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Learning From Missed Opportunities To Diagnose US Ebola Patient Zero


October 30th, 2014

Over a century ago American physician Richard Cabot wrote about misdiagnoses, recognizing: “A goodly number of ‘classic’ time-honored mistakes in diagnosis are familiar to all experienced physicians because we make them again and again. Some of these we can avoid; others are almost inevitable, but all should be borne in mind and marked on medical maps by a danger-signal of some kind: ‘In this vicinity look out for hidden rocks,’ or ‘Dangerous turn here, run slow.’”

Ironically, despite the dramatic changes in the nature of medical practice over the last 100 years, Cabot’s words ring more true than ever today. This has become especially clear in the last few weeks since Ebola first touched US shores, uncovering one of the biggest ongoing vulnerabilities of outpatient medicine – misdiagnosis.

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North Carolina Dental Board v. FTC: A Bright Line On Whiter Teeth?


October 30th, 2014

On October 14, 2014, the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments in North Carolina Board of Dental Examiners vs. Federal Trade Commission.  The case does not involve the Affordable Care Act, but it goes to the heart of the professional self-regulatory paradigm that has governed the U.S. health care system for more than a century.  The specific legal question under review is the standard for determining when a state professional licensing board’s activities are subject to scrutiny for anticompetitive effect under the federal antitrust laws.

Antitrust law applies to private anticompetitive conduct.  Congress did not intend to interfere with state regulation that limits or even eliminates competitions.  As long as states do so using public agencies and officials, they are on safe ground.  If a state empowers private parties to administer such regulation, however, it not only must “clearly articulate” its intent to diminish competition, but also must “actively supervise” the conduct of the private parties.  In previous cases, the Supreme Court developed and elaborated this two-part test, which is called the “state action doctrine.”

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Health Affairs Web First: Vietnam’s Health Care System, Explained By Its Minister Of Health


October 30th, 2014

In August, Vietnam’s Minister of Health, Nguyen Thi Kim Tien, was interviewed for Health Affairs by Tsung-Mei Cheng, recently released as a Health Affairs Web First.

Among the topics discussed was an overview of the unique characteristics of Vietnam’s health system; its strengths and weaknesses; health financing reform aimed at reaching the goal of universal health coverage; the prevention and control of infectious diseases; and how Vietnam has performed in achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

Cheng is a health policy research analyst at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University, in New Jersey. Health Affairs has previously published Cheng’s interviews with other world health ministers, including Thomas Zeltner of Switzerland (2010) and Chen Zhu of China (2012).

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Poverty’s Association With Poor Health Outcomes and Health Disparities


October 30th, 2014

A recent ecological study by Carl Stevens, David Schriger, Brian Raffetto, Anna Davis, David Zingmond, and Dylan H. Roby, published in the August issue of Health Affairs, showed significant associations between neighborhood poverty and diabetes-related lower extremity amputations (LEA) in the state of California, which adds to the growing evidence that where you live (not just how you live) may directly impact your health.

The authors linked data from multiple sources (i.e. California Health Information Survey, Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, health facility discharge data) and used geographic information system (GIS) analyses and regression analyses to identify amputation “hot spots” and uncovered a 10-fold variation in LEA rates between low-income and high-income neighborhoods.

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Health Affairs Briefing: Collaborating For Community Health


October 29th, 2014

Policymakers are paying increasing attention to the relationship between the characteristics of communities and the health of the people living in them. The November 2014 issue of Health Affairs, “Collaborating For Community Health,” examines new possibilities created by alignment of the fields of health and community development.

These possibilities come from both sides, including recent changes in the community development field that have set the stage for the new focus on improving health, as well as new approaches to health care financing that create incentives for improving health outcomes.

You are invited to join us on Wednesday, November 5, at a forum featuring authors from the new issue at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.

WHEN:
Wednesday, November 5, 2014
9:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.

WHERE:
National Press Club
529 14th Street NW
Washington, DC, 13th Floor

REGISTER NOW!

