|Selected news articles which highlight important policy issues.||
News: Weekly Archives
News for the week of 12-29-2005
Senate passes pandemic bill to help developing countries
While the U.S. and other developed countries are generally well equipped to monitor disease outbreaks within national borders, the same isn’t true for much of the globe, where public health facilities are much less sophisticated and well funded. This could turn out to be a critical weakness in an age of globalization, when jet travel means that diseases can cross continents and oceans in the space of few hours. Thankfully, Congress is moving forward with funding designed to improve global disease surveillance networks.
The Senate passed a bill last week that would boost international capabilities to detect and monitor potential bioterrorism threats or pandemic disease outbreaks, such as avian flu.
The Global Pathogen Surveillance Act of 2005 states that the United States should work to increase data sharing with the World Health Organization, regional health organizations and individual countries to help detect and quickly contain infectious disease outbreaks or a bioterrorism agent.
The bill is backed by Senate Majority leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), a physician; Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; and Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.). It urges the development of a global disease surveillance systems because the “United States lacks an effective and real-time system to detect, identify, contain and respond to global threats and also lacks an effective mechanism to disseminate information to the national response community if such threats arise.” …
The bill states that the United States should provide assistance to developing countries to acquire computer equipment, Internet technology and telephone-based applications to bridge the technology gap. Useful tools include geographic information system-based disease and syndrome surveillance systems.
Despite all of the attention focused on mass production of Tamiflu, Relenza and other potential treatments for avian flu, our best chance for warding off disease epidemics probably lies with being able to identify, quarantine, and treat disease outbreaks when they remain small, and placed well beyond our borders. The Senate’s bill is a good first step in this direction.
California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has had a bruising last few months, including the defeat of four initiatives he backed in California’s November special elections. In response, the governor has decided to “move to the middle,” including sending a letter to Democrat and Republican leadership in Congress supporting drug importation.
Schwarzenegger over the past two years has vetoed several bills that would have made it easier for Californians to obtain prescriptions from foreign suppliers, saying that he believed the legislation violated federal law.
But in his letter, dated today and addressed to Republican and Democratic leaders in both houses of Congress, Schwarzenegger said federal action is now necessary because the Bush administration has not been successful in bringing down the cost of prescriptions.
Drug prices "continue to escalate, and there is no evidence that the federal government has been able to bring more equity to the global pharmaceutical marketplace," Schwarzenegger wrote. "The Congress must act to allow Americans to import safe prescription drugs."
The governor's staff released the letter in advance of Thursday's State of the State speech, in which he is expected to reiterate his call for more affordable prescriptions.
National importation—as opposed to personal importation—isn’t likely to save much money, if any, because of the administrative bureaucracy that would be required to ensure imported drugs are legitimate and safe. In the meantime, whether nor not importation ever passes in Congress, California’s 6.5 million uninsured will remain uninsured, which is really the root of the problem. Making private health insurance less expensive through deregulation and expanded access to Health Savings Accounts should be part of the governors agenda if he is serious about helping the uninsured.
Reaction to new Medicare drug plan mixed
The new Medicare drug benefit went into effect on January 1, and the initial results seem promising—especially considering the enormous amount of bad press the benefit garnered in the weeks and months running up to it.
Some patients using Medicare’s new drug benefit reported difficulties Tuesday in filling prescriptions, though the government and some large pharmacies and nursing homes said the program was off to a good start. …
Bruce Roberts, CEO of the National Community Pharmacists Association, said that pharmacies often had trouble determining on Sunday and Monday whether their dual-eligible customers were enrolled in the new program. However, the problem was easing Tuesday.
“We knew it was going to be difficult,” Roberts said. “But people are getting their medicine, and that is the bottom line. It will take a couple weeks to work out the kinks.”
Mark McClellan, administrator of the federal agency overseeing the new benefit, said a late surge in enrollment made it difficult to process all applications before Jan. 1. The surge led to delays when pharmacists and nursing homes tried to determine billing information. However, by Tuesday afternoon, computers were processing 10,000 eligibility queries an hour.
“There clearly have been some bumps, especially yesterday when some pharmacists had delays in accessing the electronic information systems we set up,” said McClellan, head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. “Today, we’re not seeing any of those delays.”
Delays and glitches are to be expected when the largest new federal entitlement program in forty years goes into effect. Some of the criticisms will undoubtedly be well founded. But, in the meantime, seniors are finding some pleasant surprises and performance will improve as everyone becomes more familiar and more comfortable with the system.
|home spotlight commentary research events news about contact links archives|