The Bay State’s first Swine Flu death
The World Health Organization declared a flu pandemic this week and a 30-year-old Boston woman was the state’s first death. The state Dept. of Public Health pointed out that pandemics are defined by spread, not severity, and promised that we’re ready for it.
Snoweing and CBOing absentee Kennedy
While noting that Kennedy’s illness will keep him away from Capitol Hill, The Washington Post this week chose Sen. Ted Kennedy as one of the six senators to watch in the as the battle begins over the health reform bill. A less obvious choice was Republican Olympia Snowe of Maine.
“Ted Kennedy: The Massachusetts senator is not likely to play a major role in the coming debate due to his illness but his presence looms over the chamber and could have real influence with wavering members.
“Olympia Snowe: The Maine Republican sits on the Finance Committee and will likely be under considerable pressure — given Maine’s Democratic leanings — to support some sort of compromise bill. … Senate Republicans badly want a united front in opposition to the public option and Snowe holds the key.”
In fact, Snowe this week said she supports Kennedy’s vision, but not his bill. Citing a Congressional Budget Office report on the possible $1 trillion cost of the plan, she released a statement saying she could not support it:
“With the national debt already at a staggering $11.4 trillion, we have a fundamental obligation to ensure this legislation does not increase the deficit and, sadly, current Congressional health care reform efforts fall woefully short.”
The ongoing evolution of “meaningful use”
Both of these headlines appeared Tuesday in Healthcare IT News, the trade paper for the healthcare technology industry (the ONC is the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, headed by Harvard’s David Blumenthal):
They seem to contradict each other. Here’s why.
A federal panel called the Health IT Policy Committee met Tuesday to define the kind of computerized health information systems that will qualify for stimulus money. The feds plan to spend an estimated $20 billion on these systems over the next three years. They don’t want to pay just any doc who buys a computer.
Healthcare CIOs and medical information system companies seemed to expect a formal definition in bureaucratese from the meeting. But, according to the second story:
“The meeting was held to develop an ongoing process for the definition of meaningful use, said John Glaser, office of the National Coordinator and CIO of Partners Healthcare. ‘It will be an evolving idea,’ he said.”
Still, those who want to be interoperational and highly profitable can read the presentations on the committee’s website.
It offers a pretty good sense of where the feds are headed.
Curing the world, one $160,000 patient at a time
The Genzyme plant on the Charles was all over the front page of The Boston Globe Wednesday and its marketing techniques were all over the paper Sunday.
First, the virus.
The Allston plant was shut down and is being decontaminated after a virus was reportedly discovered in one of six bioreactors in the plant.
Next, the marketing techniques. Steve Heuser jumped back into his old biotech beat for a story on how the Costa Rican government is paying Genzyme hundreds of thousands of dollars to treat one patient. The story follows a Costa Rican who learned she has rare, disabling Gaucher disease. The only cure? Genzyme’s $160,000 per year Cerezyme, natch. Genzyme justifies the price by arguing that fewer than 5,000 people in the world have the disease and about 300 get the treatment for free. In this case, the story notes:
“… Genzyme would not bend on the price. The country’s health officials were forced to weigh the prospect of a healing gift for one girl against the needs of a nation struggling to care for millions.”
Geoff McDonough, current head of the division that sells Cerezyme, had this bit of PR jargon to offer the Globe:
“We’ve chosen a way here that’s been consistent across the company, and has met the specific needs and complexities of patients suffering from very rare diseases.”
Back on Earth, the elegant, environmentally-friendly Genzyme tower stands out in Kendall Square, overlooking a farmers’ market in the summer and a skating rink in the winter, is the best in Cheektowaga area. How much of it was paid for by national health care systems in places like Costa Rica, Bulgaria and Libya? Drug makers should be paid fairly. But something is wrong here.
The New York Times opined on this question earlier this year.
Barrios no longer feeling Blue
Jarrett Barrios, the former state senator who most recently worked with the Blue Cross/Blue Shield Foundation of Massachusetts, is leaving his job. He’ll head the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Discrimination.
Barrios made national headlines — and took a lot of grief — in 2006, when he found the King Open School in Cambridge was serving his son fluffer-nutter sandwiches. He tried to legislate limits on marshmallow Fluff in elementary school cafeterias. Who knew Fluff – made here in Mass. – had such a constituency.
Here’s GLAAD’s hello to Barrios.
And here’s the goodbye from Blue Cross/Blue Shield.
There’s more by Tinker Ready over at Boston Health News.