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News

Last 50 News Postings

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

FDA Commissioner Gottlieb Resigns
Physicians Generate an Average $2.4 Million a Year Per Hospital
Drug Prices Continue to Rise
New Center for Physician Rights
CMS Decreases Clinic Visit Payments to Hospital-Employed Physicians
   and Expands Decreases in Drug Payments 340B Cuts
Big Pharma Gives Millions to Congress
Gilbert Hospital and Florence Hospital at Anthem Closed
CMS’ Star Ratings Miscalculated
VA Announces Aggressive New Approach to Produce Rapid Improvements
   in VA Medical Centers
Healthcare Payments Under the Budget Deal: Mostly Good News
   for Physicians
Hospitals Plan to Start Their Own Generic Drug Company
Flu Season and Trehalose
MedPAC Votes to Scrap MIPS
CMS Announces New Payment Model
Varenicline (Chantix®) Associated with Increased Cardiovascular Events
Tax Cuts Could Threaten Physicians
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

 

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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Saturday
Jul202019

Doctor or Money Shortage in California?

An LA Times article titled “California doesn’t have enough doctors. To recruit them, the state is paying off medical school debt” describes a program where the State of California will pay off student debts using Proposition 56 tobacco tax revenue (1). California’s program is aimed at increasing the number of doctors who see Medi-Cal patients which has not kept pace with the rapid expansion of the state’s healthcare program for the poor, which now covers 1 in 3 residents in the state. The trends of decreasing doctors who accept Medi-Cal along with the increasing number of Medi-Cal patients led healthcare, education and business leaders to form the California Future Health Workforce Commission (CFHWC) in 2017 to study the state’s impending healthcare crisis (2). The CFHWC task force ultimately proposed a $3-billion plan over the next 10 years including $120 million for loan forgiveness incentives that’s meant to ensure physicians and dentists take on Medi-Cal patients. Another component of the program would allow nurse practitioners to practice independently from physicians.

The program is telling of both education and reimbursement in California. The CFHWC task force states that California is experiencing a shortage of doctors (3). This is not true. It is true that the graduation of doctors has not kept pace with the expanding California population. The national average of medical school students per 100,000 people is 30.3; California has 18.4 students per 100,000 (1,3). That’s the third-lowest rate among the 45 states that have at least one medical school. California has made relatively few investments in increasing enrollment at medical schools in the state. The only new public medical school to open in California in the last four decades is at UC Riverside and class size has only slightly expanded in the other schools (1,3). At the same time, more than one-third of the state’s doctors and nurse practitioners are reaching retirement age (1).

More than 60% of California’s students who attended medical school in 2017 left the state for their residency, according to the commission’s report. Most doctors settle near their residencies and California must expand the number of residency positions offered according to the CFHWC task force (1,3). They added that the state has historically underfunded those programs (1,3).

Despite these deficiencies, California does not have a shortage of doctors compared to other states (Table 1).

Table 1. Number of physicians per 100,000 population (Phys/105 Pop) by state (2016 data, 4).

In 2016 California ranked nineteenth of the fifty states in numbers of physicians per 100,000 population (4). In addition, it ranked 22nd in active primary care physicians (4).

What the CFHWC task force really means (and says intermittently) is that the number of doctors willing to accept Medi-Cal payment is low. The reason for this is pretty simple, Medi-Cal reimbursement is abysmally small. For a routine office call (CPT code 99213) Medi-Cal reimburses $24.00 (5). This office code is for about 15 minutes of patient contact and must include: 1. an expanded problem focused history, 2. an expanded problem focused examination, and 3. medical decision making of low complexity. This might be difficult to accomplish in 15 minutes. Documentation and billing would require at least 5 minutes more if the physician is a lightning fast typist. In contrast, Medicare pays $77.72 and Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS) Administration (Arizona’s Medicaid) pays $51.42. Income generated from a busy practice seeing only Medi-Cal patients at $24.00 per office visit would mean $72/hour, about $500/day (7 hours/day), $2500 per week ($500/day X 5 days a week) or about $120,000/year (48 weeks). Although office overhead (payroll, rent, vendors, information technology, insurance, office equipment, etc.) varies widely, in 2002 the average general internist’s office overhead was about $250,000 (6). Expenses have not likely decreased in the last 16 years meaning that under the very best of circumstances, a physician seeing only Medi-Cal patients would lose $130,000/year serving California’s poor.

