Weekly Dose of Health News

In this summary, you’ll find information on how the healthcare industry is dealing with effects of Superstorm Sandy, the latest on Affordable Care Act insurance plans, and more!

Superstorm Sandy Aftermath (Health Edition)

As Hurricane Sandy knocked out power to New York City and flooded much of lower Manhattan, health care providers struggled to provide care to patients during the chaos. Many hospitals are relying on backup generators to provide power for critical services. The New York Times reported that a major city hospital, NYU Langone Medical Center, was forced to evacuate its patients because a backup generator failed. Hospital staff transported patients down flights of stairs while relying on battery-operated monitors and pumps to stabilize and monitor patients during transport (Goodman and Moynihan, 10/30).

Late on Wednesday afternoon the New York City’s flagship public hospital, Bellevue Hospital Center, made the decision to evacuate the hospitals remaining patients. The hospital had been relying on backup generators since the storm hit Manhattan but the generators failed after the fuel pumps sustained water damage. The conditions at the hospital became dire without hot water, laboratory or radiology services. Health and Hospitals Corporation officials do not believe that Bellevue will back to normal conditions for at least two weeks (New York Times,    Bernstein and Hartocollis, 10/31).

Hurricane Sandy has also wreaked havoc on medical research that was conducted at the N.Y.U. Neuroscience Institute. The Institute lost thousands of genetically altered laboratory rodents that drowned in basement rooms at a New York University research center. These rodents for were used in the study of heart disease, cancer and mental disorders. Researchers estimate it could take years to rebuild the colonies that were critical to this research (NPR, Barclay, 11/1).

Affordable Care Act

The New York Times reports that federal government will soon be the sponsor of two national health insurance plans that will offer coverage to residents in every state. The plans were included in the Affordable Care Act in place of the government run health insurance option championed by some members of Congress and health care advocates. The new national plans will compete directly with private insurers in various states and will be subject to regulatory oversight from the federal government, state insurance commissioners and state insurance exchanges. Premiums and benefits for the multistate insurance plans will be negotiated by the federal agency that arranges health benefits for federal employees. Federal officials are unsure of how many individuals will sign up for insurance under these plans but have told insurers to assume that each national plan would have 750,000 people enrolled in the first year (Pear, 10/27).

Under the Affordable Care Act, states are required to notify the federal government by November 16th whether they will set up their own state-run health insurance exchanges or defer authority to the federal government to set up an exchange. USA Today writes that many states are frustrated by the lack of regulatory guidance from the Department of Health and Human Services on how to develop these exchanges. Many state officials understand that the federal government is trying to provide states with flexibility but argue that the lack of guidance has made it difficult for states to determine how to proceed with implementation (Kennedy, 10/29).

The Wall Street Journal profiles concerns of medical entrepreneurs who have survived the economic downturn but claim they still face challenges in expanding their business amid the uncertainty created by health-care reform. While medical companies will benefit from the millions of new customers as a result of the Affordable Care Act’s insurance mandate, there are other provisions of health care reform that companies worry will stifle investment and the ability to raise capital for new projects (Gormley and Maltby, 11/1).


As flu season approaches, the New York Times highlights efforts by scientists and pharmaceutical companies to develop a long lasting flu vaccine. Unlike other vaccines the flu vaccine must be developed and administered annually to patients in order to offer protection against the evolving flu virus. The goal behind the new research is to develop a universal vaccine that would only need to be administered a few times during an individual’s lifetime and would target pieces of the flu virus that do not change year to year (Zimmer, 10/29).

A new study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, has found that smoke-free workplace laws that reduce secondhand smoke inhalation can lead to reductions in heart attacks. The research, carried out by scientists at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, found a 33 percent drop in heart attack rates in one county after public smoking bans were enacted.

-Jaime Venditti, 11/2/12