Checking Up On Health: October 15, 2013

Health Policy News and Views
Compiled By Benita M. Dodd

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

Just in time for ragweed season: The Food and Drug Administration has granted Sanofi’s nasal allergy spray Nasacort approval to be sold over the counter (OTC). The medication, currently sold via prescription, is the first steroid nasal spray to be granted approval for OTC use and will be available next spring. Several allergy products sold without a prescription in the nation, but Nasacort is a corticosteroid and treats allergy symptoms differently from those other products. Nasacort is designed to treat allergic rhinitis, allergies that cause swelling in the nose, such as pollen, dust or animal dander, in both adults and children. Source: Wall Street Journal

Allergies, by the numbers:
60 million: Americans affected by allergic rhinitis
$2 billion: Value of nasal steroid allergy sprays sold last year in the United States
47 million: U.S. prescriptions written for nasal steroid allergy sprays  last year
20: Atlanta pollen count for
ragweed pollen today.

Doctor loyalty: A Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey released Sunday finds that 74 percent of American adults have a doctor that they see on a regular basis.

Then again: In the midst of major changes in health care, insurer UnitedHealthCare has sent thousands of pink slips to Connecticut doctors. Termination letters went to physicians caring for patients under Medicare Advantage, which provides additional services to seniors.  Adding to the uncertainty, open enrollment for Medicare began today. According to reports, the cuts affect 810 primary care physicians and 1,440 specialists. UnitedHealthcare would not say how many doctors have been cut, but it did say that the remaining network includes more than 1,500 primary care physicians and more than 4,000 specialists. A company executive denied that the insurer was targeting doctors who are most expensive to the system. “We are assessing our network in Connecticut to help us provide higher quality and more affordable health care coverage for Medicare beneficiaries,” the spokesman told The Courant newspaper.

Kudos to Amanda Trask: The vice president of Professional and Support Services at WellStar Kennestone Hospital in Marietta was listed as one of Becker’s Hospital Review’s “Rising Stars: 25 Healthcare Leaders Under 40.” Trask, 38, oversees a team of more than 750 people. “Due in part to Ms. Trask’s leadership, the hospital has developed many clinical and non-clinical programs, including constructing a new Women’s Imaging Center,” the accolade noted.

Hospitals, by the numbers: Becker’s Hospital Review publishes a list of 50 Things to Know about the Hospital Industry. Here are a few interesting factoids:
1. There are 5,724 hospitals in the United States, according to the American Hospital Association.
2. Of these, 2,903 hospitals are nonprofit and 1,025 are for-profit. Additionally, 1,045 are owned by state or local (county, hospital district) government entities.
3. Of all hospitals, 1,984, or 35 percent, serve rural communities and are considered rural hospitals.
27. The majority of patients treated by U.S. hospitals are covered by Medicare. The average payer mix of a U.S. hospital is as follows:
•Medicare: 40.9 percent
•Medicaid: 17.2 percent
•Blue Cross Blue Shield, other private insurance: 16.5 percent
•HMO or PPO: 14 percent
•Self-pay: 4.9 percent
•Worker’s compensation and other government programs: 2 percent

Price transparency: A new law takes effect on April 1, 2014, in North Carolina, requiring hospitals to post prices on 140 of their most common procedures. All hospitals and ambulatory surgery centers (ASCs) will submit pricing on the 100 most common inpatient diagnosis-related groups, effective April 1, 2014, and every quarter thereafter, to North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services. Beginning July 1, 2014, hospitals and ASCs will also provide prices for the 20 most common surgical procedures and 20 most common imaging procedures, bringing the total to 140. The original bill called for the 50 most common procedures. In June, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer also signed legislation that requires hospitals to post their prices for their 50 most common inpatient and outpatient procedures.

R&D pipeline includes 452 drugs for rare diseases: There 452 new treatments for rare diseases being developed by U.S. biopharmaceutical research firms, according to PhRMA. The drugs and vaccines, either under review by the FDA or in human clinical trials, include treatments for autoimmune disorders, infectious diseases, neurological conditions and genetic disorders. The FDA has said that one in three new drug approvals in the past five years has been for a rare disease. Source: PharmaTimes.

What qualifies as a rare disease? A rare disease is defined as one that affects fewer than 200,000 people in the United States. However, there are about 7,000 conditions that apply, affect nearly 30 million Americans, or one in 10 of the population, says PhRMA.


User fees come through: Thanks to user fees, the government shutdown isn’t stopping Food and Drug Administration advisory committee meetings scheduled this month. The FDA retained about half its staff during the shutdown and most of those staffers have jobs funded by user fees paid by drug and device companies in exchange for performance goals. Most of the shutdown’s impact affects FDA’s food safety, nutrition and cosmetics activities, the FDA has said. Source:

Enrollment disaster: Administration officials have not identified which officials at Health and Human Services were directly in charge of the new ObamaCare computer enrollment system, or which companies are most involved with fixing it now. Both GCI Federal and Quality Software Services Inc. helped construct the Web site and data hub, respectively. White House officials attribute the site’s problems to unanticipated demand, but former Former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs challenged that explanation Monday on MSNBC.” When they get it fixed, I hope they fire some people that were in charge of making sure that this thing was supposed to work,” Gibbs said.  “This was bungled badly. This was not a server problem, just too many people came to the Web site, this is a Web site architecture problem. I think it is, again, excruciatingly embarrassing.” He’s not the only traditional supporter of the White House criticizing its handling of the Affordable Care Act launch: Washington Post columnist Ezra Klein (see below) called the rollout “a failure.” Source: Washington Post

A failure: Washington Post columnist Ezra Klein declares ObamaCare a failure: So far, the Affordable Care Act’s launch has been a failure. Not ‘troubled.’ Not ‘glitchy.’ A failure. But ‘so far’ only encompasses 14 days. The hard question is whether the launch will still be floundering on day 30, and on day 45,” Klein writes. In a hard-hitting column, he concludes, “This isn’t about politics. A lot of liberals will be angry over this post. A lot of conservatives will be happy about it. But it’s important to see the Affordable Care Act as something more than a pawn in the political wars: It’s a real law that real people are desperately, nervously, urgently trying to access. And so far, the Obama administration has failed them. The Obama administration’s top job isn’t beating the Republicans. It’s running the government well. On this – the most important initiative they’ve launched – they’ve run the government badly. They deserve all the criticism they’re getting and more.”

Quotes of Note

“A healthy attitude is contagious but don’t wait to catch it from others. Be a carrier.” – Tom Stoppard

“Liberty is to the collective body, what health is to every individual body. Without health no pleasure can be tasted by man; without liberty, no happiness can be enjoyed by society.” – Henry St. John

« Previous Next »