Checking Up On Health: April 16, 2013


Benita Dodd  Vice President  Georgia Public Policy Foundation
Benita Dodd
Vice President
Georgia Public Policy Foundation

Health Policy News and Views
Compiled by Benita M. Dodd 

There are just a few more seats and just a few more days to register for the Georgia Public Policy Foundation’s April 23 event on telehealth. The deadline to register is Friday; the cost to attend is $25.  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 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. Register online at Find out more at  Attire: business, business casual.

Early bird discount: Health insurers in Georgia are letting smaller firms and individuals renew their policies early so they can extend their current deals into next year and avoid possible “rate shock’’ caused by the Affordable Care Act, Andy Miller reports in Georgia Health News. Assistant Insurance Commissioner Jay Florence told Miller, “If consumers think it’s in their best interests to renew before January 1, we certainly are not going to stand in their way.”

Louisiana set to privatize public hospitals: Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s plans to sell publicly owned Louisiana State University hospitals to private operators do not need to be approved by the state Legislature, the state attorney-general has opined. Statutes that would have required legislative approval were removed in a 2003 amendment, according to the opinion written by state Assistant Attorney General Jessica Thornhill. The state must, however, require in leases that the private operators meet the same level of health care services as their former public operators, according to news reports. Jindal is seeking to privatize all but one of LSU’s 10 hospitals as a way to cut costs. Hefty savings from the privatizations are assumed in his budget proposal for the upcoming 2013-14 fiscal year. But none of the remaining financial arrangements has been completed — or released publicly. The university-run hospitals provide safety net care for the uninsured and help train most of the state’s medical students.

Whose genes? The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on Monday over whether human genes can be patented. Justices asked focused questions about the isolated genes for which Myriad Genetics holds patents and used hypothetical situations to explore where the lines should be drawn between what is naturally occurring and therefore not patentable under the federal Patent Act, and what is created by man and therefore subject to patents. Opponents argue that patents should not be allowed on parts of the human body and that patents impede medical progress. Myriad Genetics and its supporters, including BIO, meanwhile, said that a ruling against gene patents could force companies to stop investing in genetics research, hurting patients and the economy.

Cancer drugs: Almost 5,500 out of the 17,000 investigational drugs being developed are for the treatment of cancer, and the strong majority of them would be first-in-class treatments, according to a report from PhRMA. “Biopharmaceutical companies, working with other partners in the American research ecosystem, have made incredible progress in helping confront some of the most challenging and costly diseases facing patients around the world,” said PhRMA president and CEO John J. Castellani.  (I did not know this:) Since many tumors become resistant to existing therapies, identifying novel molecular targets has led to an increased number of potential new drugs,” reported.

Expiring patents, expiring profits: Expiring patents on top-selling drugs are hurting multinational pharmaceutical companies‘ bottom lines, according to Annual sales at 15 leading companies dropped 1.4 percent and before-tax profit dropped 3.5 percent in 2012. Most have undertaken restructuring, divestitures, partnerships, mergers or acquisitions to overcome the losses.

Costly Catch 22 in ObamaCare: Becker’s Hospital Review has an interesting report on the requirements the not-so-affordable Affordable Care Act imposes on non-profit hospitals. Those that fail to meet the requirements of the new provision are subject to a new $50,000 annual excise tax. The four new requirements that hospitals must meet in order to maintain their tax-exempt status are: the community health needs assessment; financial assistance policy; limitations on charges, and billing and collections practices. The problem? The IRS has yet to publish guidance on the consequences of failing to meet one or more of the requirements. And, as the report puts it, “This guidance will be critical, as the cost of complying with these requirements for larger hospitals will far exceed the $50,000 excise tax imposed for not complying.” The report concludes, “Unfortunately, the proposed regulations do not provide helpful guidance on who should be eligible for financial assistance. Thus, it is left to hospitals to establish eligibility criteria. If a hospital set the standard too low so that many of those without insurance do not qualify for financial assistance, the hospital’s status as a charity will be questioned. On the other hand, setting the standard too high will cause hospitals to limit their charges to those who may be able to pay the gross charges, and will disincentive those individuals from obtaining insurance.”

The Six Million Dollar Kidneys? A team at Massachusetts General Hospital has bioengineered rat kidneys in the laboratory by stripping cells from the organs and placing new tissue-producing cells on the collagen “scaffolds,” The New York Times reports, citing a study in the journal Nature Medicine. The engineered organs made urine in the lab and after being transplanted into rats, according to the study. Bleeding and clotting were not observed following transplantation, but the new kidneys did not work as well as the originals, a researcher said. Using a natural scaffold could have advantages over other methods, the lead investigator said.

Quick picks:
Blue Cross Blue Shield, the biggest health-insurance carrier in Rhode Island says its average rates for small businesses will go up about 15 percent next year, an increase tied to the federal health-care overhaul as well as other factors, The Wall Street Journal reports.
Got your scooter yet?  The Scooter Store, a Texas-based company that runs TV ads for power wheelchairs and scooters to people with limited mobility, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in Delaware. Federal agents raided the company’s headquarters earlier this year, and The Scooter Store and a rival company have come under congressional scrutiny over whether their TV ads target people who don’t need scooters, leading to hundreds of millions of dollars in unnecessary Medicare spending.

Quotes of Note 

“People pay the doctor for his trouble; for his kindness they still remain in his debt.”  – Seneca

“A doctor who cannot take a good history and a patient who cannot give one are in danger of giving and receiving bad treatment.” – Author Unknown


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