States Get Latest Hospital Quality Scores: Healthgrades

Arizona, California, Illinois and Ohio scored the best marks for hospital care in a new report that says quality varies “significantly” from state to state in key health areas linked to mortality rates. Click here for the 15-page state-by-state rankings conducted by Healthgrades. Click here for the USA Today story.

Physician Shortage Worsening; Number of Med School Students Increase

The Association of American Medical Colleges predicts that by 2020, the U.S. physician shortage will amount to more than 90,000 doctors, including 45,000 patient care physicians. The five states with the fewest number of physicians per capita: Mississippi, Arkansas, Utah, Idaho, Texas. The five states with the largest number of physicians per capita:  Massachusetts, Maryland, New York, Connecticut, Maine. Click here for the AAMC report. Click here for the detailed USA Today report. The AAMC also reported that more than 45,000 students applied to attend medical school in 2012, an increase of 3.1%. Click here for details.

Hospital Uncompensated Care Could Increase $53 Billion: Report

If the U.S. Supreme Court’s Affordable Care Act ruling increases the number of uninsured individuals consistent with federal projections, hospitals could face a $53.3 billion increase in uncompensated care costs by 2019, according to a new analysis released last week by the National Association of Public Hospitals and Health Systems. Click here.

Medicaid Spending Continues Slowdown

The annual growth in spending on Medicaid slowed sharply last year while enrollment also grew slowly, according to a survey released last week by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Click here for the NY Times story. Click here for Kaiser’s state-by-state 130-page survey.

Obama Administration Readying New Health Insurance Options

One of the lesser known provisions of the Affordable Care Act is preparing to begin and the Administration will soon sponsor of at least two nationwide health insurance plans to be operated under contract with the federal government and offered to consumers in every state. The plans will compete with all other private sector plans and be administered by the Office of Personnel Management. Click here for the story.

Don’t Expect Much in Shared Savings Bonuses: Study

Doctors and hospitals seeking bonuses through shared savings programs should not expect large returns on their investments if all they accomplish is meeting minimum quality targets, according a study published in the November issue of Health Affairs.  Click here for a detailed report on the study. Click here to go the Health Affairs abstract (subscription required.)

New Risk Scoring System Could Save Hospitals $$$

Hospitals could save an estimated $7,000 per stay for certain heart patients by using a simple, inexpensive risk score, according to new research from the Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation. Click here for the report released last week.

Medicare Coverage Will Expand Significantly for Some Post Acute Services

Tens of thousands of people with chronic conditions and disabilities may find it easier to qualify for Medicare coverage of potentially costly home health care, skilled nursing home stays and outpatient therapy under policy changes planned by the Obama administration. The policy change comes as a result of a settlement reached last week.  Click here for the story.

Medtronic Focus of Senate Investigation

A medical device manufacturer, Medtronic, improperly funded questionable research on one of its own products, according to the results of a bipartisan Senate Finance Committee investigation released last week. The report claims Medtronic employees, without disclosing their employer, worked with physician authors to edit, draft and shape the content of medical journal articles about InFuse, a bone-graft product designed to reduce back pain. Medtronic paid $210 million between 1996 and 2010 to authors of company-sponsored studies, the Finance Committee report alleged. Click here for a copy of the 2,315-page report. The conclusions are on pages 22 and 23.

Medication Management Key to Reducing Readmissions

According to a new issue brief from the New England Health Institute released last week, improvement in medication management and adherence are the keys to reducing readmissions. Click here for the 12-page report.

Medicaid Payment Rates for Docs to Increase But Program Unclear

Starting Jan. 1, primary care doctors when treating patients on Medicaid will get the same rates they are paid when caring for seniors in the Medicare program. The higher rates will last for two years. However, with only two months until the change begins, there remains many unanswered questions, including how the program will be implemented. Click here for a very good report on the issue.

Down Syndrome Patient Registry Established: NIH

The NIH last week announced the establishment of a Down Syndrome patient registry.  The registry will facilitate contacts and information sharing among families, patients, researchers and parent groups. The NIH awarded a contract to PatientCrossroads to operate the registry. The company has created patient-centric registries for muscular dystrophy and many rare disorders. Click here for further details.

Autism Treatment Required Under Essential Health Benefits: Advocates

Advocates for patients with autism say that language contained in the health reform law requires essential health benefits to include coverage of autism treatment regardless of which benefits are covered by states’ essential health benefits benchmark plan choices.  Four Democratic senators sent a strongly worded letter to HHS to press their support for this policy. Click here for the letter. Click here for the summary from Autism Speaks.

HHS Says Meaningful Use Is Appropriate

HHS officials last week pushed back publicly against Republican questions of the appropriateness of the $27 billion meaningful use EHR Incentive Program. Click here for a report.

2014 Clinical Quality Measures for EHR Program Released

The final 2014 clinical quality measures for eligible professionals and eligible hospitals are now available, according to an announcement from CMS last week. Also announced were the specifications for electronic reporting and access to the related data elements and value sets. Beginning in 2014, the reporting of clinical quality measures will change for all providers. Electronic Health Record technology that has been certified to the 2014 standards and capabilities will contain new clinical quality measure criteria. Click here for more information.

Imaging Scan Decline Equals Hospital LOS Increase?

A new report out last week showed that the length of the average hospital stay in the United States has increased at the same time as use of medical imaging scans had declined. It is unclear if the trends are related, but potentially important, as hospital admissions are among the largest, and fastest growing, health care costs, according to the study from the American College of Radiology. Click here for the report.

Meningitis Outbreak Update; New Investigations

Employees at a pharmacy linked to the deadly meningitis outbreak documented dozens of cases of mold and bacteria growing in rooms that were supposed to be sterile, according to federal health inspectors. The number of cases has grown to 338 with 25 deaths. Click here for a look at the U.S. Senate investigation now underway. Click here for a state-by-state look at the spread of the disease.

West Nile Virus Update; 219 Deaths

As of last week, 48 states have reported West Nile virus infections in people, birds, or mosquitoes. A total of 4,725 cases of West Nile virus disease in people, including 219 deaths, have been reported to CDC. Click here for a CDC map showing the concentration of cases across the country.

Millions of Seniors Saving Billions on Prescription Drugs: HHS

5.6 million seniors and people with disabilities have saved $4.8 billion on prescription drugs since the law was enacted, HHS announced last week. This year alone, 2.3 million people in the Medicare prescription drug coverage gap known as the “donut hole” have saved an average of $657. During the first nine months of 2012, over 20.7 million people with original Medicare got at least one preventive service at no cost to them. Click here for more.

Medical Technology Pricing Not Driving Health Costs:  Report

Prices for medical technology have remained consistently low over a 21-year period, growing at less than half the rate of overall prices in the economy and only one-fifth the rate of prices for other medical goods and services, according to an updated study released last week by the Advanced Medical Technology Association.  Click here for the 16-page report.