Checking Up On Health: January 29, 2013

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

Health Policy Briefs
Compiled by Benita M. Dodd

Glossary for the health care law: The Associated Press has helpfully compiled a list of explanations of the terms you should know to help you understand the law that Congress passed (to paraphrase Speaker Nancy Pelosi) so that it could find out what was in the law. For example: “Essential health benefits – Basic health benefits that most health insurance plans will have to cover starting in 2014. They include office visits, emergency services, hospitalization, rehab care, mental health and substance abuse treatment, prescriptions, lab tests, prevention, maternal and newborn care, and pediatric care.” Find out about individual mandates, exchanges and more. Here’s what happens if you reject the mandate: “Tax penalty – The fine levied on individuals who disregard the individual insurance mandate. It starts small and gets bigger in subsequent years. In 2014 it’s $95 or 1 percent of taxable income. By 2016, it’s $695 or 2.5 percent of taxable income, whichever is greater. Thereafter it’s adjusted for inflation.”

By the numbers: Almost four in every 10 children are born on Medicaid; one in every four children is living in a food stamp household and the school lunch program is pervasive, notes John Goodman of the National Center for Policy Analysis. “You just can’t write it all off to bad luck,” Goodman writes. “What we are witnessing are patterns of behavior. All too often it’s intentional behavior.” Read more here.

There’s an app for that: More and more, Americans are tracking their health using smartphone applications and other devices that collect personal data automatically. The Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project released survey findings on Monday in which 21 percent of respondents say they use some form of technology to track their health data, such as a spreadsheet, Web site, app or device. More than 500 companies were making or developing self-management tools by last fall, up 35 percent from January 2012, according to Health 2.0, a market intelligence project that keeps a database of health technology companies. Nearly 13,000 health and fitness apps are now available.  

Is your attending physician overworked? It may not be the melodrama of “Grey’s Anatomy,” but nearly 40 percent of hospital-based general practitioners who are responsible for overseeing patients’ care say they juggle unsafe patient workloads at least once a week. According to a study in JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers at Johns Hopkins University invited attending physicians, known as hospitalists, to complete an online survey that measured various characteristics, including the number of patients they thought they could manage safely during a typical shift. Hospitalists are the physicians who coordinate a patient’s care and medications among various specialists while they’re in the hospital and oversee their transition home. Researchers also found that more than 20 percent of survey respondents believe their workload likely resulted in negative outcomes for patients by contributing to patient transfers, complications and even death. Twenty-two percent said they’ve ordered unnecessary procedures, consultations, and other tests due to time constraints. We’re sure their workload will improve under ObamaCare, said no one ever. Source: Kaiser Health News 

Money for R&D: Businesses that are majority-owned by multiple venture capital firms, hedge funds or private equity funds will now be able to apply for grants set aside for them: 25 percent of Small Business Innovation Research funds from the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy, as well as 15 percent of funds from other agencies. The new rules that went into effect on Monday also spell out requirements for ownership by investor firms and non-U.S. citizens. The grants “now will be an aggressively competitive program that fulfills federal research and development goals of bringing breakthrough public health discoveries to the public,” the Biotechnology Industry Organization said of the changes. Source: Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology  

Poison pill for ObamaCare’s projected savings: Some of the nation’s biggest biotechnology companies are lobbying state legislatures intensively to limit generic competition to their blockbuster drugs, potentially cutting into the billions of dollars in savings on drug costs contemplated in the federal health care overhaul law, The New York Times reports. Biotech drugs, known as biologics, are complex drugs made in living cells instead of chemical factories. They account for roughly one-quarter of the nation’s $320 billion in spending on drugs, and include bestsellers such as like the rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis drugs Humira and Enbrel. The drugs annually cost patients — or their insurers — tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. Two companies, Amgen and Genentech, are proposing bills that would restrict the ability of pharmacists to substitute generic versions of biologics for brand name products.

Pass-through taxes: Some medical-device companies faced with a new tax meant to help finance the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act are hoping someone else will pick up the tab: their hospital customers, who probably are planning on passing that on in patients’ bills. Companies including feeding-tube supplier Applied Medical Technology Inc. and respiratory-valve maker Hans Rudolph Inc. have added surcharges or warned hospitals of price increases to cover the new 2.3 percent tax on device sales that went into effect January 1, The Wall Street Journal reports.  As Albert Camus wrote in “Caligula,” “Note, besides, that it is no more immoral to directly rob citizens than to slip indirect taxes into the price of goods that they cannot do without.” 

Quotes of Note 

“Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint.” – Mark Twain 

What some call health, if purchased by perpetual anxiety about diet, isn’t much better than tedious disease.” – Alexander Pope



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