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News

Last 50 News Postings

 (Click on title to be directed to posting, most recent listed first)

Senate Health Bill Lacks 50 Votes Needed to Proceed
Medi-Cal Blamed for Poor Care in Lawsuit
Senate Republican Leadership Releases Revised ACA Repeal and Replace Bill
Mortality Rate Will Likely Increase Under Senate Healthcare Bill
University of Arizona-Phoenix Receives Full Accreditation
Limited Choice of Obamacare Insurers in Some Parts of the Southwest
Gottlieb, the FDA and Dumbing Down Medicine
Salary Surveys Report Declines in Pulmonologist, Allergist and Nurse 
   Incomes
CDC Releases Ventilator-Associated Events Criteria
Medicare Bundled Payment Initiative Did Not Reduce COPD Readmissions
Younger Smokers Continue to Smoke as Adults: Implications for Raising the
   Smoking Age to 21
Most Drug Overdose Deaths from Nonprescription Opioids
Lawsuits Allege Price Fixing by Generic Drug Makers
Knox Named Phoenix Associate Dean of Faculty Affairs
Rating the VA Hospitals
Garcia Resigns as Arizona University VP
Combination Influenza Therapy with Clarithromycin-Naproxen-Oseltamivir
   Superior to Oseltamivir Alone
VAP Rates Unchanged
ABIM Overhauling MOC
Substitution of Assistants for Nurses Increases Mortality, Decreases Quality
CMS Releases Data on Drug Spending
Trump Proposes Initial Healthcare Agenda
Election Results of Southwest Ballot Measures Affecting Healthcare
Southwest Ballot Measures Affecting Healthcare
ACGME Proposes Dropping the 16 Hour Resident Shift Limit
Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer: RT Out, Pembrolizumab In, and Vaccine
   Hope or Hype
Dental Visits May Prevent Pneumonia
Hospital Employment of Physicians Does Not Improve Quality
Clinton's and Trump's Positions on Major Healthcare Issues
IDSA Releases Updated Coccidioidomycosis Guidelines
Withdraw of Insurers from ACA Markets Leaving Many Southwest 
   Patients with Few or No Choices
Another Phoenix VA Director Leaves
Hospital Executive Compensation Act Dropped from Ballot
Banner Hacked-3.7 Million at Risk
Top Medical News Stories 2015
Banner Plans to Issue New Bonds to Cover University of Arizona Medical
   Center Purchase
HealthCare.gov Shares Personal Data with Third Parties
2014's Top Southwest Medical Stories
Troubles Continue for the Phoenix VA
Whistle-Blower Accuses VA Inspector General of a "Whitewash" 
VA Office of Inspector General Releases Scathing Report of Phoenix VA
Banner Health, University of Arizona Health Network to Merge
Searchable Database for Physician CMS Payments
Smoking Rates Low in Southwest
Patient Deaths Blamed on Long Waits at the Phoenix VA

 

For an excel file with complete news listings click here.

A report from Heartwire described a letter written by Peter Wilmshurst to the AHA asking for full disclosure of conflicts of interest in the MIST trial. Wilmshurst was portrayed in SWJPCC on April 27, 2012 in our Profiles of Medical Courage series. We felt the report of the letter might be of interest to the readership of SWJPCC but there was no good section to pass along the Heartwire article. For this reason, a new Section entitled “News” has been started to report developments outside the usual medical journal purview or from other sources which might interest our readers. We encourage bringing news-worthy articles to our attention and would welcome submission of written reports of such articles.

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Tuesday
Jul182017

Senate Health Bill Lacks 50 Votes Needed to Proceed

Yesterday (7/17), two additional Senators – Sen. Roberts (R-KS) and Sen. Lee (R-NE) joined Senators Paul (R-KY) and Collins (R-ME) in announcing their intention to vote “no” on the motion to proceed on considering the Senate ACA repeal and replace legislation – effectively blocking Senate consideration of the current Senate Republican health care bill. Senators Paul, Lee and Roberts opposed the bill for not going far enough, while Senator Collins expressed her concern the bill goes too far.

With the 4 publicly announced NO votes – Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell does not have the 50 votes needed to begin debate on the bill, let alone assure final passage.

Speculation now turns to what happens next. President Trump has tweeted his preference to let Obamacare fail as a way to force Democrats to negotiate new legislation. Senator McConnell has suggested a series of symbolic votes on full repeal with multi-year delay to work on a replacement plan or voting on the House passed bill. However, three moderate senators, Capito (R-WV), Collins (R-ME) and Murkowski (R-AK), announced today they will not support procedural votes on an immediate ACA repeal bill.  Alternatively, Congress may abandon the health reform effort for the time being and pivot to other legislative priorities (tax reform and infrastructure). The failure of McConnell to lead the Senate effort may clear the way for a bipartisan effort to address the shortfalls of the ACA.

