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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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Wednesday
Oct242018

Big Pharma Gives Millions to Congress

Pharmaceutical companies contribute millions of dollars to U.S. senators and representatives as part of a multipronged effort to influence health care lawmaking and spending priorities. Kaiser Health News (KHN) recently developed a database of contributions by pharmaceutical manufacturers to members of Congress for the past 10 years (1). This was done by examining campaign finance reports from the Federal Election Commission to track donations from political action committees (PACs). The amounts are totaled quarterly and the exact amounts but can change as amendments and refunds are reported. Occasionally, refunds are reported in a different cycle from the original contribution, resulting in a negative total for the cycle. The database can be used to look up any individual candidate or pharmaceutical company and will be updated periodically according to KHN. Contributions to members of Congress from the Southwest states of Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada and New Mexico are summarized in Appendix 1.

The drug industry ranks among lawmakers' most generous patrons. In the past decade, Congress has received $79 million from 68 pharma political action committees, or PACs, run by employees of companies that make drugs. The amount has steadily increased each year from $11.8 million in 2008 to $15.8 million last year. Since the beginning of last year, 34 lawmakers have each received more than $100,000 from pharmaceutical companies. In the Southwest one of those – Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, the House Republican majority leader, received more than $200,000 so far this election cycle (2017 and 2018 to date) and has received more than $1,000,000 over the past 10 years (Appendix 1).

While PAC contributions to candidates are limited, a larger donation frequently accompanies individual contributions from the company's executives and other employees. According to Medpage Today, it also sends a clear message to the recipient, one they may remember when lobbyists come calling: “There's more where that came from” (2).

The KHN analysis shows that pharmaceutical companies give generously to a wide swath of lawmakers. Since the beginning of 2017, drug makers contributed to 217 Republicans and 187 Democrats, giving only slightly more on average to Republicans, who currently control both chambers of Congress (2). This was also the case for Democrats during the 2010 election cycle, when they controlled Congress.

Money also tends to flow to congressional committees with jurisdiction over pharmaceutical issues that can affect things like drug pricing and FDA approval. in early 2017, For Example, Rep. Greg Walden from Oregon has watched his coffers swell since he became chairman of the powerful House Committee on Energy and Commerce (1). Walden has received over $278,000 this election cycle. The six members of the committee from Southwest states (Reps. Walters, Eshoo, DeGette, Matsui, McNerney, and Peters) have also received $415,500 to date.

Nearly 50 drug makers made contributions with the amount roughly following the size of the company. Genentech, Pfizer, Amgen, Bristol-Myers Squibb and Eli Lilly were the top 5 over the past 10 years. The PAC for Purdue Pharma, the embattled opioid manufacturer, gave to only a handful of members this cycle. However, it focused much of its giving on lawmakers from North Carolina, its headquarters for manufacturing and technical operations. Insys, the opioid manufacturer from Chandler, Arizona, was not listed as making any contributions.

Campaign contributions tell only part of the story. Drugmakers also spend millions of dollars lobbying members of Congress. So far over $430 million has been spent this election cycle by pharmaceutical companies lobbying Congress (3). Another source is indirect lobbying through to patient advocacy groups, which provide patients to testify on Capitol Hill and organize social media campaigns on drug makers' behalf. A previous investigation by Kaiser Health News, "Pre$cription for Power," examined charitable giving by top drugmakers and found that 14 of them donated a combined $116 million to patient advocacy groups in 2015 alone (4).

Previous studies have suggested that political contributions may influence voting behavior. These sizable contributions may help explain, at least in part, why drug prices in the US are the highest in the world and why Congressional legislation regulating these prices has been so difficult to pass.

