House Committee Likely to OK Major Health Cuts This Week

The House Energy and Commerce Committee is expected to move legislation this week that would make major reductions in health care spending, according to an internal memorandum from the committee. (click here). Included in the cuts: eliminate the Prevention and Public Health Fund ($16+ billion); Rebase hospital disproportionate care allotments; repeal state’s Maintenance of Effort requirements; lower the provider tax threshold to 5.5% from 6%; and more. While expected to pass, it is unlikely to move in the Senate as is. But it could be used in negotiations later this year as part of a year end physician payment fix.

GAO Says Medicare Advantage Bonus Program Should Be Eliminated: NY Times Story

A new GAO report to be released today says the Medicare Advantage bonus program is a waste of money and should be scrapped, according to a New York Times article today. The story says the GAO “said the project ‘dwarfs all other Medicare demonstrations’ in its impact on the budget, but is so poorly designed that researchers could not tell whether the bonus payments led to improved care.” Click here to read the NY Times story.

Government Says DME Program Saved $200 Million and Will Expand

The federal government’s durable medical equipment competitive bidding program has saved taxpayers more than $200 million its first year, according to a report last week from CMS. The program was operating in only 9 metropolitan areas. CMS plans to significantly expand the program and believe it can save $42.8 billion over the next years. Click here to see the announcement. Click here to read about the program’s expansion plans.

Home Health Agency Comparisons Now Available on CMS Website

CMS announced last week that its provider compare website now includes home health agency information. Already posted is information on nursing homes, physicians, dialysis, hospitals and Medicare Advantage plans. It is a very detailed comparison of agencies serving in every zip code. Click here to see how your agency compares with others in your service area.

98% of Anesthesiologists Report Drug Shortages

Drug shortages are becoming more acute, according to new government data. Anesthesiologists conducted their own survey and found 97.6 percent of respondents reported they are currently experiencing a shortage of at least one anesthesia drug. What were the consequences?  66.7% of patients experienced a less optimal outcome (e.g. post-op nausea and vomiting); 52.8% of patients experienced longer OR/recovery times and 27.5% of patients complained. Click here for more. Click here for the FDA’s most current drug shortage list.

CDC: Central Line Infections Down

For the first time the CDC last week released a standardized infection ratio for central line-associated bloodstream infections for each of the 50 states. As seen in its report, 21 states had significant decreases in central line-associated bloodstream infections between 2009 and 2010, which has contributed to the progress seen on a national level. click here for the report.

HHS’ HAI Plan Updated; Comments Sought

HHS posted on line last week an updated National Action Plan to eliminate healthcare-associated infections for public comment. The update confirms progress in the effort to make healthcare safer and less costly by reducing preventable complications of care, including healthcare-associated infections (HAIs). Click here for details.

ACO Developments Reported

As CMS’ Innovation Center approves more Accountable Care Organizations as part of its demonstration initiative, more are being created in the private sector and it is all generating developments worth watching.  A list of 80 (including government approved) ACOs was published last week by Becker’s (click here). An insurance broker, Willis Group Holdings, announced the first ACO liability insurance policy (click here). Kaiser discusses physician acceptance of ACOs here. One of the newer ACOs – a physician group/United Health Care collaboration in New York – is discussed here.

AHRQ: Access a Problem for Minorities

Access to health care was not improving for most racial and ethnic groups in the years 2002 through 2008 leading up to enactment of the Affordable Care Act, according to a report out last week from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Click here for the report.

Thomson Reuters Identifies Top 100 Hospitals

Thomson Reuters released its annual study identifying the 100 top U.S. hospitals based on their overall organizational performance. Texas, Florida and California had the most winners, a geographic shift from past years. Click here to see the list.

Walgreens Pays $7.9 Million to Settle False Claim Allegations

Walgreens, an Illinois-based corporation, has paid the United States and participating states $7.9 million to resolve allegations that Walgreens violated the False Claims Act, the Justice Department announced Friday. Click here for the details from DOJ.

Medicare, Medicaid Enrollment Up and Causing Government’s Spending Problem

Enrollment growth – that may be at the heart of “runaway spending” in the Medicare and Medicaid, according to a report released last week by the Urban Institute. They back it up with number. Click here to read the 18-page FDF report.

Coalition Targets Food Fortification to Reduce Birth Defects

Serious birth defects of the brain and spine in America’s babies, particularly those of Hispanic origin, could be reduced if the nation’s corn masa flour products were fortified with the B vitamin folic acid, according to a new petition filed with the FDA by a coalition of six organizations: Gruma Corporation, Spina Bifida Association, March of Dimes Foundation, American Academy of Pediatrics, Royal DSM N.V. and National Council of La Raza. Click here for details.

Report Says Life-Style Changes Would Prevent Much Cancer

Much of the suffering and death from cancer could be prevented by more systematic efforts to reduce tobacco use, improve diet and physical activity, reduce obesity, and expand the use of established screening tests, according to a report from the American Cancer Society. ACS estimates that in 2012 about 173,200 cancer deaths will be caused by tobacco use alone. In addition, approximately one-third of the 577,190 cancer deaths expected to occur in 2012 are attributed to poor nutrition, physical inactivity, overweight, and obesity. Read the 64-page PDF report by clicking here.

New Study: 25% of Adults Under 65 Had Insurance Gap in 2011

One-quarter of adults ages 19 to 64 experienced a gap in their health insurance in 2011, with a majority remaining uninsured for one year or more, according to a new study from the Commonwealth Fund. Losing or changing jobs was the primary reason people experienced a gap. Compared with adults who had continuous coverage, those who experienced gaps were less likely to have a regular doctor and less likely to be up-to-date with recommended preventive care tests, with rates declining as the length of the coverage gap increases. Click here to see the report.

New Head Start Funding Announced

HHS last week announced the availability of Head Start funding in 97 Head Start service areas across the country. New rules require, for the first time, that Head Start grantees that fail to meet rigorous quality benchmarks compete for continued federal funding. Applicants have 90 days to submit their Head Start grant proposals online through www.Grants.gov.  An additional 100 funding opportunity announcements will be available in May. Click here for details.

For additional health policy developments, click here.