15 Dead, 200+ Infected in Meningitis Outbreak: CDC

Virginia, Tennessee and Indiana have now reported the largest number of meningitis cases, with the total now more than 200, according to the CDC on Saturday. Another person has died from fungal meningitis linked to possibly tainted vials of a steroid medication, bringing the death toll in an outbreak to 15. The latest victim was in Indiana, which has now reported two deaths from the rare form of meningitis. Click here for the latest summary update from the CDC. Click here for a list of facilities that received the medication lots that were recalled. Click here for a US map detailing the number of cases by state. Click here for the latest story from the NY Times.  A bipartisan group of House leaders are expanding their investigation into the matter. Click here for details. Committee leaders sent a letter to the Massachusetts agency responsible for overseeing the compounding company at the center of the investigation. Click here for the letter.


CMS Ratings Announced: More 4 and 5 Star Medicare Advantage Plans

CMS announced the top Medicare Advantage plans last week. (Click here for the comprehensive list and Star Ratings.) The top plans, which received four- and five-star Medicare ratings, serve 37% of Medicare Advantage enrollees, according to CMS. The 127 plans qualifying for higher Medicare bonuses were selected out of a total of 563 plans, and another 259 plans receiving three or 3.5 stars also qualify for CMS bonuses. More plans received CMS’s four- and five-star ratings this year after the agency awarded 106 Medicare Advantage plans those top marks last year.


Seniors Overspending on Medicare Rx: Study

A study released last week says seniors could generate their own savings if they didn’t overspend on Medicare prescription drug plans. Medicare Part D beneficiaries on average overspend by $368 each year, and only 5.2% of beneficiaries choose the cheapest plan relative to their health care needs. And more than one-fifth of beneficiaries overspend on their drug plans by at least $500, based on their analysis of 2009 Part D data. The overspending is mostly attributed to seniors’ penchant for picking plans with more generous features and lower deductibles, resulting in higher premiums. Click here for the study in Health Affairs.


$100 Billion Could Be Saved by PBMs, Association Says

The Pharmaceutical Care Management Association is recommending ways pharmaceutical benefit managers can help achieve $100 billion over 10 years in prescription drug cost savings — and maybe help avoid sequester cuts, too. PCMA President and CEO Mark Merritt wrote to Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker John Boehner last week outlining their cost saving plans. Click here for the letter.


States’ Dual-Eligible Plans with CMS Analyzed

Half the states are interested in partners with CMS on managing dual eligibles.  A new report from the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured examines 26 state proposals to test a new capitated payment and integrated care model for patients enrolled in both Medicare and Medicaid. According to the report, 23 states plan to passively enroll dual-eligible beneficiaries into their demonstration plans unless beneficiaries take action to opt out. Click here for the 53-page report.


Major Texas Cancer Program Loses More Physicians

Seven more scientists have resigned in protest from Texas’ embattled $3 billion cancer program, saying the agency in charge of it is charting a “politically driven” path that puts commercial interests before science. The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, created with the backing of Gov. Rick Perry and the cyclist Lance Armstrong, has awarded nearly $700 million in grants since 2009; only the NIH offers more cancer-research funding. Click here for the story.


Study: EHRs Improve Patient Care; Apps Pose Other Challenges

A new study links quality of care in physician office practices to the use of electronic health records (EHRs); it is among the first to make the important connection. The findings confirm that the significant investment in EHRs by both the federal government and the physicians who use them will result in better care. Click here for details. Of course, there are many issues around the implementation of an EHR system. Click here for a good NY Times story about this.  And another NY Times story (here) about the issues surrounding training physicians on the use of apps and other high-tech interventions.


CDC: Death Rates Dropped in 2011

Death rates dropped significantly last year for five out of the 10 leading causes of death in the U.S., according to a new CDC report. Researchers say a major decline in three of the top five causes of death, including heart disease, cancer, and stroke, contributed to a slight decline in the rate of overall deaths in 2011.
Top 10 Causes of Death (% change from 2010 to 2011):
1.  Heart disease (-3%)
2.  Cancer (-2.4%)
3.  Chronic lower respiratory diseases, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, emphysema, and bronchitis (+1.2%)
4.  Stroke (-3.1%)
5.  Accidents or unintentional injuries (unchanged)
6.  Alzheimer’s disease (-2%)
7.  Diabetes (+3.4%)
8.  Influenza and pneumonia (+4%)
9.  Kidney-related diseases, including nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis (-12.4%)
10.Suicide (-0.8%)
Click here for additional details.


Poll: Americans Not Supporting Major Federal Budget Changes

As Congress and the Administration look ahead to “fixing” the government’s fiscal problems facing the nation at the end of the year, i.e. expiration of the Bush tax cuts, debt ceiling limit increase and budget sequestration that cuts Medicare across the board by 2%, Americans only support two actions that would help reduce the national debt, according to a Pew poll released late last week. Click here.


HHS Touts Financial Support to Increase Primary Care

HHS announced last week that $229.4 million was invested in the National Health Service Corps in 2012 to support more doctors and nurses and increase access to primary care. These investments included nearly 4,600 loan repayment and scholarship awards to clinicians and students, and grants to 32 states to support state loan repayment programs. Click here for details.


Millions in Federal Grant Funding Available for Health Care Organizations

The federal government continues to offer millions of dollars in health care grants to provider organizations across the country. Strategic Health Care is helping several hospital systems with new PCORI funding opportunities.  Click here to review what funds are available from PCORI and to review several other major funding opportunities likely to be announced soon.  Click here to review SHC’s success stories and to get more information on our grant development services.


Major Health Associations Announce Developments

Eight of the nation’s top health care trade associations reported developments last week, including a report from the American Academy of Family Physicians and how to solve the nation’s primary care problem. Click here for a two-page summary.


Study: Payment Cuts Have Little Impact on Hospital Infections

A new study released last week found no evidence that the 2008 CMS policy to reduce payments for central catheter, associated bloodstream infections and catheter-associated urinary tract infections had any measurable effect on infection rates in U.S. hospitals. Click here to see the New England Journal of Medicine study.


Health Law Has Little Impact on Employers’ Costs

Another study released last week from the Urban Institute says, contrary to critics’ claims, the Affordable Care Act has a negligible impact on total employer-sponsored coverage and costs, leaves large business costs-per-person-insured largely untouched and makes small businesses-for whom coverage expands, the most-financially better off, through tax credits and market efficiencies that lower premiums. Only among mid-size businesses does the ACA noticeably increase costs, largely due to increased enrollment. Click here for the 8-page study.