Checking Up On Health: January 8, 2013


Health Policy Briefs Compiled By Benita M. Dodd 

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

Happy New Year!  

What if you don’t want Medicare? That’s too bad, according to the U.S. Supreme Court, which on Monday turned away a challenge from former House Majority Leader Dick Armey and other Social Security recipients who say they have the right to reject Medicare in favor of continuing health coverage from private insurers. Without comment, the justices let stand a federal appeals court ruling that held that there is no way for people who receive Social Security to reject Medicare benefits. Armey, a Texas Republican, and two other former federal employees say private insurance covers more than Medicare. Two other plaintiffs are wealthy individuals who have high deductible private insurance and prefer to pay for their health care. The case was funded by a group called The Fund For Personal Liberty, which says its purpose is to take on burdensome government regulations. Source: Washington Post 

What if you lose coverage from your employer? A report by Kaiser Health News reminds you that if your employer drops your health insurance coverage as a result of the federal health law and you have to buy your own plan, you can’t pay your premium with pre-tax dollars. That tax “exclusion” for employers – your health insurance benefits are excluded from taxable income – “cost” the federal government an estimated $240 billion in 2010, according to an analysis by the Urban Institute. (We like to think of it as having kept taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars out of the hands of the federal government.) Georgia leveled the playing field, allowing individuals’ premiums on high-deductible plans to be deducted from state taxes, but Congress has not followed suit. 

Physician, heal thyself: As 2013 rolls in, Becker’s Hospital Review has a list of physicians’ top 10 concerns of 2012. Among them are declining revenues, access to outpatient services such as tests for their patients, and difficulty getting information about their patients from hospitals. At No. 7 is work/life balance. Physicians feel as though their workload is increasing, and not with patient care — with administrative duties. “They are spending too much time on the computer and not enough time at the bedside,” according to a health services company spokeswoman. Physicians also feel as though they are not getting enough time off from work to be with their families. (ObamaCare will make it so much better, said no one ever.) 

U.S. low on health care spending: Health care spending continued to grow at one of the slowest rates in history last year, according to an annual government report published Monday. During the economic tough times, many Americans put off doctor visits or decided to forego prescriptions. Health care spending is projected to spike up again in 2014, as ObamaCare’s coverage mandates take full effect, “before settling down to a new normal,” as The Washington Post puts it. 

U.S. high on drug approvals: The Food and Drug Administration approved 39 new drugs in 2012, the most in 16 years, Reuters reports. There were eight approvals in December alone. The 2012 tally compares with 30 in 2011 and just 21 in 2010. It is the highest number since 1996, when 53 so-called new molecular entities were approved. 

Drugs and money: Drugmakers say their relationship with the Food and Drug Administration is improving but now, they say, cost-conscious insurers are the new big threat to new biologic drugs’ success. In a survey, the California Biomedical Industry Report, more than 50 percent of executives reported that health insurance reimbursement issues had become more difficult in the past year. According to BayBio CEO Gail Maderis, “From a company’s very early days, corporate partners and venture capitalists now want to know that if a product gets to the market, will it be reimbursed?”  

Double-edged sword: As government funding for biomedical research dwindles (from the National Institutes for Health), scientists are turning to big drugmakers and disease-focused foundations, shifting the focus from basic to translational research, writes Luke Timmerman, National Biotech Editor of Xconomy. The result could be a slew of new drugs, devices and diagnostics over the next decade. But moving too far away from basic research could bring missed opportunities for “a whole series of bigger breakthroughs that can come only from asking basic, open-ended research questions about how genes, cells, and lower organisms work,” he warns. 

Quotes of Note 

“Yesterday, everybody smoked his last cigar, took his last drink and swore his last oath. Today, we are a pious and exemplary community. Thirty days from now, we shall have cast our reformation to the winds and gone to cutting our ancient shortcomings considerably shorter than ever.” – Mark Twain 

“State inspection laws, health laws, and laws for regulating the internal commerce of a State, and those which respect turnpike roads, ferries, &c. are not within the power granted to Congress. … Inspection laws, quarantine laws, health laws of every description, as well as laws for regulating the internal commerce of a State, and those which respect turnpike roads, ferries, &c., are component parts of this mass. No direct general power over these objects is granted to Congress, and, consequently, they remain subject to State legislation.” – Justice John Marshall

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