Swine Flu news roundups
The Swine Flu story is changing so fast, what I tell you this morning will be dated by lunch.
I worry that the story is being overplayed.
But it’s like trying to judge coverage of a pending hurricane: It’s going to be bad, but no one really knows how bad until it blows through.
Here’s a new bit of pandemic jargon: Social distancing. That means closing down schools and workplaces. For a better sense of if and when that might happen here, consult the Centers for Disease Control’s “pandemic severity index.” Set up in 2007, the guidelines set out which public health measures should kick in as a virus spreads. The current CDC guidance to state health departments is based on it.
All eyes off health reform
While the health news has been all swine flu, all the time, the Senate Committee on Health, Education and Labor held a hearing Tuesday on state health reform programs. (The actual title in wordy bureaucratese: “Learning from the States: Individual State Experiences with Health Care Reform Coverage Initiatives in the Context of National Reform“).
Jon Kingsdale, head of the Mass Connector, was there to start the show, followed by Susan Besio, director of the Office of Vermont Health Access. Eileen McAnneny, of the Associated Industries of Massachusetts, spoke too.
According to his written testimony (PDF), Kingsdale told the panel:
“Perhaps the most important lesson from Massachusetts’ effort to achieve near‐universal health insurance is to demonstrate that it can be done, here in the United States.”
McAnneny spoke highly of the plan, but complained about the pay-or-play provisions. Both Bay Staters agreed on one thing: It’s starting to cost more than the state can afford.
Here’s a related Globe story on the continuing rise in emergency department visits:
“Massachusetts officials yesterday cautioned against drawing conclusions about whether the state’s new insurance mandate has failed to ease overuse of the emergency room, saying more years of data are needed to measure the law’s impact. But the numbers may provide an early view of how difficult it will be to meet the high expectations for the law.”
In other health reform news, the Politico website reported Tuesday on a Senate Finance Committee report which spelled out plans for a federal panel to guide the use of comparative effectiveness research.
“In what appeared to be an attempt to blunt criticism that the board would influence medical care, the Finance Committee document states that the research body should be ‘prohibited from issuing medical practice recommendations or from making reimbursement or coverage decisions or recommendations.'”
The committee was scheduled to discuss the document this week during one of three closed meetings on the planned health reform bill.
For more on what’s going on in DC, Kaiser Health News posts a regular, thorough “Health on the Hill” audio segment.
WBUR Quality of Death series
A grief counselor once told me, “We’re a death-denying society.” We shouldn’t be. That’s why I was happy to catch a couple of the segments of WBUR’s series on end-of-life care:
“In this documentary (Rachel) Gotbaum follows several patients in their last months as they confront some of the most difficult decisions of their lives — whether they should pursue aggressive and sometimes painful medical treatments that may extend survival or focus on how to maintain the best quality of life in their final months. She reports on how trends in the American healthcare system influence their decisions and she talks with family members who are often the ones pushing for aggressive treatments.”
My late father spent the last three days of his life deliriously moaning and thrashing about in the hideous state of what is called “terminal agitation.” The hospice nurse wanted to give him stronger meds, but told us the nursing home wouldn’t allow it. The nursing home chaplain looked up at me at one point as we tried to calm him and said “We have failed you.” She was right. So I’m all for improving on the end-of-life care.
Help for Mass vets with head injuries
And they need it. Several studies have found that about 20 percent of soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from a traumatic brain injury. Welcome to IED — improvised explosive devices — warfare.
The Head Injury Program of the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission this week won a $1 million HHS federal grant to improve services to Latinos and veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan:
“In recent years, the Commonwealth has made specialized efforts to reach affected veterans, but challenges still remain in identifying returning veterans who have suffered a traumatic brain injury — particularly women and veterans of color. Strategies are expected to include the development of posters and materials that raise awareness of TBI among returning veterans and stronger collaborations with diverse houses of worship, veterans’ centers, shelters, libraries and schools.”
The state press release also includes this disturbing factoid:
“The number of Massachusetts Latino residents who have suffered a brain injury has more than doubled since 1996, and the population has the highest incidence of TBI of all communities of color.”
Local hospitals and researchers will have more new toys to play with — thanks to the NIH piece of the stimulus package. The National Institutes of Health paid out nearly $11 million in grants this week.
The joint announcement from Sen. Kennedy and Sen. John Kerry office came with a double dose of rhetoric:
Kennedy: “These federal funds will allow our outstanding Massachusetts institutions to continue their cutting-edge research in health care that has done so much to improve the quality of life for people in our Commonwealth, our country, and throughout the world.”
Kerry: “The investments pouring into our medical facilities will save lives, empower Massachusetts to continue making medical technological advances, and keep jobs right here.”
The winners include Children’s Hospital Boston, which got $2 million for a “Scanner for Small Animal Imaging Research” and Boston University med school, which won $2 million to buy a molecular imaging MRI. The big winner was Mass General, which won 3 grants totaling $3.5 million, including one that will pay for the neuroimaging of acupuncture’s effect on brain activity. As someone who gets the needles once a month, I’m all for that too. I would love to know more about the science of chi.
There’s more by Tinker Ready over at Boston Health News.