Follow live Tweets from the briefing @Health_Affairs, and join in the conversation with #HA_CommunityHealth.

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Grand-Aides And Health Policy: Reducing Readmissions Cost-Effectively


October 29th, 2014

Hospital readmissions for the same condition within 30 days likely should not occur, and most often indicate system failure. Readmitted patients are either discharged too early, should be placed into palliative care or hospice, or most often are victims of a failure in transition of care from hospital to home. Most hospitals and physicians would like to eliminate such readmissions, particularly now that payers like Medicare are penalizing hospitals for high rates of readmission. Numerous approaches have been tried to reduce readmissions, with recent published improvements between a 2 percent and 26 percent reduction.

The Grand-Aides® program features rigorous training of nurse aides or community health workers to work as nurse extenders, 5 Grand-Aides to one RN or NP supervisor, with approximately 50 patients per Grand-Aide per year. The Grand-Aides visit at home daily for the first 5 days post-discharge and then as ordered by the supervisor (e.g. 3 days the next week) for at least 30 days, extending as long as desired.

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Ebola And EHRs: An Unfortunate And Critical Reminder


October 28th, 2014

The Dallas hospital communication lapse that led to the discharge of a Liberian man with Ebola symptoms is an example of the failure of American health care system to effectively share health information, even within single institutions. It is not possible to know whether a faster response would have saved Thomas Eric Duncan’s life or reduced risk to the community and health workers.

What is clear is that rapid sharing of information is one of the elements critical to halting the spread of Ebola. Had all members of the initial care team known of the patient’s recent arrival from an Ebola-stricken country and acted appropriately to quarantine Mr. Duncan, this would have limited the chance of exposing the public and enabled faster preventive protocols for treating personnel.

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Lessons from Ebola: The Infectious Disease Era, And The Need To Prepare, Will Never Be Over


October 28th, 2014

With the wall-to-wall news coverage of Ebola recently, it’s hard for many to distinguish fact from fiction and to really understand the risk the disease poses and how prepared we are to fight it.

Fighting infectious diseases requires constant vigilance. Along with Ebola, health officials around the globe are closely watching other emerging threats: MERS-CoV, pandemic flu strains, Marburg, Chikungunya and Enterovirus D68. The best defense to all of these threats is a good offense — detecting, treating and containing as quickly and effectively as possible.

And yet, we have consistently degraded our ability to respond to these new, emerging and re-emerging threats by underfunding and undercutting existing capabilities and expecting the country to ramp up overnight when new threats emerge.

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Adult Conversation On High-Priced Drugs? Don’t Hold Your Breath (But Hang In There) …


October 27th, 2014

The benevolent identity of the health care enterprise tends to moderate disagreements and keep them under a big tent of shared goals. In the case of very high prices for powerful new drugs, however, the commons gets stretched painfully thin. Drug companies which see themselves as pioneers are accused of being merely greedy. Cost-conscious payers and regulators are impugned for depriving patients of life-conserving treatment breakthroughs. A divisive political undercurrent often threatens to obtrude. Altogether, a tough environment for rational policy assessment.

Credit is due, accordingly, to the Brookings Institution, for putting a wide array of views on display at its October 1 forum on “the cost and value of biomedical innovation,” which was jointly sponsored by the Schaeffer Center at the University of Southern California. With the head of Gilead Sciences at one pole of the discussion and a leading generics industry attorney at the other, the discussion didn’t lack for strongly-held views, strongly stated.

But the tone was civil, a lot of useful information was exchanged, and the audience went away carrying a meta-message about the importance of maintaining an “adult conversation” on a subject of such obvious importance and difficulty.

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The Latest Health Wonk Review


October 24th, 2014

Louise Norris at Colorado Health Insurance Insider provides this week’s “falling leaves” edition of the Health Wonk Review. Jennifer’s insightful read includes a Health Affairs Blog post from J. Stephen Morrison on the U.S. Ebola response and the role of CDC head Thomas Friedan.