Please keep in mind the House repeal and replace effort “died” before the House ultimately passed its repeal legislation, so while the Senate effort looks to be “permanently stalled” it is probably premature to call it “dead.”

Nuala S. Moore

American Thoracic Society

Washington, DC USA

Cite as: Moore NS. Senate health bill lacks 50 votes needed to proceed. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2017;15(1):45. doi: https://doi.org/10.13175/swjpcc093-17 PDF 

Friday
Jul142017

Medi-Cal Blamed for Poor Care in Lawsuit

Several sources are reporting a lawsuit filed in California alleging poor care in the state’s Medicaid program, Medi-Cal (1). The suit alleges that Medi-Cal failed to pay doctors enough to provide proper care. The suit was filed by five Latino residents on behalf of California’s 13 million lower-income residents, more than half of them Latinos. The suit alleges that "…California has created a separate and unequal system of health care, one for the insurance program with the largest proportion of Latinos (Medi-Cal), and one for the other principal insurance plans, whose recipients are disproportionately white.”

The state budget includes $107 billion in state and federal funding for Medi-Cal this year, but the spending is not enough to restore reimbursement cuts made during the Great Recession of 2008. A proposal in the U.S. Senate to repeal the Affordable Health Care law (ACA, Obamacare) could drastically reduce funding for Medicare and the individuals who can access it.

Thomas Saenz, an attorney with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund who filed the lawsuit, said he believes it is the first time the civil rights approach has been tried in California. According to Saenz this legal approach is possible because California is one of the few states to specifically prohibit discriminatory effects in state programs.

Other states in the Southwest also have disproportionately large Hispanic populations in their Medicaid programs (Table 1).

Table 1. Percent Caucasian and Hispanic total population/Medicare population by State (2,3).

Reimbursement does appear disproportionately low in California which ranked 48th in the nation in 2015 in how much it paid hospitals, doctors and other healthcare providers for treating Medi-Cal patients, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation (4). In the Southwest the state with the highest reimbursement was Nevada (5-10). California reimbursement averaged only 47% of Nevada reimbursement for the procedures listed (Table 2).

Table 2. Medicare reimbursement for common procedures by state (4-9).

The reason for the wide differences in reimbursement rates is unclear but is likely historical dating back to cost containment programs from the 1980’s and 90’s (11). The differences do not appear to be explained by differing costs of living. None of the procedure reimbursements correlated with the cost of living in the largest city in each state (Phoenix, Los Angeles, Denver, Albuquerque, Honolulu, and Las Vegas, p>0.1, all comparisons).

The chances of the lawsuit’s success are unclear since there is no precedent. However, it seems likely that if the suit is successful, more suits will be filed since California Medi-Cal’s situation of disproportionately providing care to minorities is not unique.

Richard A. Robbins, MD

Editor, SWJPCC

References

  1. Thompson D. Latino plaintiffs sue California alleging poor health care. Associated Press. July 12, 2017. Available at: http://abcnews.go.com/Health/wireStory/latino-plaintiffs-sue-california-alleging-poor-health-care-48592841 (accessed 7/13/17).
  2. Kaiser Family Foundation. Population distribution by race/ethnicity. 2015. Available at: http://www.kff.org/other/state-indicator/distribution-by-raceethnicity/?currentTimeframe=0&sortModel=%7B%22colId%22:%22Location%22,%22sort%22:%22asc%22%7D (accessed 7/13/17).
  3. Kaiser Family Foundation. Distribution of the nonelderly with Medicaid by race/ethnicity. 2015. Available at: http://www.kff.org/medicaid/state-indicator/distribution-by-raceethnicity-4/?currentTimeframe=0&sortModel=%7B%22colId%22:%22Location%22,%22sort%22:%22asc%22%7D (accessed 7/13/17).
  4. Dickson V. Low Medi-Cal payments could weaken expanded coverage for undocumented children. Modern Healthcare. June 17, 2015. Available at: http://www.modernhealthcare.com/article/20150617/NEWS/150619908 (accessed 7/13/17).
  5. California Department of Health Care Services Medi-Cal. Medi-Cal Rates. June 15, 2017. Available at: https://files.medi-cal.ca.gov/pubsdoco/rates/rateshome.asp (accessed 7/13/17).
  6. Arizona Health Cost Containment System. Physician fee schedules. 2017. Available at: https://www.azahcccs.gov/PlansProviders/RatesAndBilling/FFS/Physicianrates/ (accessed 7/13/17).
  7. Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing. Provider rates & fee schedule. June 2017. Available at: https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/hcpf/provider-rates-fee-schedule (accessed 7/13/17).
  8. Quest Hawai’i. Medicaid fee schedule. 2013. Available at: http://www.med-quest.us/ (accessed 7/13/17).
  9. Nevada Division of Health Care Financing and Policy. Fee schedules. Available at: http://dhcfp.nv.gov/Resources/Rates/FeeSchedules/ (accessed 7/13/17).
  10. New Mexico Human Services Department. New Mexico Medicaid fee for service CPT code fee schedule. 2017. Available at: http://www.hsd.state.nm.us/uploads/FileLinks/e7cfb008157f422597cccdc11d2034f0/7.17_CPT_Codes__2_.pdf (accessed 7/13/17).
  11. Tatar M, Paradise J, Grafield R. Medi-Cal managed care: an overview and key issues. Kaiser Family Foundation. Mar 02, 2016. Available at: http://www.kff.org/report-section/medi-cal-managed-care-an-overview-and-key-issues-issue-brief/ (accessed 7/13/17).

