Weekly Dose of Health News

In this week’s summary, you’ll find info on health-related portions of Gov. Cuomo’s State of the State address (or lack thereof), a new program to limit painkiller access in NYC hospitals,  a new biotech hub proposed for Nassau County, and more!

Governor Cuomo delivered his third annual State of the State address in Albany on Wednesday.  Much of the speech focused on a progressive platform of issues, hurricane Sandy relief efforts and gun control.  Unlike previous speeches where health care reform was a dominant topic, this speech touched on health care briefly when the Governor announced that New York will adopt aggressive procedures for identifying sepsis in patients. The procedures were developed in conjunction with Greater New York Hospital Association, HANYS and United Hospital Fund and will be mandatory for all of New York’s hospitals.  The new measures include establishing a protocol for screening all patients in a hospital setting, commencing a “countdown clock” once sepsis is suspected, and establishing time-based goals for treatment, including administering antibiotics within an hour. State health officials estimate that the new steps could save 5,000 to 8,000 lives annually. The regulations regarding sepsis care practices and outcomes are expected to become effective in April —pending approval by DOH’s Public Health and Health Planning Council.

Mayor Bloomberg announced a new initiative this week to crack down on prescription drug abuse in New York City’s 11 public hospitals.  The new policy will ban the dispensing of long-acting painkillers like OxyContin and methadone and a patient will only be able to obtain three day’s worth of narcotic painkillers like Vicodin and Percocet. Additionally, lost, stolen or destroyed prescriptions will not be refilled. City health officials said the guidelines would not apply to patients who need prescriptions for cancer pain or palliative care, and drugs would still be available outside the emergency room. The new policy has drawn concern from physicians who believe the change could deprive doctors in the public hospital system of the ability to exercise their professional judgment in deciding on a course of treatment for patients (New York Times, Hartocollis, 1/11).

A new Kaiser Family Foundation brief looks at three new proposed federal regulations that detail how the ACA’s rules will operate in the following areas: private insurance market reforms; essential health benefits and actuarial value and wellness programs offered or required by employers under group health plans. These regulations, released in late November 2012, deal with aspects of the ACA intended to promote broader risk pooling, prohibit discrimination based on health status, enhance insurance market efficiency and affordability, promote wellness, and improve consumer protections. The brief explains the key provisions in each regulation and notes where there are outstanding issues as stakeholders comment on the rules.

A new analysis from the Office of the Actuary at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), released in the January 2013 issue of Health Affairs, estimates that health care spending in the United States grew at a rate of 3.9 percent in 2011. That level of annual growth is identical to spending growth rates in 2009 and 2010.  This analysis found that Medicare and Medicaid payments accounted for nearly one-third of total retail prescription drug spending in 2011, and Medicare is the fastest-growing payer, according to CMS data. However, growth in prescription drug spending was lower than spending growth in other areas of health care. Factors including generic substitution kept the share of expenditures attributed to consumers’ out-of-pocket costs at an all-time low.

Governor Cuomo announced that New Yorkers will save more than $500 million on health insurance premiums in 2013 because the Department of Financial Services (DFS) cut rate increase requests by insurers. New York health insurers requested average increases of about 12.4 percent, but the state Department of Financial Services decreased the average increase to 7.5 percent. The rate actions under a 2-year-old law affect health insurance policies covering about 2.3 million New Yorkers, mostly in small groups, plus people covered by large group HMOs, individual direct-pay plans and Medicare Supplement policies.

The Supreme Court has turned away a challenge to President Obama’s policy of expanding government-funded research using embryonic stem cells that scientists say may offer hope for new treatments for spinal injuries and Parkinson’s disease (Los Angeles Times, Savage, 1/7).

According to the Wall Street Journal, Nassau County politicians and developers are envisioning a new life for a soon to be abandoned sports complex. When the New York Islanders move in 2015 to Brooklyn’s new Barclays Center the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum will become vacant. Under a new proposal, a roughly 5 million-square-foot biotech campus would be built and be linked by light rail or a special bus route to a 92-acre residential, retail and commercial development about a mile away in downtown Hempstead Village, Long Island (Kusisto, 1/11).

NPR reports that a study by the federally sponsored National Research Council and Institute of Medicine found the U.S. near the bottom of 17 affluent countries for life expectancy, with high rates of obesity and diabetes, heart disease, chronic lung disease and arthritis, as well as infant mortality, injuries, homicides, teen pregnancy, drug deaths and sexually transmitted diseases (Knox, 1/9).

Blood pressure-lowering beta blockers could cut the risk of brain changes associated with Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia, according to a study to be presented at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology in March.  Researchers found that the levels of the Alzheimer lesions were about half or less in persons receiving beta blockers, compared with persons whose hypertension was untreated. Beta blockers seemed to lower risk of the lesions better than other blood pressure drugs.

CMS released  the names of 106 newly formed accountable care organizations in the agency’s Medicare Shared Savings program. The formation of the groups has expanded the number of ACOs in the country to more than 250. Fifteen of the 106 groups are part of the Advanced Payment Model program and will receive funds from Medicare to boost their information platforms and staff.

-Jaime Venditti, 1/11/12