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Study Draws Misleading Conclusions Regarding 340B Program


October 23rd, 2014

After reading Rena Conti and Peter Bach’s recent study on hospitals’ purported misuse of the 340B Drug Discount Program, published in the October issue of Health Affairs, I had two questions:  first, how are the authors substantiating their conclusions? Second, what kind of sensational sound bites are going to come from this?

These are the questions that responsible researchers must ask themselves so there is not a false representation of what they did, what they found, and how the actual findings compare to their research intentions. Researchers have to be equally precise in both their statistical analysis AND in the discussion of the results.

I was tempted to run through several counterpoints that my 15 years of 340B policy and research experience yields, but was tempered by both the word count limitations on a blog post and the straightforwardness of my main objection. Simply put, the authors’ conclusions are not substantiated by the data collected. Conti and Bach say that they “found” that hospitals “served communities that were wealthier and had higher rates of insurance” and “generated profits.” They did not find this.

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Narrative Matters: Sensitizing Doctors To Patients With Disabilities


October 23rd, 2014

In the October Health Affairs Narrative Matters essay, a doctor who stutters confronts the stigma against patients—and providers—with disabilities. Leana Wen’s article is freely available to all readers, or you can listen to the podcast.

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Tax-Exempt Status For Nonprofit Hospitals Under The ACA: Where Are The Final Treasury/IRS Rules?


October 23rd, 2014

Months have now stretched into years, and there still remains no sign of final Treasury/IRS regulations interpreting the Affordable Care Act (ACA)’s provisions covering the expanded obligations of nonprofit hospitals that seek tax-exempt status under §501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.

The ACA amendments do not depend on formal agency policy to take effect. Nonetheless, Congress directed the Treasury Secretary to issue regulations and guidance necessary to carry out the reforms (26 U.S.C. §501(r)(7)). To this end, two important sets of proposed rules were issued: the first in June, 2012; and the second, in April 2013. While an informative IRS website lists various proposed rules and guidelines important to nonprofit hospitals, final rules seem to have performed a disappearing act.

Apparently recognizing the problems created by its delays, the agency has gone so far as to issue a special Notice letting nonprofit hospitals (and presumably the public) know that they can rely on its proposed rules. But this assurance overlooks the fact that the proposed rules themselves contained crucial areas in which final agency policy has not yet been adopted.

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Health Affairs Web First: Noneconomic Damage Caps Reduced Medical Malpractice Payments, With Varied Effects


October 22nd, 2014

With the 2014 election weeks away, a provision of California’s Proposition 46, raising the cap on medical malpractice payments for noneconomic damages, has been in the news. This provision would increase the payment cap from $250,000 to $1.1 million. A new study, being released today by Health Affairs as a Web First, sheds light on the potential effect of this proposition.

Study authors Seth A. Seabury, Eric Helland, and Anupam B. Jena looked at the impact of medical malpractice reforms on the average size of malpractice payments in several physician specialties and compared how the effects differed according to the size of the cap. It found that caps reduced the average payments by 15 percent compared to no cap—and a $250,000 cap reduced average payments by 20 percent.

On the other hand, a less restrictive $500,000 cap had no significant effect. The authors also found specialty variations, with the largest impact involving pediatricians and the smallest for claims of surgical subspecialties and ophthalmologists.

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Implementing Health Reform: The Qualified Health Plan Federal Exchange Participation Agreement And More


October 21st, 2014

CMS continues to put the pieces into place that are needed for the launch of the 2015 coverage year.  On October 16, 2014, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services released at its REGTAP.info website the certification agreement and privacy and security agreement that qualified health plan (QHP) insurers must sign with CMS to access the federally facilitated exchange (FFE), the federally facilitated SHOP (FF-SHOP), and CMS Data Services Hub.  The agreement focuses primarily on obligations that the QHP insurer undertakes to protect personally identifiable information and to ensure secure communications with CMS, although it also addresses the effective date and termination of the agreement and a few other issues.  Most of the terms of the agreement are unremarkable, and this post will only comment on a few.

