“The deadly Ebola outbreak spreading through Africa is so extreme, it is driving health officials to do something that they would instinctively resist in normal circumstances: Subject patients to unproven experimental drugs.
The drugs are risky. Some have not even been tested on humans. Even so, a World Health Organization ethics committee just declared such use ethical, and its reasoning is hard to dispute, at least for patients who would otherwise die. Some chance is better than none, even with unknown side effects.
Too bad American patients suffering from terminal illnesses have so much trouble getting the same chance.
The process for getting experimental drugs is so daunting that fewer than 1,000 people sought and got federal approval to take such drugs last year.
Food and Drug Administration rules require patients to clear a series of hurdles. First, they and their doctors must find a company to provide its drug. Many drug makers — worried that a patient’s death will spur a lawsuit or harm their chances for final FDA approval — refuse.”

“Health policy hashed out in Washington is usually discussed in terms of billions of dollars or percentage of market share. But, more often than other areas of policy, it can also lead to a focus on whether it will directly cause unnecessary suffering or even death for individuals.
Pointing to the deeply personal implications of health policy is not unfamiliar. Consider Sarah Palin’s accusation that Obamacare would create “death panels,” or recent debates over FDA approval of Avastin, a cancer drug.
The argument that the government shouldn’t regulate the behavior of a dying patient has sprouted up once again in 2014, and may be setting the stage for a showdown between the states on one side, and the federal government and Congress on the other.
In May, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) signed into law a controversial measure that allows terminally ill patients to obtain experimental medications before they’ve been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
Those who favor the law have a ready-made big government bogeyman in the Food and Drug Administration, as well as some Hollywood glitz in the form of Oscar-winning picture “Dallas Buyers Club,” in which Matthew McConaughey is an AIDS crusader smuggling non-sanctioned medications to patients in the early days of the virus.
They also have a simple and emotionally compelling argument.
“The use of available investigational drugs, biological products, and devices is a decision that should be made by the patient with a terminal disease in consultation with his or her physician, not a decision to be made by the government,” reads the proposed statutory language in the “Right to Try Act” developed by the conservative Goldwater Institute.”

“WASHINGTON — Ending insurance discrimination against the sick was a central goal of the nation’s health care overhaul, but leading patient groups say that promise is being undermined by new barriers from insurers.
The insurance industry responds that critics are confusing legitimate cost-control with bias. Some state regulators, however, say there’s reason to be concerned about policies that shift costs to patients and narrow their choices of hospitals and doctors.
With open enrollment for 2015 three months away, the Obama administration is being pressed to enforce the Affordable Care Act’s anti-discrimination provisions. Some regulations have been issued; others are pending after more than four years.
More than 300 patient advocacy groups recently wrote Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell to complain about some insurer tactics that “are highly discriminatory against patients with chronic health conditions and may … violate the (law’s) nondiscrimination provisions.”
Among the groups were the AIDS Institute, the American Lung Association, Easter Seals, the Epilepsy Foundation, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the National Kidney Foundation and United Cerebral Palsy. All supported the law.
Coverage of expensive drugs tops their concerns.”

“WASHINGTON — In a policy change, the Obama administration is planning to pay doctors to coordinate the care of Medicare beneficiaries, amid growing evidence that patients with chronic illnesses suffer from disjointed, fragmented care.
Although doctors have often performed such work between office visits by patients, they have historically not been paid for it.
Starting in January, Medicare will pay monthly fees to doctors who manage care for patients with two or more chronic conditions like heart disease, diabetes and depression.
“Paying separately for chronic care management services is a significant policy change,” said Marilyn B. Tavenner, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Officials said such care coordination could pay for itself by keeping patients healthier and out of hospitals.”

