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White House refuses to drop $8 billion Medicare private plan demo

The Obama administration’s top health official will not rescind a Medicare demonstration project that a government watchdog agency concluded is mainly benefiting average health plans instead of just those providing a higher quality of coverage. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius defended the Medicare Advantage quality bonus program during an April 27 hearing before the House Education and the Workforce Committee. Committee members strongly criticized HHS over findings in a recent Government Accountability Office report, which called for ending an $8 billion project that will offset some of the Medicare Advantage cuts mandated by the 2010 health system reform law. “We have no intention of canceling the project,” Sebelius said. In November 2010, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services announced it would run the three-year demonstration project beginning in 2012. The program would reward private Medicare plans according to a five-star rating system b ...

Promise seen in blood test that diagnoses depression in teens

In a small but significant study, researchers have identified biological markers in the bloodstream that physicians could use to diagnose depression in adolescents. The goal is to develop a blood test that could be used easily and widely to pinpoint early-onset major depressive disorder. Such a test would particularly be of use to primary care physicians, said Eva E. Redei, PhD, senior study author and David Lawrence Stein Professor of Psychiatric Diseases Affecting Children and Adolescents at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago. Of all age groups, adolescents see doctors the least. When they do, they most often see a primary care physician. “This is an exciting study,” said Robert Scott Benson, MD, speaker-elect of the American Psychiatric Assn. Assembly and a child and adolescent psychiatrist in Pensacola, Fla. “It is one of many we expect to see that will help us improve our understanding of depression.” Major depression affects about 1 ...

Telemonitored patients show no drop in readmissions and ED visits

Daily remote monitoring of patients with chronic conditions appears to be ineffective in reducing re-hospitalizations and emergency department visits, according to the most recent randomized controlled trial of the technology. Researchers compared two groups of Mayo Clinic patients 60 and older with conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease who were at high risk of re-hospitalization. One group of 102 patients received tele-monitoring that had real-time videoconferencing capability and could measure patients’ weight, blood glucose and blood pressure for nurse and physician review, while a group of 103 patients received no tele-health services. Forty-four percent of the usual-care patients were re-hospitalized within the following year, while 52% of the tele-monitoring patients were admitted to the hospital. Meanwhile, 28% of the usual-care patients visited the ED, compared with 35% of the tele-monitored patients. The differences were n ...