Medi-Cal has seemed to attempt to place the financial burden of caring for the poor on physicians and nurse practitioners rather than solving the problem of low reimbursement. Recent residency graduates who agree to have their debt relieved by California in exchange for seeing Medi-Cal patients may find their debt increasing under California’s proposal. Cuts could be made in other areas (hospital costs, drugs, etc.) but ultimately it seems that adequate reimbursement will be necessary to solve the impending “healthcare crisis”.

Richard A. Robbins, MD

Editor, SWJPCC

References

  1. Gutierrez M. California doesn’t have enough doctors. To recruit them, the state is paying off medical school debt. LA Times. July 16, 2019. Available at: https://www.latimes.com/politics/la-pol-ca-california-doctor-shortage-medical-debt-20190716-story.html (accessed 7/19/19).
  2. Gutierrez M. $3 billion is needed to address California’s doctor shortage, task force says. LA Times. February 5, 2019. Available at: https://www.latimes.com/politics/la-pol-ca-california-future-health-workforce-commission-doctor-shortage-20190205-story.html (accessed 7/19/19).
  3. Mijic V. Meeting the demand for health: fact sheet on California’s looming workforce crisis. California Future Health Workforce Commission. February 4, 2019. Available at: https://futurehealthworkforce.org/2019/02/04/ca-looming-workforce-crisis/ (accessed 7/19/19).
  4. American Association of Medical Colleges. 2017 State Physician Workforce Data Report. Available at: https://store.aamc.org/downloadable/download/sample/sample_id/30/ (accessed 7/19/19).
  5. Department of Healthcare Services Medi-Cal. Medi-Cal rates as of 07/15/2019 (codes 94799 thru 99600). Available at: https://files.medi-cal.ca.gov/pubsdoco/rates/rates_information.asp?num=22&first=94799&last=99600 (accessed 7/19/19).
  6. Weiss GG. Expense survey: what it costs to practice today. Med Econ. 2002 Dec 9;79(23):36-8, 41. [PubMed]

Cite as: Robbins RA. Doctor of money shortage in California? Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2019;19(1):15-7. doi: https://doi.org/10.13175/swjpcc050-19 PDF 

Thursday
Mar072019

FDA Commissioner Gottlieb Resigns

Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner, Scott Gottlieb, has resigned after about 2 years (1). Gottlieb was a controversial appointee by the Trump administration due to his ties to the pharmaceutical industry. However, he stood out in the anti-regulatory Trump administration, where some officials such as Scott Pruitt, the former head of the Environmental Protection Agency, appeared intent on reducing the clout of the departments and agencies they headed. For nearly two years, Gottlieb has avidly promoted the FDA, inserting the agency into important health issues and sometimes taking on industries regulated by the agency.

Under Gottlieb’s leadership the FDA has made sweeping moves to lower smoking and vaping amongst minors. Gottlieb’s departure could throw into question other controversial tobacco initiatives he championed that have not yet emerged from the FDA, including proposals to ban menthol cigarettes and to reduce nicotine levels in cigarettes. In his resignation letter to Health and Human Services Secretary, Alex Azar, Gottlieb listed his accomplishments, including accelerating the approval of generic drugs and modernizing the process for handling novel gene and precision therapies to treat those with cancer.

The resignation took some senior FDA officials by surprise, and came as Gottlieb’s signature issue – youth vaping – is being reviewed by the White House Office of Management and Budget. The plan, detailed by Gottlieb last fall, would sharply restrict the sale of flavored e-cigarettes to curb a surge in underage vaping, which he argues could lead to a whole new generation addicted to nicotine.

Gottlieb, who has been commuting weekly to Washington from his home in Connecticut, said he wants to spend more time with his family. The resignation was apparently not sought by the White House. A senior White House official said Gottlieb had spoken to President Trump, and that the president liked the FDA chief and did not want him to leave. While Gottlieb had some policy disagreements with the White House, he is well respected, and could even be asked to take another post, said two officials. Gottlieb declined to comment on that possibility.

Most praised Gottlieb including his predecessor, Robert Califf, and Friends of Cancer Research and Tobacco Free Kids (1). However, he was not without his critics. Pieter Cohen, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School who conducts research into the safety of dietary supplements, faulted Gottlieb for not taking significant action on major safety problems involving dietary supplements. Raeford Brown, a professor of anesthesiology and pediatrics at the University of Kentucky, criticized Gottlieb’s opioid policy. “I am concerned, because he seems to have a tendency to spend most of his time talking and very little of his time implementing policy.” The advocacy group Public Citizen said that Gottlieb’s time as the agency's head "was marked by regulatory decision making regarding medications and medical devices that tilted further in favor of industry's financial interests rather than the interests of public health (2).” The group cited the controversial approval in April of an opioid called Dsuvia, which is 10 times more powerful than fentanyl.

