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News

Last 50 News Postings

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

Trump Nominates Former Pharmaceutical Executive as HHS Secretary
Arizona Averages Over 25 Opioid Overdoses Per Day
Maryvale Hospital to Close
California Enacts Drug Pricing Transparency Bill
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

 

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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Wednesday
Dec132017

Tax Cuts Could Threaten Physicians

Today (December 13) members of the House and Senate will meet to reconcile differences between their two tax reform proposals. Congress is expected to complete work on the bill before the Christmas recess. Although many are overjoyed by a tax cut, there are potential pitfalls to the tax cut that might adversely affect physicians.

Under a rule in the Senate known as Pay as You Go (PAYGO), legislation that increases the deficit results in automatic spending cuts. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that tax cuts could lead to automatic cuts of $136 billion in fiscal 2018, $25 billion of which would come from Medicare. PAYGO cuts would reduce Medicare payments to physicians by 4% in 2018 according to the American College of Physicians (ACP) (1). PAYGO would also lead to cuts to graduate medical education, lab fees, and hospital payments and would cut or entirely eliminate hundreds of other federal programs, including programs within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Health Resources and Services Administration, and the Prevention and Public Health Fund, according to the ACP.

Senate Republicans want to essentially repeal the penalty that accompanies the mandate that all Americans buy health insurance. It seems likely that House Republicans will go along. The CBO estimates that this would decrease the number of people with health insurance by 4 million by 2019 and premiums in the nongroup market by about 10% in almost each year for the next 10 years. The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) says that 64-year-olds could see their premiums increase by an average of $1490 a year (2).

The medical expense tax deduction has been targeted for elimination by the House. The Senate version, however, would keep the deduction. The AARP says that in 2015, 8.8 million Americans used the deduction and that more than half were older than 65 (2). Nearly three quarters are 50 years old or older and live with a chronic condition or illness, and 70% of those who claimed the medical expense deduction have income below $75,000, according to the AARP. However, the tax deduction seems likely to survive. Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX) who heads the reconciliation said he's willing to consider scrapping the proposal to eliminate the deduction (3).

The House is proposing to eliminate a tax credit that has been used as an incentive for pharmaceutical companies to develop therapies for orphan diseases. The Senate is reducing that credit. Not surprisingly, the National Organization for Rare Disorders and 160 other organizations representing patients with rare conditions oppose any reduction (4). They argue that eliminating the tax cut would deincentivize pharmaceutical companies to develop therapies for orphan diseases where the market is usually small.

Hospitals are alarmed about the House proposal to eliminate tax-exempt private activity bonds used by nonprofit hospitals and academic medical centers. The Senate bill would continue to allow that tax-exempt financing. This is opposed by both the Association of American Medical Colleges and the American Hospital Association (5,6).  The AHA’s Thomas P. Nickels states, "The ability to obtain tax-exempt financing is a key benefit of hospital tax-exemption that works to make access to vital hospital services available in communities large and small across America." (6).  Locally several medical centers have large bonds and loss of the exemption might have significant consequences.

Richard A. Robbins, MD

Editor, SWJPCC

References

  1. Ende J. Letter to Mitch McConnell and Charles Schumer. November 30,2017. Available at: https://www.acponline.org/acp_policy/letters/senate_tax_cuts_and_jobs_act_2017.pdf (accessed 12/13/17).
  2. Strauss G. AARP opposes senate tax bill. November 30, 2017. Available at: https://www.aarp.org/politics-society/advocacy/info-2017/senate-letter-tax-fd.html?intcmp=AE-HP-FLXSLDR-SLIDE1?intcmp=AE-HP-FLXSLDR-SLIDE1-RL1 (accessed 12/13/17).
  3. Ault A. Five things in the GOP tax plan that threaten medicine. Medscape. December 12, 2017. Available at: https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/889947?nlid=119526_4502&src=wnl_dne_171213_mscpedit&uac=9273DT&impID=1507630&faf=1#vp_2 (accessed 12/13/17).
  4. Letter to Congress. December 7, 2017. Available at: https://rarediseases.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/Orphan-Drug-Tax-Credit-Conferee-Letter-Final.pdf (accessed 12/13/17).
  5. AAMC. AAMC statement on house tax reform legislation. https://news.aamc.org/press-releases/article/house_tax_reform_11092017/ (accessed 12/13/17).
  6. Nickels TP. Letter to Rep. Kevin Brady. December 8, 2017. Available at: http://www.aha.org/advocacy-issues/letter/2017/171208-letter-taxbill-conferees.pdf (accessed 12/13/17).

