Health Policy News and Views
Compiled by Benita M. Dodd
No shopping for health plans yet: The New York Times reports that the Obama administration is unable to meet “tight” deadlines in the “new” (2010) federal health care law, so it is delaying parts of a program intended to provide affordable health insurance to small businesses and their employees. The Small Business Health Options Program, or SHOP, is supposed to provide small employers with an insurance marketplace, or exchange, that offers multiple plan options starting in 2014. But in most states, employers will instead be limited to a single plan until 2015.
Miracles of telemedicine: When 5-year-old Piper Gibson was hospitalized in Oklahoma City last summer with frightening strokelike symptoms, her father, Chris, got a same-day second opinion on her brain scan from another neurologist – in Boston. The Wall Street Journal reports that Gibson was able to get the second opinion with unusual efficiency by taking advantage of a secure electronic network that can transfer medical images in minutes. It is one of a growing number of image-exchange services that eliminate many of the hassles patients encounter in transferring CT-scans, MRIs, X-rays and ultrasounds whenever they seek a second opinion, consult a specialist or start seeing a new doctor. Telemedicine’s advantages take many forms, as you’ll know if you read my recent commentary, “Telemedicine, a Telling Sign of Health Care’s Future.” And don’t forget to sign up for the Foundation’s April 23 Leadership Breakfast, focused on telehealth. (See below.)
Telehealth event: Find out what’s happening around the nation and in Georgia – and what needs to happen – when it comes to innovative implementation of telehealth for greater efficiency, greater cost-effectiveness, better quality, better access and a better patient experience. Register for, “Telehealth: Taking Health Care to the Next Level,” a Georgia Public Policy Foundation Leadership Breakfast at 8 a.m. on Tuesday, April 23, at Cobb County’s Georgian Club. The panel discussion is moderated by Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald, Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health, with panelists Dr. Jeffrey English of the Multiple Sclerosis Center of Atlanta, Dr. Jeffrey Grossman of Peachtree Spine and Paula Guy, CEO of the Georgia Partnership for Telehealth. The cost is $25 to attend; register online at http://tinyurl.com/ck64yt. Attire: business, business casual.
Bless you! Jackson, Miss., is the worst U.S. city for people with allergies, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. The foundation released its list of “2013 Spring Allergy Capitals” today, based on pollen scores, the number of over-the-counter and prescription allergy medications per patient and the number of board-certified allergists per patient. Augusta ranked 33 and Atlanta was No. 72 on the list.
A new allergy treatment: The Food and Drug Administration has accepted Merck’s biologics-license application for an experimental treatment for grass pollen allergy. Instead of providing temporary relief of allergy symptoms like antihistamines do, the treatment targets the causes of the allergic reaction and reduces symptoms such as itching and sneezing gradually. The treatment, a tablet that quickly dissolves under the tongue, could become the first U.S. alternative to getting a long series of uncomfortable allergy shots. Both methods work by gradually desensitizing the patient’s immune system to the substance triggering the allergic reaction. Merck expects the agency to announce its decision early next year.
Time to pay more attention to ADHD diagnoses? More than one in 10 schoolchildren, including one in five high school boys, has been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The 6.4 million children between ages 4 and 17 diagnosed with ADHD is a 16 percent increase since 2007 and a 41 percent increase since 2003, according to The New York Times. “Those are astronomical numbers. I’m floored,” Yale School of Medicine pediatric neurologist William Graf told the Times. “Mild symptoms are being diagnosed so readily, which goes well beyond the disorder and beyond the zone of ambiguity to pure enhancement of children who are otherwise healthy.” The CDC also found that around two-thirds of the children diagnosed with ADHD also receive medication like Adderall or Ritalin. The results came from parents reporting on the diagnosis for their children during telephone interviews, not from medical or school records. Some say physicians are too quick to diagnose ADHD. And, as one physician told Time magazine, “By definition, ADHD requires that symptoms have to have a significant effect on life. To say that a tenth of all children have a biologic condition that affects their life enough to call it a disorder just does not make sense.” It would be interesting, too, to see whether there’s a difference in public school ADHD rates versus private school rates. Source: International Business Times, Time.com
Autism Awareness Day: Today is the sixth World Autism Awareness Day, which President Obama commemorated by announcing the launch of a $100 million brain science initiative “designed to revolutionize our understanding of the human brain.” A presidential proclamation stated that the Affordable Care Act, which will go into full operation in 2014, “will make it illegal for insurance companies to discriminate against men and women with preexisting conditions, including ASDs (autism spectrum disorders).” The Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative will allocate the funds to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and the National Science Foundation. NIH will allocate $40 million to its Blueprint for Neuroscience Research, which supports the development of new tools, training opportunities and other resources. The initiative’s goal will be to help researchers find new ways to treat, cure and potentially prevent brain disorders, such as autism, Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy and traumatic brain injury. (Insert snarky comment about brains and government here …)
Up, up and away: More Americans are eligible for government health coverage under 2013 federal poverty level guidelines. The Foundation for Health Coverage Education offers a five-step, 90-second quiz and chart to help identify those who qualify for free or low-cost government health insurance on its Web site,www.CoverageForAll.org. Based on the latest guidelines, the income ceiling for a family of four at 200 percent of the FPL, for example, increased $1,000 annually from $46,100 to $47,100 over the last year. Of interest: When it comes to the federal poverty level, a pregnant woman counts as two people, according to the chart.
Freeze-dried plasma: Two companies are partnering to develop and commercialize freeze-dried human plasma. Entegrion, based in Research Triangle Park, N.C., and Kedrion Melville, an Italian biopharmaceutical company, will work on Entegrion’s Resusix, a shelf-stable alternative to fresh-frozen plasma. The partners plan to initiate clinical studies this year. The option would facilitate getting blood to wounded troops – there isn’t always a freezer available in combat areas – and be a new resuscitation option for patients experiencing acute blood loss. Source: Triangle Business Journal
Quotes of Note
“Neurotics complain of their illness, but they make the most of it, and when it comes to taking it away from them they will defend it like a lioness her young.” – Sigmund Freud
“Digital Health feels like the PC industry in the early ’80s.” – John Sculley, former CEO of Apple and PepsiCo
“Doctors can be replaced by software – 80 percent of them can. I’d much rather have agood machine learning system diagnose my disease than the median or average doctor.” – Vinod Khosla