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Inquirer Daily News

Archive: September, 2011

POSTED: Thursday, September 29, 2011, 9:07 PM
Filed Under: Robert Field

We’re paying more and getting less when it comes to health insurance. A survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that premiums for employer-sponsored coverage jumped by 9% for families and 8% for individuals this year. Last year, family premiums rose by only 3%, and over the past few years, increases have stayed below 5%. (Click here for the full report)

Our coverage is also shrinking. Many more workers have policies with deductibles of $1,000 or more. Co-pays are also going up. And workers at many companies must pay a higher share of the total premium.

This finding is somewhat surprising, since underlying health care costs rose at a slower pace than usual last year. A Standard & Poor’s survey found an increase of just under 6%, the lowest rate of growth in the past six years.

POSTED: Wednesday, September 28, 2011, 7:12 PM

The Lurie Family Foundation on Wednesday announced a $2.5 million gift to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia for autism studies.

Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie has an autistic brother, and the family has given a total of nearly $4.5 million to the hospital’s Center for Autism Research in recent years.

Part of the donation will fund a study of 1,000 people with autism spectrum disorder to look for new genetic variants that might be related to autism. The hospital said it will include an unusual service: Families that participate will be given the results of the genetic tests involving autism risk factors, as well as free consultations with a genetic counselor to help them understand the findings.

POSTED: Wednesday, September 28, 2011, 6:00 AM
Filed Under: Daniel Hoffman

It's widely known that the top 1% of US households own more than half the nation’s equities and control more wealth than the bottom 90%. Five years ago a group of analysts at Citibank prepared a report for their wealthiest clients that sought to base an investment strategy on the premise that this disparity of income and wealth will persist and even become more extreme.

The Citibank analysts coined the term “Plutonomy” to describe countries such as the US that are characterized by this sort of massive economic inequality. They recommend that the most effective way for companies and wealthy individuals to prosper in Plutonomies is to disregard the “mass” consumer and focus on the rich. Over the course of 68 pages, the Citibank analysts take pains to show why more money can be made from fewer customers. Barring major disruptions such as wars, financial crises and the dreaded "populist political pressures," the Citibank analysts project that “the rich are likely to keep getting even richer, and enjoy an even greater share of the wealth pie over the coming years.”

Some observers claim that pharma's concentration on cancer as a therapeutic category is tantamount to a plutonomy strategy because prices there range from $50,000 to $200,000 per patient per year, while the number of patients who can benefit from any one drug in a personalized medicine approach remains relatively small.

POSTED: Monday, September 26, 2011, 6:00 AM
Filed Under: Michael Cohen

If you or a family member has been hospitalized, the first few days after returning home can be confusing. In fact, let’s use the word “risky” when it comes to medication use.

One study showed that about 20% of patients experience adverse events within 3 weeks of discharge, with adverse drug events being the most common problem noted.

What’s behind this? Upon discharge, you may have prescriptions to fill for new medicines or need to restart medicines you had at home, but you may not know which ones replace older medicines that should be stopped. In other cases you’ll need to take medications in different doses or at different times. You’ll already have a lot on your mind, so these changes may cause you to make a mistake as you try to figure out what medicines to take or how to take them now that you are home.

POSTED: Friday, September 23, 2011, 6:00 AM
Filed Under: Robert Field

If you’re over 65, there’s a good chance you find your Medicare coverage confusing. In a recent survey by the National Council on Aging, only half of seniors said that they understand how it works.

The survey found large gaps in knowledge about Medicare’s basic structure. Only 36% of seniors correctly identified the component that covers hospital care, and only 26% could name the component that pays physicians. (The answers are Part A and Part B respectively.) Two-thirds had no idea what Part C is for. (It lets you choose alternative coverage through a private managed care plan.)

Those approaching age 65 reported even more confusion about Medicare and displayed even less knowledge. Only 46% of those between the ages of 60 and 64 said they understand the program, and they were less likely than the seniors to correctly identify its components.

POSTED: Thursday, September 22, 2011, 3:07 PM

Bed bugs are unpleasant in the extreme, but taking shortcuts to get rid of them can be worse: Federal investigators combing a database that includes just 12 states found 111 cases of acute illness due to bed bug pesticides between 2003 and 2010, mostly in the last few years.

Nearly 40 percent of the cases involved pesticides being applied by people who were not certified to use them, the researchers wrote in Thursday’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.  The majority of symptoms were were minor (headache, dizziness, upper respiratory tract pain, nausea and vomiting); one person died.

Pyrethroids and pyrethrins, both of which are common in pesticides, were implicated in 90 percent of the cases. Exposures were traced to excessive application, failure to wash or replace treated bedding, ineffective warnings, not leaving the premises during treatment, spills, and inadequate ventilation.

POSTED: Wednesday, September 21, 2011, 6:00 AM
Filed Under: Daniel Hoffman

A posting here in May discussed Congressman Paul Ryan's soak-the-middle-class proposal to cripple Medicare by turning it into a program that would give people vouchers to buy inadequate, private health insurance. The thrust of the article was a suggestion that pharma could elevate its poor image among the public by opposing this Republican effort to roll back the safety net. The pharmaceutical companies apparently chose to remain silent on the Ryan bill. Instead they left it to Ryan's constituents and attendees at town hall meetings around the country to treat the Republican Medicare proposal with the scorn it deserves.

Now four months later a group calling itself the Healthcare Leadership Council (HLC) emerges with its own nefarious plans to reduce the Medicare benefit. HLC is a lobbying group whose membership includes Big Pharmas such as Pfizer, Merck and Johnson & Johnson, as well as the drugstore chain Walgreen's and medical providers such as the Mayo Clinic.

The reason behind the HLC's policy "contribution," if one must use such a favorable term to describe it, lies in their effort to thwart the mandate of the Congressional Super Committee that arose out of this summer's compromise on raising the national debt ceiling.

POSTED: Monday, September 19, 2011, 6:00 AM
Filed Under: Michael Cohen

Durezol is a steroid eye drop prescribed to reduce swelling and pain after eye surgery. Unbelievably, there’s a wart remover with a very similar name called Durasal. The wart remover is a strong salicylic acid (26%) solution. Both products come in small applicator bottles. You can guess what can happen, especially since patients who undergo eye surgery often have difficulty reading medication labels.

One such event led to a $1 million lawsuit against a pharmacy where a mix-up occurred. The pharmacist misread the doctor’s prescription for Durezol eye drops and gave a man the wart remover instead. He put the strong acid in his eyes and suffered “grievous personal injury.” Mix-ups can happen the other way around, too—someone with warts can accidentally get the eye drops, which might worsen the warts since the eye drops are a steroid.

Several pharmacists and nurses have previously reported concern about the risk of mix-ups. One nurse told us she wrote down the wrong medication when transcribing a doctor’s order, but the mix-up was caught before the hospitalized patient received the wrong medication. A medical transcriptionist also reported the risk of mix-ups between these two medications after recognizing the potential for problems when checking the spelling of Durezol.  The potential for serious errors is so high that we published a warning about Durezol-Durasal mix-ups in our newsletters and on our websites in January 2010, before we learned about any actual errors.  

About this blog

Check Up covers major health events in our region and offers everything from personal health advice to an expert look at health reform. Read about some of our bloggers here.

For Portions of this blog may also be found in the Inquirer's Sunday Health Section

Michael Cohen id the president of the Institute for Safe Medication Practices in Horsham.

Daniel Hoffman is the president of Pharmaceutical Business Research Associates (PBRA) in Glenmoore, Pennsylvania, a healthcare research and consulting company specializing in key account positioning and messaging.

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