Checking Up On Health: February 4, 2014

Health News and Views
Compiled by Benita M. Dodd


Icejam 2014 brought metro Atlanta – and my Checking Up on Health roundup – to a standstill on January 28. I hope you and yours pulled through the mess with minimal damage. Read my commentary on the positive aspects of the weather disaster here.

washingHow long should you wash your hands? Sixty-six percent of adults are washing their hands more thoroughly or frequently in response to the flu sweeping the country, according to the Bradley Corp. Healthy Hand Washing Survey. But … not long enough! The survey reveals that most Americans need a reminder to continue lathering up for a full 20 seconds, because 55 percent wash up for just 15 seconds or less. How long is that? According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, you should sing “Happy Birthday” twice while soaping up; it allows enough time to remove and rinse off germs. Source: EHS Today

American health: Judging by the top drug sales in 2013, Americans are depressed, suffering from heartburn, arthritis and high cholesterol. Otsuka Pharmaceutical’s antipsychotic drug Abilify, or aripiprazole, was the best-selling drug in the nation last year, with nearly $6.5 billion in sales, according to a report from IMS Health. AstraZeneca’s proton pump inhibitor Nexium, or esomeprazole, ranked second with $6.1 billion in sales, followed by AbbVie’s arthritis drug Humira, or adalimumab, with $5.5 billion. Rounding out the top five were AstraZeneca’s cholesterol-lowering drug Crestor, or rosuvastatin, and Eli Lilly and Co.’s antidepressant Cymbalta, or duloxetine. What was the most prescribed drug? Hypothyroid medication levothyroxine ( Synthroid, AbbVie). Source: Medscape

Why not expand Medicaid? The Cato Institute’s Michael Tanner (who once was part of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation!) explains in the Virginian Pilot why Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe is wrong to consider expanding Medicaid in his state. McAuliffe, Tanner notes, argues that expansion “would provide hundreds of thousands of Virginians with better coverage, save hospitals and businesses more than $1 billion and stimulate the economy. Best of all, it would cost Virginia taxpayers hardly anything.” According to Tanner, “The problem is that he is wrong about nearly all of it. McAuliffe counts on roughly $14.7 billion in federal funding over the next 10 years to pay for most of the expansion. Under the Affordable Care Act, the federal government would pay the entire cost through 2016. After that, the federal share would gradually decline, but it is still supposed to pick up at least 90 percent of the cost for those made newly eligible in perpetuity. This is a much higher share of costs than Virginia receives under traditional Medicaid. McAuliffe sees this as virtually free money.” Unfortunately, Tanner points out, “even though the feds will cover 90 percent, Virginians will have to pay 10 percent. Ten percent of a really big number is still a really big number.” It gets worse. Read Tanner’s other reasons here. Georgians beware!

ObamaCare, by the numbers:
41:  The percentage of Americans who continue to be more likely to approve than disapprove of the Affordable Care Act.
51: The percentage of Americans who continue to be more likely to disapprove than approve of the Affordable Care Act.
64: The percentage of Americans who predict that the law will not personally benefit them or help improve the national healthcare situation.
2.5 million: The number of full-time workers by which ObamaCare will reduce the workforce through 2024  

Lower income: A new study by the Brookings Institution finds that ObamaCare’s redistribution will be stunningly lopsided. Scholars at the Brookings Institution find the federal health legislation will increase the income of Americans in the lowest 20 percent of the income bracket and especially in the lowest 10 percent. But all other income groups – even people who make very modest incomes in the $25,000 to $30,000 range, as well as all income brackets above that – will see a decline in income because of the “Affordable” Care Act.

The party of NO? If you don’t like ObamaCare what’s your alternative? Republicans, frequently dismissed as “the party of no,” clearly need to do a better job of sharing their viable solutions. Back in June 2013, Georgia’s own Congressman Tom Price, a physician, introduced the Empowering Patients First Act. The legislation – H.R. 2300, could save $2.34 trillion while reducing health care premium increases, according to an analysis by former Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas Holtz-Eakin. Price said the analysis is “a testament to the reform proposal’s validity and seriousness, and it confirms that patient-centered solutions can yield savings, reduce costs, and increase access.” The bill has four main objectives: ensure access to health coverage for all Americans; rein in out-of-control costs; solve insurance challenges of portability and pre-existing illness; and improve the health care delivery structure.

Another bailout? ObamaCare features a fund that pays out to insurance companies when their costs exceed targets, the National Taxpayers Union reports. Why does this matter? Because “taxpayers could be bailing out insurance companies when whatever is banked in this fund (otherwise known as squat) runs out as Health and Human Services pays off those insurers because ObamaCare is forcing them to offer excessively costly plans,” according to the NTU. “On top of the potential liability to taxpayers posed by PPACA’s Section 1342, reports that Administration officials have signaled in recent weeks they plan to ‘adjust special payment mechanisms built into Obamacare, called ‘risk corridors’” in order to provide additional assistance to insurance companies.”

Uptick in antibiotic R&D? U.S. and European Union regulators have moved to eliminate obstacles that have blocked antibiotic development, prompting drugmakers to renew activity in the discovery and development of new treatments, according to The Wall Street Journal. Innovative drugs are receiving priority review status from the Food and Drug Administration, and companies developing promising new molecules are receiving funding from the U.S. government.  

Downtick in R&D? Health industry leaders in Massachusetts are voicing concern that pressures to curb health care costs under ObamaCare and state law could slow medical innovation. They say insurers and health care providers could reduce costs by selecting cheaper drugs instead of newer medicines that may be expensive and more effective. “Innovation is in jeopardy,” Organogenesis president and CEO Geoff MacKay said at a Massachusetts Biotechnology Council event. Source: Boston Herald 

Quotes of Note

“… CBO estimates that expanded Medicaid eligibility under the ACA (ObamaCare) will, on balance, reduce incentives to work.” Congressional Budget Office

“The cost to get (a new treatment) approved is significantly higher from a regulatory point of view. And if you invest the time and the money and take the risk, if there’s a precarious reimbursement setting, the whole equation is in jeopardy. Innovation is in jeopardy.” – Geoff MacKay


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