Richard A. Robbins, MD

Editor, SWJPCC

References

  1. Laurie McGinley L, Bernstein L, Dawsey J.  FDA Commissioner Gottlieb, who raised alarms about teen vaping, resigns. Washington Post. March 5, 2019. Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2019/03/05/fda-commissioner-gottlieb-who-raised-alarms-about-teen-vaping-resigns/?utm_term=.b50dd0bbb2ae (accessed 3-6-19).
  2. Scutti S, Diamond J, Goldschmidt D. FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb to resign next month. CNN Politics. March 5, 2019. Available at: https://www.cnn.com/2019/03/05/politics/gottlieb-resigning-fda-health-bn/index.html (accessed 3-6-19).

Cite as: Robbins RA. FDA commissioner Gottlieb resigns. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2019;18(3):65-6. doi: https://doi.org/10.13175/swjpcc012-19 PDF 

Monday
Mar042019

Physicians Generate an Average $2.4 Million a Year Per Hospital

Hospitals are more frequently employing physicians which has been associated with increasing costs (1). Physician generated revenue may be one explanation for the upsurge in hospital employed physicians. According to a survey from Merritt Hawkins, physicians generate an average $2,378,727 per year in net revenue on behalf of their affiliated hospitals (2). This includes both net inpatient and outpatient revenue derived from patient hospital admissions, tests, treatments, prescriptions, and procedures performed or ordered by physicians. Travis Singleton, Merritt Hawkins Executive Vice President commented, “Physicians continue to drive the financial health and viability of hospitals ...”.

It is not just physician specialists who generate high dollar volumes for hospitals, the survey indicates. Family physicians generate an average of $2.1 million in net revenue annually for their affiliated hospitals, while general internists generate an average of almost $2.7 million. The average net revenue generated by all physicians included in the survey ($2,378,727) is up 52% from 2016, the last year Merritt Hawkins conducted the survey. Average revenue generated by each of the 18 medical specialties included in the survey increased compared to 2016, in most cases significantly.

The survey also provides a cost/benefits analysis showing which physicians provide the best return on investment by comparing salaries in various medical specialties to revenue generated by physicians in those specialties. Family physicians showed the best return with an average starting salary of $241,000, according to Merritt Hawkins’ data, while generating nine times that much in hospital revenue. “Primary care physicians such as family physicians represent an excellent return on investment …” Singleton said.

While the number of hospital inpatient stays has decreased or remained flat in recent years, the cost per hospital stay has increased, said Singleton, one factor that may be driving the comparatively high revenue averages generated by physicians. In addition, the number of hospital outpatient visits has more than tripled since 1975 and the average cost of these visits has grown, a further reason for physician revenue increases, according to Singleton. An additional reason is that hospitals are reimbursed at a higher rate for the same services compared to physicians’ offices. According to Winn et al. (3), outpatient hospital costs are about double compared to independent physician offices for the same chemotherapy services (3).

Richard A. Robbins, MD

Editor, SWJPCC

References

  1. Kacik A. Rapid rise in hospital-employed physicians increases costs. Modern Healthcare. March 16, 2018. Available at: https://www.modernhealthcare.com/article/20180316/TRANSFORMATION02/180319913/rapid-rise-in-hospital-employed-physicians-increases-costs (accessed 3-1-19).
  2. Merritt Hawkins. Survey: Physicians Generate an Average $2.4 Million a Year Per Hospital. February 25, 2019. Available at: https://www.merritthawkins.com/uploadedFiles/MerrittHawkins_PressRelease_2019.pdf (accessed 3-1-19).
  3. Winn AN, Keating NL, Trogdon JG, Basch EM, Dusetzina SB. Spending by commercial insurers on chemotherapy based on site of care, 2004-2014. JAMA Oncol. 2018 Apr 1;4(4):580-1. [CrossRef] [PubMed] 

Cite as: Robbins RA. Physicians generate an average $2.4 million a year per hospital. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2019;18(3):61-2. doi: https://doi.org/10.13175/swjpcc010-19 PDF 

Monday
Jan142019

Drug Prices Continue to Rise

President Trump asserted in a Tweet that drug prices declined in 2018 for the first time in nearly 50 years. However, President Trump’s assertion does not agree with my personal experience or the facts.

