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26-08-2012 | Article

The week in review, August 19-25

medwireNews: This week's news includes efforts by the Feds to make clinicians' jobs easier, FDA recommendations on faulty ICD leads, drugstores get in on the Medicare information act, the CDC wants Baby Boomers to be screened for hep C, HHS gives a shot in the arm to epidemiology labs, can't-eat cantaloupes, and Republicans say: "Hands off of my Medicare!"

Electronic remittance rules slice red tape

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has issued an electronic remittance operating rule that it claims will save up to $ 9 billion over the next decade.

The rule will make electronic transactions between clinicians and insurers smoother and less cumbersome, according to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

According to the HHS, physicians spend an average of 3 weeks each year on billing and other tasks related to insurance, and such tasks require the equivalent of two-thirds of an employee for every physician in the practice.

Among other things, the rule will require insurers to implement standardized online enrollment for electronic payments, making it easier for clinicians and hospitals to enroll with multiple payers. In addition, the rule requires insurers to pay within a specified number of days from the time that an electronic remittance advice is submitted, the HHS says.

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FDA: X-ray suspect ICD leads

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is advising that patients with Riata-brand implantable cardioverter-defribrillator (ICD) leads undergo X-rays or other imaging studies to check for lead defects.

The FDA recommends that patients who have ICDs or implantable cardiac resynchronization devices with Riata or Riata ST leads are checked specifically for abnormalities in the lead insulation.

It adds that imaging studies will allow monitoring of at-risk patients and individualized treatment plans, which could involve removal of defective leads. The agency cautions against routine removal of the leads, but suggests carefully weighing the risks and benefits for individual patients.

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Aspirin, M & Ms, and Medicare brochures

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is partnering with major pharmacy chains to provide their customers with information about Medicare benefits newly available to them under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

The information will include educational materials on prevention and prescription drug savings for those Medicare beneficiaries who are trapped in the notorious "donut hole," a Medicare part D coverage gap under which beneficiaries are responsible for 100% of prescription costs between the initial coverage limit (currently $ 2930) and the upper limit (currently $ 4700).

As of 2012, Medicare Part D enrollees will receive a 50% discount on the cost of brand-name drugs while they pass through the hole. The maximum co-pay for generic drugs for seniors in the coverage gap is 86%. Under the ACA, the donut hole will shrink year-by-year, until it disappears entirely in 2020.

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HCV testing another Baby Boom milestone

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that every member of the post-World War II "baby boom" generation gets a one-time test for the hepatitis C virus (HCV).

The CDC estimates that one in 30 US citizens born from 1945 through 1965 is infected with HCV, and that many who are do not know it. Baby boomers account for more than 75% of all US adults with HCV infections.

More than 15,000 Americans die each year from HCV-related diseases such as cirrhosis and liver cancer, the agency says. It notes that the rate of HCV-related deaths has increased steadily over the past decade, and is projected to grow in the coming years. One-time HCV testing of adults in their 40s, 50s, and 60s could identify as many as 800,000 additional undiagnosed infections. Assuming that all of those infected were treated and that liver cancer, cirrhosis, and other chronic sequelae of HCV could be prevented, testing could save more than 120,000 lives, the CDC estimates.

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HHS is awarding nearly $ 49 million in grants to support epidemiology, laboratory, and health information systems throughout the USA and its territories.

The awards will support programs to combat healthcare-associated infections in 49 states, District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. Sixteen states will receive awards to support state-based prevention collaboratives.

In addition, 49 states, five large cities, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico will receive funding to support implementation of electronic laboratory-based reporting systems that are expected to facilitate information exchanges within the state and with CDC. Arizona, Tennessee, South Carolina, and New Mexico will also receive funding to support implementation of electronic lab reporting systems specifically focused on healthcare-associated infections.

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CDC: Nix on Hoosier cantaloupes

A salmonellosis outbreak in 20 states has been linked to cantaloupe melons grown in southwestern Indiana.

As of August 17, there were 141 reported infections, 31 hospitalizations, and two deaths associated with the contaminated melons, the CDC reported.

"Epidemiologic, laboratory, and traceback investigations conducted by officials in local, state, and federal public health, agriculture, and regulatory agencies indicate that cantaloupes grown in southwestern Indiana are a likely source of this outbreak of Salmonella Typhimurium infections, " the CDC reports in a health advisory announcement.

Salmonellosis is usually characterized by diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps developing within 12 to 72 hours of exposure. The illness is usually self-limiting, lasting 4 to 7 days without treatment other than oral rehydration. Patients with severe diarrhea may require hospitalization for monitoring and treatment to prevent dehydration or potentially fatal sepsis.

In preliminary testing, the Salmonella serotype involved appears to be susceptible to commonly prescribed antibiotics, the agency notes.

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Republican majority supports Medicare as is

A majority of Republicans favor keeping Medicare as it is, suggest results of a new poll conducted by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) and The Washington Post.

Pollsters found that 55% of Republicans prefer Medicare in its current form rather than changing it to a voucher system of the type proposed by Republican VP nominee-apparent Paul Ryan.

And although there is bitter partisan division on many issues, Republicans appear to share Democrats' opposition to cutting Medicare benefits, as well as a distrust of proposals for privatizing Medicare, the pollsters say.

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By Neil Osterweil, medwireNews reporter