Today's News and Commentary

About health insurance

Policy advisers urge continued Medicare 'squeeze' of hospital pay: This brief report from a Brookings conference quotes policy experts who advocate for lower Medicare hospital payments, claiming that financial stress will result in more efficiency.

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When Patients Can’t Pay, Many Hospitals Are Suing: This Wall Street Journal article looks into the human side of a research study in JAMA that found nonprofit hospitals more aggressively go after patient balances than do for-profits.

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Judge rejects effort to block suit claiming Medi-Cal discriminates against Latinos: A California judge is allowing a lawsuit to proceed that challenges the state’s low Medicaid payments. The claim is not that it hurts hospitals but creates a barrier to care for low-income people, particularly Latinos. The issue of adequacy of Medicaid payments is a national concern. At one time, the federal government had a law mandating adequacy of Medicaid payments (the “Boren Amendment”), but it was repealed long ago.

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About healthcare IT

Car-award conferrer J.D. Power sets eyes on telehealth business: The rating service famous for its auto satisfaction studies announced it will start grading telehealth businesses. While you have the freedom to buy any car (considering finances), often your telehealth service is linked to your insurer or provider organization. It would still be nice to know how “your” plan stacks up.

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UnitedHealth buys PatientsLikeMe, which faced Trump administration scrutiny over Chinese investor: “PatientsLikeMe provides an online service that helps patients find people with similar health conditions.” The company needed to find a new owner because of federal restrictions on Chinese investor ownership. This condition-based social network will also be a way for United to track its members behavior. Too much information for the payer?

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What the U.S. Medical System Can Learn From Estonia: Estonia has had leading healthcare IT systems for a while. This article briefly explains how this interoperable system works. Two key elements are a universal patient identifier and blockchain artcitecture.

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Patients with complex chronic conditions: Health care use and clinical events associated with access to a patient portal: In this study of patients with diabetes and related complications, the authors found that access “to a patient portal can increase engagement in outpatient visits, potentially addressing unmet clinical needs, and reduce downstream health events that lead to emergency and hospital care, particularly among patients with multiple complex conditions.”

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About the public’s health

Humanwide: A Comprehensive Data Base for Precision Health in Primary Care: This approach to personalized care from Stanford provides “patients with genetic screening, wearable sensors, health assessment, and wellness coaching. We synthesized patient-level biometric, genetic, social, environmental, and behavioral data into the electronic health record for primary care teams’ use in building individual care plans.”

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About pharma

Stem cell treatments are being regulated like pharmaceuticals. Their use has resulted in many complications as well as benefits. Two related articles present the downsides. Yesterday, Florida Judge Ursula Ungaro issued an injunction preventing U.S. Stem Cell Clinic “from selling a scientifically unproven procedure that uses patients’ fat to create a stem cell treatment.” Four people were blinded apparently as the result of such treatments. The other article was a research study looking at competencies of physicians who provide stem cell treatments [subscription required]. The authors found that only “13 companies (19%) that marketed stem cells for nonorthopedic indications had physicians practicing within their scope of training.”

Gov. Mills signs 4 bills to reduce medication prices, including buying from Canada: Maine has joined Florida with a state-initiated program to allow purchase of drugs from Canada. As with Florida, the state must get a federal waiver to legally carry out the program.

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