QHP insurers undertake under the agreement to protect personally identifiable information and to ensure secure communications with CMS in conformity with applicable laws, regulations, and standards.  They must also ensure that their contractors and downstream entities comply with these requirements.  QHP insurers agree to report any personally identifiable information incidents or breaches to CMS within 72 to 96 hours.  This is a far cry from the one-hour breach reporting requirement proposed by CMS last year but never finalized, but perhaps recognizes the difficult of identifying and assessing a security breach.

The agreement expressly recognizes that QHP insurers have developed their products based on the assumption that advance premium tax credits and cost-sharing reduction payments will be available through the marketplace and that QHP insurers could have cause to terminate the agreement if this assumption ceases to be valid.  This could be interpreted as a reference to the Halbig/King litigation which currently threatens the availability of tax credits and cost-sharing reduction payments through the FFE, but could also have been included in recognition of the likely Republican takeover of the Senate and the possibility that the Republicans may accomplish through budget reconciliation or otherwise their longstanding goal of repealing the ACA.  As the agreement is renewable from year to year, this clause may contemplate contingencies in the indefinite as well as the near future

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Enrolling College Students In Health Insurance: Lessons From California (Part 2)


October 21st, 2014

Editor’s note: As we approach the beginning of the second open enrollment period under the Affordable Care Act, Walter Zelman describes an effort he led during last year’s initial open enrollment period to enroll students in the California State University (CSU) system in coverage. Part 1 of this post provided background on the CSU system and the enrollment effort, the CSU Health Insurance Education Project, as well as a discussion of what worked well. Part 2, below, addresses what worked less well, as well as project results, lessons and policy implications, and next steps.

In addition to Zelman, authors of this post include Wendy Lee, now in a Masters of Public Health Program at Johns Hopkins; Natasha Buransombati, now in a graduate program in Nursing and Public Health at the University of Seattle in Washington; and Carla Bracamonte, now in an MPH program at California State University, Fullerton. As CSU students, Lee and Buransombati served as regional coordinators for HIEP and Bracamonte served as a coordinator, CSU Los Angeles.

IV.  What Worked Less Well

Assessments as to what did not work must be rendered with caution. In most cases lack of success may have been due to lack of emphasis or time, to the relative inexperience of student educators, or the failure of project leaders to follow-up aggressively with CSU or administrative personnel.

Campus groups, social media, and web pages

Most striking and disappointing, was the difficulty in engaging campus groups. Many seemed supportive of the mission. But, in the end, most were unable to commit time and resources to the project, even after repeated engagement by project representatives. Most campus groups had specific goals and agendas, and promoting insurance coverage to students was not one of them. More time or resources might have produced more campus organization support, but these were not available.

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The $500 Billion Medicare Slowdown: A Story About Part D


October 21st, 2014

A great deal of analysis has been published on the causes of the health care spending slowdown system-wide — including in the pages of Health Affairs. Much attention in particular has focused on the remarkable slowdown in Medicare spending over the past few years, and rightfully so: Spending per beneficiary actually shrank (!) by one percent this year (or grew only one percent if one removes the effects of temporary policy changes).

Yet the disproportionate role played by prescription drug spending (or Part D) has seemingly escaped notice. Despite constituting barely more than 10 percent of Medicare spending, our analysis shows that Part D has accounted for over 60 percent of the slowdown in Medicare benefits since 2011 (beyond the sequestration contained in the 2011 Budget Control Act).

Through April of this year, the last time the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released detailed estimates of Medicare spending, CBO has lowered its projections of total spending on Medicare benefits from 2012 through 2021 by $370 billion, excluding sequestration savings. The $225 billion of that decline accounted for by Part D represents an astounding 24 percent of Part D spending. (By starting in 2011, this analysis excludes the direct impact of various spending reductions in the Affordable Care Act (ACA), although it could still reflect some ACA savings to the extent that the Medicare reforms have controlled costs better than originally anticipated.) Additionally, sequestration is responsible for $75 billion of reduced spending, and increased recoveries of improper payments amount to $85 billion, bringing the total ten-year Medicare savings to $530 billion.

