RealClearHealth Morning Scan -- 04/04/2016

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Medicare Is Often Overbilled by Hospices
Robert Pear, New York Times
Hospices often bill Medicare for a higher level of care than patients need, and Medicare often pays twice for the prescription drugs provided to people who are terminally ill, federal investigators say in a new report. The extra cost to Medicare was put at more than $260 million a year. “Many hospices have been billing far more than they should have,” said Nancy T. Harrison, a deputy regional inspector general at the Department of Health and Human Services who led the investigation.

Big Price Increases on Widely Used Drugs
Caroline Humer, Reuters
Major drug companies took hefty price increases in the U.S., in some cases more than doubling listed charges, for widely used medications over the past five years, a Reuters analysis of proprietary data found. Prices for four of the nation's top 10 drugs increased more than 100 percent since 2011, Reuters found. Six others went up more than 50 percent. Together, the price increases on drugs for arthritis, high cholesterol, asthma and other common problems added billions in costs for consumers, employers and government health programs.

UnitedHealth Tries Boutique-Style Health Plan
Phil Galewitz, KHN
With little fanfare, the nation’s largest health insurer launched an independent subsidiary in January that offers unlimited free doctor visits and 24/7 access by phone. Every member gets a personal health coach to nudge them toward their goals, such as losing weight or exercising more. Mental health counseling is also provided, as are yoga, cooking and acupuncture classes. Services are delivered in stylish clinics with hardwood floors and faux fireplaces in their lobbies.

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Satisfied Hospital Patients Less Likely to Go Back
Tom Avril, Phila. Inq.
As the government continues to gather data on how satisfied patients are with their hospital stays, skeptics in the health-care community grumble that what really matters is the quality of treatment and how well people fare after going home. It turns out that satisfaction and quality are related, according to a new study from Cooper University Health Care.

Hospital Reform Requires Medicare Data
Vinita Bahl, Health Affairs Blog
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is adopting new payment policies that will rapidly shift current reimbursement models that reward volume to alternative models designed to reward value and care coordination. These reforms also expand existing value-based purchasing programs that pay incentives or impose penalties based on performance in selected quality and efficiency measures.

Hospital Uses Laughing Gas to Deter Opioid Abuse
Hansi Lo Wang, NPR
There's a new tool for battling the opioid epidemic, compressed inside long, metal tanks at an emergency room in Paterson, N.J. It's laughing gas, also known as nitrous oxide. If you think this is a joke, spend a few hours with Alexis LaPietra, medical director of pain management at St. Joseph's Regional Medical Center's emergency department. She's developed an opioid-alternative program that's trying out unusual ways to help patients through their pain without using prescription painkillers in the ER, where the road to addiction began for many patients.

Hospitals: Hackers' Biggest New Target
Johnson & Zapotosky, Wonkblog
For years, hospitals and the health care industry have been focused on keeping patient data from falling into the wrong hands. But the recent attacks at MedStar and other hospitals across the country highlight an even more frightening downside of security breaches: As hospitals have become dependent on electronic systems to coordinate care, communicate critical health data and avoid medication errors, patients’ well-being may also be at stake when hackers strike.

CDC Summit Details Plans to Fight Zika
Dennis Thompson, HealthDay
The summit focused on monitoring Zika cases, dealing with gaps in local mosquito-control efforts, and making tests available that will let pregnant women know if they have been exposed to Zika, the officials said.

Statin Intolerance Is Real, Researchers Find
Lenny Bernstein, Wash. Post
Statins like Lipitor and its generics have revolutionized cardiovascular care for nearly two decades as an effective, inexpensive way to reduce LDL cholesterol, the so-called bad cholesterol in the bloodstream. Not everyone can take them, though; a significant number of people complain of muscle pain, weakness and cramping so severe that they discontinue the therapy even at the risk of a heart attack or stroke.

Chocolate Milk Researcher Had Conflicts of Interest
Ike Swetlitz, Stat
Recent claims that a kind of chocolate milk could aid in concussion recovery have come under fresh scrutiny by the university where the work was carried out. On Friday, a University of Maryland committee released a report that raised “serious concerns” about the principal investigator of the as yet unpublished study involving a chocolate milk drink, Fifth Quarter Fresh, produced by the company Fluid Motion LLC.

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Ongoing, continuous health care coverage can help people get healthy faster and stay healthy longer with improved access to primary and preventive services, and better management of chronic illnesses. Read key findings from the latest Blue Cross Blue Shield, The Health of America Report, which taps the broadest, deepest pool of medical claims data to uncover the latest trends and insights. Download the full report.

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