Hundreds of Hospitals Get Top Patient Safety and Experience Awards from Healthgrades

Healthgrades has released two of it top awards for hospitals for 2016.  466 hospitals (click here for the list) received the Patient Safety Excellence Award that were determined by evaluating the occurrence of observed incidents and expected performance for 14 Patient Safety Indicators as defined by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). 448 hospitals received the Outstanding Patient Experience Award (click here) that were identified through an evaluation of 10 patient experience measures, using data collected from a 32-question HCAHPS survey of the hospital’s own patients. The survey questions focus on patients’ perspectives of their care during their inpatient hospital stay.

  • Even Yelp has fully jumped into the hospital ratings game.  A new study says Yelp can enhance government reports on quality.  Click here and here.
  • How much do these ratings matter?  Do people pay attention?  Click here for a great article from Baylor Scott & White Health physician Gregory Dehmer on the importance of these score cards.

Lawmakers Circulate Letter Urging CMS To Delay Hospital Star Ratings Release

Hospitals across the country are urging federal lawmakers to sign on to a letter that urges CMS to delay the public release of its hospital star rating system – slated for this month.  “We are concerned that the hospital star ratings, in their current form, may be unfairly masking quality or, possibly, over-weighting of patient experience measures and will therefore not help consumers make well-informed decisions about which hospitals to use,” say the congressional authors of the letter.  Click here for a copy of the letter.

  • The fight over quality measurements continued to heat up with major hospital associations demanding last week that the National Quality Forum drop its proposed measurements that would compare hospitals based on the costs of their care for three common and costly conditions: heart attack, heart failure and pneumonia.  Click here for the report.

Hospitals Adding “Financial Navigators” To Patient Support Services

Faced with growing financial costs in treating their conditions, cancer patients are turning to “financial navigator” – often provided by hospitals — to ease their significant and complicated burdens.  Hospitals across the country are adding these financial advisors who can help with drug costs, insurance selection and other issues impacting personal finances.  In fact, help is moving beyond cancer patients to other with other expensive and complicated conditions.  Click here for the story.

Cancer Drugs, Docs Hit Hardest by CMS’ Part B Proposal: Study

Proposed changes to how Medicare reimburses health care providers for prescription drugs would lower reimbursements for drugs that cost more than $480 per day, meaning physicians who treat cancers and other diseases would see greater reductions, according to an analysis released last week. Specialists who use higher cost drugs, such as ophthalmologists, oncologists, and rheumatologists, would experience reduced payments, while physicians who tend to prescribe lower-cost drugs would be paid more, the Avalere report says. Additionally, seven of the 10 drugs that would constitute the largest reductions are used to treat cancers. Click here for the report.  Click here for the NYTimes story.

Drug Makers Ramp Up Prices on Most Popular Drugs: Analysis

Major drug companies took big price increases in the U.S. for widely used medications over the past five years, a Reuters analysis of proprietary data found.  Prices for four of the nation’s top 10 drugs increased more than 100 percent since 2011, Reuters found. Six others went up more than 50 percent. Together, the price increases on drugs for arthritis, high cholesterol, asthma and other common problems added billions in costs for consumers, employers and government health programs. Click here for the report.

Price of Insulin Rising Significantly

According to a new JAMA study, the price of insulin has tripled over the last decade, substantially exceeding the costs of alternative medications. The price jumped from $4.34 per milliliter to $12.92 between 2002 and 2013 and total spending on insulin increased from an average of $231.48 per person to $736.09 over that same time period. Researchers suggested examining whether insulin alternatives would be more cost-effective if people continue to seek treatment at higher rates. Click here to read the full report.

Physician Shortage Expected To Significantly Worsen

The United States will face a serious physician shortage over the next decade, according to a new report from the Association of American Medical Colleges. The report estimates that the country will see a shortfall between 14,900 and 35,600 primary care physicians, and between 37,400 and 60,300 non-primary care specialties by 2025. This report’s prediction largely tracks with last year’s numbers. For the full report, click here.

Number of Physicians in ACOs Grows

The number of physicians participating in an ACO continues to grow, according to an analysis by Consumer Reports.  This includes Consumer Reports’ medical director.  She is signing on because she believes it will give her access to a larger team of physicians and other experts to help her manage her patients.  Click here for the story.

