ProPublica’s ‘first dive’ into the Open Payments website

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The government’s data on payments to doctors and hospitals by drug and device makers is incomplete and hard to penetrate – but here’s a first look.


Screen Shot 2014-10-01 at 10.26.19 AMBy Charles Ornstein
ProPublica

The federal government unveiled data Tuesday detailing 4.4 million payments made to doctors and teaching hospitals by pharmaceutical and medical device companies.

The launch of the so-called Open Payments website, mandated under a provision of the Affordable Care Act, was far from glitch-free: Some users encountered long delays and sometimes error messages trying to access its seven data tables.

Also, the site didn’t provide consumers with an easy-to-use lookup tool, a single place to search for a doctor’s name and see all results across data files.

It will take a while to dig deeply into this new trove of data, which covers the period of August to December 2013 and includes general and research payments, as well as payments to companies’ physician investors.

All told, according to officials from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, companies spent a total of $3.5 billion during that period on 546,000 individual physicians and almost 1,360 teaching hospitals.

So what’s interesting at first glance? With the caveats we’ll detail, here’s a few nuggets: Continue reading

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Health news headlines – October 1st

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The number of cases with Ebola, shown here, could double by the end of the month. There is a one-in-five chance it will reach the U.S. in that same time, researchers predict. Photo by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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Global health news – October 1st

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Ebola case diagnosed in the Texas

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From the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The number of cases with Ebola, shown here, could double by the end of the month. There is a one in five chance it will reach the U.S. in that same time, researchers predict. Photo:  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Photo: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed today, through laboratory tests, the first case of Ebola to be diagnosed in the United States in a person who had traveled to Dallas, Texas from Liberia.

The patient did not have symptoms when leaving West Africa, but developed symptoms approximately four days after arriving in the U.S. on Sept. 20.

The person fell ill on Sept. 24 and sought medical care at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas on Sept. 26.

After developing symptoms consistent with Ebola, he was admitted to hospital on Sept. 28. Based on the person’s travel history and symptoms, CDC recommended testing for Ebola.

The medical facility isolated the patient and sent specimens for testing at CDC and at a Texas lab participating in the CDC’s Laboratory Response Network.

CDC and the Texas Health Department reported the laboratory test results to the medical center to inform the patient.

Local public health officials have begun identifying close contacts of the person for further daily monitoring for 21 days after exposure. A CDC team was dispatched to Dallas this morning.

“Ebola can be scary. But there’s all the difference in the world between the U.S. and parts of Africa where Ebola is spreading. The United States has a strong health care system and public health professionals who will make sure this case does not threaten our communities,” said CDC Director, Dr. Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. “While it is not impossible that there could be additional cases associated with this patient in the coming weeks, I have no doubt that we will contain this.”

The ill person did not exhibit symptoms of Ebola during the flights from West Africa and CDC does not recommend that people on the same commercial airline flights undergo monitoring, as Ebola is only contagious if the person is experiencing active symptoms.

The person reported developing symptoms several days after the return flight.

Anyone concerned about possible exposure may call CDC-Info at 800-CDC-INFO for more information. 

CDC recognizes that even a single case of Ebola diagnosed in the United States raises concerns.

Knowing the possibility exists, medical and public health professionals across the country have been preparing to respond. CDC and public health officials in Texas are taking precautions to identify people who have had close personal contact with the ill person and health care professionals have been reminded to use meticulous infection control at all times.

We do know how to stop Ebola’s further spread: thorough case finding, isolation of ill people, contacting people exposed to the ill person, and further isolation of contacts if they develop symptoms.

The U.S. public health and medical systems have had prior experience with sporadic cases of diseases such as Ebola.

In the past decade, the United States had 5 imported cases of Viral Hemorrhagic Fever (VHF) diseases similar to Ebola (1 Marburg, 4 Lassa). None resulted in any transmission in the U.S.

CDC has been anticipating and preparing for a case of Ebola in the United States. We have been:

  • Enhancing surveillance and laboratory testing capacity in states to detect cases
  • Developing guidance and tools for health departments to conduct public health investigations
  • Providing recommendations for  healthcare infection control and other measures to prevent disease spread
  • Providing guidance for flight crews, Emergency Medical Services units at airports, and Customs and Border Protection officers about reporting ill travelers to CDC
  • Disseminating up-to-date information to the general public, international travelers, and public health partners

The data health officials have seen in the past few decades since Ebola was discovered indicates that it is not spread through casual contact or through the air.

