bloodcellsred-300x200Iron poor blood? For many of a certain age, mere mention of that phrase conjures the major advertising campaigns of yore for a popular, over-the-counter nostrum called Geritol. The tonic is still around and sells for less than what a first-run movie ticket costs.

Which leads to a different question that may burn many patients: Why are doctors and hospitals peddling Injectafer, a new and hot treatment for iron deficiency that happens to cost $14,000 per vial? The drug also must be given intravenously by trained medical personnel at additional cost in a doctor’s office, a clinic, or hospital.

Shefali Leuthra reported for the Kaiser Health News Service and NPR that doctors are ordering Injectafer and other pricey prescription drugs like Feraheme for big numbers of patients, particularly seniors because they suffer a common condition:

feresstayskal-150x150Although members of Congress have fled the nation’s capital for their annual August recess, there’s guarded optimism that lawmakers may be open to reversing a seven-decades-old U.S. Supreme Court ruling that bars active duty military personnel from their constitutional right to pursue  in the civil justice system claims that they have suffered harms while seeking medical services.

Advocates of this change saw cause for optimism that President Trump met briefly in July in North Carolina and encouraged Army Sgt. 1st Class Richard Stayskal, a terminally ill Green Beret who has become the focus of efforts to fixing the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), Bloomberg news service reported. Jackie Speier, a California Democratic congresswoman, introduced a bill named after Stayskal and that would allow troops to file medical malpractice suits in federal court, because, as Bloomberg said:

“Stayskal went to Womack Army Medical Center at Fort Bragg in 2017 after feeling suffocated and coughing up blood, but the hospital misdiagnosed him with pneumonia during two visits, according to his congressional testimony before the House Armed Services Committee. By the time he saw a civilian doctor six months later, the lung tumor causing the problems had doubled in size. The tumor had showed up in X-rays done before he went to dive training, but nobody told Stayskal or diagnosed him.”

carper-300x300With complaints of nursing home abuses doubling between 2013 and 2017, the federal agency with oversight of these facilities must improve significantly its efforts to protect millions of vulnerable seniors, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has found.

That recommendation, from one of Uncle Sam’s top watchdogs, infuriated members of the U.S. Senate Finance Committee, which called on the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to act fast on six recommendations to address its failures in regulating nursing homes.

Sen. Thomas Carper, a Delaware Democrat, described these as including “CMS – the agency charged with ensuring that these facilities meet federal quality standards – often cannot access information about abusive incidents after they occur and, therefore, cannot take the necessary steps to remedy the situation.”

monsees-300x286Juul, the nation’s dominant maker and seller of vaping devices, may want to deny it looks, acts, or models itself after Big Tobacco. A U.S. House subcommittee, however, has caught the San Francisco-based company in one of the prime profit-boosting practices of its health-killing precursor: targeting young users.

Though it insists it neither wants nor has it sought older teens as its customers, Juul spent tens of thousands of dollars and campaigned in recent months with what was purported to be a health education curriculum to reach out to show itself in most favorable fashion to young people in schools, summer camps, and youth programs, House investigators assert.

They told U.S. representatives on the economic and consumer policy subcommittee that they reviewed 55,000 documents to determine that “Juul operated a division that persuaded schools to allow the company to present its programming to students and paid the schools in several instances at least $10,000 to gain access to students during classes, summer school and weekend programs. The effort ended last fall and involved about a half dozen schools and youth program,” the Washington Post reported.

bimplants-300x150An Irish medical manufacturer voluntarily withdrew its textured breast implant and related tissue expanding devices from markets after the federal Food and Drug Administration tracked a spike in a rare cancer and deaths tied to the products and asked that they be recalled.

U.S. regulators, the New York Times reported, lagged their European counterparts by almost a year in acting to protect women seeking cosmetic and reconstructive procedures involving the Allergan implant:

“Worldwide, 573 cases and 33 deaths from the cancer have been reported, with 481 of the cases clearly attributed to Allergan Biocell implants, the F.D.A. said. Of the 33 deaths, the agency said its data showed that the type of implant was known in 13 cases, and in 12 of those cases the maker was Allergan.”

armstrong-240x300Neil Armstrong served as a naval aviator, test pilot, federal administrator, and a university professor. He earned his place in history as space pioneer — the first astronaut to walk on the moon. The American hero, who spoke the legendary phrase about “one small step for man and one giant leap for mankind,” also now offers a textbook case about nightmares in health care. Can others avoid these by learning about what happened to him?

