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Epidemiology resources spread thin in state health departments

The number of state health department epidemiologists and the tasks they can perform have decreased since 2006, according to a study published in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Dec. 18, 2009, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report ( The report and public health experts indicate that the reduction in health departments' epidemiology capacity is due in part to diminished federal public health preparedness funding, and states' overall budget cuts. Annual grants to states through federal preparedness funding decreased from a high of $1 billion in 2002 to approximately $698 million in 2008. The reduction coincided with a decrease in bioterrorism/emergency epidemiology and surveillance capacity, the report states. For physicians, this means possibly less guidance on how to treat public health emergencies, and more patients with illnesses that potentially could have been prevented had data been available, the report's a ...

Medicare cost plans face uncertain future

Under federal law, the more than 20 Medicare cost plans operating in areas deemed to have sufficient competing Medicare Advantage options for beneficiaries must shut down by 2011 or else convert to Medicare Advantage plans themselves. But a December 2009 report from the Government Accountability Office said some insurers are worried about the effects those conversions would have on the program. Insurers who manage cost plans cited planned future reductions to Medicare Advantage payments and increased financial risk as their primary concerns about converting the products. Officials from more than half of the organizations offering cost plans also worried about the potential disruption to beneficiaries caused by transferring them from one plan to another, GAO said. Cost plans are special types of Medicare HMOs that are paid based on the reasonable costs of delivering covered services. They enroll a small number of beneficiaries compared with Medicare Advantage plans, which accept f ...

Physician counseling boosts likelihood of women getting breast cancer screening MRI

Women at high or intermediate risk of breast cancer were more likely to agree to have an MRI screening test if they were counseled by their physicians about the benefits of the test, according to a new study. Researchers from the American College of Radiology Imaging Network set out to determine why 42% of women at elevated risk for breast cancer declined an all-expenses-paid MRI screening exam. Their findings were published in the January Radiology ( Of the 1,215 women offered the MRI in the study, 512 declined to participate. The main reason, given by 25% of those who declined the exam, was claustrophobia. Another 18% said they didn't have time for the exam, and 5% cited a reluctance to have the necessary injection of contrast material. But when the women were counseled by their physicians, they seemed more likely to overcome their reservations and get the screening exam, said lead author Wendie Berg, MD, PhD, a breast imaging sp ...