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Finance reform bill would tax higher-premium health plans

Despite some economists' wishes, one of the quirks of the U.S. health system might remain largely intact even if health system reform is enacted this year. The Senate Finance Committee approved a version of reform that would institute a tax on costly health plans to discourage overspending on health care and to pay for health coverage expansions. But the bill would not go as far as earlier committee discussions indicated it might. Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D, Mont.) had considered raising revenue and curbing spending on health insurance by limiting the tax exclusion for employer-sponsored health insurance. Workers with group coverage can use an unlimited amount of pre-tax dollars to pay for health premiums; employer spending is also exempt. But individual health plan subscribers can deduct only the amount they spend that is higher than 7.5% of their adjusted gross income, according to Dallas Salisbury, president and CEO of the nonpartisan Employee Benefit Researc ...

Diagnostic test can be patented, appeals court rules

In a decision that could have ramifications for medical research, a federal appeals court in September ruled that a diagnostic test for determining proper drug dosages to treat certain diseases is patentable under federal law. Prometheus Laboratories Inc. sued Mayo Collaborative Services for infringing on its patents on the test, which measures metabolite levels in patients taking thiopurine drugs, then correlates those levels with the drugs' efficacy. Mayo developed a different testing method for detecting such effects and argued that Prometheus' patents were invalid because they covered naturally occurring phenomena, namely patients' drug metabolite levels. In 2008, a federal trial agreed, finding that the patent violated federal laws barring the patentability of laws of nature, natural phenomena or abstract ideas. But a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, siding with Prometheus, said the patent was permissible because it involved a new application of ...

Mandating cultural competency: Should physicians be required to take courses?

Study after study has shown that racial and ethnic disparities exist in health care delivery. How do health care professionals and others eliminate them? One approach appears to be gaining momentum: Mandate cultural competency training for physicians. In 2005, New Jersey began requiring physicians to take continuing medical education courses that provide a grounding in culturally competent patient care, in addition to CME courses needed to maintain their licenses. California also mandates cultural competency training for physicians, while Maryland "strongly recommends" it. And debates about requiring such training are taking place in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, New Mexico, New York, Ohio and Washington, according to the Dept. of Health and Human Services' Office of Minority Health. "My sense is that [cultural competency training] is increasing dramatically," said Robert Like, MD, professor of family medicine and director of the Center for Healthy Families ...