Cite as: Robbins RA. Medi-Cal blamed for poor care in lawsuit. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2017;15(1):42-4. doi: https://doi.org/10.13175/swjpcc091-17 PDF 

Thursday
Jul132017

Senate Republican Leadership Releases Revised ACA Repeal and Replace Bill

Today, the Senate Republican leadership released a revised version of a bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The new bill draft includes an amendment sponsored by Sen. Cruz (R-TX) that permits insurers to offer health insurance plans on the ACA exchanges that do not cover the ACA’s 10 essential health benefits (EHB) as long as they offer at least one other plan that provides full coverage of EHB’s. The bill also includes more funding for opioid addiction and for state initiatives to reduce insurance premiums and additionally, some flexibility for state Medicaid funding in the event of a public health crisis. The bill must still receive a cost estimate from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), which will include the impact of the bill on insurance coverage levels, expected out Monday. The ATS remains deeply concerned about the bill because under the Cruz proposal, insurance coverage costs for people with pre-existing conditions would soar, leaving coverage unaffordable for many people with chronic respiratory conditions. The Senate leadership aims to begin voting on the bill by the middle of next week in an open amendment process, so changes could be made to the bill with subsequent votes occurring quickly.

Just before the revised leadership bill was introduced, Sen. Graham (R-SC) and Cassidy (R-LA) released their own ACA repeal and replace bill, which focuses on sending ACA funding directly to the states, rather than the federal government and would preserve more state Medicaid funding. The Graham/Cassidy proposal would also permit states to waive the ACA’s EHB’s although full details of this bill are not yet clear and some aspects are still under revision.

Despite the release of the Senate leadership’s new bill, it is still not at all clear whether it will gain the support of all Senate Republicans, a number of whom have concerns with the funding reductions to Medicaid.

Nuala S. Moore

American Thoracic Society

Washington, DC USA

Cite as: Moore NS. Senate Republican leadership releases revised ACA repeal and replace bill. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2017;15(1):41. doi: https://doi.org/10.13175/swjpcc092-17 PDF

Tuesday
Jun272017

Mortality Rate Will Likely Increase Under Senate Healthcare Bill

Today (6/27/17) an article was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine by Steffie Woolhandler and David Himmelstein from New York University on the effects of health insurance on mortality (1). The article has special significance because of pending healthcare legislation in the Senate.  

The Annals article concludes that the odds of dying among the insured relative to the uninsured is 0.71 to 0.97. However, the authors acknowledge that this is a very difficult study to conduct because of the nonrandomized, observational nature of the studies and lack of a strict separation between covered and uncovered Americans. For example, many people cycle in and out of insurance diluting differences between groups.

Of course, what is needed is a randomized trial, and surprisingly, one does exist which is discussed in the Annals article (1,2). In 2008, Oregon initiated a limited expansion of its Medicaid program for about 6,000 poor, able-bodied, uninsured adults aged 19 to 64 years through a lottery to win the opportunity to apply for Medicaid and to enroll if they met eligibility requirements. Compared to uninsured adults, mortality was 13% lower in the insured. However, the trial was underpowered and the mortality differences did not reach statistical significance.

Another study mentioned was one examining the mortality rates in New York, Maine, and Arizona after expansion of Medicaid (1,3). Compared to neighboring states that did not expand Medicaid, a significant decrease in all-cause mortality in the expansion states was observed (−25.4 deaths per 100,000 population; p = 0.02; Figure 1).

Figure 1. Unadjusted mortality and rates of Medicaid coverage among nonelderly adults before and after state Medicaid expansions (1997–2007). The vertical line represents the year during which the Medicaid expansions were implemented, meaning that year 1 was the first full year after the expansions.

