Weekly Dose of Health News

In this week’s summary, you’ll find details on protests by various health advocacy organizations regarding health care spending budget cuts, a study showing that increasing prescription drug access saves on other medical costs, a federal investigation in NY’s Medicaid spending, and more!

Spinal Cord research advocates gathered in Albany this week to demand the end to diverting monies away from the Spinal Cord Injury Research Fund. In 1998, the state passed legislation that added a $5 surcharge on moving violations, of which a portion was to be distributed to spinal cord research. In 2010 to help balance the budget, that money was diverted to the General Fund instead, where it still goes today. The surcharge totals $150 million a year, of which $8.5 is supposed to be slated for research. Investing this money in scientific advancement attracts biotech companies to the state, said supporters, and has inspired other states to create similar programs (Albany Times Union, 2/14).

The American Cancer Society, Lung Association and other groups expressed displeasure this week with part of Gov. Cuomo’s budget that continue to cut tobacco control programs. They groups criticized the budget plan for pooling funds for different types of diseases and health care programs into one area. They argue this only leads to more cuts and doesn’t account for the fact that these programs cannot be all categorized under one roof (NYSNYS, 2/14).

Hospitals in New York are increasing their emergency room capacity due to predictions that ER use will rise from the impact of federal health reform. Even though the health care reform act was intended to keep people out of emergency rooms and focus on preventative care, officials believe that the newly insured will still seek health care in ERs. This is partly due to the fact that the number of primary care doctors are not keeping up with expected demand (Journal News, 2/13).

President & CEO of PhRMA, John Castellani, penned an op-ed noting a recent Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report on the effect of prescription medicines on total Medicaid costs. The CBO found the use of prescription drugs results in achieving savings on other Medicaid costs, such as hospitalizations. This follows a recent study by the Journal of American Medical Association that showed implementing the Medicare prescription drug benefit, or Part D, was followed by a $1,200 per year decrease in nondrug medical spending (The Hill’s Congress Blog, 2/14).

The Buffalo News reported this week that cuts in federal spending could negatively impact research at Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo. If Congress doesn’t prevent cuts from kicking in by March 1, spending on the National Institutes of Health (NIH) would drop by more than $2.5 billion. Since a large portion of that funding goes to Roswell Park for cancer research, a steep decrease could mean slow progress in cancer treatment and loss of jobs. Roswell Park officials, Congressman Higgins, the American Cancer Society and a cancer survivor who participated in a Roswell drug trial called on Congress to ensure the funding stays whole (Davis, 2/13).

A report released by the federal House Oversight & Government Reform Committee found that New York nonprofits who receive federal Medicaid funding pay their executives “exorbitant compensation.” Fifteen executives get paid more than $500K a year, while 100 others are compensated more than $200K. The Governor’s office responded by explaining many of these problems began under previous administrations and reform solutions are being addressed. For example, Gov. Cuomo recently capped executive salaries at $199,000 for most contractors doing business with state agencies (Gannett, 2/15).

The same House Committee also requested this week that federal auditors examine New York’s $54 billion Medicaid spending and fraud oversight programs. This specific request was triggered by findings that NY overbilled the federal government $15 billion for its developmentally disabled patient facilities (Albany Times Union, 2/15).

An editorial in the Albany Times Union expresses some skepticism that the House Committee is conducting this investigation into New York’s Medicaid spending solely on the grounds of rooting our fraud and abuse (Times Union, 2/10).

-Jaime Venditti, 2/15/13