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Be Well

Be Well: Must Reads on Deadly Delays, Overprescribing and Obamacare

Tuesday, December 3, 2013 at 7:35 AM

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With all the cooking, visiting...and shopping over the Thanksgiving holiday, you may have gotten less than your usual dose of health news. Not to worry. ideastream health reporter Sarah Jane Tribble joins WCPN Morning Edition Host to offer up the latest scoop of must-read health care stories. Her first pick is a national investigation into newborn screenings by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.


Investigating newborn screenings and finding a disturbing national trend: Deadly Delays

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Ellen Gabler opens her investigative story with the graphic scene of a newborn becoming suddenly ill.

“Aiden goes home and sleeps in a bassinet beside his mother’s bed. Soon his stomach becomes swollen, bulging with veins. He breaks out in a rash. He is limp, pale, won’t eat.”

The reporter reviewed state lab data nationwide and found that delays in the processing of newborn screenings are causing babies like Aiden to die. Most people know the newborn screenings as the heel prick test a baby gets within the first 24-48 hours of being born. The screening is a genetic test and Ohio’s hospitals are required to send blood samples to a state lab within one day after it is collected. And the timing is important because every minute can make a difference between life and death when it comes to some genetic disorders.

The story package includes a database where you look up Ohio and search by hospital. It lets you dig into the data on hospitals by year. Northeast Ohio’s hospitals do appear on the list and the local numbers are certainly worth looking up and asking more questions about.

Spending millions on name brand prescription drugs, wasting taxpayer dollars

The investigative nonprofit newsroom ProPublica released a project in November called “The Prescribers.” They analyzed the prescribing habits of 1.6 million doctors nationwide and found that Medicare is wasting hundreds of millions of dollars a year. It doesn’t rein in doctors who routinely give patients pricey name-brand drugs when cheaper generic alternatives are available.

Now, this is noteworthy because numerous studies show that generics work just as well as brand name drugs for most patients. Plus, the story points out many of the 900-plus primary care doctors who favored name brands shared another trait: Financial ties to the companies whose pills they prescribe.

It’s easy to go to their website and look up your own personal doctor’s prescribing habits. The best story I saw off this data was actually one you can listen to by ProPublica’s partner, public radio station WNYC in New York. It’s entitled “At One Brooklyn Address, $1.8 Million Wasted.

The end of November was the White House’s self-imposed deadline for healthcare.gov to be fully working. Did it work?

On Sunday, the White House announced that it had met its Nov. 30 goal for improving the poorly performing healthcare.gov site.

In the weeks leading up to this deadline, the administration had tried to lower expectations from “it will be working” to “it will be improved.” There was a lot of coverage on this yesterday and a couple national reporters pointed out that it’s pretty hard to independently verify the metric the administration is using.

Late Sunday evening, two longtime health policy reporters from the New York Times - Robert Pear and Reed Abelson - released an online story that really laid out how this may not be such an easy story. It ran in the print edition Monday.

Their report points out that it may seem like the site is working better - people are able to log on, for instance. But then it has tantalizing quotes from the insurance industry that create this picture of a back-end systems nightmare. Things like “some people are getting lost in the process.”

For some consumers, according to recent reports, the site is moving faster. But for others it’s not and when they do sign up, the insurance company may not know it. As of November 13 - the most recent federal government release of information - only 1,150 people in Ohio have signed up for health coverage through the federal exchanges. A total of about 27,000 have signed up nationwide - that’s far short of the federal government’s original goal for national enrollment reaching 7 million by March 2014.


Additional Information

“Deadly Delays: Delays at hospitals across the country undermine newborn screening programs” Nov. 16, by Ellen Gabler, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. 
- Look up Ohio data here.

“The Prescribers: Inside the Government’s Drug Data” Nov. 19, by Charles Ornstein, Tracy Weber and Jennifer LaFleur
- Look up your doctor’s data here.
- “At One Brooklyn Address, $1.8 Million Wasted,” Nov. 19, by Amanda Aronczyk

“Insurers Claim Health Website Is Still Flawed” Dec. 2, by Robert Pear and Reed Abelson New York Times.

One more must-read

In its latest installment of a year-long look at food stamps, the Washington Posts goes to McAllen, TX, and questions the health implications of a food stamp diet.

“Too much of too little: A diet fueled by food stamps is making South Texas obese but leaving them hungry.” Nov. 9, 2013

Tags

Health, Children's Health, Parenting/Child Care, Be Well, Be Well Podcast

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