Ebola is spread through direct contact with bodily fluids of a sick person or exposure to objects such as needles that have been contaminated.

The illness has an average 8-10 day incubation period (although it ranges from 2 to 21 days); CDC recommends monitoring exposed people for symptoms a complete 21 days.

People are not contagious after exposure unless they develop symptoms.

More information is available at www.cdc.gov/ebola.

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Many women receiving unnecessary Pap tests

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Cytological specimen showing cervical cancer specifically squamous cell carcinoma in the cervix. Tissue is stained with Pap stain and magnified x200. PHOTO courtesy of NCIBy Stephanie Stephens,
Health Behavior News Service

As many as half to two-thirds of women who’ve undergone hysterectomies or are older than 65 years in the United States report receiving  Pap tests for cervical cancer.

This prevalence is surprising in light of the 2003 U.S. Preventive Services Taskforce guidelines recommending that women discontinue Pap testing if they have received a total hysterectomy without a history of cervical cancer and if they are over age 65 years with ongoing and recent normal Pap test results.

Performing these unnecessary tests can result in stress for the patient, increased costs, and inefficient use of both provider and patient time, concludes a new study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

“During this time of health care reform, we could probably use our resources more wisely,” said corresponding author Deanna Kepka, Ph.D., M.P.H., assistant professor at the University of Utah’s College of Nursing and Huntsman Cancer Institute. Continue reading

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Boil-Water Advisory Lifted for Mercer Island

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Guidance for Residents Includes Flushing Pipes Before Drinking Water

Drinking Water WarningThe City of Mercer Island announces that the latest test results from water samples collected Sunday have been analyzed and are clear of E Coli. Restaurants may reopen following completion of step-by-step procedures.

All eleven of the samples revealed no presence of E Coli.

One sample did test positive for Total Coliform.  An occasional reading for Total Coliform is not uncommon, and does not in itself indicate any health hazard. Most coliform bacteria are a normal part of the environment and do not cause disease. Continue reading

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What to be wary of in the government’s new site detailing industry payments to docs

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The government’s new website on drug and device company ties to doctors will be incomplete and may be misleading — for now.

Twenty-dollar bill in medicine bottleBy Charles Ornstein
ProPublica, Sep. 30, 2014, 10 a.m.

The government’s release today of a trove of data detailing drug and device companies’ payments to doctors has been widely hailed as a milestone for transparency.

But it is also something else: a very limited window into the billions in industry spending. Before you dive in and search your doctor, here are five caveats to keep in mind.

Tracking the Money

* The data only covers a fraction of payments

The Physician Payment Sunshine Act, part of the 2010 Affordable Care Act, called for the first public release of this data 18 months ago.

But because of delays writing detailed rules implementing the law, the first release of data will happen today and it will only cover payments for a few months, from August to December 2013.

So if you search for your doctor and you do not find him or her, it doesn’t mean that he or she didn’t receive a payment. Continue reading

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Medicare open enrollment fast approaching — What we know so far

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Calendar

By Michelle Andrew
KHN / September 30th

Medicare beneficiaries who want to make changes to their prescription drug plans or Medicare Advantage coverage can do so starting Oct. 15 during the Medicare’s program’s annual open enrollment period.

There will be somewhat fewer plans to pick from this year, but in general people will have plenty of options, experts say.

And although premiums aren’t expected to rise markedly overall in 2015—and in some cases may actually decline—some individual plans have signaled significantly higher rates.

The annual open enrollment period is also a once-a-year opportunity to switch to a private Medicare Advantage plan from the traditional Medicare fee-for-service plan or vice versa.

.Rather than rely on the sticker price of a plan alone, it’s critical that beneficiaries compare the available options in their area to make sure they’re in the plan that covers the drugs and doctors they need at the best price.

The annual open enrollment period is also a once-a-year opportunity to switch to a private Medicare Advantage plan from the traditional Medicare fee-for-service plan or vice versa. Open enrollment ends Dec. 7.

Although the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has released some specifics about 2015 premiums and plans, many details about provider networks, drug formularies and the like won’t be available until later this fall. Here’s what we know so far: Continue reading

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Health news headlines – September 30th

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Global health news – September 30th

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All Residents of Mercer Island Are Advised to Boil Their Tap Water Before Drinking

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All Mercer Island  Restaurants Are Ordered to Close

Due to the Boil-Water Advisory, the Mercer Island Farmers Market today is canceled.