As the nation celebrates the 50th anniversary of Armstrong’s Apollo 11 flight, an anonymous tipster has disclosed information to two news organizations that his death was due to botched care. His family, which included a lawyer who represented their interests, reached a $6 million settlement with the community hospital involved.

Armstrong was known for keeping out of the media and public glare. His family kept that tradition in keeping private how he died in 2012, why, and the tense negotiations that resulted in the sizable payment to them by the hospital. Full information about his case may never be fully disclosed. But it already provides a possible series of check points for patients to protect themselves and their loved ones in dealing with doctors and hospitals:

surgicaltools-300x200
Would a major league baseball team start a pitcher who played only once in the season for the deciding game of the World Series? Would passengers want to be aboard a jet whose pilot flew just once a year? Would any high-end sports car owner let a mechanic under the vehicle’s hood if she fixed that model one time every 365 days?

If rigorous tasks benefit from regular, quality practice — and they do — then why do hospitals allow low-volume surgeons to undertake procedures they rarely perform? That’s a tough question posed by new research from the Leapfrog Group, a national nonprofit organization seeking to improve the quality and safety of American health care.

Leapfrog, working with medical experts, identified eight high-risk surgeries and sought to estimate from rigorous published research the correlation between how often surgeons perform these and their procedures optimal outcomes.

insurerscam-300x188What happens when a whistle blower provides detailed information about a burly Texan  — with convictions for felony theft and felony injury of a child  — and a burgeoning scam to rip off health insurers for $25 million? Pretty much nothing. For years.

If that sounds outlandish, investigative reporter Marshall Allen has a doozy of a tale to tell about a crook in suburban Fort Worth, Texas named David Williams. His long-running defrauding of some of the nation’s biggest health insurers matters to us all because, as Allen reported for the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative site ProPublica:

“There are a host of reasons health care costs are out-of-control and routinely top American’s list of financial worries, from unnecessary treatment and high prices to waste and fraud. Most people assume their insurance companies are tightly controlling their health care dollars. Insurers themselves boast of this on their websites. In 2017, private insurance spending hit $1.2 trillion, according to the federal government, yet no one tracks how much is lost to fraud. Some investigators and health care experts estimate that fraud eats up 10% of all health care spending, and they know schemes abound. Williams’ case highlights an unsettling reality about the nation’s health insurance system: It is surprisingly easy for fraudsters to gain entry, and it is shockingly difficult to convince insurance companies to stop them. Williams’ spree also lays bare the financial incentives that drive the system: Rising health care costs boost insurers’ profits. Policing criminals eats away at them. Ultimately, losses are passed on to their clients through higher premiums and out-of-pocket fees or reduced coverage.”

drugs-300x179The nation may be hitting an inflection point in the opioid crisis. But Big Pharma, regulators, and politicians have much to answer for prescription painkillers’ terrible toll and their sluggish efforts to reduce the tens of thousands of casualties.

The spare good news about U.S. drug abuse — the first drop in overdose deaths since 1990 — came from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency also warned its findings were freighted with many “yes, but …” elements, including:

  • The reported 5% decline occurred in deaths from prescription opioids;

uti-240x300For kids, women, and seniors, the three letters U, T, and I long described an uncomfortable, inconvenient, and embarrassing condition. The time, though, may have past for the swift and easy relief that diagnoses of  urinary tract infections once might have brought. Instead, doctors are expressing concern that the bugs that cause all-too-common UTIs are becoming different and antibiotic resistant.

As the New York Times reported, the shifts already are meaning “more hospitalizations, graver illnesses and prolonged discomfort from the excruciating burning sensation that the infection brings.” The newspaper added:

“The New York City Department of Health has become so concerned about drug-resistant UTIs … that it introduced a new mobile phone app this month that gives doctors and nurses access to a list of strains of urinary tract infections and which drugs they are resistant to. The department’s research found that a third of uncomplicated urinary tract infections caused by E. coli — the most common type now — were resistant to Bactrim, one of the most widely used drugs, and at least one fifth of them were resistant to five other common treatments.”

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