RealClearHealth Morning Scan -- 03/17/2016

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Garland Has History of Siding with Health Agencies
Sheila Kaplan, Stat
The Food and Drug Administration and other public health agencies will likely be pleased by President Barack Obama’s nomination Wednesday of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. That’s because Garland, currently chief judge on the US Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., is known for backing federal agencies like FDA and the Environmental Protection Agency against legal challenges on health-related cases.

Exec Compares NYC EHRs to Challenger Disaster
Michael Gartland, NYP
A senior official was so worried a new $764 million medical records system for the municipal hospital system was launching too early that he resigned, comparing it to the disastrous space shuttle Challenger launch in 1986. In a “resignation and thank-you” email last week, Dr. Charles Perry urged colleagues at NYC Health + Hospitals — formerly the Health and Hospitals Corp. — to sound the alarm and press for an “external review” to stop the system from going live next month.

Doctor Payments Mean More Brand-Name Meds
Ornstein, ProPublica
A ProPublica analysis has found for the first time that doctors who receive payments from the medical industry do indeed tend to prescribe drugs differently than their colleagues who don’t. And the more money they receive, on average, the more brand-name medications they prescribe.

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Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies believe it’s important to take medications as directed by your doctor for the best health and safety. Learn more.

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Poll: 1 in 3 Blame Doctors for Opioid Epidemic
Dylan Scott, Stat
Americans broadly support new Obama administration guidelines urging physicians to prescribe fewer powerful painkillers, according to the latest STAT-Harvard poll. They blame doctors for the nation’s epidemic of opioid addiction about as much as they hold individuals responsible for abusing the drugs. But most people are also concerned that the prescribing guidelines, issued Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, could create hurdles for people who legitimately need strong pain medicine, such as Percocet, OxyContin, or Vicodin.

Doctors Say Zero Pain Is Not the Goal
Healy & Kaplan, Los Angeles Times
“Zero pain is not the goal,” Dr. Thomas H. Lee, chief medical officer of the healthcare consulting firm Press Ganey, wrote in a commentary published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Assn. “The reduction of suffering is — and that is something more complex than analgesia alone.” That view flies in the face of attempts by doctors to suppress their patients’ pain as much as practically possible. These efforts helped fuel a surge in prescriptions for opiate painkillers, such as OxyContin, Percocet and Vicodin.

Doctors Adapt to New Rules on Pain Medications
Jan Hoffman, NY Times
As politicians and policy makers decry the opioid crisis, the country’s success in confronting it may well depend on the ability of physicians like Dr. Wergin to reconcile their new role as enforcer with their mission of caring for patients. Collectively, primary care physicians write the greatest volume of opioid prescriptions — according to a recent study, 15.3 million prescriptions for Medicare patients alone in 2013. The burden of monitoring patients for potential abuse, while still treating pain that is chronic and real, falls largely on these front-line gatekeepers.

How the Drug Overdose Epidemic Spread
Chris Wilson, Time
The epidemic of drug overdoses in the U.S. has reached crisis levels, according to newly published data from the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps project. The following map shows the spread in per-capita drug overdoses from 2002 to 2014, the most recent year for which data is available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Medical Debt Rains Pain On Families
Sammy Mack, NPR
Health insurance is no guarantee against financial hardship, according to a national poll by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health. "People are financially overwhelmed in lives that are working OK — they have financing for everything else in their life but they can't deal with this large medical bill," says Robert Blendon, a professor of health policy and political analysis at the Harvard Chan School.

Preventive Care, Deductibles Work at Cross Purposes
Ana Ibarra, CHL
For years, leading health experts have said the way to improve healthcare quality and lower its cost is to emphasize prevention over treatment and encourage closer coordination among medical providers caring for a patient. Those goals are at the core of the Affordable Care Act, which aims to push medical delivery in that direction. But there’s a counter trend threatening to undermine that vision, according to an article published March 9 in the New England Journal of Medicine: A rapid move toward health plans that impose a larger share of the cost on enrollees, most notably through high deductibles and copayments.

When It Comes to Health, Rural Areas Left Behind
Hedgecock, Forbes
Generally speaking, premature death numbers–a key indicator of overall community health–have been steadily going down. That is, unless you live in a rural area. “The lack of improvement in health in rural counties while other counties have shown improvement over the last almost two decades was shocking to see,” says Donald Schwarz, a vice president at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. In fact, one out of every five rural counties the report looked at actually has worsening premature death rates.

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Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies believe it’s important to take medications as directed to make sure you get the right dose at the right time. Following doctors’ directions, remembering to take medicines and disposing of them properly are all important for better health and safety. Learn more.

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