Checking up on Health


Health Policy Briefs: February 14, 2012

Compiled by Benita M. Dodd

If you’ve read “Overdiagnosed,” the eye-opening book by Dr. H. Gilbert Welch, you know there is such a thing as too much health care. Excessive medical screening and diagnostic treating in asymptomatic people can produce overtreatment. The quest to detect health problems as early as possible is often more harmful than helpful, as Welch points out.

Hospitals apparently are taking “Overdiagnosed” one step further. Imagine you recently fractured your arm and you were treated at your local hospital. A couple of months later, you receive a postcard urging you to sign up at your community hospital for a cancer screening that could detect lung cancer.

How did they know you were a smoker?

It may not be a coincidence. According to a new report by Kaiser Health News and USA Today, hospitals have begun to mine their patients’ records in search of customers.

“With profit in mind, marketers for hospitals are using patient data to grow their business,” the report found. And they are allowed to.

“A growing number of hospitals use their patients’ health and financial records to help pitch their most lucrative services, such as cancer, heart and orthopedic care. As part of these direct mail campaigns, they are also buying detailed information about local residents compiled by consumer marketing firms — everything from age, income and marital status to shopping habits and whether they have children or pets at home.”

While the strategies are increasing revenues, they are also drawing fire from some patient advocates and privacy groups, who criticize the hospitals for using private medical records to pursue profits. Read more here:

Hospital rankings:  The Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems survey enables hospital patients to rate line items relating to their patient care experience. The survey lists the top 50 hospitals with the highest percentage of patients who rated their hospital 9 or 10 out of a 0 (worst) to 10 (best) scale. No. 1 was Animas Surgical Hospital of Durango, Colo., where 97 percent of patients rated the hospital 9 or 10. At No. 21 with 91 percent was Georgia’s own Hughston Hospital in Columbus. Read more here: Source: Becker’s Hospital Review

State health care reform: Georgia Public Policy Foundation Forum editor Mike Klein’s article, “New Possible Strategy for Georgia Health Insurance Reform,” lays out the approach a Georgia-based coalition would take to implement free-market reforms for the state. “By one estimate, it might be possible to reduce the number of uninsured, non-Medicaid eligible Georgians from 1.8 million to 600,000,” Klein reports. Read his article on The Forum here:

Aid for Africa: Aid programs in African countries provide enormous benefit, but they enable and sometimes directly cause bad domestic policies, Roger Bate writes in an Outlook for the American Enterprise Institute. “In countries where significant portions of health budgets come from aid, the political elite can effectively ignore large swaths of society with little consequence to themselves. Western donors are guilty of repeatedly funding corrupt, even despotic, incumbents, enabling them to retain power in the face of domestic opposition and weakening the power of the electorate. These challenges have led aid reformers in most Western donor nations, and especially the United States, to focus assistance on developing specific interventions with measurable outcomes rather than simply handing cash to the governments of impoverished nations.”

With cuts in foreign aid likely, Bates has some advice. He notes the United States is the largest contributor to the G8’s Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which is commendably transparent in how it allocates this money, with one exception. It has used the U.N. Development Program (UNDP) in at least 27 countries to disperse over $1 billion in funds and medicines. Yet the UNDP refuses to allow its internal audits to be viewed by any external organization, even those from which it receives funding. Without any accountability or oversight, the funds channeled through the UNDP are not likely to be well spent. Bate recommends the United States should pressure the Global Fund to stop using UNDP as a conduit. If it refuses, the United States should withdraw funding from the Global Fund. Read more at

Federal health care law update: Amicus briefs are piling up as the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to consider arguments regarding President Obama’s federal health care law on March 27.

The Tax Foundation’s brief, released Monday, focuses on whether the individual mandate is permissible under Congress’s power to tax and argues that it is not, “because it is properly considered a penalty and not a tax.” The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act bill itself, “and accompanying technical documents, as well as statements by President Obama, further show that the mandate should not be considered a tax,” the brief notes.  “The individual mandate is thus properly considered a penalty and not a tax for purposes of the U.S. Constitution’s Taxing Power and for purposes of the Anti-Injunction Act. … If the individual mandate is a tax, it is an unapportioned direct tax and thus unconstitutional.” Read the brief here:

Two amicus curiae briefs were filed Monday by the Cato Institute and the Goldwater Institute. More than 400 state legislators from across the country signed on, expressing their concern that the affordable, quality health care Americans need cannot be engineered and mandated by politicians and bureaucrats. The briefs maintain that key components of the Affordable Care Act are unconstitutional, will not provide access to quality care and will stifle health care innovation if implemented in all states.

Read Cato’s here:

Read Goldwater’s here:

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