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Painting By Disturbing Numbers

March 17, 2011
11:52 am

Sometimes it’s hard to get our minds around the staggeringly high statistics that are associated with many of America’s most prevalent, and devastating diseases.  When astronomical numbers are tossed around, it’s not always easy for us to visualize the real impact of these illnesses.

To transform the state of chronic disease from the abstract to something we can see with our own eyes, pharmaceutical maker Novo Nordisk (a Healthcare Leadership Council member) teamed with artist Mark Cline to create a mural in the middle of Washington, D.C.’s historic Union Station.  The mural illustrates the extraordinarily high cost of diabetes in different states, numbers that are rising as underscored by the CDC’s estimate that one in every three Americans will have diabetes by the year 2050.

Please take a look at this video chronicling the creation of the Union Station mural.  It’s a fascinating project that helps us better understand a very troubling subject.

“Better Off (not) Dead”

March 15, 2011
4:57 pm

An interesting comment was made today at the annual national health research forum sponsored by the non-profit organization Research! America, and it drove home the conflict lawmakers face in trying to balance deficit reduction against the need for quality healthcare and better preventive care.

Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said that the ideal American, from a budget standpoint, “is one who dies at age 65 on the drive home from his retirement party.”  His comment gets to the heart of the budget conundrum.  If our healthcare system takes steps to help people live longer in their retirement years, then they consume more Social Security and Medicare resources.

Yet, as Frieden also said, we should all be able to agree to the societal goal that “Americans are better off not dead.”

There are some important points here.  First, that there is not necessarily a perfect alignment between budgetary goals and the imperative to have a healthy population, that funding for medical research and the effort to prevent and cure disease should not be viewed in the same vein as other areas of discretionary spending.  And, second, as Frieden also pointed out, investments in disease prevention do not always fit into the neat, tidy 10-year window that Congress and federal budgeters like to use to score spending, that health prevention measures can sometimes take 20 or 30 years to fully assess their return on investment.

At the same Research! America event, former Congressman Mike Castle said that the need to contain Medicare and Medicaid costs will be one of the major campaign issues in the 2012 elections.  No doubt he’s correct, but let’s hope we hear office holders and candidates provide some creative solutions on how to curb cost growth while still achieving the greater objective of keeping Americans alive and healthy.

The Week’s Most Interesting Healthcare Reading (that you might have missed)

March 11, 2011
1:31 pm

Here is another assortment of interesting items on U.S. healthcare from a variety of media and Internet outlets this week:

•     ABC News will film a seven-part documentary at New York-Presbyterian’s Cornell and Columbia campuses, “providing a fresh look at life inside a top-ranked academic medical center,” according to one of the program’s producers.  The series will air in 2012. 

•     In a speech in Tokyo, Eli Lilly CEO John Lechleiter addressed the need of policymakers to promote an environment in which medical innovation can thrive. 

•     Health Affairs has provided a paper detailing everything you could want to know about how employers will be affected by the Affordable Care Act.  It was written by Jennifer Haberkorn, who covers health reform issues for Politico. 

•     The Premier Healthcare Alliance has created a tool to help hospitals and physician networks better understand the financial risks and opportunities in creating an accountable care organization. 

•     Take this test from The Washington Post’s “checkup” blog to find out the differences in the way two different media outlets cover healthcare news.

The Growing Survivor Population

March 11, 2011
9:19 am

For all of the criticisms of our nation’s healthcare system and the improvements that need to be made, there is one undeniable truth that was brought to the forefront again this week – our healthcare providers continue to make tremendous progress helping people overcome diseases which used to be viewed as unavoidable death sentences.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a report yesterday that showed we now have nearly12 million cancer survivors in the United States.  That’s an approximately fourfold increase since 1971 in the number of people who have conquered cancer.

The leading subsets of this population are the 2.6 million who have survived breast cancer and 2.3 million men who have overcome prostate cancer.  The CDC credited earlier detection, improved diagnostic methods and more effective treatments for these successes.

The good news is that these statistics should continue to improve.  With advancements in genetic-based healthcare, we are increasing our ability to not only diagnose diseases at an earlier stage and be more precise in recommending treatments, but physicians will also be better able to see a patient’s propensity for disease based on their genetic makeup.

This is just another reminder of the need for policymakers to encourage advancements in medical innovation.  This growing population of cancer survivors is prime evidence of what happens when our healthcare system is centered around new innovations in treatments, technologies and medications.

The Maine Exception

March 09, 2011
1:32 pm

There was an interesting development this week in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.  The state of Maine was granted a waiver to one of the health reform measure’s central components – the requirement that health insurance companies spend 80 cents of every dollar on benefits and healthcare services for their clients. 

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has acceded to Maine’s request for an exemption to the so-called medical loss ratio and has said that insurers serving the individual market in the state must now meet a 65 percent threshold until the end of 2013.

The reason?  According to the Bangor Daily News, there are only three insurers that provide coverage to the non-group individual market in Maine and one of them, Megalife, said they may have to drop out of the market if the 80 percent medical loss ratio went into effect.  If Megalife did stop selling policies in Maine, which would leave 14,000 of the state’s citizens looking for new insurance.

The Maine case, as well as many of the more than 1,000 waivers that have been granted since ACA implementation began, illustrate the difficulty in trying to adapt a massive piece of legislation to a diverse country made up of communities and marketplaces with vastly different characteristics.  It also underscores the need for flexibility in implementation if we’re going to maintain Americans’ access to affordable health coverage products.