Archive for September 16th, 2008

China’s Baby Formula Scandal

September 16th, 2008 | 1 Comment | Source: NY Times

In China two babies have died, 340 are hospitalized and more than 1,200 have been sickened by tainted milk powder.

China’s Ministry of Health confirmed that the formula was contaminated with melamine, the same substance that sickened thousands of US pets after they consumed tainted pet food imported from China last year. Melamine is normally used to make fertilizer and plastics. When added to food products, it falsely increases protein levels. Chinese regulators prohibited such uses of melamine in the aftermath of the pet food scandal.

The US does not import milk powder from China.

Chinese state media began reporting last March about an outbreak of problems possibly related to baby formula. Last week the Sanlu group, one of China’s largest dairy producers, admitted it was the source of the contaminated milk powder. It subsequently halted production and recalled the formula. Investigators think Sanlu may have known about the problem well before announcing its recall.

Li Changjiang, the Minister of the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, recently inspected large bags of tainted milk powder that had been confiscated by police. “It’s shocking,” Mr. Li said to China Daily. “It’s a crime against the people.”

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Medicare Not Taking Questions

September 16th, 2008 | No Comments | Source: Wall Street Journal, WSJ Health Blog

A frequently used toll-free help line for Medicare beneficiaries either gives out inaccurate information or no information at all, according to a report presented to the Senate Aging Committee.

The service in question is 1-800-Medicare. It is supposed to help beneficiaries find their way through the complex federal health insurance program.

Recently, Sen. Gordon Smith (D-Ore) had his staff place 500 test calls to the help line. Staff members found that the information they received was inadequate 90% of the time.  Callers to the toll free number are also plagued by wait times up to an hour and frequent dropped calls, according to the report.

1-800-Medicare will receive 30 million calls this year. It has been in operation for 10 years. Volume ramped up substantially in 2003 when Medicare’s Part D prescription drug plan went into effect.

CMS acting administrator Kerry Weems said Medicare will improve performance of the toll free service by upgrading training and improving the call center’s data bases. A senior officer at Vangent Inc., the contractor that operates the 1-800-Medicare call centers, pointed out that 85% of callers were actually satisfied with the program. He added that most real world callers had simpler issues than the ones posed by Smith’s staff.

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Stark Penalties

September 16th, 2008 | No Comments | Source: Kaiser Network

California Democrat Pete Stark has indicated he plans to introduce legislation that would hasten adoption of electronic health records in the US. The bill includes financial incentives for providers to adopt EHR technology and penalties for those who fail to comply after a grace period. The penalties are likely to take the form of docked Medicare payments, according to Congressional Quarterly Today.

Stark is the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee. Congress has approved two similar bills, but they do not impose penalties on non-compliant providers. The first is a Senate bill (S 1693) introduced by Ed Kennedy (D-Mass) Chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. The second is a House bill (HR 6357) introduced by John Dingell (D-Mich), Chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee.

It is late in the current legislative session. This means any delays marking up Stark’s bill, shepherding it through Ways and Means, or combining it with the Dingell bill will jeopardize its chances of being passed this year.

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