Checking Up on Health

Health Policy Briefs: May 1, 2012

Compiled by Benita Dodd

Health care reform in remission: If it seems to you that health care policy is in limbo, you’re right. Most legislatures and policy-makers are adopting a wait-and-see attitude. Everyone is waiting for the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. Nowhere is that more evident than in Georgia, which has seen no action and little interest after a law passed last year that would allow health insurers in Georgia to sell insurance policies from other states. The flexibility was expected to make health care coverage more affordable for Georgians.

Writing for Georgia Health News, Andy Miller notes: “Experts speculate that health insurers, here and elsewhere, have their focus squarely on the pending Supreme Court
decision on the 2010 federal health care law and don’t want to offer a policy that may soon be extinct.” The Supreme Court is expected to release its ruling at the end of June; Georgia is party to the case.

Meaningful Medicare reform: John Goodman of the National Center for Policy Analysis sees meaningful Medicare reform requiring changing it from a pay-as-you-go system into one in which workers pay their own way. Employees (and employers) would need to save 4 percent of payroll in order to reach a point at which each generation of retirees pays for most of their post-retirement healthcare without an increase in payroll taxes. The boost in private savings would bring significant additional benefits: It would support increases in physical capital and higher wages. In contrast, the pay-as-you-go Medicare system (like Social Security) reduces the incentive for people to save for their retirement years, robs young people of their own earnings, and slows the rise of the standard of living. Source: Politico

Return on investment or hot air? May is Asthma Awareness Month, and the
federal Environmental Protection Agency is on its usual self-congratulatory path, claiming to have prevented “more than 1.7 million incidences of asthma attacks” in 2010 alone: “Through the Clean Air Act, EPA has helped prevent millions of asthma attacks across the country and continues to work alongside federal, state and local partners to address this nationwide problem.”  Interestingly, the reported rate of asthma has gone from 38.5 per 1,000 population in 1999 to 42.6 per 1,000 in 2009, according to the American Lung Association (latest figures).  The EPA says, “Nearly 26 million Americans, including more than 7 million children, are affected by this chronic respiratory disease, including low  income and minority populations at the highest rates.”  The rate increase took place even as the data through 2010 show significant and ongoing improvement in the nation’s air quality, according to the EPA’s calculations, accessible at

Outsourcing grows. Biopharmaceutical companies are increasingly outsourcing their research and development operations, both within the United States and overseas, to reduce costs and the “growing jungle of regulations,” according to a new report.  A survey finds a growing demand, not just for call centers anymore, but for outsourcing clinical trials and drug manufacturing. “Not surprisingly, cost savings is key,” according to the report in Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News.

“Biopharma’s growing appetite for cost-cutting can be seen in two study results. Of pharma organizations that outsourced at least one function – IT, finance/accounting, HR, procurement or call center/customer relationship management – 39% said they plan to expand outsourcing into new business units or geographies, versus 30% overall. And no biopharmas planned to eliminate outsourcing, compared with 2% overall.”

Drug shortages: There are 214 drugs in short supply in the United States, according to the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists. Drug companies and public health
advocates want federal lawmakers to use reauthorization of the 20-year-old Prescription
Drug User Fee Act, which expires this year, to tackle the drug shortage problem. The law sets fees for Food and Drug Administration reviews of drug approval applications. Provisions in the draft reauthorization bill would establish quotas for drugs in shortage and establish expedited reviews of major manufacturing changes for drugs that are or could be in short supply. Source:

Quote of Note
“[T]he possibility of ‘Obamacare’ policies cutting Medicare’s unfunded liability in half is so unlikely that Medicare’s chief actuary, Richard Foster, provides an ‘alternative’ report, in addition to the official trustees report, in which he projects much higher levels of Medicare spending.” – John Goodman

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