Weekly Dose of Health News

In this summary, you’ll find information on new cancer findings, new methods to encourage young doctors to pursue primary care, implications of the Affordable Care Act, and more!

Please let us know us what you think and if there is a particular topic you would like to see covered.

We hope you enjoy your “Weekly Dose of Health News.”

A study published late last week in the British Medical Journal , found that mammograms aimed at finding breast cancer might actually raise the chances of developing it in young women whose genes put them at higher risk for the disease. The study concluded that an MRI is probably a safer method of screening for women with a genetic predisposition for breast cancer.

A new study on the genetics of lung cancer has found that more than half of the tumors from lung cancer have mutations that could be targeted by drugs that are tailored to match the genetic abnormality in each tumor. This study is part of a larger project, the Cancer Genome Atlas, being undertaken by the National Institutes of Health to analyze the genetic abnormalities in cancer (New York Times, Kolata, 9/10).

The United States Preventive Services Task Force has issued another recommendation against testing for ovarian cancer. The Task Force found  that the current tests for ovarian cancer are not useful diagnostic tools and actually cause harm to women. Both the blood test and ultrasound scan used to examine a patient’s ovaries yield false-positive results that lead to unneeded operations. The recommendation against testing is limited to women who are healthy and have a low risk of ovarian cancer.

The Los Angeles Times writes about how the Affordable Care Act will change the behavior of individual consumers, health care providers and insurers. The article profiles initiatives being developed by insurers to engage consumers in improving their health and accessing important health information (Zamosky, 9/10).

The New York Times reports that a recent study shows the number of young adults without health insurance fell by one-sixth in 2011 from the previous year. This is the largest annual decline for any age group since 1997 when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began conducting an annual survey of 35,000 households. Health care policy experts credit the provision in the Affordable Care Act that allows children to stay on their parents’ insurance policies until their 26th birthday (Tavernise, 9/10).

New findings in a study published this week in The Journal of the American Medical Association supports the promise of Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) created by the Affordable Care Act. The study examines a Medicare experiment that gave 10 doctors groups from around the country bonuses payments if they met quality targets and contained costs. The program, which will operate much like ACOs, helped to slow spending growth by 5 percent.

Although the individual mandate may the most well known of the Affordable Care Act’s provisions, the law also created a $10 billion Prevention and Public Health Fund to fund community prevention efforts. Local governments around the country have been engaging in new outreach efforts with pieces of the $10 billion fund. The New York Times  looks at some of the projects undertaken in notoriously unhealthy communities in Oklahoma to combat obesity and encourage exercise (Tavernise, 9/11).

The Commonwealth Fund  released a report this week on the sustainability of the high-risk insurance pools created by the Affordable Care Act. The report’s findings revealed that the high-risk insurance pools are operating at a loss and are very expensive.  However, the report concludes that the plans are providing a solid “bridge” to extend insurance coverage until the health insurance exchanges and other pieces of the law are set up in 2014.

The New York Times’ editorial board  urged physicians to be more vigilant in the diagnosis and treatment of adults with hypertension in the United States. The editorial was prompted by a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention which found that found that 67 million Americans had high blood pressure. While 31 million individuals were being treated with medication for their high blood pressure, the other 36 million individuals with hypertension fell into three groups: people who were not aware of their hypertension, people who were aware but were not taking medication, and those who were aware and were treated with medication but still had hypertension.

In an effort to combat the growing shortage of primary care physicians in the United States a number of medical schools are trying new initiatives to encourage medical students to choose primary care as their focus. The New York Times examines some of these efforts which include programs that would allow primary care physicians to graduate a year early (Novak, 9/9).

New data from the U.S. Census Bureau demonstrated that the number of uninsured Americans declined to 48.6 million last year from 50 million and the rate of uninsured dropped to 15.7% from 16.3% during the same period. The new census numbers also showed that more Americans receive their insurance through government programs like Medicaid or Medicare rather than employer-based coverage (Washington Post, Aizenman, 9/12).

Annual premiums for employer-sponsored family health coverage reached $15,745 this year, up 4 percent from last year, with workers on average paying $4,316 toward the cost of their coverage, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation/Health Research & Educational Trust (HRET) 2012 Employer Health Benefits Survey. This 4 percent increase was significantly less than last year’s 8 percent increase.

Although advocates have espoused the benefits of acupuncture for years, a definitive study of acupuncture confirms the pain relief benefits of the treatment. The study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine and financed by the National Institutes of Health, provided a detailed analysis of earlier data on 18,000 patients. The researchers found that acupuncture outperformed conventional and other alternative treatments for the treatment of chronic pain.

-Jaime Venditti, 9/14/12