Sunday, July 26, 2009

News Briefs (07/19 - 07/26)

'Meth' Labs Contaminate Homes: For many individuals buying a home is an experience in mortgages, home inspections, location, and various other activities. Almost no one wonders if the home that they plan to live in was previously the site of a toxic meth lab. The NY Times reports that thousands of homes may have been contaminated by the construction of illegal meth labs. The potential health affects can be devastating as demonstrated by the article "Illnesses Afflict Homes With a Criminal Past" (NY Times Article, July 13, 2009).

New Surgeon General, Regina Benjamin: President Obama selected Regina Benjamin as the new Surgeon General for the United States. Dr. Benjamin is a primary care physician who has spent much of her professional career working with underprivileged communities in Alabama. She is a recipient of MacArthur Grant and has rebuilt her rural clinic twice - first from Hurricane George then Hurricane Katrina. Slate Magazine discusses what role she could play in the current push for healthcare reform in "What the President Ordered" (Slate Magazine, July 13, 2009).

Governors Worried About Healthcare: Governors from multiple states have expressed deep concern at the prospects of bearing the burden of greater Medicaid costs due to reform efforts. Read more at Governors Fear Medicaid Costs in Health Plan" (NY Times, July 19,2009).

'Harry and Louise' are Back: The two actors who once portrayed a suburban couple that feared what the Clinton healthcare plan might bring during the early 1990's are back in a new video. Except this time the couple is advocating for healthcare reform to pass. The ads demonstrate the strange healthcare reform environment that has developed with insurance companies and healthcare reform groups coming together. What this means in the longer term is unclear. You can read more about the history of the Harry and Louise at "Harry and Louise Return, With a New Message" (NY Times, July 16, 2009).

Lewin Group a Part of UnitedHealth: The Washington Post reports that the Lewin Group, which has been cited as a supposedly impartial source of healthcare data, is actually part of a company run by UnitedHealth (a major health insurance company). The Post notes that:
More specifically, the Lewin Group is part of Ingenix, a UnitedHealth subsidiary that was accused by the New York attorney general and the American Medical Association of helping insurers shift medical expenses to consumers by distributing skewed data. Ingenix supplied UnitedHealth and other insurers with data that allegedly understated the "reasonable and customary" doctor fees that insurers use to determine how much they will reimburse consumers for out-of-network care.

In January, UnitedHealth agreed to a $50 million settlement with the New York attorney general and a $350 million settlement with the AMA, covering conduct going back as far as 1994.
The Lewin Group Vice President John Sheils has stated that his groups data analysis remains separate from and independent of the larger parent companies wishes, but makes note of something of particular interest:
But not all of Lewin's reports see the light of day. "Let's just say, sometimes studies come out that don't show exactly what the client wants to see. And in those instances, they have [the] option to bury the study," Sheils said.
For more about the Lewin group and its often cited healthcare analysis about the affects of the public plan on insurers see "Insurer-Owned Consulting Firm Often Cited in Health Debate" (The Washington Post, July 23, 2009).

Radioisotope in Short Supply: The supply of the radioisotope technetium-99m, which is is used as a radiotracer for diagnostic medical procedures, is in running out after the closure of a Canadian nuclear reactor due to safety issues ("Radioactive Drug for Tests Is in Short Supply," NY Times, July 23, 2009).

Michael Shusterman is the Editor in Chief of TuftScope (2009 - 2010).
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TuftScope: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Health, Ethics, and Policy

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