Health Updates 28 November 2011

  • Medicare cuts in payments to doctors loom: “This time it’s a 27.4 percent cut.  Last year, it was about 20 percent.  The cuts are the consequence of a 1990s budget law that failed to control spending but was never repealed.  Congress passes a temporary fix each time, only to grow the size of reductions required next time around.  Last week’s super committee breakdown leaves the so-called ‘doc fix’ unresolved with time running out.” (Associated Press)
  • Four drugs cause most hospitalizations in older adults: Blood thinners and diabetes drugs cause most emergency hospital visits for drug reactions among people over 65 in the United States, a new study shows.  Just four medications or medication groups – used alone or together – were responsible for two-thirds of emergency hospitalizations among older Americans, according to the report.  At the top of the list was warfarin, also known as Coumadin, a blood thinner.  It accounted for 33 percent of emergency visits.  Insulin injections were next on the list, accounting for 14 percent of emergency visits.  Aspirin, clopidogrel and other antiplatlet drugs that help prevent blood clotting were involved in 13 percent of emergency visits.  And just behind them were diabetes drugs taken by mouth, called oral hypoglycemic agents, which were implicated in 11 percent of hospitalizations.”  (Tara Parker-Pope, NY Times)
  • Florida inmate loses 25 pounds in order to reduce his jail time: “Miller, the judge on ‘Lake Courts’, a TV program on a community-access channel that replays criminal proceedings in her courtroom, has ordered defendants to take up jogging, enroll in dance class or tutor math.  She often assigns misdemeanor offenders to pull weeds or turn dirt in a community vegetable garden that benefits food pantries.  ‘I don’t do any Jerry Springer stuff where people have to parade outside Walmart with a sign that says ‘I’m a thief’, Miller said, referring to punishment that includes public humiliation.  ‘I do what I do to try to change the person in front of me.   But I know I can’t help everyone.  If the person needs jail, they get jail.” (Orlando Sentinel)
  • Merck to pay $950 million over Vioxx: “Merck has agreed to pay $950 million and has pleaded guilty to a criminal charge over the marketing and sales of the painkiller Vioxx, the company and the Justice Department said Tuesday.  The negotiated settlement, which includes the resolution of civil cases, was the latest of a series of fraud cases brought by federal and state prosecutors against major pharmaceutical companies….The charge arose from Merck’s  promotion of Vioxx to treat rheumatoid arthritis before the Food and Drug Administration approved it for that purpose in 2002….Physicians are free to prescribe drugs for any purpose they see fit, but pharmaceutical companies are prohibited from marketing them for any uses except those that the Food and Drug Administration has determined are safe and beneficial.” (NY Times)

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