Richard A. Robbins, MD

Editor, SWJPCC

References

  1. Lucas E, Lupkin S.   Pharma cash to Congress. Kaiser Health News. October 16, 2018. Available at: https://khn.org/news/campaign/ (accessed 10/23/18).
  2. Huetteman E, Lupkin S. Drugmakers funnel millions to lawmakers. Medpage Today. October 16, 2018. Available at: https://www.medpagetoday.com/washington-watch/electioncoverage/75737?xid=nl_mpt_investigative2018-10-23&eun=g687171d0r&utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=InvestigateMD_102318&utm_term=InvestigativeMD (accessed 10/23/18).
  3. Pharmaceuticals/health products. OpenSecrets.org. August 28, 2018. Available at: https://www.opensecrets.org/lobby/indusclient.php?id=h04 (accessed 10/23/18).
  4. Kopp E, Lucas E, Lupkin S. Pre$cription for power. Kaiser Health News. 2018. Available at: https://khn.org/patient-advocacy/#+initialWidth=1170&childId=patient_advocacy&parentTitle=Pre%24cription%20For%20Power%3A%20KHN%20Patient%20Advocacy%20DatabaseKaiser%20Health%20News&parentUrl=https%3A%2F%2Fkhn.org%2Fpatient-advocacy%2F (accessed 10/23/18).

Cite as: Robbins RA. Big pharma gives millions to Congress. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2018;17(4):117-8. doi: https://doi.org/10.13175/swjpcc113-18 PDF 

Saturday
Jun162018

Gilbert Hospital and Florence Hospital at Anthem Closed

Gilbert Hospital and Florence Hospital at Anthem, two medical centers owned by parent company New Vision Health LLC, will close according to the Arizona Republic (1). Gilbert Hospital's emergency room will stay open until 1 p.m. Saturday and the Florence ER will close 8 a.m. Monday. Anyone receiving care was to be transferred or discharged, according to company spokesman Alex Stevenson.

The two hospitals and the parent company have been plagued with financial troubles. Creditors filed for involuntary Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection this spring, the second time they had faced bankruptcy in four years. A Maricopa County Superior Court judge on June 7 appointed a receiver, who concluded that the financial problems "were simply too significant to overcome." Bankruptcy court documents show the two medical centers owe creditors at least $13.1 million in unpaid loans. Both hospitals were operating under terminated leases because they could not pay rent, according to court records.

Gilbert Hospital was recently penalized by Medicare because of high rates of patient injuries, according to Kaiser Health News (2). Gilbert Hospital lost 1 percent of its Medicare funding this fiscal year. New Vision Health is also the owner of Peoria Regional Medical Center which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in federal court in October 2017.

Richard A. Robbins, MD

Editor, SWJPCC

References

  1. Altavena L. Bankruptcy forces abrupt closure of Gilbert Hospital, Florence Hospital at Anthem. Arizona Republic. June 15, 2018. Available at: https://www.azcentral.com/story/news/local/gilbert/2018/06/15/bankruptcy-gilbert-hospital-florence-hospital-anthem-close/705452002/ (accessed 5/16/18)
  2. Rau J. Medicare penalizes group of 751 hospitals for patient injuries. Kaiser Health News. December 12, 2017. Available at: https://khn.org/news/medicare-penalizes-group-of-751-hospitals-for-patient-injuries/ (accessed 6/16/18)

Cite as: Robbins RA. Gilbert Hospital and Florence Hospital at Anthem closed. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2018;16(6):340. doi: https://doi.org/10.13175/swjpcc080-18 PDF 

Editor's Note: Gilbert Hospital was located at 5656 S. Power in Gilbert and should not be confused with Mercy Gilbert Medical Center which is located 3555 S. Val Vista Drive also in Gilbert.

Friday
Jun152018

CMS’ Star Ratings Miscalculated

Modern Healthcare is reporting that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has miscalculated hospitals star ratings since they were first released in 2016 (1). Officials at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago exclusively disclosed their analysis and correspondence to Modern Healthcare. The investigators found that instead of evenly weighting the eight measures in the safety of care group, the CMS' star ratings formula relied heavily on one measure— The Patient Safety and Adverse Events Composite, known as PSI 90 —for the first four releases of the ratings and then complication rates from hip and knee replacements for the latest release. The single measure accounted for about 98% of a hospital's performance in the safety group, according to Rush's analysis. The safety group can also greatly influence a hospital's overall star rating, the analysis concluded. Rush's findings likely prompted the CMS to announce this week that it would postpone the July release of its star ratings (1).

