Consumer Reports Releases 2014 Hospital Safety Scores

Consumer Reports is out with its latest hospital-by-hospital safety scores, which says that medical errors are linked to 440,000 deaths each year. Click here for the article that lists Consumer Reports’ 15 best and 13 worst hospitals. Click here for the CR hospital safety data base (it takes a subscription to CR to enter.)

340B Drug Program Under Assault By Rx Supported Group

The Alliance for Integrity and Reform of 340B says in a report out last week that “a substantial portion” of hospitals that have enrolled in the 340B program don’t provide enough charity care to justify their discounts and may not be living up the spirit and intent of what Congress envisioned when the program was created in 1992. The group said it does not want to see the 340B program abolished, but does believe that hospitals taking advantage of the mandated lower drug prices should be held accountable for the levels of charity care they provide. Click here for the 16-page report.

CMS RAC Report Says $2 Billion “Recovered” in 2012

Recovery Audit Contractors returned $1.9 billion to the Medicare Trust Fund in fiscal 2012, according to CMS’ recently released RAC report, though the overturn rate increased by about 4 percent between fiscal 2011 and fiscal 2012. The RAC program identified $2.3 billion in overpayments. Taking into account the cost to run the program and the first two levels of the appeals process, the program returned just under $2 billion to Medicare. RACs looked at about 887,000 claims in fiscal 2011, and that number increased to about 1,272,000 claims in fiscal 2012. Click here for the CMS 49-page report.

CDC Quantifies Hospital Acquired Infections in New Report

One in 25 patients in U.S. hospitals has an infection acquired as part of their care, the CDC reported last week in its most comprehensive look at this health-care problem. The CDC’s 2011 survey of 183 hospitals showed that an estimated 648,000 patients nationwide suffered 721,000 infections, and 75,000 of them died. The most common infections are pneumonia (22 percent), surgical site infections (22 percent), gastrointestinal infections (17 percent), urinary tract infections (13 percent), and bloodstream infections (10 percent). Click here for the New England Journal of Medicine report. Click here for the Washington Post story.

County Health Rankings Released

San Juan, Washington; Wake, North Carolina; Woodford, Illinois; Williamson, Tennessee; Ottawa, Michigan; Ozaukee, Wisconsin; Geauga, Ohio; Los Alamos, New Mexico; and Carver, Minnesota., are the healthiest counties in their states, according to the County Health Rankings released last week. The list was based on 29 factors, including smoking, obesity, education and alcoholism. Click here to see how your country ranks. Click here to see 10 maps that sum up health in the U.S.

Congress Poised to Pass New Physician Payment Bill; ICD-10 Delayed Another Year

The Senate is scheduled to vote today at 5 p.m. EDT on legislation that would place another temporary patch on the physician Medicare payment formula. The House passed the same bill last week. The President is expected to sign it. This fix will last one year. The legislation will:

  • avoid a 24.5% physician payment cut that was set for tomorrow, April 1, and provide a small increase;
  • delay ICD-10 implementation for another year
  • extend 19 other current Medicare payment programs
  • delay Medicaid DSH cuts another year, until 2017
  • pay for all these changes with a variety of payment changes that have minimal immediate impact on providers.

Click here for a good 5-page section-by-section summary. Click here to read the bill.

CMS To Hold Physician Claims

Anticipating a potential delay in congressional passage of the physician Medicare payment fix, CMS has instructed the Medicare Administrative Contractors to hold claims containing services paid under the Medicare Physician Fee Schedule through April 14, 2014). This hold would only affect MPFS claims with dates of service of April 1, 2014, and later. Click here for the CMS notice.

Study: Waiting Times for Physicians Increases

According to a report out last week analyzing U.S. trends in patient care, the shortest average physician wait time in 2012 actually increased more than a full minute from 2011. Alaska topped this year’s list of states with the shortest average wait time of 16 minutes, 28 seconds. Last year, Wisconsin led with an average wait of 15 minutes, 26 seconds.
The shortest wait in a major city: Seattle, 16 minutes, 15 seconds. The longest: Raleigh, 17 minutes, 48 seconds. Click here for more details.

More Than 6 Million Sign Up for Obamacare

The White House said more than 6 million people have now signed up for Obamacare. Click here for the story. More interesting is a new website that makes predictions on enrollment, has really good charts and covers the numbers in an easy to read way. This group is predicting 6.75 million will sign up by close of business today, which is the deadline for most people. Click here. However, for some, Obamacare enrollment doesn’t end today. Click here for the HHS announcement from last week.

