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Health plan for preexisting conditions gaining in popularity
Washington -- Enrollment in a federal-state insurance program for people with preexisting conditions reached 18,313 by the end of March, an increase of nearly 6,000 since Feb. 1, according to data released May 6 by the Dept. of Health and Human Services. The Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan -- created by the health system reform law -- provides coverage to U.S. citizens who have been both uninsured for at least six months and denied health insurance because of at least one medical condition. Premiums are more expensive than traditional health insurance, with older Americans facing the highest costs, but are less expensive than many similar state insurance programs. Despite the recent uptick, total program enrollment has been considered lackluster. The Congressional Budget Office had estimated that 200,000 people would register for PCIP each year, one of the more conservative enrollment estimates provided. In response to the lack of interest, HHS lowered premiums this year [Read more]
Obesity rising in adults with arthritis
As obesity prevalence increases among adults with arthritis, the author of a new study is urging primary care physicians to regularly assess the weight and activity levels of patients with the condition. Doctors should talk to obese patients with arthritis about ways to shed pounds through diet and low-impact exercises, said Jennifer Hootman, PhD, lead author of the study in the April 29 issue of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Low-impact exercises include riding a stationary bike, swimming, walking and water aerobics. Hootman encourages doctors to schedule follow-up visits to monitor progress. "When obese people [with arthritis] are inactive, their arthritis gets worse, because their muscles get weak. When people who are a normal weight get arthritis, they often gain weight because they're inactive. ... We really want to try and address this, because we can break the cycle," said Hootman, an epidemiologist with the CDC's [Read more]
VA hospital in Colorado to share patient data with private physicians
Physicians treating veterans in southeast Utah soon will have an easier time coordinating care with doctors treating them at the nearest veterans' hospital, which happens to be across the state line in Colorado. The Veterans Health Administration will begin testing a health information exchange between the Grand Junction (Colo.) VA Medical Center and Moab (Utah) Regional Hospital and surrounding physician practices. The VA hopes this is the first of many projects across the country that will expedite the coordination of care for the seven in 10 veterans who receive some portion of care from private physicians and hospitals. Without a health information exchange, care was often repeated, delayed or inefficient because physicians had to wait for phone calls and faxes. The health information network will allow private physicians to get the medical records of the veterans they treat and share their clinical notes and test results with VA hospitals. "I think this is probably one of [Read more]
Bipartisan House caucus to promote generic drugs
Washington -- Two House members have established a group that they hope will produce legislation that leads to wider use of generic drugs, including follow-on biologics, and reduced national health spending growth. Reps. Jo Ann Emerson (R, Mo.) and Peter Welch (D, Vt.) founded the Congressional Affordable Medicines Caucus on May 12. The lawmakers have started recruiting additional members and will craft a caucus agenda when the initial member drive is finished. "At the end of the day, we want to get more of our colleagues involved in these issues," Emerson said during a May 12 conference call with reporters. Welch said two primary goals of the caucus are reducing health spending growth and demonstrating that lawmakers need to work across party lines to solve problems. Emerson said she also expects the group to lobby for an expansion of the Food and Drug Administration office responsible for approving generic drugs. Emerson said some of the generic drug policies she supports [Read more]
State boards took fewer disciplinary actions against doctors in 2010
Disciplinary actions against physicians by state medical and osteopathic boards fell slightly in 2010 to 5,652 from 5,721 in 2009, according to an annual report from the Federation of State Medical Boards Many factors may have contributed to the 1.2% decline, such as state budget cuts, limited staffing and new state laws that require boards to regulate other health professionals, decreasing their capacity to respond to complaints, said FSMB President and CEO Humayun J. Chaudhry, DO. In some cases, a drop in board actions could signal positive changes, he said. "If a state board is effective about educating doctors, educating the public and remediating doctors, they will have fewer board actions as a result. Efficiency is a difficult thing to gauge by looking at the board actions," Dr. Chaudhry said. A total of 850,085 physicians have active medical licenses with the nation's 70 medical and osteopathic boards. "I wouldn't make too much of a 1.2% decrease," Dr. Chaudhry s [Read more]
Quality metrics seek to slash unneeded CT scans
A set of 11 performance measures recently released for public comment aims to reduce the potential radiation harm from unnecessary medical imaging. The proposed quality metrics come as new research shows a fivefold rise in computed tomography scans among children seen in emergency departments. If approved, the measures could be used for pay-for-performance and board maintenance-of-certification programs. The metrics were developed by the American Medical Association-convened Physician Consortium for Performance Improvement, the American Board of Medical Specialties, the American Board of Radiology and the American College of Radiology. More than 62 million CT scans are ordered annually, compared with 3 million in 1980, according to research cited in the draft measure set. Between 30% and 40% of diagnostic imaging is clinically inappropriate or unnecessary. The metrics would gauge how well ordering physicians, radiologists, clinics and hospitals do in following evidence-based g [Read more]
Doubt cast on effectiveness of universal MRSA screening
The struggle to limit the spread of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus in hospitals just got a little more complicated. Some research has supported the screening of all patients admitted to intensive care units for MRSA and taking additional infection-control precautions if they are colonized or infected. Lawmakers in 10 states, alarmed about the rising incidence of MRSA in the last decade, have mandated that hospitals implement this costly "active surveillance" approach. But it's not that simple, according to a study published April 14 in The New England Journal of Medicine (www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21488763/). Researchers screened more than 5,400 patients at 10 ICUs for MRSA and vancomycin-resistant enterococcus, asking health professionals to clean their hands, wear gloves and don gowns when entering the rooms of any colonized or infected patients. The control efforts also were implemented for any patients colonized or infected in the year before admission. For [Read more]
Phone, email service offers tips on drug abuse screening
Primary care physicians who are critical in identifying and treating substance abuse problems now have a new means to help them in that effort from the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the American Society of Addiction Medicine. Doctors often report discomfort in addressing such issues with patients because they have limited training on the subject, said Gaya Dowling, PhD, acting chief of the Science Policy Branch in NIDA's Office of Science Policy and Communications. The institute promotes using science to combat drug abuse and addiction. On April 8, NIDA and the American Society of Addiction Medicine launched a free phone and email service to help primary care physicians implement drug screening in their practices. The service, called the Physician Clinical Support System for Primary Care, offers doctors guidance on what to do if a screen indicates that a patient smokes or uses illegal drugs or prescription medications for nonmedical reasons (www.pcssprimarycare.org/). The [Read more]
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