Friday, July 1, 2011

Beat the Heat with Some Health News Updates

1. I was a community health major in college, so I spent a lot of time talking about "herd immunity." The idea here is that if everyone around you is immune to a disease (say, measles), then you should theoretically be protected against the disease even if you are not immune. This is an important if imperfect tool for individuals who are vulnerable because they cannot build an immunity or, by ignoring vaccine recommendations, choose not to. But then the CDC comes out with a statement that there have been more cases of measles in the US in the last six months than there have been in any full year since 1996, where most of the cases are in children who have traveled out of the country to measles-endemic areas. I admit, this makes me angry. I understand one's right to have personal beliefs about vaccines, but physicians and physicians groups (hey, AMA) need to do better about educating the public about vaccines' benefits and about countering attacks of misinformation against vaccines.

2. Okay, so I finally understand that SGR -- sustainable growth rate -- is the Affordable Care Act's attempt at controlling Medicare costs by reducing physician reimbursements -- ah, that's why docs are up in arms. There's a bill making its way through Congress now that would address SGR by maintaining physicians' reimbursement rates for three years. Sounds good. The problem is that benefits would start at 67 instead of 65, wealthier seniors would have to pay additional premiums, and everyone would pay more for Part B (the outpatient stuff). Depending on what "additional pay" constitutes, I still might be okay with this. It is obviously difficult to ask seniors on fixed incomes to pay more and wait longer for Medicare, especially as pensions seem to be up for grabs -- my retired state-employed lawyer grandfather is staying with my family this week, and we had a long talk about the Minnesota and Colorado rulings that reduce pension plans for those already receiving them and how this might expand to other states. The aforementioned Medicare bill is tricky, but it might be part of a larger step toward dealing with The Medicare Problem.

3. It's news to no one that a lot of ER visits could be avoided by better primary care and coordinated care therein. Massachusetts officials recently stated as much, but the problem is primary care doctors can't always afford to hire extra nurses for follow-up management or to implement electronic health records systems. But Dr. Michael Cantor of the New England Quality Care Alliance and Tufts Medical Center had a great idea: Insurers that collect money for "care management" programs should forward it back to doctors. Cantor contends that doctors' offices handle the management better than the insurers anyway. If this idea were to become policy, it will be a hard fight, but I think it could go a long way in improving primary care outcomes.

4. When I look for health-related news, I tend to stick to the e-newsletters that are sent to me daily (or more): The AMA is good for big health news articles; MSSNY does a lot to tell you what's going on in New York; Medscape's articles are easier to digest and there are some good blogs and articles targeted at doctors-in-training ; and I've recently been introduced to, which has a good balance of policy news, health issues, and blog discussions (I really like this and wish I'd found it sooner). What do you read? If you have any recommendations, comment here or e-mail me at!

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