“In 2010, President Obama signed into law the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as the “Affordable Care Act,” the “ACA,” or “Obamacare.” The ACA will reduce the number of Americans without health insurance— an important goal—but it will do so by increasing the cost of U.S. health coverage. Increasing the cost of health coverage, in turn, will worsen two of the nation’s most important policy problems.
The first of those problems is the increasing unaffordability of private health insurance, a problem that is straining the budgets of middle-income Americans, and hampering social mobility. The second problem is the nation’s grave long-term fiscal instability, a problem primarily driven by government spending on health insurance and health care.
Indeed, the ACA will especially drive up the cost of private health insurance that individuals purchase directly. The law will dramatically expand Medicaid, a program with the poorest health outcomes of any health insurance system in the industrialized world. And the ACA, despite spending over $2 trillion over the next decade, will leave 23 million lawful U.S. residents without health insurance, according to estimates from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).
In other words, the U.S. health care system remains in need of substantial reform, in ways that address the ACA’s deficiencies as well as the system’s preexisting flaws.”

“Nearly 400,000 people in Massachusetts will need to reapply for health insurance before the end of the year, and many of them probably do not even know it.
They are people who do not have employer-sponsored health insurance and who instead sought insurance through the state. After the Massachusetts insurance website failed last year, most of them were enrolled in temporary coverage that ends Dec. 31, which is why they must select a new plan.
This is the newest challenge facing the Massachusetts Health Connector, the state agency that provides an online place to shop for insurance, as it struggles to emerge from the disastrous rollout of its website last year. Now that state and federal officials have said that Massachusetts has software that will work, Connector leaders want to get people to log on and choose a plan, starting Nov. 15.
To reach them, the Connector plans to place 2 million robocalls and knock on 200,000 doors, along with making personal phone calls, sending mail, buying print and broadcast advertisements, and holding community meetings and enrollment fairs.
The campaign is estimated to cost $15 million to $19 million, money the state will seek from the federal government.”

“A mix-up of information about two physicians with the same name in different states has opened a window on wide-ranging technical problems the CMS is facing with its Open Payments website reporting industry payments to doctors and teaching hospitals. Registration for the system, which was scheduled…”

NOTE: This article is behind a paywall.

“Small and stand-alone nonprofit hospitals are facing mounting pressure from weak operating margins and lower patient volumes, with more signals of stress on the way, according a report released Wednesday from Standard & Poor’s Rating Services.
The rating agency warned the healthcare sector was at “a tipping point where negative forces have started to outweigh many providers’ ability to implement sufficient countermeasures.” Beginning in 2013 and continuing into this year, credit downgrades outpaced upgrades at an accelerating rate.
In particular, stand-alone providers are under greater pressure from physician departures, rising bad debt, and higher employee benefit costs.”

“AUSTIN — A legislative committee is examining market-based alternatives to providing low-income Texans with health care since the state has rejected the expansion of Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act.
Members of the state Senate Health and Human Services committee plan Thursday to discuss alternatives to the law critics call “Obamacare.”
Some ideas include expanding Medicaid block grants and waivers. Lawmakers are seeking to hold health costs in-check while improving access to care.”

“Medicaid expansion continues to be a hot-button issue in the 38th District Virginia Senate race, as candidates try to define their positions on a subject that has divided the district — and the state — since the seat was vacated unexpectedly earlier this year.
The June resignation of former Sen. Phillip Puckett, D-Russell County, threw the balanced Senate into Republican control and affected the Senate vote on whether to expand Medicaid. When he resigned, Puckett said it was because of family reasons — his daughter sought to be a judge and the Senate makes the appointments — but others said it was to accept a job with the Virginia Tobacco Commission, which did not happen.
The resignation came just days before the General Assembly voted to pass the budget without Medicaid expansion. Expansion would extend Medicaid coverage to more people who make too much for Medicaid currently, but not enough to pay for coverage — some 400,000 Virginians.
Now, as three candidates vie for Puckett’s seat in the Aug. 19 special election, the Medicaid expansion issue is still on the table.
The stakes are high and the race is being closely watched across the state and beyond.
The candidates are Ben Chafin, R-Hansonville, currently a junior member of the House of Delegates; Mike Hymes, a Democrat from Tazewell who is on the county’s board of supervisors; and Rick Mullins, an independent candidate who is waging his first campaign.”