Health

Florida Governor Scott Reduces Choice and Competition in Health Care

Florida Governor Rick ScottAs he was gearing up to run for governor of Florida, Republican Rick Scott emerged as one of the most vocal opponents of what he and others began referring to as "Obamacare."

Scott created, chaired and bankrolled a group called Conservatives for Patients Rights that spent millions of dollars on TV commercials attacking health care reform, especially a proposal calling for the federal government to create a public health insurance option to compete with private insurers.

In one ad, the narrator said the votes of a few key senators could determine whether or not Americans would be able to keep their own doctors and their own health insurance plans. The implication was clear -- people would lose the ability to choose their own doctors if health reform passed.

Trouble was, it wasn't true.

Diageo to Hispanics: Drink More Hard Liquor!

Ketel OneAmerican Legislative Exchange Council corporate member Diageo, PLC, which owns Smirnoff, Ketel One, Captain Morgan, Cuervo, Crown Royal, Johnnie Walker and other hard liquore brands, will ramp up its spending on TV ads targeting Hispanics by 3,000 percent to convince them to drink more hard liquor instead of beer. In the past, hard liquor ads on Hispanic TV have been rare. Diageo spent $147.7 million on advertising last year, none of which was spent on Spanish-language network TV. But now Diageo has announced it will start pouring money into ads on the Univision network, which owns 36 Spanish-language TV stations covering 60 percent of the country. Diageo is basing its new Hispanic targeting on U.S. Census data that showed a 43 percent increase in the Hispanic population over the past decade, and statistics showing Hispanics tend to buy more beer than hard liquor compared to other groups.

No

To Save Billions, the Government Should Pay Doctors to Make House Calls

Dr. Bruce Kinosian still makes house calls, and he's proud of it. In fact, he introduces himself as a physician who goes to see his patients in their homes rather than insisting that they come to see him at his office.

Independence at HomeHe's convinced that if more doctors did what he does, we could eliminate billions of dollars we currently spend in this country in an often-futile -- and almost always incredibly expensive -- effort to get people well.

Much of that savings, he says, would accrue to the Medicare program, making it unnecessary for Congress to even consider eliminating benefits or raising the eligibility age.

Kinosian, associate professor of medicine at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, is a leading advocate of the Independence at Home (IAH) program, which quietly has been saving the Department of Veteran's Affairs (and taxpayers) lots of money -- and improving the quality of life for thousands of veterans -- for nearly three decades.

Health Insurers Sacrifice Americans for Profit

Three of the biggest health insurers have announced quarterly earnings in the past few days. If Americans were able to eavesdrop on what executives from those firms tell their Wall Street masters every three months, they would have a better understanding of why premiums keep going up while the number of people with medical coverage keeps going down.

Too Much Profit, Not Enough Care signIt only takes three words, when you get right down to it, to describe the real of those folks: profits over people.

CIGNA and Humana are scheduled to report earnings this week. The three companies that have already spoken -- UnitedHealth, WellPoint and Aetna -- earned a combined $2.51 billion from April through the end of June, more than analysts expected. On a per share basis, their earnings were up more than 17 percent on average compared with the second quarter of 2010.

Drug Companies Conduct Fake Studies as Marketing Tools

drugs/moneyPharmaceutical companies are carrying out fake, pseudo-studies on humans as a marketing devices to get doctors familiar with new drugs. In such studies, called "seeding trials," drug companies invite hundreds of doctors to take part in a research study by asking them to recruit patients to serve as subjects. The companies then pay the doctors for every subject they recruit. These "studies" look like clinical trials, but are not designed to contribute to knowledge in any way. Their purpose is solely to make doctors more familiar with the new drugs being "tested,"  and make doctors more likely to prescribe the drugs in the future. Seeding trials are conducted privately and managed by the pharmaceutical companies' marketing departments, not their research departments. The results of such trials do not appear in medical journals, but in pharmaceutical marketing documents. The drugs in such tests already have FDA approval, but the investigators may be inexperience and untrained, and patients involved in such fake studies have even died. How do these studies avoid scrutiny by ethics boards? Institutional review boards (IRBs), which determine whether human studies are ethically sound, don't pass judgement on whether a study is being carried out simply as a marketing tool or not. Some IRBs are even run as for-profit businesses, and get paid by the same pharmaceutical companies that put on the studies. If a for-profit IRB fails to approve too many studies, the entities funding such studies will just go elsewhere for reviews. 

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A Smart Investment in Our Kid's Health

Sick handsIf opponents of health care reform could view the grant money in the Affordable Care Act as an investment in our children rather than wasteful spending, I believe at least some of them would eventually accept that we're better off with the law than without it.

I'd be especially confident if they took the time to visit some of the community facilities that will be able to meet the health care needs of thousands more Americans as a result of those grants.

Earlier this month, the Obama administration announced awards of $95 million to 278 school-based health center programs across the country. The grants -- the first of $200 million worth of awards between now and 2013 -- will help clinics expand and provide more medical services at schools nationwide.

ALEC and the Tobacco Industry

TobaccoThe American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is an influential, under-the-radar organization that facilitates collaboration between many of the most powerful corporations in America and state-level legislative representatives. Elected officials then introduce legislation approved by corporations in state houses across the U.S., without disclosing that the bills were pre-approved by corporations on ALEC task forces.

ALEC has had a long relationship with the tobacco industry. To explore this relationship, we studied publicly-available tobacco industry documents found in the Legacy Tobacco Documents Library (LTDL), an electronic archive created by the University of California San Francisco that contains 70+ million pages of previously-secret, internal tobacco industry documents obtained in the discovery phases of the 46 state attorneys general lawsuits against the tobacco industry. Those lawsuits were resolved in 1998. The documents were made public as a term of the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement between the states and the tobacco industry. Before now, ALEC documents in this database have not been a major focal point.

Insurance Exchanges Tilted Toward Health Insurers, Not Consumers

Colorado Gov. John HickenlooperThe insurance industry made it abundantly clear this week that it is in the driver's seat -- in both Washington and state capitols -- of one of the most important vehicles created by Congress to reform the U.S. health care system.

The Affordable Care Act requires the states to create new marketplaces -- "exchanges" -- where individuals and small businesses can shop for health insurance. In the 15 months since the law took effect, insurers have lobbied the Obama administration relentlessly to give states the broadest possible latitude in setting up their exchanges. And those insurance companies have been equally relentless at the state level in making sure governors and legislators follow their orders in determining how the exchanges will be operated.

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