Checking Up On Health: February 25, 2014

Health Policy News and Views
Compiled by Benita M. Dodd


Opting for organic? How scientific are you about your food intake? Do you insist on buying organic coffee and bread from Whole Foods? You simply must read Michael Schulson’s article in the Daily Beast on the scientific credibility we allow the store he calls, “America’s greatest shrine to pseudoscience.” “Bringing sound data into political conversations and consumer decisions is a huge, ongoing challenge,” Schulson says. “It’s not limited to one side of the public debate. The moral is not that we should all boycott Whole Foods. It’s that whenever we talk about science and society, it helps to keep two rather humbling premises in mind: very few of us are anywhere near rational. And pretty much all of us are hypocrites.”

Medical malpractice payouts: Last year marked the first time since 2003 that there was an increase in the total medical malpractice payout amounts, as well as the total number of payouts, according to an analysis from Diederich Healthcare’s “2014 Medical Malpractice Payout Analysis,” based on data from the National Practitioner Data Bank. Payouts grew to more than $3.73 billion, an increase of 4.7 percent over 2012. Payouts increased over 2012 in 38 states, with the largest increase in California, up $51 million from last year. Most (45 percent) medical malpractice payment amounts were for claims regarding an inpatient case, while 38 percent were for outpatient. Most (33 percent) allegations pertained to diagnoses, but surgery (28 percent) and treatment (18) percent also made up considerable portions of payout money. In Georgia, payouts amounted to $80 million to $100 million. The most important factor? A whopping 96 percent of cases were decided through settlement. The average payout in cases that went to judgment was down by $200,000. Georgia legislators decided against medical malpractice reform this year.

  • The Georgia Public Policy Foundation has proposed an approach that would move medical malpractice away from litigation to an administrative system. The Patients’ Compensation System would implement the approach and get away from “jackpot justice.”


The ‘annual fee’ tax: The Affordable Care Act’s “annual fee” on health insurance is a unique tax levied on health insurance companies as a fixed amount each year, roughly proportional to their insurance market share as measured by total premiums. The tax is set at a fixed amount, so insurance companies will be forced to pass the tax on to consumers in the form of higher premiums, Heritage Foundation’s Insider Online shared a paper by the American Action Forum that estimates the impact of this tax on individuals: a premium increase of $60 to $160 per person in 2014, rising to $100-$300 by 2018, for the average insured individual – and over $260 per family in 2014, rising to over $450 in 2018, for families with employer-sponsored, fully-insured coverage.

Numbers game I: The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released nationwide enrollment data last week for health insurance exchanges through the first four months of the program. As of February 1, 3.3 million individuals enrolled in health insurance coverage through the state and federally run exchanges. The American Action Forum’s monthly analysis of the enrollment data released by HHS reports that the total enrollment is only 75 percent of the 4.4 million total enrollee goal set by HHS.

Numbers game II: “We’ve got close to 7 million Americans who have access to health care for the first time because of Medicaid expansion,” President Obama said last week at a dinner at the Democratic Governors Association. But the Washington Post’s Fact Checker gave him “four Pinocchios”  … even though it gave him the benefit of the doubt on the source of those numbers. “[I]t is like playing whack-a-mole. Every time we rap someone for getting it wrong, the same problem pops up someplace else,” the article noted.

ObamaCare, close to home: Stephen Blackwood, president of Ralston College in Savannah, shares his family’s frightening struggle with ObamaCare in The Wall Street Journal this week. Blackwood is on the board of the Caring for Carcinoid Foundation; his mother, Catherine, manages the Family Medicine Center in Virginia Beach, Va., and was diagnosed with carcinoid cancer in 2005, when she was 49. “She has an indomitable will and is by far the toughest person I’ve ever met. But she wouldn’t still be here without that semimonthly Sandostatin shot that slows the onslaught of her disease. And then in November, along with millions of other Americans, she lost her health insurance. She’d had a Blue Cross/Blue Shield plan for nearly 20 years .It was expensive, but given that it covered her very expensive treatment, it was a terrific plan. It gave her access to any specialist or surgeon, and to the Sandostatin and other medications that were keeping her alive. And then, because our lawmakers and president thought they could do better, she had nothing. Her old plan, now considered illegal under the new health law, had been canceled.” Read more here.


Breathing new life into an existing drug: A blockbuster vaccine against childhood infections was part of an 85,000-patient drug trial that found it prevents pneumonia in the elderly – people age 65 and older. Pfizer’s Prevnar 13 was tested in one of the largest studies ever conducted. An estimated 300,000 adults aged 50 and older are hospitalized every year because of pneumococcal pneumonia, a substantial cause of illness and death, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The FDA had approved Prevnar 13 in 2010 to protect children against additional strains of Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria that cause an array of diseases, including pneumonia, ear infections and meningitis. Source: Reuters

Healing broken hearts: A European stem cell trial is under way involving 3,000 patients in 11 countries who are recovering from heart attacks. Within days of suffering a heart attack, patients will have standard treatment to widen their narrowed arteries, which involves inserting a small tube called a stent. Then half the patients will have stem cells taken from their bone marrow and injected into their heart. The bone acute myocardial infarction (BAMI) trial has received support from the European Commission. “After 15 years of research, we will now have a clear answer. We hope to show that stem cell injections can cut the number of people dying from heart attacks by 25 percent,” said lead researcher and cardiologist Dr. Anthony Mathur. Source: BBC

Virus as ‘fertilizer’? A study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences highlighted a faster process of initiating tissue repair using stem cells. Researchers combined viruses used in gene therapy with a synthetic scaffolding that serves as a template for tissue growth, and the virus influences stem cells to produce growth factors needed to form the tissue directly on the scaffold. This method gets rid of the growth factor delivery, which is expensive and unstable, and replacing it with scaffolding functionalized with the viral gene carrier,” said researcher Charles Gersbach. Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News  

Investment: U.S. biotech firms raised $4.5 billion in venture capital investments last year, an 8 percent increase over 2012, making it the second-biggest investment sector in the nation after the software industry. Overall, the life sciences sector obtained $6.6 billion in VC funding.  Source: PharmaTimes


Annual Dinner: The Foundation asks for your support year-round, but holds just one fund-raising event every year: The Annual Reception and Dinner. Support us by attending the 2014 event on March 5 and hear keynote speaker Daniel Garza of the LIBRE Initiative and the inspiring stories of Georgians who seized opportunity, took personal responsibility and live the American Dream.

Will you rally for Moise? Last year, the Georgia Public Policy Foundation’s Legislative Policy Forum highlighted triple amputee Moise Brutus, a young man who lost both legs and an arm in a motorcycle wreck. Thanks to Florida’s Medicaid reform, Moise came back and has flourished physically and psychologically. At the time, he was training for the 2016 Paralympics U.S. cycling team. Unfortunately, Moise’s custom bicycle was destroyed recently in a hit-and-run incident. A replacement bicycle for this courageous young man will cost $4,000, and friends and supporters are raising money so he can get back on and continue his training. Our friends at the Foundation for Government Accountability are spearheading the effort. Your contribution of S10, $20 or more can make a dream come true. Go to to contribute.   


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