Lingering Swine Flu
Swine Flu continues to spread, but with few serious cases. Everyone seems less afraid. But at some schools, kids are staying home. A few schools with a lot of absent students closed this week, including Boston Latin.
My son brought home a letter from school Tuesday informing me that a handful of kids in the Cambridge system have the flu. (Cambridge — but not Boston — is in Middlesex County, home to half of the confirmed H1N1 cases in the state.) Might be Swine Flu; it might not, the letter said. Doctors have stopped testing in most cases. Still, per state order, anyone with flu symptoms was asked to stay home for seven days.
By Thursday, the city had confirmed six cases in Cambridge, including three elementary school students. Find the state’s updates here.
Thursday’s count was 193 cases, 15 hospitalized and no dead. More than half of cases are in kids under the age of 16.
And, with each flu update, the state reminds us:
“Flu outbreaks evolve in unpredictable ways; it is impossible to know whether this outbreak will decrease, remain the same, or grow in coming weeks, and whether the illness will remain at its current severity which, on the whole has been relatively mild.”
A clear eye on Washington
The Globe still has a Washington bureau and reporter Lisa Wangsness has been busy covering Congressional action on health reform. She reported Thursday that Obama probably won’t be able to deliver on his campaign promise to cut premiums by $2,500. Instead — like Medicare “cuts” — reform may limit growth, not lower costs. But, there’s a but…:
“There is, actually, a way Obama and Democratic leaders could chop premium costs very quickly: They could create a public insurance plan that would force doctors and hospitals to accept far less than they get now from private insurers. … But the will among Democrats in Congress to take such an extreme step appears low.”
Her Saturday story also mentioned the public insurance plan as deal-breaker.
A public plan is dear to the hearts of many liberals, including U.S. Senator Edward Kennedy, chairman of the health committee. But conservatives and some moderates regard it as anathema because it could sink the insurance industry. Wangsness reported Wednesday on the policy options before the Senate committee looking at reform, including a few ideas that might not work in the state’s favor.
Longwood expands and contracts
The contraction of National Institutes of Health funding is forcing Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center to shut down some lab space, according to hospital reps quoted in Thursday’s Boston Globe:
“Hospital officials blame the projected loss on lower-than-expected NIH funding and a costly lease arrangement it made about five years ago at a new research building (the Center for Life Sciences tower) in the Longwood medical area.”
Everyone saw this coming. I wrote about the impact on NIH funding and local lab space two years ago for Nature Network Boston.
The Globe also reported that Brigham and Women’s Hospital plans to tear down an old brick mental health center on Fenwood Road and develop the site into a outpatient clinic, a mental health center and an apartment building. The paper describes it as one of last underdeveloped parcels in the Longwood Medical Area.
Fun with health information technology — an “Interoperetta”
The actual title is “HITECH: An Interoperetta in Three Acts.”
YouTube-savvy Maryland doctor Ross Martin gets barbershop trio-ish with acronyms and computer jargon. He also finds good rhymes for the names of Boston HIT heavies David Blumenthal and John Halamka, the CIO at BIDMC:
“Dr. Blumenthal, Won’t you give me a call
So I can work at the ONC (Office of the National Coordinator of HIT) …
We’ll work for Jon Halamka
As for lunch we’ll always comp ya.
Massachusetts Medicaid fraud: Two ways to rip off the poor
The Globe reported this week that a Brookline couple worth $2 million pleaded guilty to fraud and larceny charges after collecting Medicaid benefits for five family members. Joseph and Jila Youshaei reported $475 in income per week and Medicaid paid for the family’s medical bills from 1999 to 2005.
And, according to a Justice Department press release:
“The United States and 16 states have joined in two whistleblower suits filed in the District of Massachusetts against the drug manufacturer, Wyeth, alleging that the company knowingly failed to give the government the same discounts it provided to private purchasers of its drugs, as required by laws governing the Medicaid program.”
Don’t worry. Obama’s on it:
“Senior Obama administration officials launched a high-level task force yesterday to use technology to help detect and prevent health-care fraud, which robs the nation’s coffers of billions of dollars each year.”
Paul Farmer to D.C.?
Paul Farmer of Partners in Health might be headed to D.C., sources told the Globe:
“Farmer told faculty members at Harvard Medical School in a meeting on Monday that he is in discussions with the State Department, which this month proposed a surge in funding over the next six years for global programs to fight AIDS, tuberculosis, and tropical disease and to improve children’s health.”
Still no confirmation.
Women’s health heroes
“Our Bodies, Ourselves,” the feminist women’s health collective and publishers of the popular book series, announced its “2009 Womens’ Health Heroes … honoring the work of women’s health advocates worldwide.” Included are midwives and women advocating for safer, more comfortable births; founders of websites on chronic illness and teen sexuality; an activist against female genital mutilation; director of a LGBT health center; a public health nurse; a photographer; and many more.
Mass plan cost “modest”
A new analysis from policy wonks at the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation called the cost to taxpayers for the universal coverage program “relatively modest.”
Keep costs down and elders out of the ER
Liz Kowalczyk offered a Sunday Boston Globe story on the MGH effort to keep seniors out of the emergency room. The effort is designed to cut costs and improve care.
There’s more by Tinker Ready over at Boston Health News.