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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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Entries in Congress (3)

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
Jan132018

MedPAC Votes to Scrap MIPS

The Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC) voted 14 to 2 on January 11th in favor of telling Congress to do away with Merit-based Incentive Payment System (MIPS) (1). Instead they favor moving to what the panel termed a voluntary value program (2). Lawmakers mandated MIPS as part of the bipartisan 2015 Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA) ending the sustainable growth rate formula that had repeatedly threatened to cause deep cuts in Medicare payments to doctors.

On a slide presentation before the vote, the MedPAC staff said MIPS cannot succeed. The cited the following reasons for MIPS’ probable failure (3):

  • Replicates flaws of prior value-based purchasing programs
  • Burdensome and complex
  • Much of the reported information is not meaningful
  • Scores not comparable across clinicians
  • MIPS payment adjustments will be minimal in the first two years, large and arbitrary in later years
  • MIPS will not succeed in helping beneficiaries choose clinicians, helping clinicians change practice patters to improve value, or helping the Medicare program to reward clinicians based on value

Supporters of the MedPAC approach argued for fast action. It will be difficult to dismantle MIPS if it becomes entrenched, said MedPAC panelist Rita Redberg MD (1).

One of the four physician members of the committee, Alice Coombs MD, an anesthesiologist and critical care specialist, dissented. "We have not seen one specialty physician group yet say, 'You know what, I like getting rid of MIPS and I like this [Voluntary Value Program], let's go with it.' " The American Medical Association (AMA) protested the MedPAC vote arguing to keep MIPS in place (1). "Where we are is that we'd like to fix it rather than kill it," Sharon McIlrath, assistant director of federal affairs at the AMA, told the MedPAC panelists during the public comment period. The AMA separately issued a statement from its president, David O. Barbe MD (1). "The best remedy is to fix MIPS rather than jumping into another sweeping change that has not been fleshed out and would have many of the same methodological issues as MIPS," Barbe said.

It's unclear how Congress and CMS will greet the MedPAC recommendation on MIPS. Congress in recent months has struggled with healthcare legislation, for example, reauthorization of the Children's Health Insurance Program. Routine appropriations have not yet been completed for fiscal 2018, The AMA's McIlrath told MedPAC that it doesn't appear "politically viable to think that you are going to go up there and think that you are going to get the Hill to kill MIPS (1)."

Richard A. Robbins, MD

Editor, SWJPCC

References

  1. Young KD. MedPAC backs bid to scrap MIPS Medicare pay system amid dissent. Medscape. January 11, 2018. Available at: https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/891240 (accessed 1/13/18).
  2. Robbins RA. CMS announces new payment model. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2018;16(1):29-30. Available at: http://www.swjpcc.com/news/2018/1/11/cms-announces-new-payment-model.html (accessed 1/13/18).
  3. Bloniarz K, Winter A, Glass D. Assessing payment adequacy and updating payments. Available at: http://www.medpac.gov/docs/default-source/default-document-library/jan-2018-phys-mips-public.pdf?sfvrsn=0 (accessed 1/13/18).

Cite as: Robbins RA. MedPAC votes to scrap MIPS. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2018;16(1):42-3. doi: https://doi.org/10.13175/swjpcc010-18 PDF 

Wednesday
Dec312014

2014's Top Southwest Medical Stories

The end of the year has traditionally been a time to reflect on the top stories of the year. Here's our list of the top local medical stories.

1. VA scandal

Phoenix was the epicenter of the VA scandal but Albuquerque and the Greeley, Colorado clinic also figured prominently in the falsification of patient wait lists. Investigations revealed that at least 70% of the VA hospitals falsified records leading to the resignation of VA secretary, Eric Shinseki, and his under secretary for health, Dr. Robert Petzel. Eventually the director of the Phoenix VA, Sharon Helman, was fired-not for the falsification of medical records but for taking inappropriate gifts. However, most of the directors of the VA hospitals that falsified data remain untouched, still receiving their bonuses. Similarly, the politicians, the inspector general and those in the VA central office whose job was to provide oversight remain unscathed. On the bright side, the scandal did result in a modest influx of monies which hopefully will be spent on patient care rather than administrative bonuses.

2. Ebola outbreak

This seems a bit odd for a local news story but the Ebola epidemic in Africa did impact locally. The outbreak was largely ignored by the American public until a patient and several healthcare workers became infected in the US. Politicians and healthcare administrators seized the opportunity to hype the hysteria and insist on training of healthcare workers. One Arizona Thoracic Society meeting was cancelled because a nursing service needed the room to do "Ebola training". As Peter Sagal said on "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" there have been more Americans married to Larry King that infected with Ebola illustrating the hysteria and resultant overreaction. This year's true medical heroes are the thousands of physicians and nurses who worked on the frontlines of the Ebola crisis in Africa at tremendous personal risk and despite chaotic conditions, underequipped facilities, and overwhelmed local health systems. In contrast to the politicians and healthcare administrators, Anthony Fauci has consistently offered reasonable recommendations and insight based on science.

3. Banner Health, University of Arizona Health Network merger

In June, the Banner Health and University of Arizona Health Network (UAHN) began negotiations to merge with Banner absorbing UAHN's $146 million debt. Banner promised to spend at least $500 million toward capital projects in the next five years and pay $300 million to establish an academic endowment. The deal is to be completed about the end of January, 2015. Mergers between the private and public health sectors have been a mixed bag and this one warrants close watching.

4. Meaningful use

Many physicians suspected that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services' (CMS) meaningful use was little more than a scheme to have physicians perform useless clerical tasks. When they were not done, payment would be denied. At the end of 2014 this appears to be true. There remains no data that the meaningful use is "using certified electronic health record (EHR) technology to: Improve quality, safety, efficiency, and reduce health disparities" as intended. About 257,000 physicians will receive a 1% reduction in reimbursement in 2015.

5. Reduction in CMS hospital payments

Despite the lack of data that CMS' value-based healthcare program is doing much to benefit patients and some data that performance of the measures has been associated with adverse outcomes, CMS continues to reduce hospital payments because of hospital-acquired conditions and high readmission rates. We initially reported on this in June, 2013. We are not advocating for hospital-acquired infections or readmissions, but are advocating for measures that improve patient outcomes. Despite a phone call assuring us that CMS would look into it, nothing has seemed to change. Furthermore, much of the data is self-reported by the hospitals. As the VA scandal illustrates, self-reported data is not always reliable especially when money is involved.

6. Congress again fails to pass SGR fix

Congress passed a budget but failed to fix the widely hated sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula for physician reimbursement under Medicare. Also missing was an extension of the current pay bump for primary care. SGR has been present since 1997 and the one of the few things the politicians seem to come together on is not paying physicians, especially primary care physicians, a decent living wage.

Richard A. Robbins, MD

Editor

Southwest Journal of Pulmonary and Critical Care

Reference as: Robbins RA. 2014's top southwest medical stories. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2014;9(6):350-1. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.13175/swjpcc167-14 PDF