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Selected news articles which highlight important policy issues.

News: Weekly Archives

News for the week of 12-06-2005

Lawsuit shield pits unions against vaccine makers
The Hill, 12-6-05

Editor’s Notes:

The debate over liability protections for vaccine manufacturers is escalating. Healthcare unions are now objecting that such protections would make their members less likely to accept vaccinations in the event of a public-health emergency.

Efforts by some GOP lawmakers to attach language protecting vaccine manufacturers from lawsuits have attracted the opposition of some of the very healthcare workers and others who would be responsible for making a national pandemic flu-vaccination campaign a success.
Lobbying has intensified in recent days against legislation to limit pharmaceutical companies’ liability for injuries caused by vaccines used in a potential outbreak of avian flu or another disease. The Republican leadership in Congress reportedly wants to move the language as part of the pending defense appropriations bill. … But labor unions such as the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) contend that limiting access to compensation for vaccine-related injuries would doom any effort to immunize the population against a new disease or bioterror weapon.

Lawmakers should consider alleviating these concerns by expanding the existing Vaccine Injury Compensation Program to cover pandemic flu vaccinations and other experimental flu drugs. This would reassure healthcare workers that there would be a legitimate avenue for vaccine related injuries. It would also reassure vaccine and drug makers that trial lawyers wouldn't sue them into bankruptcy based on scientifically dubious claims.

[permanent link]

U.S. Life Expectancy hits another all-time high, but health officials see trouble spots
Associated Press Newswires, 12-8-05

Editor’s Notes:

There is good news about American health care, and somehow it eventually finds its way into the media. This article, naturally, manages to convey the good news about improving health outcomes while warning us that - da da dum – things are not all rosy.

U.S. life expectancy has hit another all-time high - 77.6 years - and deaths from heart disease, cancer and stroke continue to drop, the government reported Thursday.
Still, the march of medical progress has taken a worrisome turn: Half of Americans in the 55-to-64 age group - including the oldest of the baby boomers - have high blood pressure, and two in five are obese. That means they are in worse shape in some respects than Americans born a decade earlier were when they were that age. The health of this large group of the near-elderly is of major concern to American taxpayers, because they are now becoming eligible for Medicare and Social Security. …
Among the new data: Deaths from heart disease, cancer and stroke, the nation's three leading killers, all dropped in 2003. They were down between 2 percent and 5 percent. Also, Americans' life expectancy increased again in 2003, up from 77.3 the year before. By comparison, it was 75.4 in 1990.

Certainly it is worrisome that some seniors may actually be in worse health, compared to slightly older cohorts. America’s entitlement programs are, in fact, in desperate need of overhaul. But the formula for success begins with political reforms that increase incentives for personal retirement planning, reduce the cost of health-care and insurance, and encourage more personal responsibility for disease prevention. The U.S. must also resist the call for price controls on medical technologies that are helping us win the war against expensive chronic illnesses like diabetes and cancer. At the end of the day, America’s commitment to market innovation is our greatest asset and will help us overcome even these challenges.

[permanent link]

Florida Legislature Passes Governor’s Managed-Care Medicaid Bill
Los Angeles Times, 12-9-05

Editor’s Notes:

Medicaid reform is building momentum. Florida’s legislature recently approved the Governor’s plan (federal waivers have already been granted) to enact a pilot program for state Medicaid reform.

Under the plan…beneficiaries can choose from state-approved managed-care plans, all of which must furnish mandatory services outlined by federal law. If beneficiaries do not choose a plan, they will be enrolled in one chosen by the state.

Medicaid beneficiaries could opt out of Medicaid and use their vouchers to pay for employer-sponsored health plans. The program could eventually be extended statewide, but that would require the approval of Florida lawmakers and federal regulators. …
This year, outlays for Medicaid are expected to reach $16 billion, or 25% of the state budget, and Florida officials say the program's costs have been growing 13% a year on average for the last six years.

The fact of the matter is that Medicaid recipients are poorly served by the current system - while costs spiral out of control. If private health care insurance is good enough for middle-class Americans, why won’t it work for Medicaid patients? Shifting to a private plan should also make Medicaid patients more attractive to doctors who might’ve avoided them before. For instance, “[state Republican Anna Benson said] the new plan should provide for better access to general practitioners and specialists, many of whom now refuse to take Medicaid patients, and give better guidance to recipients on how to get and stay healthy.”

Debate over Medicaid reform won’t stop in Florida. But it’s a great place to start.

[permanent link]



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