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Last 50 News Postings

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

CEO Compensation-One Reason Healthcare Costs So Much
Doctor or Money Shortage in California?
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 
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


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.


Entries in Ebola (2)


Top Medical News Stories 2015

Here is our list of the top seven medical news stories for 2015 with special emphasis on the Southwest.

7. Wearable health devices

A wave of wearable computing devices such as Fitbit and UP wristbands have people keeping track of how much they sit, stand, walk, climb stairs and calories they consume (1). These fitness-tracking devices herald a series of devices that will detect and monitor serious diseases. However, these so-called medical-grade wearables require approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, a regulatory hurdle avoided by the fitness-tracking devices which will likely slow their introduction.

6. Caitlyn Jenner

Caitlyn Jenner became the most famous transgender woman in the world following an interview published in Vanity Fair (2). The Vanity Fair website saw 11.6 million visits curious about the former Olympic athlete. Though Jenner publicly shared her gender identity, many transgender Americans do not-12% of gender non-conforming adults said they had never told anyone about their gender identity. Jenner's "coming out" has and will likely continue to draw increasing attention to gender dysphoria. In Arizona, the Tucson VA recently established a transgender clinic (3).

5. Ebola

Two years after the beginning of an Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the virus continues to strike fear in the US. The Ebola outbreak sickened more than 28,630 people and killed at least 11,300, according to the World Health Organization (4). While the epidemic subsided in 2015, the virus has never completely gone away. The only Ebola cases today are in Liberia, a nation twice declared "Ebola free" suggesting that eliminating Ebola may be difficult.

4. Terrorism in San Bernardino

Multiple terror attacks have occurred in far off places like Afghanistan and Paris, but terror was brought to the Southwest in 2015 by 2 terrorists who killed 14 at a holiday party earlier in December in San Bernardino, California (5). The attack generated concern about emergency preparedness and will likely generate training for triaging and care of multiple gunshot victims.

3. Vaccines

A measles outbreak that started at Disneyland spread to 117 people earlier this year and changed the national conversation about vaccinations (1). The outbreak also drew attention to Disneyland's Orange County where a relatively large percentage of the population is not vaccinated. The outbreak spurred California and Vermont to strengthen their school vaccine laws. Vermont repealed its "personal belief" exemption, which allowed unvaccinated children to attend school if their parents objected to vaccines for philosophical reasons. California went even further, putting an end to both personal belief and religious exemptions.

2. Opioids

Deaths from opioid drug overdoses have hit an all-time record in the U.S., rising 14 percent in just one year (6). More than 47,000 people died from these drug overdoses last year according to the CDC. Concomitant with the introduction of the pain scale as the "fifth" vital sign and continued criticism of doctors for undertreating pain, prescription opioid sales have quadrupled in the US since 1999. The CDC announced that it will issue guidelines to reduce opioid overdoses and prescribing.

1. Prescription Drug Prices

Concern over high drug costs has been building for years. Prices for cancer drugs often exceed $100,000 a year and Gilead priced its breakthrough hepatitis C drug at $84,000 for a 12-week treatment (4). Outrage over drug prices boiled over in 2015 when Turing Pharmaceuticals purchased the rights to pyrimethamine and immediately hiked the price from $13.50 a pill to $750 a pill. Pyrimethamine (Daraprim®) is a medication used for protozoal infections such as Toxoplasma gondii, an infection usually seen in AIDS patients. An October poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 77% of those surveyed said that drug prices should be a top priority for Congress and the White House should and 63% favored government action to lower prescription drug prices.

Richard A. Robbins, MD

Editor, SWJPCC


  1. Reddy S. Year in review: top 10 health issues of 2015. Wall Street Journal. December, 29, 2015. Available at: (accessed 12/31/15).
  2. Chalabi M. 2015: the top news stories of the year in numbers. The Guardian. December 28, 2015. Available at: (accessed 12/31/15).
  3. Transgender services. Available at: (accessed 12/31/15).
  4. Szabo L. That $750 pill and more: 2015's top health stories. USA Today. December 15, 2015. Available at: (accessed 12/31/15).
  5. Domonoske C. San Bernardino shootings: what we know, one day after. NPR. December 3, 2015. Available at: (accessed 12/31/15).
  6. Siegel R. Draft of CDC's new prescribing guidelines stirs debate. NPR. December 29, 2015. Available at: (accessed 12/31/15).

Cite as: Robbins RA. Top medical news stories 2015. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2015;11(6):285-6. doi: PDF


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


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: PDF