The next round of test results is expected approx midday today (Sunday).

The City of Mercer Island is advising all water customers on the Island to boil their water before drinking, or to use bottled water. There are no reports of illness at this time.

The City’s water provider, Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) routinely tests over 800 samples for bacteria from the region each month, including 18 samples collected each month in the Mercer Island distribution system. Test samples collected on Mercer Island on September 26 showed the presence of E. coli on September 27, indicating that the water may not be safe to drink.

Boiled or purchased bottled water should be used for drinking, making ice, brushing teeth, and food preparation until further notice.  Bring the water to a boil, let it boil for at least 1 minute, and let it cool before using.  Boiling kills bacteria and other organisms that could potentially be in the water.

Dishwashers can be used if run with the sanitizing/heat cycle and commercial dishwashing detergent. Dishes can be hand washed if rinsed in a diluted bleach solution – one teaspoon household bleach to one gallon of water – and then allowed to air dry.

Water can be used for bathing, but do not drink any of the water and do not allow babies to put the water or wet washcloth in the mouth.

Public Health – Seattle & King County orders all food establishments such as restaurants, coffee shops, and delis operating on the Island to suspend operations until the boil water advisory is lifted.  Health inspectors will be providing guidance to schools, childcare, long term care and skilled nursing facilities.  Permitted food establishments are asked to contact Public Health-Seattle & King County.

To address this situation, City Utility crews are inspecting system facilities, flushing water mains in potential problem areas and ensuring chlorine levels are adequate throughout the distribution system.  The City of Mercer Island continues to sample the water throughout the Island to confirm the quality of the water.  We will issue further notice when the water supply is confirmed to be safe.

Aside from Mercer Island, all other SPU water is safe for drinking. Extensive testing over the past two days of SPU’s distribution system, which provides drinking water to much of King County, has shown that the problem is isolated to Mercer Island. Daily routine testing continues at all municipal water systems throughout the area.

Fecal coliforms and E. coli are bacteria whose presence indicates that the water may be contaminated with human or animal wastes. Microbes in these wastes can cause short-term effects, such as diarrhea, cramps, nausea, headaches, or other symptoms. They may pose a special health risk for infants, young children, some of the elderly, and people with severely compromised immune systems.

Organisms in drinking water are not the only cause of such symptoms.  If people experience any of these symptoms and they persist, they may want to seek medical advice.  People at increased risk should seek advice about drinking water from their health care provider.

This notice is being issued following consultation with the Washington State Department of Health and Public Health – Seattle and King County.

If residents have any further questions, please contact the City of Mercer Island hotline at 206-275-7800.

FOR UPDATED STATUS INFORMATION, LOOK FOR THE
LATEST “NEWS” ON THE CITY’s 
HOMEPAGE

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State disciplines health-care providers

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Seal_of_WashingtonPeriodically Washington State Department of Health issues an update on disciplinary actions taken against health care providers, including suspensions and revocations of licenses, certifications, or registrations of providers in the state.

The department also suspends the credentials of people who have been prohibited from practicing in other states.

Information about health care providers is also on the agency’s website.

To find this information click on “Provider Credential Search” on the left hand side of the Department of Health home page (www.doh.wa.gov).

The site includes information about a health care provider’s license status, the expiration and renewal date of their credential, disciplinary actions and copies of legal documents issued after July 1998.

This information is also available by calling 360-236-4700.

Consumers who think a health care provider acted unprofessionally are also encouraged to call and report their complaint.

Here is the September 25th update issued by the Washington State Department of Health: Continue reading

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Top five stories of the week

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Credit: Dan Shirly

Credit: Dan Shirly

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One Page Guide to the Health Insurance Marketplace | HealthCare.gov

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ACA health reform logoHere’s a quick rundown on the most important things to know about the Health Insurance Marketplace, sometimes known as the health insurance “exchange.” Follow the links for more information on each topic.

via One Page Guide to the Health Insurance Marketplace | HealthCare.gov.

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Got Drugs? – National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day is Today

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Got Drugs

Got Drugs? – National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day

September 27, 2014
10AM to 2PM

The National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day aims to provide a safe, convenient, and responsible means of disposing of prescription drugs, while also educating the general public about the potential for abuse of medications.

Locate a Collection Site Near You

 

 

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