Headlines: February 22, 2010
by Meg Larkin
President Obama will propose on Monday a new federal power to regulate insurance rates. This comes in the wake of large premium increases by a number of insurers including California’s Anthem plan, which raised rates by up to 39 percent last week. The power to “block excessive rate increases,” is expected to be included as a part of the President’s health care proposal that will be the centerpiece of Thursday’s televised meeting between Democrats and Republicans on the subject of health reform.
Rising Medicare Advantage premiums are further compounding America’s insurance woes. According to the Boston Globe, “Premiums for Medicare Advantage plans offering medical and prescription drug coverage jumped 14.2 percent on average in 2010,” more than doubling last year’s increase. Medicare Advantage plan rates increased after a cut in payment to private plans last year. However, President Obama asserts that the government is actually overpaying the plans by about 13 percent. The Globe points out that, “Nonpartisan technical advisers to Congress say Medicare Advantage plans are being overpaid because of a flawed formula.”
Because of a backlog of applications at the F.D.A., generic drugs are facing long waits for approval by the Agency. As of last year, the average approval time for a generic drug was 26.7 months. F.D.A. Commissioner Dr. Margaret A. Hamburg has called the long wait times a “real problem,” and suggested that generic manufacturers pay an application fee in order to better fund the speedy review of their applications. The application fee program is already used for brand name pharmaceuticals and has been met with success there. Generic manufacturers have expressed a willingness to pay application fees as long as it actually speeds up agency action on their applications.
New research suggests that antiretroviral therapies (ARTs) may be able to be used as a prophylactic to slow or prevent AIDS transmission. The drugs, which revolutionized AIDS treatment, lower a patient’s viral load, making transmission to an uninfected partner 92 percent less likely. The drugs are already used to reduce the risk of transmission in babies born to AIDS infected mothers, and the new research suggests that beginning ARTs earlier for AIDS carriers could reduce the rate at which the virus spreads. The research on ARTs is also spurring interest in a vaginal microbicide that could be applied privately by women without their partner’s knowledge, and which would kill the AIDS virus.
Finally, a new CDC study has found that the use of high-tech diagnostic imaging in emergency rooms has quadrupled since the mid-1990s. The findings have raised concerns about both the cost of the technologies and the higher doses of radiation that they expose patients to. There is no clear evidence that the increased use of imaging technology is decreasing patient death rates, and some are worried that the added radiation may cause cancer rates to jump in the future.
Meg Larkin is a second year law student at Boston University. Please feel free to email her with any questions, comments, suggestions, or concerns.