Headlines: October 5, 2011
by Kyle Thomson
In legal news, the Supreme Court began its term on Monday by hearing an under- publicized case focusing on healthcare. Healthcare providers in California have filed suit against the state, arguing that they should have the right to sue in federal court when a state cuts its reimbursement rates for treating those on Medicaid, challenging a California law that reduced repayment rates by up to 10 percent. Both the state and federal government argue, instead, that the Department of Health and Human Services should determine whether the rate changes are appropriate or not. While a decision by the Court will ultimately only affect whether a federal court can hear private challenges to changes in reimbursement rates, it could have far-reaching affects for other states looking for follow California’s lead to reduce costs in a shaky economy.
In a report to Congress yesterday, investigators from the Government Accountability Office identified prescription drug abuse as a major problem in Medicare. Some 170,000 enrollees of Medicare Part D went “doctor shopping,” visiting 5 or more doctors, in order to obtain perscripions for powerful pain killers such as OxyCotin and Percocet. In all, the doctor shopping cost the government nearly $150 million in 2008 and could become a focus for government attempts to combat Medicare fraud in an effort to save money. The GAO recommended that Medicare recipients should be limited to one doctor and one pharmacist, a suggestion that was met by trepidation by Medicare officials who worry about jeopardizing patients’ access to care.
In research news, a new study cites an increase in mouth and throat cancers from HPV. The same strain of the HPV virus that causes many cases of cervical cancer, HPV Type 16, was found in 72 percent of certain types of throat cancer. Researchers have attributed the trend to increases in oral sex, particularly in younger generations who think it is safer than intercourse. Increases in throat cancer are more prevalent in men, although this difference has not been explained. The discovery has led researchers to question whether the currently available vaccines for HPV Type 16, Gardasil and Cervarix, should be recommended for men as well as women, but there are currently no plans to test the vaccines for that purpose. Currently HPV vaccines are only recommended for women under 25.