Checking Up On Health: May 28, 2013

BenitaDodd2013Health Care News and Views

Compiled by Benita M. Dodd

The federal government will run the health insurance exchange, or marketplace, in Georgia and many other states. The goal is for individual consumers to be able to make informed choices comparing benefits and price. Andy Miller of Georgia Health News reports that seven health insurers have signed up to offer benefits plans in the online insurance exchange that will begin enrolling Georgia individuals in October. Miller reports that the companies are offering rates that are comparable to or even below current employer premiums, according to Bill Custer, a health insurance expert at Georgia State University who evaluated the findings. Aetna, Alliant, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia, Coventry, Humana, Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, and Peach State will offer a range of plans for individuals in Georgia as part of the “marketplace,” which will debut in 2014.

Doctor’s office rollback? Some of the nation’s biggest retailers have been rapidly expanding into the health care provider space, including Wal-Mart. Retail health clinics may prove to be hospitals’ most capable competitors in the years to come. In a video from the Advisory Board, Dr. Lisa Bielamowicz, of Health Care Advisory Board, said about a third of provider patients shop at Wal-Mart on a weekly basis. “It’s the cheapest place to buy groceries and ammunition, and it could become your most formidable competitor,” she said. Wal-Mart has unveiled plans to have primary care services in rural markets within five to seven years. The headline on this article in Becker’s Hospital Review is, “3 Reasons Why Hospitals Might be Scared of Wal-Mart.”

Emergency cash: The evolving role of emergency departments has made emergency department (ED) physicians key players for hospitals aiming to reduce total costs, according to a report from the RAND Corporation. In 2009, U.S. hospitals admitted 2.7 million more patients from emergency departments and 1.6 million fewer from physicians’ offices and other outpatient settings than in 2003. This makes ED physicians the major decision-makers for half of all hospital admissions. Because the average cost of a hospital stay is about 10 times the cost of an ED visit, ED physicians’ decisions on which patients to admit can have a significant impact on a hospital’s bottom line, as well as the country’s health care spending.  Inpatient care currently represents 31 percent of the nation’s health care costs. Source: Becker’s Hospital Review

One more diabetes diagnosis tool: The Food and Drug Administration announced today that physicians may use the Cobas Integra 800 Tina-quant HbA1cDx assay from Roche to diagnose diabetes. It is the first HbA1c test that the FDA has approved to be marketed for diabetes diagnosis; tests currently on the market are cleared for monitoring blood glucose control but not for diagnosing diabetes. Nearly 26 million people in the United States are believed to be diabetic, including 7 million people who remain undiagnosed.

Don’t believe all the press about health care prices slowing. Two major reasons they won’t are ObamaCare and the aging population, according to the Manhattan Institute. Census projections are that the elderly population will skyrocket by 2030, a trend that will continue unabated to 2050. By then, the percentage of the population that is 65 years and older will grow to 20 percent, from around 13 percent in 2010. An aging population means more individuals with health care needs that include chronic diseases like diabetes and Alzheimer’s, all of which are expensive and difficult to treat. As for the federal health law:  Having more people with comprehensive insurance coverage that covers everything from routine doctor’s visits to $9 birth control pills will result in more people using health care resources, all culminating in greater health expenditures.

Sick of taxes? There’s more to come, thanks to the “Affordable” Care Act: A wave of destructive  tax increases will begin to hit Americans during the next tax filing season and beyond, Americans for Tax Reform reminds us. This year sees the start of the 3.8 percent surtax on investment income; the Medicare payroll tax increase; the 2.3 percent medical fevice tax on gross sales, the high medical bills tax and the Flexible Spending Account (FSA) tax. “Needless to say, this (last) tax will especially impact middle class families. There is one group of FSA owners for whom this new cap will be particularly cruel and onerous: parents of special needs children. Nationwide there are several million families with special needs children and many of them use FSAs to pay for special needs education. Tuition rates at one leading school that teaches special needs children in Washington, D.C. (National Child Research Center) can easily exceed $14,000 per year. Under tax rules, FSA dollars can be used to pay for this type of special needs education. This ObamaCare tax provision will limit the options available to these families.” In 2014, the Individual Mandate Non-Compliance Tax, the Employer Mandate Tax and the Tax on Health Insurers. In 2018, the tax on union member and early retiree health insurance plans. Read, “The ObamaCare Tax Hike Train Wreck.”

A more potent stem cell: Researchers have discovered that stem cells harvested from fat (adipose) are more potent than those collected from bone marrow in helping to modulate the body’s immune system. The findings, published in the current issue of Stem Cells Translational Medicine, could have significant implications in developing new therapies, as such cells are far more plentiful in the body than those found in bone marrow and can be collected from waste material from liposuction procedures.

Eyes right: An experimental stem cell treatment restored the sight of a man who suffered retinal cell degeneration, according to developer Advanced Cell Technology. The patient is part of a trial testing the safety of stem cell-derived retinal pigment epithelial cells in reversing damage caused by dry age-related macular degeneration or Stargardt’s macular dystrophy, two common causes of blindness. The vision in the man’s affected eye is said to have improved from 20/400 to 20/40. “There’s a guy walking around who was blind, but now can see,” said company CEO Gary Rabin. “With that sort of vision, you can have a driver’s licence.”

In Brief

Raising eyes: The number of eyelid lifts paid for by Medicare more than tripled in a 10-year span, according to a report by the Center for Public Integrity. The cost to U.S. taxpayers for the simple surgery rose to $80 million in 2011 from $20 million in 2001, according to the report. Source:

Betting on biotech: A growing stock market, low interest rates and a lack of market volatility are driving investors to put money into biotech firms through initial public offerings (IPOs) after shunning the sector for years. Fourteen biotech companies have gone public this year, the industry’s fastest start since 2007. Biotech IPOs have posted an average return of about 20 percent this year compared with 16 percent for all industries. Source: Reuters

War on superdrugs: GlaxoSmithKline will work in partnership with the federal Department of Health and Human Services’ Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority to develop new antibiotics for drug-resistant pathogens and diseases that could be used as bioterrorism. GSK, Britain’s largest pharmaceutical manufacturer, will receive $40 million initially and up to $200 million if the deal is renewed. Source:

Quotes of Note

“Joy, temperance, and repose, slam the door on the doctor’s nose.” – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

“Hungry Joe collected lists of fatal diseases and arranged them in alphabetical order so that he could put his finger without delay on any one he wanted to worry about.”Joseph Heller

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