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Resources Don’t Solve Design Flaws


October 21st, 2014

The first three sessions of a conference I recently attended tackled some complex and important questions: How do we extend health insurance to people such as migrant and informal workers who don’t fit neatly into mainstream coverage programs? As we increase our investment in primary care, how do we assure that the performance of the primary care system is at the highest possible level? What types of evidence should we use as we make decisions in a dynamic health care system with limited opportunities for “gold standard” randomized controlled trials?

These are excellent questions, and they were perfect topics for a cutting-edge conference discussing the challenges facing the U.S. health care system.

But this conference was not about the U.S. health care system. These were opening “satellite” sessions at the Third Global Symposium on Health Systems Research held in Cape Town, South Africa.

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Enrolling College Students In Health Insurance: Lessons From California (Part 1)


October 20th, 2014

Editor’s note: As we approach the beginning of the second open enrollment period under the Affordable Care Act, Walter Zelman describes an effort he led during last year’s initial open enrollment period to enroll students in the California State University system in coverage. Part 1 below provides background on the CSU system and the enrollment effort, the CSU Health Insurance Education Project, as well as a discussion of what went well. Part 2, which will appear tomorrow, addresses what did not go so well, as well as project results, lessons and policy implications, and next steps.

In addition to Zelman, authors of this post include Wendy Lee, now in a Masters of Public Health Program at Johns Hopkins; Natasha Buransombati, now in a graduate program in Nursing and Public Health at the University of Seattle in Washington; and Carla Bracamonte, now in an MPH program at California State University, Fullerton. As CSU students, Lee and Buransombati served as regional coordinators for HIEP and Bracamonte served as a coordinator, CSU Los Angeles.

The California State University (CSU) system is the largest public university system in the nation, as well as one of the most diverse. The CSU Health Insurance Education Project (HIEP) received a $1.25 million grant to educate students in the CSU system about the Affordable Care Act and health coverage options through California’s new marketplace, Covered California. A pre-open enrollment, multi-campus poll found that approximately 25-30 percent of CSU students were uninsured, primarily because they could not afford insurance.

The project placed student educators on the CSU’s 15 largest campus. Over a seven-month period they gave approximately 1500 classroom presentations, and conducted 70 forums and 300 enrollment events. University administrators sent out over 1 million emails to CSU students. Project strategy emphasized a focus on affordability, the need for insurance (accidents happen), and the simplicity of the enrollment process.

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Thomas Frieden And The U.S. Ebola Response


October 20th, 2014

On Friday, October 17, the White House named Ron Klain the new Ebola czar. This move followed a storm of criticism in the media, on Capitol Hill, and elsewhere. The criticism focused on the multiple mistakes made by the U.S. agencies and Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas in the weeks since Thomas Eric Duncan, infected with Ebola, arrived in the United States on September 19. Duncan set off a disturbing train of events that included secondary infections of two nurses, Nina Pham and Amber Vinson, along with the lingering threat of additional infections.

That threat widened rapidly over the course of this past week. Dozens of health workers in Dallas remain under some form of quarantine or very close monitoring. Contact tracing revealed 300 persons who had possibly come in contact with Vinson during her Columbus Day weekend travel from Dallas to Cleveland and back. Schools were subsequently shuttered in Ohio and Texas.

Most remarkable, within a month the controversy surrounding the threat of Ebola to Americans had mushroomed into a political emergency for the Obama presidency itself, only a few tense weeks before the November 4 elections. Calls escalated for the appointment of an Ebola czar and a travel ban on persons originating in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, the root sources of the Ebola emergency. A special measure of criticism was reserved for the Obama administration’s lead face in the U.S. response, Dr. Thomas Frieden, head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In the words of one observer, this week became full of “recriminations, political showboating… and panicked overreactions.”

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