The statistical model the CMS uses likely caused the miscalculation. The model, called latent variable modeling, uses scores for seven groups of measures to calculate the star ratings:

  1. Mortality
  2. Safety of Care
  3. Readmission
  4. Patient Experience
  5. Effectiveness of Care
  6. Timeliness of Care
  7. Efficient Use of Medical Imaging

The three outcome groups—mortality, safety and readmissions—are each weighted the most at 22% each. Measures within each group are supposed to be evenly weighted to calculate the hospital's performance in that area. Rush's analysis found that the weight given to the PSI-90 measure was much greater than the seven other measures in the safety group. Specifically, PSI-90 was weighted 1,010 times stronger than the catheter-associated urinary tract infections measure, 81 times stronger than the C. difficile infection rates measure, 51 times stronger than the central line-associated bloodstream infection rates measure and 20 times stronger than either the surgical site infection rate measure.

Latent variable modeling changes the weighting and is inappropriate for measuring clinical outcomes, said David Levine, senior vice president of advanced analytics and informatics at Vizient (1). "Given the disproportionate weighting of the safety scores over time, they did not represent a composite measure," said Dr. Omar Lateef, an author of the analysis and Rush's senior vice president and chief medical officer (1). Lateef said he and his colleagues at Rush were alarmed by a rating drop from 5 to 3 stars because they have improved performance on five of the eight safety measures since the December release. " Lateef added that although CMS was initially dismissive of Rush’s concerns that CMS has come around since presented with Rush’s analysis.

CMS announced earlier this week that it was delaying release of the star ratings "to address stakeholders concerns." No date has been set for when the new ratings will be released.

Richard A. Robbins, MD

Editor, SWJPCC

Reference

  1. Maria Castellucci M. CMS star rating system has been wrong for two years, health system finds. Modern Healthcare. June 15, 2018. Available at: http://www.modernhealthcare.com/article/20180615/TRANSFORMATION01/180619933?utm_source=modernhealthcare&utm_medium=email&utm_content=20180615-TRANSFORMATION01-180619933&utm_campaign=am (accessed 6/15/18).

Cite as: Robbins RA. CMS' star ratings miscalculated. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2018;16(6):338-9. doi: https://doi.org/10.13175/swjpcc078-18 PDF 

Thursday
Feb152018

VA Announces Aggressive New Approach to Produce Rapid Improvements in VA Medical Centers

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced steps that it is taking as part of an aggressive new approach to produce rapid improvements at VA’s low-performing medical facilities nationwide (1). VA defines its low-performing facilities as those medical centers that receive the lowest score in its Strategic Analytics for Improvement and Learning (SAIL) star rating system, or a one-star rating out of five. The SAIL star rating was initiated in 2016 and uses a variety of measures including mortality, length of hospital stay, readmission rates, hospital complications, physician productivity and efficiency. A complete listing of the VA facilities, their star ratings and the metrics used to determine the ratings is available through the end of fiscal year 2017 (2). Based on the latest ratings, the VA currently has 15 one-star facilities including Denver, Loma Linda, and Phoenix in the Southwest (Table 1).  

Table 1. VA facilities with one-star ratings (1).

  1. Big Spring (Texas)
  2. Denver (Colorado)
  3. Dublin (Georgia)
  4. El Paso (Texas)
  5. Jackson, (Mississippi)
  6. Hampton (Virginia)
  7. Harlingen (Texas)
  8. Loma Linda (California)
  9. Memphis (Tennessee)
  10. Murfreesboro (Tennessee)
  11. Nashville (Tennessee)
  12. Phoenix (Arizona)
  13. Roseburg (Oregon)
  14. Walla Walla (Washington).
  15. Washington (DC)

The steps VA is taking to produce rapid improvements at its low-performing facilities include (Table 2):

Table 2. VA steps to produce rapid improvements at low-performing facilities (1).

