Health Policy News and Views
Compiled by Benita M. Dodd
Good news, bad news: Merck & Co. has agreed to buy rival Schering-Plough Corp. for $41.1 billion, just six weeks over Pfizer announced it is buying Wyeth for $68 billion and even as Roche Holding AG finalizes its purchase of the remaining shares of Genentech Inc. The Wall Street Journal calls it “the latest attempt by pharmaceutical companies to diversify as they seek to weather the recession and cope with the unpredictability of drug development.”
The good news is they’ll survive. The bad news is it means less pharmaceutical R&D. The newspaper puts it this way: “The pace of drug discovery has since slowed amid tougher regulatory scrutiny, and revenue has declined as patents expire. The recession has only increased the urgency of adding new lines of business to offset the weak core drug business.”
Back to the future: Chinese hospitals are recruiting 1,500 volunteers to protect doctors from violent patient attacks, Britain’s Telegraph newspaper reports. In recent years, angry patients have killed a number of Chinese doctors, often citing frustration at how they have been handled by the health care system. There’s an average of an attack every two weeks as patients deal with the Chinese health care system, medical expenses, long waiting times and uncaring doctors. The campaign in Beijing will recruit volunteer students, medical staff and other patients to act as buffers between doctors and patients, defusing arguments and smoothing tensions, according to Xinhua, the state news agency. As one blogger, “Whitecoat, M.D.”, noted in his blog on KevinMD.com, “Apparently China views non-physicians as being more expendable when patients become upset and brandish cutlery. At least we have concealed carry laws in the U.S. … for now.”
Let’s hope this doesn’t become of U.S. health care under ObamaCare.
WhiteCoat points out, “By systematically making the practice of medicine more difficult and less appealing, the United States is slowly creating a crisis similar to that which China is experiencing now. The more insidious problem is that it takes at least 10 years and sometimes up to 14 years to educate and train a new physician. Cause the best and brightest students to shy away from medicine while older physicians retire or die off and in 5-10 years there will be an even larger crisis that will be impossible to immediately solve.”
It’s never too late: Eating a high-fiber diet has been shown in numerous studies to be associated with a lower risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD), and it also may improve survival among heart attack survivors, researchers reported. Source: Medpagetoday.com
Mind your manners: Karen Hickman, founder of Professional Courtesy, blogs on KevinMD.com to share with physicians tips on table manners, which I’m passing on in the interests of public health. As in, it won’t be healthy for you if I have to come over and smack you on the head with an etiquette manual. Here’s one: “Pass food to the right. If you start the food, take your portion when it comes back around to you.”
There’s a concern for that app: “Patients in my clinic increasingly use health apps on their mobile devices,” writes Dr. Kevin Pho, founder of KevinMD.com. It’s estimated that 500 million people worldwide will use a health app by 2015, with the health app industry becoming a $26 billion business by 2017. “Despite the popularity and promise of these apps, I’m not yet ready to ‘prescribe’ them to my patients,” he says. Pointing out that to date only about 100 apps, out of tens of thousands, have received FDA approval, Pho says they need testing “in clinical trials to prove their effectiveness, similar to how we study drugs and medical procedures before administering them to patients. Furthermore, apps that store patient health information need to adhere to the privacy and security regulations set by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which governs patient information in the hospital or clinic.” I say don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. I appreciate my FitBit tracker and my Instant Heart Rate app on my smartphone, for example.
Stem cell advances: Researchers at Johns Hopkins University report that mesenchymal stem cells from human fat tissue helped treat brain cancer in mice. Scientists used the stem cells to deliver biological treatments directly to the brains of mice, which helped prevent tumor growth and spread. The technique could be used in humans to detect and destroy residual cancer cells after surgery, especially in areas that are difficult to reach. Given all the bad news about fat, it’s good to know some good can come of it. Source: Business Standard
Knowledge brings wisdom: Josh Archambault of the Foundation for Government Accountability writes in Forbes.com that the more details Virginians know about the state’s Medicaid expansion, “the less they appear to like it.” “Once they learn it is part of ObamaCare, is partially paid for by reductions in payments in Medicare, largely is for able-bodied childless adults, could increase their own health care costs and will crowd out spending on other public priorities, they often flip their support and become strongly opposed to expansion.” In just two months polling has registered an 18 percent drop in support statewide. Now, a majority of Virginia voters oppose it. The article is worth the read for those on both sides of the aisle in Georgia.
Quotes of Note
“The risks associated with being uninsured were already small enough pre-ObamaCare that tens of millions of healthy people chose not to buy health insurance. When people learn that ObamaCare has reduced the expected cost of being uninsured, an even greater number of healthy people could make that choice.” – Michael Cannon
“Here’s how I’ve typically addressed the issue of fats and saturated fats with my patients and their parents at the nutrition clinic … Nothing is forbidden, and any food you like can fit. The issue is how much and how often. For most people it’s about eating smaller amounts, less often.” – Keith-Thomas Ayoob
The Foundation’s Criminal Justice Initiative pushed the problems to the forefront, proposed practical solutions, brought in leaders from other states to share examples, and created this nonpartisan opportunity. (At the signing of the 2012 Criminal Justice Reform bill.)