Checking Up On Health: March 25, 2014

Health Care Policy News and Views
Compiled by Benita M. Dodd



Yesterday, an e-mail from the White House turned up in my mailbox. From President Obama, no less. The salutation was, “Hey – ”

(As an aside, I’m a bit of a fuddy-duddy when it comes to how I’m addressed. “Hey” isn’t a favorite. I blame my mother – or, as she used to say, “Hay is for horses.” I left my first doctor when I immigrated to the United States back in the horse-and-carriage days because he called me “Honey.” I figure I paid him enough to remember my name. … )

It was an urgent reminder about the “Affordable” Care Act, AKA ObamaCare. The President pointed out that, “After open enrollment ends on March 31, you won’t be able to get insurance through the marketplace until 2015.” Unless, of course, he uses that pen to change things. Again.

ObamaCare, in case you didn’t know, turned 4 years old this week.

A few recent numbers about the “Affordable” Care Act:

  • According to a new poll, Americans disapprove of the law 53-41 percent. Only 24 percent say it will make things better for their families. Another 41 percent say it will make things worse. And six in 10 say it will make health care more expensive. Source: The Morning Consult
  • According to the American Action Forum: “From a regulatory perspective, the law has imposed more than $27.2 billion in total private sector costs, $8 billion in unfunded state burdens, and more than 159 million paperwork hours on local governments and affected entities. What’s more troubling, the law has generated just $2.6 billion in annualized benefits, compared to $6.8 billion in annualized costs. In other words, the ACA has imposed 2.5 times more costs than it has produced in benefits.”
  • According to CNBC: Of the 5 million people the Obama administration claims have enrolled, just 715,000 are previously uninsured Americans who have chosen and paid for new insurance. According to the Washington Post, there are 48.6 million uninsured Americans. That means that after four years of being the law of the land, ObamaCare – whose purported purpose was to cover the uninsured – has provided coverage for just 1.4 percent of uninsured Americans. Indeed, the vast majority of those who have signed up are merely Americans who already had health insurance but whose plans were canceled by ObamaCare. Plus, a year ago the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reported that between 26 million and 27 million uninsured Americans will never receive health care coverage under Obamacare. Source:

So what is NOT ObamaCare’s fault? The growth in retail care, for one. The first retail care clinic opened in 2000. Today, there are more than 1,500 and growing. Physician employment, for another: Although that’s at 60 percent now, up from 25 percent a decade ago, cost concerns over the years are to blame. The consumer-based movement and the change from inpatient to outpatient care are two more changes. Read about the seven workplace changes not caused by the Affordable Care Act, according to Becker’s Hospital Review.

Back in the Courts: The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in the “Hobby Lobby case” today. According to the Washington Post, the divided court seemed inclined to agree that the religious beliefs of business owners may trump a requirement in the Affordable Care Act that employers provide their employees with insurance coverage for all types of contraceptives. Hobby Lobby and Mennonite-owned Conestoga say they are comfortable offering insurance plans that cover most types of contraceptives, but not ones that they say could endanger a fertilized egg, because they believe life begins at conception. The cases are Hobby Lobby Stores vs. Sebelius and Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Sebelius.


Social media and a rare genetic find: Scientists and physicians using genomics and parents tapping into the connective power of social media have identified a new genetic disease, and found the gene mutation that causes it. The parents of one child afflicted said they visited more than 100 doctors before the problem was diagnosed. The newly named disease is called NGLY1 deficiency. Described in a paper in Genetics in Medicine by the investigators who discovered it, the disease has been found in eight children with mutations in the gene encoding for N-glycanase 1, an enzyme that “recycles defective products from a cellular assembly line.” Children who do not have this enzyme have movement disorders, developmental delays, and liver problems. Interestingly, they are also unable to shed tears. Researchers say six of the eight patients in the new study were linked together after parents, physicians or scientists who were working on isolated cases searched online for NGLY1. What they found prompted them to seek out sequencing for their children.

Would you like to be seen today? At Ohio’s famed Cleveland Clinic, staffers answer phone calls with the question of whether patients would like to be seen today. The health system accommodates approximately a million same-day appointments each year. If the call comes in after 4 p.m., staffers adjust the greeting to, “Would you like to be seen tomorrow?” James Merlino, Cleveland Clinic’s chief experience officer, has said there are no ifs or buts about the question. “Anybody calling [Cleveland Clinic] for an appointment for any specialty can be seen today,” he said. Source: Forbes

Information technology: About two-thirds of hospitals and health systems have increased their IT budgets for 2014, according to the  2014 HIMSS Leadership Survey. Among the top reasons for the increase:

  • Overall growth in number of systems: 58 percent
  • Need to comply with regulatory changes: 49 percent
  • Overall budget increases: 46 percent
  • Need to upgrade IT infrastructure: 41 percent
  • Additional staffing to comply with regulations: 39 percent
Benita Dodd and Raj Rajan test out Google Glass at the Foundation's 2013 Georgia Digital Technology Forum.
Benita Dodd and Raj Rajan test out Google Glass at the Foundation’s 2013 “Georgia’s Digital Economy” Forum.

Google surgery: Several hospitals and health systems around the country have begun exploring how to use the capabilities of Google Glass to improve patient care and streamline hospital operations, Becker’s Hospital Review reports. One of them, Indiana University Health Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis, became the first hospital to both remove a tumor and reconstruct an abdominal wall. During the procedure, surgeons were able to use Google Glass’ voice commands to bring up the patient’s information and imaging results and view them without taking their eyes off the patient. Rhode Island Hospital in Providence says it is the first in the country to use Google Glass in an ED setting, to diagnose skin ailments. Last year, at a Georgia Public Policy Foundation event, “Georgia’s Digital Economy,” attendees and I had the opportunity to be among the first to try out Google Glass.

Did you know? In December, a surgeon at the University of California, San Francisco became the first in the country to receive approval from the Institutional Review Board to use Google Glass during surgery. Why aren’t hospitals and physicians rushing to use Google Glass? “We are struggling with the limitations” of what is legally allowed under HIPAA, Rasu Shrestha, vice president of medical information technology at Pittsburgh-based UPMC, told The Wall Street Journal.

Rare good news: In 2013, the Federal Drug Administration approved 31 orphan drugs – five more than the previous record year (2011) – pushing the total number of orphan drugs approved past the 450 mark.  Both orphan drug designations and orphan drug designation requests skyrocketed in 2013. Orphan drugs are developed specifically to treat rare diseases. Source:

Stem cell advances: Scientists have managed to produce tissue from human stem cells that could be transplanted into patients with defective or diseased bladders, including spina bifida or bladder cancer, which affects 70,000 Americans each year. The research was by the University of California’s (UC) Davis Institute for Regenerative Cures and published in the scientific journal Stem Cells Translational Medicine. Source:

Quotes of Note

“Healthy citizens are the greatest asset any country can have.” –  Winston Churchill

“The fact that only a small percentage of medical errors are dealt with in the malpractice system suggests that it’s not a system. It deals in an incredibly inefficient way with a small percentage of the actual errors and in such a way that it does not make the performance of the overall system better. It’s not addressing why the error was made in the first place.” – Malcolm Gladwell



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