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Harkin new head of Senate health committee

Senate Democrats moved quickly to fill the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee chair vacated by the late August death of Sen. Edward Kennedy (D, Mass.). Sen. Tom Harkin (D, Iowa) took over the helm. Although Sen. Chris Dodd (D, Conn.) was the committee Democrat with the most Senate experience -- he was elected in 1980 -- Dodd announced on Sept. 9 that he would instead retain the chair of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs. Committee chairs are distributed based on seniority, but senators can't hold more than one chair at a time. At Kennedy's request, Dodd chaired the HELP Committee's health reform hearings over the summer, concluding with the panel's party-line approval of the Affordable Health Choices Act in July. Dodd said he would continue to lead the committee's health reform effort. The bill is expected to be merged eventually with a measure from the Senate Finance Committee. After Dodd's demurral, Harkin announced on Sept. 9 th ...

Surgical quality program cuts complications, patient deaths

Nearly 120 hospitals participating in a surgical quality program cut their complication rates by an average of 11% and slashed mortality rates by 18%, according to a study in the September Annals of Surgery. Two-thirds of the hospitals that took part in the American College of Surgeons' National Surgical Quality Improvement Program from 2006 to 2007 saw reductions in their mortality rates, and 82% lowered their number of surgical complications, the study found. If each hospital in the U.S. could achieve similar results, millions of complications could be avoided each year, researchers estimated. Postoperative complications are not only deadly, accounting for one in five preventable deaths according to previous research, but also very costly. Caring for one surgical site infection can cost nearly $30,000, for example. The college's initiative is modeled after a successful program developed in the 1990s in the Veterans Health Administration that cut surgical mortality and morbid ...

Insurers say system reform won't put them out of business

Insurance executives during a September meeting assured investors that, no matter what happens in health system reform, their companies would continue to exist. A few days later, before members of Congress, a panel of executives for some of the same companies laid out reasons why the companies should continue to exist. The timing was coincidental. But as the debate over health system reform began to narrow in focus, health plans appeared confident that their business model would stay essentially the same, and could even get a boost from reform. With the potential for a public plan that would compete with private plans in flux, and a requirement for people to have health insurance gaining traction, executives told investors that reform could represent a large pool of new customers, rather than a threat to profits. "We think the ability to reform the insurance markets has the potential to bring a substantial number of new customers to the market," Aetna Chief Executive Office ...