Remember all that outrage last year when we learned that a Framingham compounding pharmacy, the New England Compounding Center, was at the heart of national meningitis outbreak? And remember what followed: a flurry of new government oversight measures, tough public health safeguards, pledges of “Never again.”
So what happened?
Kevin Outterson, a professor at the Boston University School of Law and co-director of the Health Law Program, reports today that additional money that was supposed to be used to inspect compounding pharmacies around the state was cut to zero. At least for now.
Blogging for The Incidental Economist, he reminds us why the inspections are important: “fungal meningitis from improperly compounded products killed 55 people and infected more that 600.” But apparently, in the latest state budget proposal, money for inspections has been cut, Outterson writes:
All of these products originated in Massachusetts, but all of the injuries occurred in other states. But Massachusetts felt some responsibility for the failures at NECC, as acknowledged by both Gov. Patrick and the Interim Commissioner of Public Health. The DPH enacted emergency regulations on Nov. 1, 2012 and the Governor’s special commission delivered a comprehensive set of recommendations. Both efforts informed the Governor’s proposed legislation in January 2013 and several bills pending in the Massachusetts House and Senate. Continue reading →
This online, interactive site won’t tell you where to get the best colonoscopy or most specialized cancer care, for instance, but it does offer insight into the scope and breadth of the marketplace. It essentially provides a baseline view of the state-of-the-industry for all the Mass. hospitals and hospital systems, medical groups, doctor networks and community health centers.
(Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation of Massachusetts)
As McDonough writes:
For example, if you want to begin to understand why Partners Healthcare is so dominant in the state’s healthcare market, don’t go to this page, Hospital Systems by Size, on which Partners is #2 after Steward Health Care System. Go this this page: Physician Networks and Major Medical Groups, where the size of Partners’ physician network (called Partners Community Healthcare Inc., PCHI, or “peachy”) is larger than #2 (Steward) or #3 (Atrius), combined.
Or look at hospitals by Net Patient Service Revenue, and see that Partners total NPSR in 2010 ($4.2 billion) was the same as #s 2 (UMass Memorial), 3 (Steward), and 4 (Beth Israel Deaconess) combined.
Don’t forget this helpful page of Recent Changes in the Massachusetts health care market.
Readers, please roam around the site and let us know what’s interesting or useful to you.
The CDC has just released a report on the prevalence of mental illness among American children. It notes: “A total of 13%–20% of children living in the United States experience a mental disorder in a given year, and surveillance during 1994–2011 has shown the prevalence of these conditions to be increasing.”
Yet as that prevalence increases, treatment options are decreasing, writes Lisa Lambert, executive director of the Parent/Professional Advocacy League, which advocates for Massachusetts families with mentally ill children. Below, she discusses one particular pending loss, of Cambridge Hospital children’s psychiatric beds long especially valued by families. The hospital announced last month that it would consolidate two units with 27 beds into just one with 16 beds. It cited tight budgets, declining utilization and cyclical demand. The details are still in play.
By Lisa Lambert
When Aiden was seven, it seemed like he would never be safe.
At home and in his second-grade classroom, he repeatedly talked about killing himself. He barely slept, raced from one spot to another and threatened to harm his younger sister. His parents stayed glued to his side, barely taking time to eat, shower or sleep.
One day, his mother caught him lighting a fire in his bedroom. Aiden ended up in the emergency room, and later in a bed in Cambridge Hospital. The staff had seen young patients like him before and they knew what treatment would work and what kind of follow-up care a seven-year-old needs. Without that hospital stay, his mother says, ”We don’t know where our family would be.”
Lisa Lambert of PPAL (Courtesy)
No one likes the idea of admitting a young child to an inpatient psychiatric program. It is a last resort, something to be avoided at all costs. Parents will tell you, however, that when they’ve exhausted all the options, Cambridge Hospital has provided the best possible care. Now, it seems that a major piece of that care is coming to a close, unless a miracle happens.