  1. Central, national accountable leadership – VA has designated Dr. Peter Almenoff, Director of VA’s Office of Reporting, Analytics, Performance, Improvement and Deployment (RAPID) Healthcare Improvement Center, to oversee improvement at each of the centers.
  2. Comprehensive analysis and identification of improvement targets – VA is employing a new initiative, known as Strategic Action Transformation (STAT), that uses a rigorous and formal approach based on clinical performance indicators to identify vulnerabilities in each low-performing facility and set specific targets for improvement.
  3. Provision of national resources for improvement – VA’s RAPID team of experts will use sophisticated statistical tools to track the progress of improvement against these targets, and, where warranted, will dispatch a team of expert improvement coaches quickly to the medical centers to assist them in meeting the goals.
  4. Accountability for results –VA’s Central Office will review each of the facilities quarterly, and if the facilities fail to make rapid substantial progress in their improvement plan, VA leadership will take prompt action, including changing the leadership of the medical center.

VA secretary David Shulkin stated that “President Trump has made it clear that our Veterans deserve only the best when it comes to their healthcare, and that’s why we are focusing on improving our lowest performing facilities nationwide” (1). The VA recently removed the Roseburg Oregon VA Medical Center director who was accused of manipulating hospital admissions to improve the hospital’s rating (3). Almenoff, the overseer of improvement, was transferred from his position as the VA Integrated Network 15 director in 2008 when the Marion VA came under fire for substandard care raising concerns from several Illinois legislators, including the then junior senator from Illinois, Barack Obama (4).

A major hurdle will be for the VA to hire sufficient staff to improve care. As of the end of June, the VA reported 35,554 job vacancies system-wide, and VA Secretary David Shulkin has cited challenges with hiring doctors and nurses, particularly mental health care professionals (5). The agency set a goal to hire 1,000 mental health care workers in 2017. The VA hired 900 last year, but lost 945. The Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014 appropriated several billion dollars to the VA but this apparently did not lead to hiring of sufficient healthcare providers.

Richard A. Robbins, MD

Editor, SWJPCC

References

  1. VA Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs. VA announces aggressive new approach for low-performing medical centers. February 1, 2018. Available at: https://www.va.gov/opa/pressrel/pressrelease.cfm?id=4004 (accessed 2/14/18).
  2. US Department of Veterans Affairs. Quality care. Available at: https://www.va.gov/QUALITYOFCARE/measure-up/Strategic_Analytics_for_Improvement_and_Learning_SAIL.asp (accessed 2/14/18).
  3. Phillips D. Director of veterans hospital accused of manipulating ratings is replaced. New York Times. February 1, 2018. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/01/us/veterans-roseburg-director.html (accessed 2/14/18).
  4. Durbin D, Obama B, Costello J, Shimkus J. Letter to The Honorable James B. Peake, M.D., Secretary of Veterans' Affairs. July 23, 2008. Available at: https://votesmart.org/public-statement/363179/letter-to-the-honorable-james-b-peake-md-secretary-of-veterans-affairs?flavour=mobile&utm_source=votesmart&utm_medium=mobile-link&utm_campaign=flavourswitch#.WoR3Dq6nGUk (accessed 2/14/18).
  5. Wentling N. Federal unions march on VA headquarters to protest staffing shortages. Stars and Stripes. February 13, 2018. Available at: https://www.stripes.com/federal-unions-march-on-va-headquarters-to-protest-staffing-shortages-1.511543 (accessed 2/14/18).