Cite as: Robbins RA. Tax cuts could threaten physicians. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2017;15(6):280-1. doi: https://doi.org/10.13175/swjpcc153-17 PDF 

Tuesday
Nov142017

Trump Nominates Former Pharmaceutical Executive as HHS Secretary

President Trump on Monday announced Alex Azar, a former pharmaceutical executive, as his choice to succeed Dr. Tom Price as secretary of Health & Human Services (HHS) (1). HHS is an 80,000-employee federal agency that oversees the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the Food and Drug Administration, the National Institutes of Health, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Price resigned in September following reports of his extensive use of government and charter air travel.

Azar, a lawyer, formerly headed Eli Lilly & Co.'s U.S. division. Before that, he served as HHS general counsel and deputy secretary during the George W. Bush administration. During that stint, he received praise for his management competence. Azar "will be a star for better healthcare and lower drug prices!" Trump tweeted.

Andy Slavitt, CMS administrator under the Obama administration, also a lawyer and former United Healthcare executive, offered cautious praise for Azar. "I have reason to hope he would make a good HHS secretary," Slavitt said in a written statement. "He ... has real-world experience enough to be pragmatic, and will hopefully avoid repeating the mistakes of his predecessor in over-politicizing Americans' access to healthcare."

If confirmed, Azar would inherit an agency currently torn by political and policy divisions in the wake of Price's departure (2). He will have to make key decisions to avoid further disruption in the individual health insurance market; how much leeway to give states to make big changes in their Medicaid expansion program; and face pressure to address rising prescription drug costs. One management issue Azar would quickly face is how to deal with Price's ambitious Reimagine HHS initiative to streamline the department's operations and with the White House’s proposal to slash the HHS' budget for 2018 by 18%.

Azar has been a sharp critic of the Affordable Care Act, saying in May that the ACA is "fundamentally broken" and "circling the drain." In June, he envisioned the Trump administration shifting the ACA in a more conservative direction even without repeal and replacement of the law. He also has opposed reducing prescription drug prices or allowing purchasing drugs from other countries where prices are lower.

If confirmed, Azar will represent a return to the recent tradition of selecting Secretaries of HHS with no medical background. Before, Price, only Dr. Otis Bowen (1985-9) and Dr. Louis Sullivan (1989-93) were physicians of the 11 non-interim Secretaries.

Richard A. Robbins, MD

Editor, SWJPCC

References

  1. Meyer H. Can Trump's pick to lead HHS navigate the churning political waters of healthcare? Modern Healthcare. November 13, 2017. Available at: http://www.modernhealthcare.com/article/20171113/NEWS/171119968?utm_source=modernhealthcare&utm_medium=email&utm_content=20171113-NEWS-171119968&utm_campaign=am (accessed 11/14/17).
  2. Pradhan R, Diamond D. Price investigation continues to roil HHS. Politico. November 13, 2017. Available at: https://www.politico.com/story/2017/11/13/tom-price-private-jets-probe-hhs-244793 (accessed 11/14/17).

Cite as: Robbins RA. Trump nominates former pharmaceutical executive as HHS secretary. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2017;15(5):221-2. doi: https://doi.org/10.13175/swjpcc140-17 PDF

Sunday
Oct292017

Arizona Averages Over 25 Opioid Overdoses Per Day

An Arizona Republic article and the Arizona Department of Health Services Director's blog, Dr. Cara Christ, brings the opioid crisis home (1,2). Christ states that over 3200 opioid overdoses with over 400 deaths occurred between June 15 and October 17 in Arizona. This averages to over 25 overdoses and 3 deaths per day.

Some of the data from Christ’s blog are below:

  • Males 25-29 have the highest rates of suspected opioid overdoses.
  • 37% of people experiencing a suspected opioid overdose had an opioid prescription in the two months prior to their overdose.
  • The majority of overdoses occur at home.
  • The most commonly cited pre-existing health conditions of those with suspected overdoses was chronic pain. Depression and other behavioral health conditions were also common health conditions noted.
  • Meth and heroin were the most frequently cited drugs involved in reported neonatal abstinence syndrome.
  • About 40% of people experiencing suspected opioid overdoses who had a prescription in the Controlled Substances Prescription Monitoring Program had been prescribed both benzodiazepines and opioids in 2017. When these medications are combined, it is so dangerous that the FDA gives it a “black box” warning.
  • About 40% of people experiencing a suspected overdose that had prescription history in the Controlled Substances Prescription Monitoring Program (CSPMP) had received opioid prescriptions from 10 or more providers.
  • Only about 25% of clinicians prescribing controlled substances checked the CSPMP prior to prescribing.