Last week, the Department of Public Health held a hearing to receive comments about closing the Cambridge Hospital child psychiatric unit and eliminating beds. Nurses stood shoulder to shoulder to tell stories of families they’ve helped and of their pride in the wonderful care they’ve given. Parents came to say that this place was a lifesaver and without it, their children would never have improved.
The Child Assessment Unit is one of a kind, they all said, where parents can visit anytime and even stay overnight. Since PPAL is a grassroots organization, we surveyed families about this and want their voices to be part of the public conversation. Continue reading →
Some people play fantasy football, some knit. We here at CommonHealth sometimes like to play with health care data — most recently, a trove of Medicare numbers released last week on how much hospitals officially charge for common procedures and how much Medicare actually pays for them.
WBUR’s Alex Kingsbury first took a look at the wide range in Massachusetts hospitals’ charges for a single category, treatment of chronic lung disease, here. His map illustrated a strikingly broad range from $8,918 to $52,729. Now, in the map above, he rejiggers his Google Fusion Table to explore a broader question I put to him: How do the hospitals shake out in terms of the percentage of their official charges that they get from Medicare?
And here’s a fun little factoid that emerges from the map: That range goes from procedures for which the Medicare payment amounts to less than 18 percent of the charges billed to well over 100 percent of the charges billed. I’d thought this recalculation of the data might yield some interesting insights — Who most overcharges? Or who might feel most shafted by government payments? — but it runs such a crazy gamut that perhaps it serves mainly as yet another indicator of just how distorted and Byzantine and broken the American health care market is. (Didn’t need any further proof of that? Fine. Just enjoy playing with the map.)
Last week’s release of the Medicare data brought a media splash — particularly among data-visualization fans like the Washington Post — but also a backlash.
Health care economist Uwe Reinhardt pointed out that the official hospital charges are famously irrelevant to the reimbursement that health insurers actually pay, to the point that he called last week’s fuss about the Medicare data laughable. He wrote in The New York Times:
Even funnier are the protestations by hospital executives that hardly anyone ever pays these fictional prices, which prompted me to offer the following technical definition: “ ‘Charges’ are the prices that a totally inebriated foreign billionaire would pay a U.S. hospital if his wife were not around to control the bloke.”
The latest small business health insurance rates may be the calm before the storm.
Premiums for small firms are set to increase from a base of 2.5%, on average, in July. That’s slightly less than the average increase of 2.7% this quarter. Employers willing to live with limits on where they and employees receive care could see premiums drop (take a look below at Neighborhood Health Plan and Celitcare). And notice that no one filed (or was approved for) rate increases above 3.6%, the current magic number for health care cost caps in Massachusetts.
July 1 insurance rates for small businesses in MA
But things may look quite different as of January 1st. Very small businesses could see modest increases or perhaps lower rates. But insurers are warning that firms with 20-50 workers could see premiums jump 30% when parts of the federal health care law kick in next year.
“We all thought that Mass. was going to be held harmless under the ACA, but that looks like that’s not going to be the case, at least not for small businesses,” says Jon Hurst, President of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts. “We’re going to be looking at a lot of small businesses getting extreme, double digit increases come next year.” Continue reading →
Today is a glorious day for health care wonks who see great founts of Medicare numbers as enticing Big Data playgrounds just begging for the analytical equivalent of gymnastics on the monkey bars.
The federal government has just released hospital prices on 100 common procedures, and though many studies have already documented the dramatic cost variation among hospitals — here’s a recent one — the numbers have never before been this accessible. The Washington Post does a wonderful job of providing context and translating some of the data into visual form here, including a useful feature titled “How much do providers charge in your state?”
Of course I provincially plugged in Massachusetts, and was surprised to see that though we’re reputed to have among the highest costs in the country, we’re below the national average on the 10 categories shown, ranging from pneumonia to heart failure.
