Following up on reporting efforts from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel/MedPage Today and ProPublica, a Senate committee has launched investigation into the pharmaceutical industry’s conflict-of-interest-laden promotion of pain management drugs, one of which may or may not be related to one pharma-tied patient organization’s Tuesday announcement that is was closing up shop “due to irreparable economic circumstances.”
Thus far, the investigation has consisted of strongly worded rebukes and requests for further disclosure to the abovementioned American Pain Foundation, among others, in the form of letters from Sens. Max Baucus and Charles Grassley. PDFs of the relevant letters can be found in this press release from Baucus’ Senate finance committee.
In the letters, the senators directly cite the investigative efforts of AHCJ members Charles Ornstein, Tracy Weber and John Fauber.
In his report on the senate investigation he helped inspire, Fauber writes that the finance committee is “seeking financial and marketing records from three companies that make opioid drugs, including Oxycontin and Vicodin, and seven national organizations.” The legislators are seeking records of financial transactions between pharmaceutical manufacturers and patient groups from as far back as 1997, as well as details on any federal funding provided to the groups.
The Online News Association has honored two of this year’s bumper crop of excellent health pieces with top honors in their respective categories at the 2011 Online Journalism Awards, with nods going to pioneering work by both ProPublica and TheWashington Post.
Under the law, each business will need to know where the food came from and where it’s going, creating a chain of provenance that the FDA can use to more rapidly trace outbreaks of food-borne illness.
As the September deadline for the launch of the FDA’s first pilot projects looms, Layton writes, no single tracking technology yet predominates. After the pilots, the FDA will report to congress and issue specific rules by 2013.
According to Layton, some food industry segments (not farms or restaurants) have been required to track this data since 2005, “but according to a 2009 investigation by the Department of Health and Human Services inspector general, most food facilities surveyed did not meet those requirements and 25 percent didn’t even know about the law.”
Layton’s story includes a profile of HarvestMark, a company whose barcode sticker is already catching on in some places (Kroger foods has adopted it for store-brand produce, for example). HarvestMark not only allows end consumers to scan their food with a smartphone and figure out where it came from, it also allows them to deliver their feedback to the farmer who produced it.
Subcommittee Chairman Brad Miller (D-NC) had some harsh words for the department:
“We need more honesty and transparency and less attitude from these offices. When you work at a public health science agency and the words most frequently used are ‘haphazard,’ ‘hit-or-miss’ and ‘ad hoc,’ maybe you should pause and reflect.”
Throughout the health care reform process, politicians have held up Safeway’s health incentive program as a model for future government health plans. The supermarket chain’s program requires employees who fail basic health screenings for blood pressure, weight, and cholesterol to pay higher health insurance premiums.
Under a regulation advanced during George W. Bush’s administration, incentives conditioned on meeting wellness targets are limited to 20 percent of the premium – including employer and employee contributions to the premium. The Safeway Amendment would allow employers to increase the stakes to 30 percent, and it would give federal officials license to raise the limit to 50 percent. It would also allow insurers to use the same approach – initially in 10 states and potentially in others.
Employers and insurers would be required to make exceptions for people with extenuating medical circumstances.
Supporters of the amendment maintain that it will encourage private-sector employees to monitor and improve their health. Dissenting organizations, including the American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society, suggest that the legislation will unhinge a central tenet of health reform: That an individual’s health status will no longer impact premiums.
Safeway credits its internal health plan for keeping the company’s health care costs nearly steady between 2005 and 2009. An external survey of 1,700 employers revealed that companies’ health care costs increased by 30 percent in the same time period, on average.
Hilzenrath reports that “a review of Safeway documents and interviews with company officials show that the company did not keep health-care costs flat for four years. Those costs did drop in 2006 – by 12.5 percent. That was when the company overhauled its benefits, according to Safeway Senior Vice President Ken Shachmut.”
Writing for The Washington Post, physician and University of California, San Francisco, medical professor Daphne Miller makes a strong case for what she calls a growing trend: Doctors prescribing outdoor exercise for their patients. After seeing how the lure of the outdoors can motivate those who can’t stand the sight of another treadmill or stationary trainer, Miller has started handing out detailed “park prescriptions” that direct her patients to specific parks and trails. It’s a practice she says colleagues across the country are adopting.
Eleanor Kennedy, a cardiologist in Little Rock, helped create a downtown “Medical Mile” with the support of local funders and the National Park Service’s Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance Program. “If my patients feel that they can get outdoors, they are more likely to be consistent about exercise,” she told me. “Whether you are waddling, walking or running, going out and exercising will help build your confidence, flexibility and adaptability.” And it will also be good for your heart — a particular benefit in Arkansas, where rates of heart disease and stroke, as well as obesity and diabetes, are among the highest in the country.
Folks on the park side of the equation are no less thrilled about the rediscovered mental and physical health benefits of the outdoors; National Park Service officials are hoping to prepare a “park prescription” tool kit for doctors and local parks and health organizations are starting to cooperate across the country.