Checking Up On Health: September 17, 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

First, the good news: Americans are living longer and healthier lives than ever before, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Public Health. Researchers analyzed government data collected over the past three decades and found that people today can expect to have two more years of healthy living than they could just a generation ago. The data also revealed that people are reporting fewer disease symptoms and less trouble with everyday activities such as standing and walking. This was true for all groups examined in the study: blacks, whites, females and males.” What we’re talking about in this study is not simply life expectancy, but quality-adjusted life expectancy,” Susan Stewart, a researcher at the National Bureau of Economic Research, said in a Harvard University news release. ” 

Along with the good news, the researchers also uncovered some troubling trends in younger age groups: Since 2001, anxiety has become an increasing problem among young and middle-aged Americans, and walking difficulties have seen a significant increase among the nonelderly population.

Enough to make you sick: There’s a 50 percent chance that the antibiotic you’ve been prescribed is unnecessary or inappropriate. The Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued its first ever report on the state of antibiotic resistance and the burden of antibiotic resistance on public health. The report prioritizes bacteria into one of three categories: urgent, serious, and concerning. The report, “Antibiotic Resistance Threats in the United States, 2013,” also contains statistics on prevalence of drug-resistant infection; of the 2 million antibiotic resistant infections in the United States each year, 23,000 become fatal. According to the CDC, overuse of antibiotics is the most important factor in perpetuating antibiotic resistance. The CDC emphasizes that “estimates are based on conservative assumptions and are likely minimum estimates.”  CDC Director Dr. Tom Friedman notes, “Infections from resistant bacteria are now too common, and some pathogens have even become resistant to multiple types or classes of antibiotics (antimicrobials used to treat bacterial infections) .The loss of effective antibiotics will undermine our ability to fight infectious diseases and manage the infectious complications common in vulnerable patients undergoing chemotherapy for cancer, dialysis for renal failure, and surgery, especially organ transplantation, for which the ability to treat secondary infections is crucial.”  The report is available on the CDC Web site. 

You’ve heard of identity theft, but have you heard of medical identity fraud?  Becker’s Hospital Review reports that a new coalition of providers, insurers, consumer groups and non-profit organizations is forming to develop best practices and strategies for combating medical identity fraud. The article cites one example of how patients find out they’re among the nation’s nearly 2 million victims of medical identity fraud: One man went to the emergency department at his local hospital, complaining of back pain. The on-call physician noticed an infection in his lymph node and, after consulting the patient’s chart, told the patient he was ordering a course of penicillin. The patient became upset, demanding to know why the physician would order a drug to which the patient is severely allergic. The physician checked the patient’s chart, noting penicillin was administered during the patient’s previous visit to the ED with no complications. This was the patient’s first trip to the small-town ED. It’s no small matter: A survey conducted by the Ponemon Institute found that in addition to financial losses faced by victims, 41 percent of victims in 2012 lost their insurance coverage and 14 percent reported medical mistreatment as described above. The survey also found the majority of victims to have lost trust and confidence in their health care providers. The new group is called the Medical Identity Fraud Alliance.

Shot in the arm: There are 271 vaccines under developments, according to the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) They include a monoclonal antibody against the flu and a vaccine intended to hinder HIV. The vaccines, in clinical trials or under Food and Drug Administration review, include 137 for infectious diseases, 99 for cancers, 15 for allergies and 10 for neurological disorders. Source:

Robodoc: The Mayo Clinic reports that it has partnered with Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, Az., to test a robot intended to enable remote diagnoses of concussions in football players. The robot allows players with suspected concussions to be “seen” by Mayo Clinic neurologists in Phoenix, miles away. The neurologist will be able to assess symptoms and consult with the medical staff present at the game. “Athletes at professional and collegiate levels have lobbied for access to neurologic expertise on the sideline,” Mayo Clinic neurologist Bert Vargas noted in a news release.” As nearly 60 percent of U.S. high schools do not have access to an athletic trainer, youth athletes, who are more susceptible to concussion and its after-effects, have the fewest safeguards in place to identify possible concussion signs and symptoms at the time of injury. Teleconcussion is one way to bridge this gap regardless of when or where they may be playing.”

Legalizing Botox: Adults bothered by the appearance of crow’s feet – lines at the outside corners of the eyes – have a new treatment option. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the use of Botox Cosmetic for temporary improvement of moderate to severe crow’s feet. Botox Cosmetic (onabotulinum toxin A) has been approved in the United States since 2002 to treat frown lines between the eyebrows. It works to make wrinkles less prominent by keeping facial muscles from tightening, according to an FDA news release. (Because no one had been doing it before now, we’re sure …) Source: 

ObamaCare Update

You’ll be able to keep your insurance? Trader Joe’s became one of the latest companies to announce it is dropping coverage for its employees who work less than 30 hours a week because of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act: “The ACA brings a new potential player into the arena for the acquisition of health care. Stated quite simply, the law is centered on providing low cost options to people who do not make a lot of money. Somewhat by definition, the law provides those people a pretty good deal for insurance … a deal that can’t be matched by us – or any company. However, an individual employee (we call them Crew Member) is only able to receive the tax credit from the exchanges under the act if we do not offer them insurance under our company plan.” Source: Washington Post

More is less: ObamaCare may actually do more of a disservice to patients in terms of long wait times at the doctor’s office – that is, if a doctor even gets to remain on insurers’ rosters – The Los Angeles Times reports. “To hold down premiums, major insurers in California have sharply limited the number of doctors and hospitals available to patients in the state’s new health insurance market opening Oct. 1.”  For Los Angeles County’s Health Net service, for example, on the state exchange, customers would get 2,316 primary care doctors and specialists. That’s less than one-third the number of doctors Health Net currently offers to workers who are covered by their employers.  

The Times also has a health care quiz online; test your knowledge here.

Quotes of Note.

‘What we have now is untenable over time. That kind of a cost compared to the rest of the world is really like a tapeworm eating, you know, at our economic body.” – Warren Buffett

“Medical men do not know the drugs they use, nor their prices.” Sir Francis Bacon

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