doctors (or some doctors) struggle over these issues.

Pat Robertson -- televangelist and protector of all things moral and decent -- says it's okay to divorce a spouse with Alzheimer's. After all, Alzheimer's is a kind of death. This is Christian? I am no authority, but I think not.

Stuart Taylor -- long-time court watcher -- handicaps the health reform lawsuits and predicts that the Supreme Court will uphold the individual mandate.

Remember several months ago, when the USDA scrapped the food pyramid and went to the healthy plate? Well, now, Harvard has come up with an even healthier plate.

A new report says hospitals' performance has improved, but the big name hospitals aren't on the list, so that makes you wonder about the report to some extent.

And that's the news today. Have a great day! Jennifer

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Hump Day Headlines

The super-committee met yesterday and heard testimony from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office saying that cuts in spending will harm the economic recovery. Gee -- how many times have I said that? No matter -- the deficit hawks will push to shrink the size of government regardless of the cost. For them, it's not about budgets; it's about ideology. Dems are afraid that, with President Obama opening the door to Medicare and Medicaid cuts, the super-committee will end up cutting far more than the President suggests. The super-committee now has its own website where you can share your ideas for fixing the economy.

One in six Americans live in poverty. 50 million people remain uninsured. And the deficit is top priority? The President says this is not who we are as a people. Um, I think it's how some of us are. The President's jobs bill would raise revenue by taxing health benefits paid to people earning more than $200,000 per year.

The GOP Presidential candidates have placed the HPV vaccine squarely at issue. The vaccine prevents the human papilloma virus from being spread. It is spread through sexual conduct. Rick Perry signed an Executive Order requiring teens to be vaccinated. But he's taking heat because this somehow encourages sexual activity in teens. And it puts government in the bedroom. Utterly ridiculous. It's one of the few things Gov Perry has done that actually promotes health (here's a snippet of his record on health care), and he's taking heat for it. Of course, it doesn't help him that the vaccine's maker is one of his biggest donors. But there's real danger here that this "discussion" will result in fewer teens getting the vaccine.

States struggling with their budgets are embracing Medicaid managed care. No matter that, in states where it's been done already like Connecticut, it's been shown to cost more than state-run Medicaid. This is about privatization, not cost cutting.

Insurers fought health reform, but now they're working as part of a coalition to get the uninsured enrolled. Others in this coalition include providers, hospitals, and large consumer-based groups like AARP and Families USA.

The Senate Dems finally moved the disaster aid bill with the help of 8 Republican Senators.

Here's one way to cut spending -- the Administration's newest program to stop improper Medicaid payments.

366 million people now have diabetes.

A Pennsylvania judge ruled that health reform's individual mandate is unconstitutional. With three Courts of Appeals already ruling on the law, which is heading to the Supreme Court, this latest ruling has little significance. However, the judge also struck down the requirement that insurers cover people with pre-existing conditions, finding that the two are closely linked. This is a new and dangerous twist.

The science of laughter -- and why it makes us feel so good!

Abuse of Xanax has led one clinic in Louisville to cut off all supplies. Seems drastic?

And there it is, today's news. Have a great day! Jennifer