Figure 1 shows roughly parallel death rates before Medicaid expansion, and a gradually widening split after Medicaid expansion. From this data, the authors calculated that Medicaid expansion to 176 adults would prevent one death per year.

On Monday (6/26/17), the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) concluded that the pending Senate healthcare bill, known as the Better Care Reconciliation Act, will result in 22 million fewer people having health insurance by 2026 (4,5). The bill would cut $772 billion in Medicaid spending and $408 billion in subsidies for individual enrollees. The net effect of these spending reductions is partially offset by $541 billion in tax cuts mostly to corporations and wealthier Americans. These numbers all approximate the effects under the similar House version of the bill that passed on May 4.

If Medicaid expansion prevents one death for each 176 enrolled (4), presumably dropping Medicaid for 176 Americans would result in one additional death per year. Given that the CBO estimates 22-23 million Americans will lose coverage under either bill, the potential increase in deaths is staggering. If either bill is passed, an increase in the death rate among the Medicaid population seems the likely consequence of the politics of reducing the Federal deficit and billions in tax cuts for corporations and the richest Americans.

Richard A. Robbins, MD

Editor, SWJPCC

References

  1. Woolhandler S, Himmelstein DU. The relationship of health insurance and mortality: is lack of insurance deadly? Ann Int Med. June 27, 2017. Available at: http://annals.org/aim/latest (accessed 6/27/17) [CrossRef]
  2. Baicker K, Taubman SL, Allen HL, Bernstein M, Gruber JH, Newhouse JP, Schneider EC, Wright BJ, Zaslavsky AM, Finkelstein AN; Oregon Health Study Group.The Oregon experiment--effects of Medicaid on clinical outcomes. N Engl J Med. 2013 May 2;368(18):1713-22. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  3. Sommers BD, Baicker K, Epstein AM. Mortality and access to care among adults after state Medicaid expansions. N Engl J Med. 2012 Sep 13;367(11):1025-34.  [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  4. Congressional Budget Office. H.R. 1628, Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017. June 26, 2017. Available at: https://www.cbo.gov/publication/52849 (accessed 6/26/17).
  5. Frieden J. Senate GOP's ACA repeal bill would knock 22 million off insurance: CBO. MedPage Today. June 26, 2017. Available at: https://www.medpagetoday.com/PublicHealthPolicy/repeal-and-replace/66275?isalert=1&uun=g687171d5575R5764210u&xid=NL_breakingnews_2017-06-26 (accessed 6/26/17).

Cite as: Robbins RA. Mortality rate will likely increase under Senate healthcare bill. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2017;14(6):318-9. doi: https://doi.org/10.13175/swjpcc084-17 PDF 

Thursday
Jun152017

University of Arizona-Phoenix Receives Full Accreditation

University of Arizona (UA) officials announced yesterday that the UA College of Medicine-Phoenix, which was originally a branch of the UA-Tucson medical school, was granted full accreditation by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME) (1). The College of Medicine-Phoenix was created 10 years ago. In 2012, the UA College of Medicine-Phoenix received “preliminary” accreditation with the LCME, then “provisional” accreditation in 2015 and now full accreditation.

To date, the UA College of Medicine-Phoenix has graduated 354 physicians, with classes of about 80 students per year. One year ago this month, the Arizona Medical Association asked for an investigation after a half-dozen of the Phoenix medical school’s top leaders left for positions out of state. Among those departures was the school’s dean, Dr. Stuart D. Flynn. Dr. Kenneth Ramos served as interim dean and helped lead the Phoenix medical school through the accreditation. Dr. Guy Reed from Tennessee was recently hired as the school’s new dean and assumes his duties in July.

There are now five medical schools in Arizona: the two UA medical schools; the Mayo Clinic School of Medicine, which is opening its Arizona campus in Scottsdale this summer; and Midwestern University and A.T. Still University, which both operate osteopathic medical schools in the Phoenix area. A sixth medical school, Omaha-based Creighton University School of Medicine, has medical students doing third- and fourth-year rotations in Arizona.

Richard A. Robbins, MD

Editor, SWJPCC

Reference

  1. Innes S. University of Arizona's Phoenix medical school receives full accreditation. Arizona Star. June 14, 2017. Available at: http://tucson.com/news/local/education/college/university-of-arizona-s-phoenix-medical-school-receives-full-accreditation/article_64a1da80-1866-5a51-a062-7cc04ecd261d.html (accessed 6/15/17).

Cite as: Robbins RA. University of Arizona-Phoenix receives full accreditation. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2017;14(6):311. doi: https://doi.org/10.13175/swjpcc077-17 PDF