I take dofetilide (Tikosyn®) for atrial fibrillation. However, when I recently ordered the medication, my co-pay for 3 months increased from $95 in October, 2018 to $140, an increase approaching 50%. The amount the drug manufacturer (Pfizer) raised the price is unclear but the amount charged by the on-line pharmacy (AllianceRxWalgreens) that my insurance company (Blue Cross/Blue Shield Arizona) mandates I use, likely reflects a price increase in the drug.

Trump’s claim that drug prices decreased in 2018 is wrong. A recent analysis of brand-name drugs by the Associated Press found 96 price increases for every price cut in the first seven months of 2018 (1). At the start of last year, drug makers hiked prices on 1,800 medicines by a median of 9.1 percent, and many continued to increase prices throughout the year.

Trump met with Ian Read, CEO of Pfizer, in July, 2018 following a scolding via Twitter where Trump condemned Pfizer’s increase in drug prices. Pfizer agreed to delay the increases until early 2019 and now those price increases are apparently occurring.

Trump’s tweet comes just days after the president summoned his top domestic policy advisers, including health secretary Alex Azar, to the White House to discuss the slate of drug price hikes that came Jan. 1. Last week, Trump blasted pharmaceutical companies for those increases, writing on Twitter “drug makers are not living up to their commitments.”

Azar, who has been vocally defending his agency’s work to lower drug prices in television appearances and on Twitter this month, retweeted Trump’s claim of an historic price drop in 2018, but tacked on a comment saying, “President Trump has done more to address high drug prices than any President in history. More to come!”

Clearly, both Trump and Azar are engaging in Washington spin. Just before the November 2018 election, Trump announced a price-reduction plan that ties what Medicare pays for certain drugs to much lower prices paid in other economically advanced countries (1). Congressional Democrats have also introduced legislation to tackle the issue. However, Trump and congressional Democrats are now locked in a stalemate that shutdown the government and it seems unlikely they could come together to take actions on drug prices this year.

Richard A. Robbins, MD

Editor, SWJPCC

Reference

  1. Associated Press. Trump hails drug price decline not supported by the evidence. January 11, 2019. Available at: https://www.apnews.com/bce3a214039c4271b3f3337e0e522b2a (accessed 1/14/19).

Cite as: Robbins RA. Drug prices continue to rise. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2019;18(1):20-1. doi: https://doi.org/10.13175/swjpcc002-19 PDF

Tuesday
Nov132018

New Center for Physician Rights

Cases of unfair physician treatment by regulatory boards and hospitals have been well publicized. However, little action to insure oversight of physician regulatory bodies has been done. Physicians who believe they have been subjected to unfair discipline now have a place to turn for information, advice, and support. The new center called The Center for Physician Rights (CPR) was founded by Kernan Manion, MD. According to their website the Center will offer:

  1. Free confidential case review;
  2. Case consultation and coaching;
  3. Serve as a central authoritative informational and consultative resource;
  4. Pursue organizational and legislative change.

CPR will develop an informational website and produce a monthly e-newsletter / blog updating subscribers of relevant developments. They hope to serve as the definitive “go to” knowledge resource by establishing a centralized reference library with essential resources based on their extensive research and cumulatively accruing knowledge of judicial decisions, case trends and operant medical licensing boards.

Manion’s own career-ending experience with the North Carolina Medical Board (NCMB) was well publicized (1). His case dates back to September 2009, when he worked as a civilian psychiatrist under contract with the Deployment Health Center at Naval Hospital Camp Lejeune, in Jacksonville, North Carolina. After he raised concerns with the US Navy and a personnel contractor about what he believed was dangerously deficient care of active duty service members who had posttraumatic stress disorder, he was dismissed. Later an anonymous source raised concerns about his mental health, which resulted in an investigation by the North Carolina Medical Board. Although an independent, comprehensive psychological evaluation determined he had no mental disorder or other psychological impairment, an assessment by the Board concluded otherwise, and he was forced to deactivate his medical license. In 2016, he launched a lawsuit against the NCMB, which was ultimately unsuccessful on appeal because it exceeded the time limit for filing a petition. Manion blamed the NCMB for using stall tactics to delay the legal process.

Richard A. Robbins, MD

Editor, SWJPCC

Reference

  1. Anderson P.  One-Man Fight: MD Takes on State Medical Board, PHP. Medscape. November 8, 2016. Available at: https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/871569 (accessed 11/13/18).

Cite as: Robbins RA. New center for physician rights. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2018;17(5):137. doi: https://doi.org/10.13175/swjpcc116-18 PDF