WBUR’s Alex Kingsbury puts his data-visualization talents to excellent use on the Medicare data in the map above, showing the variation in costs for treating one condition, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, at each of the state’s hospitals. They range from $8,918 to $52,729. [More on these striking gaps from WBUR's Martha Bebinger here: Crazy, irrational hospital billing (with no connection to quality.)]
Above, click on each blue pin to see what each facility charges. Or if you’re not a geographical type, you can check out the raw Medicare numbers here, and here’s a list of the data points Alex used: Continue reading →
You may already know all too well that the cost of health care, whether in premiums or co-pays or deductibles, seems to weigh down your budget more heavily with each passing year. But the chart above tells you that if that budgetary load is feeling more burdensome than ever before, you’re not alone.
Every spring, the Boston consulting and research firm Mass Insight runs a health care “affordability” poll, and this year’s is just out today. From the press release:
Since 2004, the Mass Insight / Opinion Dynamics Healthcare Affordability Index has tracked how much of a cost burden residents feel from premiums, co-pays, prescription drugs, and deductibles. Results are calculated into a single Index score, which measures the level of affordability people feel toward their healthcare. Results from the spring 2013 poll show the lowest score ever recorded on the Index, 109, meaning Massachusetts residents feel their healthcare is becoming less affordable and more of a financial burden.
The poll of 450 Massachusetts residents, conducted in late April, found that its “affordability index” dropped 10 points in just the last year.
Might the 2012 Massachusetts health cost-containment law help at all? At the very least, the poll found eagerness among respondents for one aspect of the new law: its promise of greater health care “transparency” to make it easier for consumers to obtain price information. Continue reading →
Kevin Fitzgerald, after the second of two eye surgeries, with his vision restored (George Hicks/WBUR)
By Rachel Zimmerman
Kevin Fitzgerald is parked in a wheelchair near a set of elevators at Boston Medical Center, tense with fear.
He’s a big guy, nearly six feet and about 280 pounds. But because of his severe autism, Kevin can’t verbalize his thoughts. He can only moan.
Dressed in her scrubs, Dr. Susannah Rowe, Kevin’s eye surgeon, sits on the floor next to him. While waiting for a heavy dose of anti-anxiety meds to calm her patient, Rowe practices what she calls “verbal anesthesia.” “It’s OK to be afraid,” she tells Kevin. “Want to hold my hand?”
Institutionalized since childhood, Kevin, now 56, has been losing his sight for the past two years to the point that doctors said he can see little more than shadows. He’s here at BMC awaiting cataract surgery, a fairly simple procedure that generally takes about 30 minutes in the operating room. But for Kevin, who has long feared doctors and has a history of aggressive, unpredictable behavior — like hitting himself or inadvertently hurting others or running away when he’s in distress — the procedure isn’t simple at all.
Dr. Susannah Rowe, anesthesiologist Oleg Gusakov and nurse anestheticst Dale Putnam in the pre-op room with Kevin. (George Hicks/ WBUR)
It’s not simple for the doctors, either. They’re practicing a special art: medical care for the disabled and mentally ill. It often breaks the rules of traditional care, loses money for their practices and can even put them at physical risk if a frightened patient spins out of control.
But there’s a huge need for such specialized care. As many as 50 percent of people with intellectual disability (defined as an individual with an IQ of 70 or less and difficulty functioning in daily life, among other criteria) have vision problems, according to state experts. And a far higher proportion of these disabled patients have severe vision problems compared to the general population.
With delayed or limited access to treatment, these men and women can begin to lose their already-tenuous connection with the physical world; and their behavior, driven by fear and the inability to understand why things are growing darker, can deteriorate further toward what looks like aggression. Rowe, the surgeon, says anyone with a disability or severe mental illness whose mood, anxiety or behavior gets worse should immediately have their vision checked.
Join doctors in the operating room for Kevin’s surgery. Warning: It gets graphic.
Kevin’s situation may seem exceptional but he’s not alone. According to the state Department of Developmental Services, there are about 32,000 adults and children with intellectual disability (what used to be called mental retardation) eligible for services in Massachusetts. About 9,000 of these adults live in group homes.
