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Checking Up On Health: September 10, 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

Docs and their apps: The majority (51 percent) of physicians who own smartphones now use clinical apps in their daily work, according to a recent survey, fueling a surge in clinical apps on the market. According to Float Mobile Learning, it’s the third fastest-growing app category for both Apple’s iTunes Store and Google Play. Thousands are currently available for free on the iOS and Android platform, but the most popular are fairly consistent between both app stores:

  • Top downloaded free clinical apps in the iTunes Store (iOS/ Apple), as of Aug. 25: 1) Epocrates 2) Micromedex Drug Information 3) Medscape 4) Taber’s Medical Dictionary for Mobile + Web 5) Skyscape Medical Resources
  • Top downloaded free clinical apps in Google Play (Android), as of Aug. 25: 1) Epocrates 2) Medscape 3) Micromedex Drug Information 4) Skyscape Medical Resources 5) UptoDate for Android

Two of the most popular free apps aim to provide comprehensive clinical decision support information for clinicians. Epocrates is currently used by more than 1 million health care professionals nationwide, Medscape by 3 million, according to the respective companies’ data. Source: Becker’s Hospital Review

Are you happy now? Happy people live longer, are more productive, earn more and are better citizens, according to the second World Happiness Report. The happiness of the world would greatly increase, according theHappiness 2013 ranking of countries, if more people had access to good, cost-effective treatments for depression, anxiety disorders and psychosis. It notes there is some evidence of global convergence of happiness levels, with happiness gains more common in Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America, and losses more common among the industrial countries. (Too blasé in the developed world?) The 2013 report identifies the countries with the highest levels of happiness in the 2010-2012 surveys. Denmark ranked first, followed by Norway, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Sweden. The United States ranked 17th. The six key variables in rankings over time and among countries are real GDP per capita; healthy life expectancy; having someone to count on; perceived freedom to make life choices; freedom from corruption; and generosity. Health + Wealth + Liberty = Happiness Source: EHS Today

Obamaphones healthful: The high rate of cell phone ownership among homeless patients could benefit this population through mobile health (mHealth), according to a study published in the Journal of Internet Medical Research. Researchers focusing on three Connecticut emergency departments found 70.7 percent of homeless patients own smartphones, compared with 85.9 percent of patients in stable housing. The high rate of cell phone ownership among homeless patients means “ED providers can increase connectivity for all mHealth purposes including referrals, appointment and medication reminders, and providing relevant information for health management” using mobile technology, the researchers wrote.New media is a powerful tool to connect patients experiencing homelessness to health care.”

ObamaCare

Lift mandate, cut deficit: Lifting the mandate under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), that requires individual Americans to purchase health insurance, would reduce the federal budget deficit by $35 billion, according to a Congressional Budget Office estimate. The CBO finding comes in its “Cost Estimate for H.R. 2668 ,” a bill that would suspend both the employer mandate and the individual mandate for 2014. This bill was approved by the House of Representatives on July 17.

On the one hand: The ObamaCare’s exchanges launch Oct. 1, but a Heartland Institute report highlights three strands of activity around them “that indicate concerns for their future” even as the deadline approaches. Groups are dropping out of the navigator program, essential to signing people up for the exchanges under the Affordable Care Act. The federal government awarded $67 million to more than 100 organizations across the country to hire and train navigators last month. At least two groups have since returned their grants. Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center gave back a $124,419 grant to enroll uninsured people at their main hospital and two satellite locations, citing Ohio’s new enacted new restrictions in late July that significantly limited who could participate in the program. Seventeen states have so far passed laws that place restrictions on navigators above and beyond those in the federal health law, according to analysts at the Commonwealth Fund. Additionally, there’s an increased push from major employers to dump their retirees into the exchanges, making for an older and sicker risk pool and driving up premium costs for everyone. IBM announced last week it is dropping retirees and was followed this week by Time Warner. Last, there are already predictions that exchanges will inevitably have to restrict the plans sold outside of them in future years. Liberal Brookings Institution economist Henry Aaron and DC Health Benefit Exchange Authority Board Member Kevin Lucia write in the New England Journal of Medicine, in a piece titled, “Only the Beginning – What’s Next at the Health Insurance Exchanges?”  that, “Mundane administrative tasks will occupy the exchanges for the first year or two. But the exchanges are an instrument of enormous potential power. … To limit information overload, they may limit the number of plans insurers can offer and require that plans differ meaningfully from one another. They can require insurers to offer certain standardized plans so that customers can more easily compare price and service.”

On the other hand: The Center for Public Integrity published an ObamaCare article headlined, “While opponents obfuscate, supporters are explaining how consumers will be protected.” It notes that, “Since 2010, the year President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act, more than $400 million has been spent by the law’s opponents to turn Americans against it, according to an analysis earlier this summer by the Campaign Media Analysis Group at Kantar Media. That compares to just $75 million spent by supporters to defend and explain the legislation.”  (Would that $75 million in support include the administration’s spending of taxpayer funds?) It highlights a “magic YouTube video” pointing out, among other things, that “federal subsidies (which some of us call YOUR TAX DOLLARS) to help defray the cost of premiums will be available to U.S. families earning up to $94,000 and that 90 percent of the 133,000 uninsured Mainers will qualify for a subsidy. “As you watch Maggie’s magic YouTube video, be aware that even if you aren’t a resident of the Pine Tree State, everything except the Maine-specific stats apply to your state, too.” Or you can skip the article and video and go straight for the Ipecac.

In Brief:

Supporting ObamaCare: The Obama administration is readying a $12 million onslaught of ads in a dozen red states to encourage Americans to sign up for ObamaCare insurance exchanges, POLITICO reports. (See item above.)

Fertility treatment: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has accepted for review Merck’s new drug application of its investigational fertility treatment, corifollitropin alfa, for controlled ovarian stimulation for in vitro fertilization. The drug already is approved in more than 50 markets outside the United States, including the European Union. Well played, FDA! Source: New York Business Journal

R&D uncertainty: Analysts estimate that treatment for Alzheimer’s could generate sales of at least $20 billion, but the development process carries uncertainty and a high price. PhRMA has said more than 80 drugs are in development, but most have not reached late-stage trials. There is concern that drugmakers may reduce investments in Alzheimer’s drug research if the next round of late-stage studies is not promising, according to NBC News/CNBC.

Quotes of Note:

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

“If we are creating ourselves all the time, then it is never too late to begin creating the bodies we want instead of the ones we mistakenly assume we are stuck with.” – Deepak Chopra

Health nuts are going to feel stupid someday, lying in hospitals dying of nothing.” – Red Fox