Weekly Dose of Health News

Happy New Year!

In this week’s summary, you’ll learn about the impact the fiscal cliff deal had on Medicare, 39 new FDA-approved drugs for 2013, a study finding no clear link between higher spending on healthcare and improved quality and more!

Fiscal Cliff

The New Year began with Congress reaching agreement on legislation to avoid going over the “fiscal cliff.”  USA Today reports that the House of Representatives passed a deal brokered by the Senate and the White House to avert large income tax increases on most Americans and prevent large cuts in spending for the Pentagon and other government programs. However, the compromise legislation defers many of the proposed cuts to government program until late in February, when Congress will have to tackle the two-month delay in cuts in conjunction with the deadline to raise the country’s $16.4 trillion debt limit (Davis & Jackson, 1/2).

The fiscal cliff compromise legislation includes language that freezes Medicare payments to doctors, which otherwise would have been cut by at least 26.5 percent in 2013. The Congressional Budget Office said the freeze would cost $25 billion over 10 years, with most of that coming in 2013-14 (Wall Street Journal, Adamy, 1/2).  Hospitals are upset that Congress offset the cost of the doctor fix with cuts to hospitals that treat Medicare patients (Radnofsky, 1/3).

New Medicines in Development

2012 was a block buster year for drug approvals at the Food and Drug Administration. The FDA approved 39 novel drugs in 2012, the most in 16 years. 2012’s tally compares to a total of 30 new drug approvals in 2011 and just 21 on 2010. At least 10 of the 39 drugs received fast-track status, which meant a much quicker review process for those drugs (Drug Store News, Owen, 1/3).

Affordable Care Act

Although most of the significant changes made by the Affordable Care Act won’t start for another year, the beginning of 2013 will bring some major changes for consumers. NPR examines one such change­­ — the summary of benefits and coverage for everyone with private health insurance. The idea of the summary is to help consumers understand what their insurance policies cover (Rovner, 1/1).

This week, the Obama administration cleared what could be the last group of states to open their own health insurance exchanges this fall, advancing a goal of the 2010 healthcare law to provide Americans with new options to shop for coverage. With this final round of approvals, the administration has signed off on blueprints for California, Hawaii, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, and Vermont to operate their own exchanges while Utah and Arkansas will partner with the federal government (Kliff, 1/3).

The Kaiser Family Foundation released a flowchart  illustrating how people will access health coverage under the Affordable Care Act beginning in 2014.


 If you are among the many Americans who overindulged during the holidays you may take comfort in the findings that there may be a benefit to a little extra body fat.  NPR reports that a new government study shows that people who are overweight are less likely to die in any given period than people of normal weight. Even those who are moderately obese don’t have a higher-than-normal risk of dying (Aubrey, 1/2).

The American College of Physicians issued an editorial this week in the Annals of Internal Medicine urging physicians to direct their expertise toward the public-health danger of gun violence. The editorial called on doctors to commit the same energy toward guns as they have to issues such as smoking, bicycle helmets, seatbelts and vaccinations.

A recent article published in the Annals of Internal Medicine finds that there is not a clear link between increased spending on healthcare and improved quality. Peter Hussey from the RAND Corporation in Arlington, Virginia and his colleagues reviewed 61 studies that compared health care spending with outcomes on both small, hospital-wide scales and broader state-wide levels.  Twenty-one of the 61 studies showed higher spending was tied to better outcomes for patients, such as fewer deaths. However, 18 studies found a link between more spending and worse outcomes, and 22 showed no difference or an unclear association based on spending.

-Jaime Venditti, 1/4/13