Checking Up On Health: April 28, 2015


Health Policy News and Views
Compiled by Benita M. Dodd



May is Asthma Awareness Month. That means the ozone non-attainment areas will be subjected once to color-coded days warning you of the danger of pollution. The non-profit organizations will start issuing air-quality rankings around the nation. The warnings about outdoor air quality will include encouragement to stay inside.

But you might want to consider the unhealthy policy decisions. First, indoor air quality, with pet dander, buildings shut tight for temperature control, and dust piling into carpets and upholstery, can be much worse than what’s outside. 

Further, a new study authored by a research team led by Dr. Corrine Keet of Johns Hopkins Children’s Center has found no link between outdoor air pollution and childhood asthma, Environment & Climate News reports. The study of 23,000 U.S. children points to poverty, not air pollution.

Unfortunately, that isn’t stopping the federal Environmental Protection Agency from considering tougher rules on ozone pollution, which will end up costing consumers more as businesses deal with the expense of meeting the regulations. And that, of course, means the EPA policy decision could exacerbate poverty – and therefore, asthma. Interestingly, the latest asthma statistics for Georgia show higher asthma rates among Georgians who are unhealthy – physically or mentally – obese, low-income (less than $20,000), and living outside the metro area or in rural Georgia.

Meanwhile, I’ve reconsidered what the “protection” represents in EPA: protecting the agency, not the environment.

Get off your duff: Last year, the rates of Americans reporting being “totally sedentary” reached its highest point in six years, according to the 2015 Participation Report released this month by the Physical Activity Council. If found that 82.7 million Americans age 6 and up, or 28.3 percent, were physically inactive in 2014. An “inactive” person is defined as one who does not participate in any of the 104 sports/activities covered by the report, which includes everything from individual and team sports to fitness machines, camping, walking and stretching.

Inflation, health care style: Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens announced last week that the state has reached a civil settlement agreement with Grady Health System. Grady has agreed to pay $2,950,000 to settle claims that it inaccurately coded claims for neo-natal intensive care unit (NICU) patients. Providers generally are permitted to bill only for those codes that are justified by the medical services provided. Here, the state of Georgia alleged that Grady inflated billings for certain services provided to NICU patients, resulting in either unjustified or inflated outlier payments from Georgia Medicaid. And Georgia Health News reported that the Medical Center of Central Georgia has agreed to pay the feds $20 million to settle allegations it overcharged Medicare from 2004 to 2008!  The U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Northern District of Georgia said the Macon facility billed Medicare for inpatient services when the billing should have been for less costly outpatient or observation services. 

An aspirin a day … may not be for you. Aspirin thins the blood and can help prevent blood clots that can clog blood vessels and cause strokes and heart attacks. But too many people who don’t need to are taking a daily aspirin. A survey found 43 percent of respondents said they were taking the drug for prevention without having consulted a physician. The American Heart Association says aspirin should be used only for prevention when someone’s risk for heart disease is especially high. Long-term use of the drug also increases the risk of ulcers, gastrointestinal bleeding and bleeding in the brain. Source: WABE

100 great hospitals: Kudos to Emory University Hospital of Atlanta for making Becker’s Hospital Review’s list of 100 Great Hospitals in America. Find out which hospitals near you made the list here.

Top 10 payers: In the Medscape Physician Compensation Report 2015, North Dakota and Alaska head the list of the 10 top-earning states for physicians, while Rhode Island and the District of Columbia are at the bottom of the list. The report also finds thatjust 32 percent of physicians are in private practice. Perhaps related to the departure from private practice, more doctors donated money to Democrats in the last election cycle than Republicans, Townhall reports, citing a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

You’re not the boss of me: Sworn in last week as the 19th U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy believes industries must make improving the health of Americans a top priority by focusing on prevention. “I want to reach out and work with employers, for example, to make physical activity a part of the culture of the workplace,” Dr. Murthy told The Washington Post. “So that as opposed to sitting and working, we are walking and working. So that we are incorporating activity whenever and wherever possible, not only because it contributes to better physical health but because we know that physical activity improves your emotional well-being. We know that it contributes to mental function as well.” Source: Becker’s Hospital Review

No-fly zones: Pregnant women are often told not to travel by air after seven months. How should an airline handle transporting an obviously ill person trying to board a flight and seeking special treatment? One airline came under fire recently for refusing to allow an ailing passenger to fly. But a physician forced to take care of a seriously ill woman on a long flight feels the airline did the right thing. Read Dr. Sarah Poggi’s story here; it’s food for thought.

Quotes of Note

“The battles that Uber is fighting with entrenched organizations such as taxi firms are well publicized in the media. One Uber driver told me that there’s another big legal battle stating that Uber should ditch the private contractor model to make all Uber drivers ‘employees’ of the company with a salary. When I asked him what he thought of this, his response was a resounding ‘Hell no!’ and he said he would find something else to do if this ever happened. While doctors may be losing the battle for autonomy, I hope that the enterprising and fiercely independent Uber drivers never do.” – Suneel Dhand, MD