Checking Up On Health: October 23, 2012


Benita Dodd, Vice President, Georgia Public Policy Foundation

Health Policy Briefs

Compiled by Benita M. Dodd

ObamaCare by any name: In case you were wondering, the Foundation has typically stayed away from using the term “ObamaCare” to describe the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. But now that even the President has embraced it, all bets are off: “I actually like the name,” he said in August. “Because I do care – that’s why we fought so hard to make it happen.” It’s like “googling” something on the Internet: Google knew it had it made when it became a verb. We’ll still use the legitimate name at least once in an article, however, to ensure that it turns up when googled …

It’s not who you know, it’s what you know and where you go! Arizona, California, Illinois and Ohio scored the best marks for hospital care in a new report that says quality varies “significantly” from state to state in key health areas linked to mortality rates. From 2005-2011, hospitals in those states outperformed others when treating patients for four key conditions or procedures studied: coronary artery bypass graft, heart attack, pneumonia and sepsis, according to the report by Healthgrades. Those four areas combined to make up 54 percent of all the nation’s hospital-related deaths. Unfortunately, Georgia was one of seven states that Healthgrades found to perform worse than the national average in all four areas.

Patients have a 55 percent lower risk of dying when treated in the best hospitals and 42 percent lower risk of experiencing a complication, the report says. The performance study involved nearly 5,000 hospitals. 

Incidentally, Healthgrades also found that 45 percent of consumers are not aware that there is information available on the chance of dying at a hospital; 42 percent are not aware of data being available on a hospital’s complication rates and 34 percent know where to access information about a hospital’s performance.  

Milk for medicine: Scientists at Australian’s Melbourne University have found that a special cows’ milk could be used to protect people from HIV. Working with an Australian biotechnology company, the team vaccinated pregnant cows with an HIV protein. Cows can’t contract HIV, but they produce antibodies in response to the introduction of the foreign protein. Those antibodies are passed along in the colostrum, or “first milk”, which already has a naturally high antibody content, in order to protect newborn calves against infections. In laboratory tests, the milk-derived HIV antibodies were found to bind with HIV, inhibiting it from entering human cells. The scientists plan to turn this into an ointment for human application. Source: Bio Smartbriefs

Shades of Frankenstein? Scientists at the Lieber Institute for Brain Development in Baltimore, Md., have harvested cells from the scalps and brain linings of human corpses and reprogrammed them into stem cells. The cells, from the bodies of 146 people who had been dead for two days, could play a key role in developing future stem cell therapies. Successfully reprogramming stem cells so they behave like the cells they are meant to replace means that samples of the mimicked cells must be present for comparison. Cadavers can provide brain, heart and other tissues for study that researchers cannot safely obtain from living people. Source:

Slow going on nursing at home: The Washington Post and Kaiser Health News partnered to report on the state of a national program that moves disabled and elderly low-income people out of nursing homes and other institutional settings and back into community settings.  Forty-three states and the District of Columbia are participating in the program, Money Follows the Person, which is managed by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.  Many states have fallen far short of early, optimistic projections. Five years into the program, about 22,500 people nationwide have left institutional settings and transitioned back into community settings. The states’ goal had been 35,380, a target that federal officials now say was unrealistic. Congress has authorized $4 billion for the program through September 2016. To date, the federal government has paid or committed to pay $1 billion to the states, most of which set up their programs by the end of 2008. The Georgia Department of Community Health has partnered with the departments of Human Services, Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, and Community Affairs, and other state and local agencies and organizations, with the goal of transitioning 2,142 individuals by 2016.

Unintended consequences: After one of the first provisions of ObamaCare took effect, prohibiting insurers from turning down children under age 19 for a preexisting medical condition, insurers in many states simply stopped selling child-only policies. Responding to the market disruption, 22 states and the District of Columbia passed new legislation or issued new regulations that returned child-only in nearly all of these states. According to a new survey by The Commonwealth Fund, “These findings suggest that states have flexibility to take innovative actions to maintain or improve their markets and insurers are highly sensitive to the risk of adverse selection.” The survey concludes, too, that there’s a need for “meaningful regulatory incentives” – whatever that means – “to avoid market disruption in successfully implementing broader reforms in 2014.” In 2014, barring major ObamaCare change, no insurer will be permitted to deny coverage to anyone with a preexisting condition, child or adult, eliminating the need for these child-only coverage laws and regulations.

Quote of Note: “The Obama campaign released a plan today to explain what the president’s agenda would be for a second term, but it’s little more than a glossy brochure that papers over the administration’s failed policies. For example, the health section is entitled: ‘Putting YOU in Charge of Your Health Care.’ One wonders how the president plans to put you in charge of your health care when ObamaCare creates 159 new federal boards, commissions, agencies, and programs that will control every aspect of our health care.” – Grace-Marie Turner, Galen Institute

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