Cite as: Robbins RA. VA announces aggressive new approach to produce rapid improvements in VA medical centers. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2018;16(2):91-3. doi: https://doi.org/10.13175/swjpcc034-18 PDF

Tuesday
Feb132018

Healthcare Payments Under the Budget Deal: Mostly Good News for Physicians

In the early morning hours last Friday (2/9/18) Congress passed and President Trump signed a massive budget agreement (1). The spending package will cost about $320 billion over 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Payments for healthcare substantially increase under the deal. Most praised the agreement. "Congress made the right choice this morning for patients and communities by voting to halt damaging cuts to hospitals that care for low-income working families and others who face financial challenges," said Dr. Bruce Siegel, CEO of America's Essential Hospitals, which represents the nation's safety-net facilities. Marc Goldwein of the Center for a Responsible Federal Budget called the healthcare provisions the one "beacon of light" in what otherwise is an exorbitantly costly budget bill. Goldwein praised its mix of structural reforms with "reasonable policy” and liked that the bill pays for the increased healthcare spending.

The bill extends Medicare physician fee cuts that provide about $38 billion in offsets to the increased spending (2). The bill preserves the planned physician fee cuts at 0.5% in 2018 but would reduce the cut to 0.25% in 2019. Not all were pleased by the continuation of the cuts. Calling it "contrary to Congress' intent” ACP President Jack Ende called on Congress to enact permanent relief from the physician fee cuts.

Other major healthcare provisions include (1,2):

  • Continued funding for community health centers for two years.
  • A two-year delay to the already-in-effect payment cuts to Medicaid disproportionate-share hospitals (DSH) which predominately represent safety net hospitals.
  • A two-year delay in the low-volume adjustment program which predominately affects rural hospitals.
  • An additional 4-year extension of the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which had received a 6-year extension in the continuing resolution that was approved in January.
  • Forcing pharmaceutical companies to pay 75 percent of the cost of drugs for seniors in Medicare’s coverage gap a year earlier than planned.
  • Repeal of the "therapy cap”, a move long pushed by therapy provider groups and the American Association of Retired Persons. This would permanently repeal Medicare's coverage limit on physical therapy, speech-language pathology, and outpatient treatment.
  • $6 billion for the opioid epidemic, which will go toward state grants, public prevention programs, and law enforcement.
  • Funding for the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program, which helps at-risk pregnant women and families navigate the social safety net.
  • A reduction in Medicare payments to Home health agencies. They're expected to lose $3.5 billion in Medicare payments starting in 2020 due to a change in the way Medicare calculates annual payment updates.
  • Funding the Chronic Care Act, which opens up new flexibilities for Medicare Advantage and care for chronically ill Medicare beneficiaries.
  • A 2-year delay in implementing The Affordable Care Act's high-cost plan tax, popularly known as the “Cadillac tax”. This was a 40 percent excise tax on employer plans exceeding $10,200 in premiums per year for individuals and $27,500 for families. The tax is now scheduled to take effect in 2020.
  • Repeal of Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB). Provider groups from the American Medical Association to the American Hospital Association applauded the move, even though Congress has never triggered the panel, which was charged to find and implement Medicare savings.

However, not all were pleased by the repeal of cost containments. IPAB repeal doesn't cost much in the grand scheme of things, said Mark Goldwein from the Center for a Responsible Federal Budget but “the long-term policy implications are huge, and a big mistake” (2). Kaiser Family Foundation Senior Vice President Larry Levitt chided that the bill demonstrates “…healthcare cost containment generally seems better in theory than in practice” (2).

Richard A. Robbins, MD

Editor, SWJPCC

References

  1. Luthi S. Beacon of light: Healthcare additions in budget law pleasantly surprise providers. Modern Healthcare. February 9, 2018. Available at: http://www.modernhealthcare.com/article/20180209/NEWS/180209895 (accessed 2/12/18).
  2. Ault A. Trump signs budget deal, cuts Medicare fee in 2019. Medscape. February 9, 2018. Available at: https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/892491 (accessed 2/12/18).

Cite as: Robbins RA. Healthcare payments under the budget deal: mostly good news for physicians. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2018;16(2):88-9. doi: https://doi.org/10.13175/swjpcc032-18 PDF