On October 16, a new mandate went into effect that requires clinicians to check the CSPMP prior to prescribing an opioid or benzodiazepine. Other states implementing such mandates have experienced reductions in people with 4 or more prescribers or pharmacies, reductions in opioid prescribing, and reductions in Morphine Milligram Equivalent daily doses.

The CSPMP requires registration and login but is relatively easy to use (3). You can search not only in Arizona but other states as well. Personally, as a pulmonary consultant I infrequently prescribe opioids or benzodiazepines. However, I have used the website once to check a benzodiazepam prescription for a patient I suspect might be addicted. No other prescriptions were found. It at least gave me some assurance that he was not obtaining prescriptions from multiple practioners while we attempt to wean him off this medication.

Richard A. Robbins, MD

Editor, SWJPCC

References

  1. McCrory C. More than 400 opioid-overdose deaths reported in Arizona since June 15. Arizona Republic. October 27, 2017. Available at: http://www.azcentral.com/story/news/local/arizona/2017/10/27/more-than-400-opioid-overdose-deaths-reported-arizona-since-june-15/809157001/ (accessed 10/28/17).
  2. Christ CM. Opioid update: latest data and emergency rules update. October 17, 2017. Available at: http://directorsblog.health.azdhs.gov/opioid-update-latest-data-and-emergency-rules-update/ (accessed 10/28/17).
  3. Arizona Board of Pharmacy. Arizona PMP Aware. Available at: https://pharmacypmp.az.gov/ (accessed 10/28/17).

Cite as: Robbins RA. Arizona averages over 25 opioid overdoses per day. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2017;15(4):179-80. doi: https://doi.org/10.13175/swjpcc133-17 PDF 

Thursday
Oct192017

Maryvale Hospital to Close

Abrazo Health Care has announced that it intends to close Maryvale Hospital effective December 18, 2017. Maryvale Hospital has had declining admissions and was realigned as a satellite facility of Abrazo West Campus in Goodyear in May 2017. Abrazo said they hoped to place most of the 300 Maryvale employees at other Abrazo medical centers.

Richard A. Robbins, MD

Editor, SWJPCC

Cite as: Robbins RA. Maryvale hospital to close. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2017;15(4):164. doi: https://doi.org/10.13175/swjpcc129-17 PDF 

Tuesday
Oct102017

California Enacts Drug Pricing Transparency Bill

The Mercury News is reporting that California governor Jerry Brown signed a bill Monday making drug pricing more transparent (1). The legislation requires pharmaceutical companies to notify health insurers and government health plans at least 60 days before making price hikes and explain the reason for the increase. The pharmaceutical industry had lobbied hard against the measure, worried that it could become a national model and the first big step toward price controls. “The essence of this bill is pretty simple,” Brown told a room filled with supporters of Senate Bill 17. “Californians have a right to know why their medical costs are out of control, especially when the pharmaceutical profits are soaring. That’s the take-away message.”

“It is disappointing that Gov. Brown has decided to sign a bill that is based on misleading rhetoric instead of what’s in the best interest of patients,” said Priscilla VanderVeer, spokeswoman for the Washington, D.C.-based Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. She added that there is “no evidence that SB 17 will lower drug costs for patients.”

The bill does not actually control drug prices, leading some critics to suggest it is toothless. However, the bill’s backers say that transparency in other health care sectors has been successful in reducing costs. Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access California, agreed. He said the advance notice and information required under SB 17 “is invaluable” to large health care purchasers such as insurers, union trusts and employers, and would enable them to drive a better deal for consumers.

Brown also signed a related bill on Monday. Assembly Bill 265 will prohibit prescription drug manufacturers from offering discounts for name-brand drugs, if a less-expensive equivalent brand is available, preventing the use of higher-priced drugs when unnecessary.

Richard A. Robbins, MD

Editor, SWJPCC

References

  1. Seipel T. Gov. Brown signs drug pricing transparency bill. The Mercury News. October 8, 2017 (updated October 9). Available at: http://www.mercurynews.com/2017/10/08/gov-brown-to-sign-drug-price-transparency-bill/ (accessed 8/10/17).

Cite as: Robbins RA. California enacts drug pricing trasparency bill. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2017;15(4):159. doi: https://doi.org/10.13175/swjpcc122-17 PDF