Full Steam Ahead on Mandatory Post Acute Bundling:  MedPAC

The Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC) last week informally and unanimously voted for its report to Congress that calls for the development of a unified payment system for post-acute care services.  The final report will be forwarded in June.  The system spans across the 4 post acute care provider settings and would produce less variation in PAC margins, decrease average payments for physical rehabilitation, and increase payments for medical and medically-complex services. From its findings, MedPAC concluded that the creation and implementation of a post acute care prospective payment system is feasible. Click here to review MedPAC’s informative slide presentation.

White Women In Rural Areas Dying Prematurely At Higher Rates: Analysis

White women have been dying prematurely at higher rates since the turn of this century, passing away in their 30s, 40s and 50s in a slow-motion crisis driven by decaying health in small-town America, according to an analysis of national health and mortality statistics by The Washington Post.  Among African Americans, Hispanics and even the oldest white Americans, death rates have continued to fall. But for white women in what should be the prime of their lives, death rates have spiked upward. In one of the hardest-hit groups — rural white women in their late 40s — the death rate has risen by 30 percent.  Click here for details.

Seniors in Rural Areas Struggle To Find Health Care Services

The available of health care services in rural areas continues to decline putting seniors, in particular, at risk – according to a report released last week.  The rural American population is older: About 15 percent of residents are 65 or older, compared with 12 percent in urban areas, largely because many people have left in search of education and jobs.  The rural cohort had more chronic illnesses to start with, including higher rates of diabetes, stroke, cognitive impairment, heart arrhythmia and heart failure.  Click here for more.

Uninsured Rates Continue to Fall

The percentage of uninsured adults continues to drop under the Affordable Care Act, according to a new Gallop Poll. 11 percent of Americans between ages 18 and 64 lacked coverage in the first quarter of 2016, down from 11.9 percent in the last quarter of 2015. The percentage of adults reporting self-funded coverage was 21.8 percent, up 4.2 percent since the Marketplace Exchanges opened. Additionally, the percentage of non-elderly adults enrolled in Medicaid was 9.4 percent in the first quarter of 2016, up 2.5 percentage points since eligibility expanded. Click here for the Gallup poll.

CMS Gives States Get More Time for Medicaid Access Plans

CMS last week gave states three more months to submit initial plans to the federal government for monitoring Medicaid enrollees’ access to health care services. States now have until Oct. 1, instead of July 1, to submit plans that cover several categories, including primary care, specialists, behavioral health, pre- and-post-natal obstetric services, and home health. The plans are required as part of a broader regulation CMS issued last fall on ensuring adequate access to services for Medicaid beneficiaries. Click here for the final rule.

Senate Committee Approves Biomedical Innovation Bills

The Senate Health Committee voted to approve five bills, including amendments, last week and are headed to the full Senate for consideration. The bills are the Promoting Biomedical Research and Public Health for Patients Act (S.2742), the FDA and NIH Workforce Authorities Modernization Act (S.2700 ), the Promise for Antibiotics and Therapeutics for Health Act (S.185), the Advancing Precision Medicine Act (S.2173), and the Advancing NIH Strategic Planning and Representation in Medical Research Act (S.2745). To watch the committee deliberations, click here.

HHS Seeks Advice on Electronic Health Records

HHS last week issued a request for information from stakeholders on how to measure the exchange of health information using certified electronic health records so the agency can make sure that technology is interoperable by the end of 2018. Specifically, they are looking for feedback on what populations and interoperability pieces it should measure, as well as what data sources and metrics to consider.  HHS is required by law to collaborate with stakeholders to establish the metrics for measuring data sharing; the agency will accept comments through June 3. Click here for the RFI.

FTC Releases New Guidance Tool for Mobile Health App Developers

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) released a new online tool for health app developers that clarify which laws and regulations apply to their software. The guidance, which the FTC developed with the FDA, the ONC and HHS’ Office for Civil Rights, asks developers questions about their apps’ function and the data they collect. It uses their answers to point them to relevant information from HIPAA, as well as FDA and FTC laws and rules. Click here for the online tool.

Sodium Content Declining in Food

Sodium levels in packaged and restaurant foods have decreased by an average of 4 percent over the last 10 years according to a new report by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CPSI). Based on a survey of 451 commonly eaten foods from 2005 through 2015, the analysis found a much more modest decrease than what the food industry has claimed; the Grocery Manufacturers Association estimates its members reduced sodium in their products by 16 percent overall between 2008 and 2013. To read the report, click here.