But not everyone with an intellectual or developmental disability is getting the care they need, experts say. Consider:
A recent Massachusetts study found that people with autism still face significant barriers in accessing medical care, and it’s worse for patients like Kevin, who can’t fully communicate.
A 2009 survey of eye specialists from around the state found that while most providers believe patients with intellectual disabilities require 30-60 minutes longer for a medical appointment, the vast majority of the specialists didn’t allot that extra time.
According to a 2004 Public Health Reports article: “Research indicates that most individuals with developmental disabilities do not receive the services that their health conditions require…[and] individuals with mental retardation face more barriers to health care than the general population.
Research has also demonstrated that many primary care providers are unprepared or otherwise reluctant to provide routine or emergency medical and dental care to people with developmental disabilities.”
Andrew Lenhardt, a primary care doctor in Hamilton, Mass., who treats many disabled patients, including Kevin, says: “The level of dignity and respect and basic medical care that’s given to people with disabilities is often meager…These people can’t advocate for themselves, they’re an easy target to be treated inadequately or poorly.”
Police clear the area at the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon as medical workers help injured following the explosions. (Charles Krupa/AP)
An editorial in the medical journal The Lancet today sums up the communal gratitude much of Boston is now feeling toward the emergency doctors, nurses and other hospital staff who have been caring for victims of the Marathon bombing over the past week: they rock.
Not only will all of the patients who have been or continue to be treated in area hospitals survive, according to reports, but the institutions were amazingly prepared for the harrowing disaster.
After the two explosions at the Marathon finish line, which killed three people and injured more than 200, doctors and hospitals mobilized with “a rapid, exceedingly well-orchestrated, and inspiring response,” the Lancet notes:
Immediately, medical and emergency personnel who were staffing the event swept in to treat the wounded and to secure the area, and the first wave of the injured were quickly transported to the network of hospitals nearby. In the context of such an emergency, the city of Boston is an unparalleled setting because of its great number of top-tier medical facilities and teaching hospitals. Ten hospitals, including Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Tufts Medical Center, and Massachusetts General Hospital, received and treated the injured. Importantly, they were at the ready. Upon being alerted of the explosions, local hospitals initiated a cascade of actions: emergency rooms were cleared, patients in less critical condition were diverted to increase capacity, and clinical teams were mobilised to aid in the triage of victims. All of the routine disaster rehearsals, coordinated training, and special awareness of the types of injuries they would be treating meant that clinical staff were poised to act. Continue reading →
When someone you love needs critical medical care, cost is generally not even a consideration. And it shouldn’t be.
But at a certain point, reality seeps back in and the bills must be paid.
So here’s NBC providing an early (and rough) reality check, estimating that the price tag for treating Monday’s Marathon bombing victims “may reach or surpass $9 million.”
Police clear the area at the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon as medical workers help injured following the explosions. (Charles Krupa/AP)
How’d they get to that number? Part of the calculation was based on the 2011 Tucson shootings that killed six people and wounded 18, among them former U.S Rep. Gabby Giffords:
“…health-economist Ted Miller calculated that the average cost for a person injured by gunfire [in Tucson] was $48,610 – or about $50,000 in 2013 dollars.
“One of the commonalities with that and what happened in Boston is that gunshot wounds these days are very often multiple rounds, and the blast injuries were probably multiple injuries (due to shrapnel) that tended to enter multiple parts of the body,” Miller said.
“It’s probably on the magnitude of $40,000, $50,000 (per person for emergency-room care). But for the people who will be hospitalized for weeks, you could easily be looking at $150,000 to $200,000 per person,” he said.
For those who have lost limbs, prosthetics are pricey: $14,187 for a partial foot, $16,690 for a lower leg, and $45,563 for a full leg, according to a 2010 report by the Journal of Rehabilitation Research & Development. Continue reading →