Articles Posted in Insurance

hospitalprices-300x162Patients and reformers attacking skyrocketing health care costs may want to focus less on doctors and more on big, shiny hospitals, where in just five years prices soared by 42 percent for inpatient care versus the still sizable 18 percent price hikes that MDs scored.

Those findings are part of a new study that examined medical costs based on actual payments, focusing on common procedures like deliveries of babies (vaginal and cesarean), colonoscopies, and knee replacements.  “Hospital prices grew much faster than physician prices for inpatient and outpatient hospital-based care in the period 2007–14 … The same pattern was present for all four of our procedures,” wrote the researchers from Yale, MIT, and Carnegie Mellon. They found that hospital costs also spiked for outpatient care, increasing 25 percent, versus 6 percent for doctors.

This meant that for a knee replacement costing $30,000 or so, the doctors’ mean price was almost $4,900, while the hospital price was almost $25,000. For a $13,000 C-section, the doctor’s mean price was $4,600, while the figure for hospitals was $8,300. These numbers were derived from analyzing hundreds of thousands of procedures.

HepatitisCInvestigators have teased out yet another damaging thread in the villainous web of harms of the opioid crisis. A spike in hepatitis C infections is a costly, long-term, and major health consequence of the hype and disastrous reformulation of OxyContin, the powerful painkiller made by Purdue Pharmaceuticals owned by the wealthy Sackler family.

Purdue, in the 1990s, promoted and sold OxyContin to doctors and hospitals in a relentless campaign that stressed how this drug was supposedly safer and longer acting, releasing its potent effects over as long as a 12-hour span instead of requiring many pills that needed to be taken more often.

Although those claims of the drug’s benefits were dubious to start, patients — especially those abusing the highly addictive prescription medication — found they could get around OxyContin’s delayed release, getting an immediate jolt or walloping high, by crushing their pills. They then snorted Oxy as a powder or mixed it with a liquid and injected it.

With the nation fast graying, a long-term care crisis looms, and too many Americans may not realize that not only will nursing home care be tough to find and afford, it also may be less than ideal. But what happens if seniors themselves — especially the frail old — are asked how care-giving services might best serve them, so they not only can stay in their homes but also enjoy their lives more?

That’s the experimental approach taken by a health care team in Denver, working in the long-titled program, “Community Aging in Place — Advancing Better Living for Elders.” CAPABLE staff intervene with the aged, asking them how, even with disability and debilitation, to improve their lives. The program offers them six visits by an occupational therapist, four visits by a registered nurse, and home repair and modification services worth up to $1,300.

cbpbust-300x200If  anyone around doubts still the threat that the opioid crisis poses to the nation, a drug bust involving a vegetable truck in Arizona should provide powerful persuasion: Federal agents, suspicious about the vehicle’s floor, loosed a drug-sniffing dog, resulting in the seizure of not just 395 pounds of methamphetamines but also 254 pounds of fentanyl.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid, a lab-created super drug that experts say is 50 times stronger than heroin and up to 100 times more potent than morphine. It packs a wallop for users in tiny grains or flecks.

The record-setting seizure at the Arizona border stop amounted to 144 or so kilograms of fentanyl, with drug enforcement officials estimating that just 1 kilogram of fentanyl can produce 1 million fatal doses. That means just this one bust had the potential to cause 144 million deaths.

The Trump Administration has put out its latest prescription to try to slash out-of-control prescription drug prices: Officials want to call medication “rebates” what they say they’ve really become — “kickbacks” — and crack down on the crazy rise of profit-reaping middlemen in the drug business.

Alex Azar, secretary of the Health and Human Services Department, announced that Uncle Sam, via the giant Medicare and Medicaid plans, hopes to fix big flaws in the drug industry by barring prescription medication discounting to PBMs (prescription benefit managers). The discounts still would be available to patient-consumers. But eliminating them for PBMs could be a major step in cutting drug costs, not the least because this step could give parties in this medical “supply chain” more transparency on what products cost.

headmri-300x300When patients experience bad headaches, severe chest pain, back or neck aches, or even when kids come in with gut pain that likely is appendicitis, doctors too readily push them into and through what may be hospitals’ over-sized cash-generating machines. It’s past time to end wasteful use of high-powered imaging systems, experts from the Mayo Clinic and Stanford University say.