Senate Democrats Propose Changes to Obamacare

As the White House celebrates Obamacare enrollment, several Senate Democrats are declaring what they think’s wrong with the law and how they would fix it. None of the changes would repeal or gut key provisions of the law. It’s the first time a group of Democrats have drawn a defined, coordinated line around multiple proposed changes. One idea is to add new “copper”-level plans to the offerings on the exchanges. Click here for the details from the Wall Street Journal.

3.5 Million Qualify for Premium Tax Credits

About 3.5 million people have qualified for $10 billion in premium tax credits under ObamaCare so far, a new study found last week. Click here for Kaiser Foundation study. Click here for a state-by-state summary. Click here for the story.

Health Plan Names Could Mislead Consumers

As Americans race to sign up for health insurance in the final days of open enrollment, many consumers and consumer advocates say the names of plans are unhelpful, confusing and in some cases misleading. Click here for the New York Times story.

Maryland To Adopt Connecticut Exchange System

Maryland officials are set to replace the state’s online health-insurance exchange with technology from Connecticut’s insurance marketplace, according to published report, an acknowledgment that a system that has cost at least $125.5 million is broken beyond repair. The board of the Maryland exchange plans to vote on the change tomorrow. Click here for the story.

Medicaid “Private Option” Plans Raise Concerns

As more states craft their own versions of what is known as the “private option,” advocates are increasingly concerned that the private market approach to Medicaid expansion could erode the effectiveness of the Medicaid program, according to a new Pew report. At issue are so-called “wraparound” benefits, such as free rides to doctor’s offices which are designed to give low-income people the same kind of care and health outcomes as people with higher incomes. Such benefits typically are not included in private insurance plans. Click here for the report.

Study: Newly Eligible Medicaid Beneficiaries Are Healthier

People who are newly eligible for expanded Medicaid are healthier than adults already in the program, finds a study published last week in Health Affairs. It also found that people who could have been in Medicaid before the health law were also healthier than actual enrollees. Both of these groups had physical and mental health that was equal or better than pre-ACA participants. Click here for the study.

Alabamans Find Health Care Least Affordable; Iowa and Minnesota Most Affordable

24.5% of Alabamans said in 2013 that there were times in the past 12 months when they did not have enough money to pay for the healthcare and/or medicine they and their families needed — the highest percentage in the nation, according to a Gallup poll released last week. At the other end, Iowa and Minnesota tied for the lowest percentage of residents who were unable to afford needed healthcare or medicine, at 12.2%. Click here to see the state rankings.

FDA Announces More Saline Availability

Although pharmaceutical shortages continue across the United States, the lack of simple saline solution has underscored the seriousness of the problem. The FDA announced last week that it has agree to temporarily allow a Norway manufacturer to distribute saline in the U.S. Those in need must contact the manufacturer directly. The FDA has details here.

CDC Has Several Major Announcements:Autism Rates Soar

Autism rates and related conditions are still climbing sharply, according to report last week from the CDC. The CDC analysis showed that 1 in 68 children have been identified with the serious communication and behavior deficits that lead to a diagnosis. That’s 30 percent higher than a 2012 estimate and more than double in 2007. Click here for the CDC report.

Invasive Cancer Rate Down

In 2010, the rate of invasive cancers was 446 cases for every 100,000 people in the U.S., down from 459 per 100,000 in 2009, CDC researchers said. Malignancies of the prostate, female breast, and lung and bronchial airways were the most common types of invasive cancer. Invasive cancer rates were greater among men than women. Click here for the CDC report.

State Medicaid Programs Have Inadequate Tobacco Cessation Programs

Most state Medicaid programs do not provide adequate coverage for tobacco cessation treatment and have even erected barriers for people trying to quit smoking, according to a new CDC report released last week. Click here to see it.

Flu Shots Reduce PICU Need

Flu shots cut a child’s risk of needing PICU care by 74 percent, according to a CDC study published last week in the Journal of Infectious Diseases. Click here for the CDC report.

U.S. Senate Candidate Touts Castration Skills

I try to keep partisan politics out of this week report, but I couldn’t resist sharing a new ad from a U.S. Senate candidate in Iowa. She is touting her ability to cut spending based on her experience removing hog testicles. You got to see it to believe it. Click here.