Drs. Ohad Oren, Electron Kebebew, and John Ioannidis have called out their medical colleagues in an opinion piece published in the medical journal JAMA over excess computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), saying conditions can’t justify why Americans undergo these costly scans at many times the rate, for example, that Finns do.

Research shows diagnoses don’t improve with many more MRIs and CTs. Instead, they may lead to yet more costly, invasive, and unnecessary tests and procedures, some of which can harm patients.

bathrobe-300x188Already-admitted patients shouldn’t be flummoxed if they’re moved into a bigger, quieter, and nicer room. There, a fluffy complimentary robe may await them. They may receive a warm welcome from well-attired executives — those senior enough so their pictures may even hang in pictures on the hall walls. And, yes, make no mistake, their nurses and doctors really will be kind and attentive.

Welcome to high-roller care as it’s delivered now to a select few by staff in at least three score big hospitals and academic medical centers nationwide, including Johns Hopkins and MedStar Health in Columbia, Md.

You won’t necessarily seek out or request this special attention. It turns out that hospitals will know you’re posh enough to merit it because loopholes in privacy laws allow them, using special software, to run regular searches through patient rosters to determine which guests also might be potential and lucrative donors, reported the independent, nonprofit Kaiser Health News service in a story that appeared in the New York Times. You also may allow the pitches because, likely unbeknownst to you, you signed a form giving your permission for it in that mountain of admission paperwork.

footballinsurance-300x218Parents and young athletes may have wrestled with the decision whether to play contact sports, as research shows the injuries that players can suffer from blows to the head. But lesser known parties to the games may be the undoing of  professional and organized soccer, hockey, and football: Insurance companies.

The firms, which provide necessary and invaluable protections to players and organizations by spreading the financial risks of harms, have fled professional and amateur sports, declining to offer them coverages, even at high costs, Steve Fainaru and Mark Fainaru-Wada of ESPN’s Outside the Lines program reported.

Insurers are balking not only at providing liability policies but also worker compensation for pros, ESPN says. The dearth of coverage has hit hard the NFL, collegiate and Pop Warner programs, as well as football helmet makers. They’re forced to hunt far and wide for the few firms willing to assume sports risks — and they pay high and accordingly, if they can get policies.

diabetesteststrips-300x200Doctors, hospitals, health officials, and disease advocacy groups race to warn about diabetes’ risks, harms, and increasing prevalence. But why, then, doesn’t modern medicine also do much more to help diabetics with the skyrocketing costs of their care, whether with insulin at excessive prices or with  expensive medical aids?

Ted Alcorn of the New York Times drilled down on one slice of diabetes care to capture how medical profiteering distorts what ought to be a more direct, simple, and less pricey treatment for a disease that afflicts as many as 100 million Americans in varying degree.

He reported on the “strange marketplace” for the chemical-imbued plastic strips diabetics use to test their blood sugar, inserting them into specialized meters for glucose readings. Before diabetics adjust their diet or take insulin, they may test themselves with strips and meters as many as 10 times a day. The costs add up. Diabetics can pay thousands of dollars annually to get test strips over the counter.

artsacklerdc-300x129A plutocratic clan that has labored to portray itself as enlightened patrons of the arts, science, and medicine, instead has been depicted in new court documents as drug profiteers, eager to exploit the misery and even deaths of tens of thousands of Americans.

The stories in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and at the online medical science news site Stat paint a damning picture of the Sackler family and their avarice with the family-owned Big Pharma firm Purdue. The company made the clan billions of dollars but also has become the focus of news stories, official investigations, and now a barrage of lawsuits, all asserting that Purdue played a crucial role in fomenting the nation’s opioid drug crisis.

The Sacklers had sought to distance themselves from the horrors unleashed by powerful opioid painkillers, including their company’s top-selling drug OxyContin. The opioid crisis last year alone claimed 70,000 lives, and the prescription and illicit painkillers of their ilk have become a leading cause of death for Americans younger than 50. Overdoses now savage white men, especially in ex-urban and rural areas; women 30 and older; blacks in big cities; and even children.

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