Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
October 31, 2014

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October 28, 2014

Medifast Teams Up With Fitbit

Weight loss company Medifast is flexing its muscles in the health and fitness community by forming a partnership with Fitbit, the company announced Tuesday.

Wearable devices that track fitness progress – such as the ones sold by Fitbit – have become increasingly popular in the health industry and many weight loss companies have rushed to integrate their products with new fitness technology.

Medifast, which provides a slate of weight-loss programs and products, announced they would be teaming up with Fitbit to create personalized, digital health dashboards for their customers that can synch up with several of Fitbit’s wearable devices. Users will be able to track their exercise, meals, water intake, sleep patterns and weight.

“Studies show that people who use journaling and tracking systems have far greater success with healthy weight management than those who do not,” said Medifast Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Mike MacDonald in a press release. “The combination of Medifast products and programs and wearable health management technology provides our customers with an even more comprehensive solution to wellness.”

Medifast joins a growing list of health companies that have combined forces with fitness trackers, including Weight Watchers and Nutrisystem. Meanwhile, Apple announced in September that it would be launching its own wearable fitness device, Apple Watch, to synch with its health data-sharing app, HealthKit.

Almost 20 percent of adults in the United States own a wearable fitness device, but that number is expected to grow – particularly among millennials – according to a PwC Consumer Intelligence Series report released this month.

October 27, 2014

Ebola Nurses on ’60 Minutes’ Put CDC in Spotlight

The topic of Ebola has dominated Sunday talk shows and appeared in prime time during last night’s episode of “60 Minutes,” once again putting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s capability to contain the outbreak in the national spotlight.

The feature segment examined the first U.S. Ebola case diagnosed at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas and the harrowing tale of the nurses who helped care for the patient, Thomas Eric Duncan.

One nurse said she was frightened, but determined to help — which meant everything from cleaning projectile vomit off the walls to simply comforting the patient since his family could not. “I didn’t allow fear to paralyze me. I got myself together. I’d done what I needed to get myself prepared mentally, emotionally, and physically, and went in there and did what I was supposed to,” she said.

Another nurse, with tears streaming down his own face, described wiping tears away from Duncan’s eyes in the final moments before he died.

The nurses largely defended their care for the patient — whom they described as kind and appreciative — and said they followed all the protocols they were given by the CDC, including wearing protective gear, which was initially suggested that left their necks exposed. Two of the nurses who cared for Duncan have since been diagnosed with, and overcome, Ebola.

The CDC has taken heat for not having sufficient guidelines in place by the time the first Ebola case came to the U.S. and putting health care workers at risk.  CQ Roll Call reporter Melissa Attias explains further:

“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the federal agency expected to restore order during public health crises, is on the defensive amid questions about whether it’s capable of performing its duties as a front-line agency.

Nearly everyone agrees that the Atlanta-based agency erred when it made blanket assurances that U.S. hospitals were capable of treating Ebola cases. But lofty expectations from the public may also be fueling the discontent, as well as misconceptions about the CDC’s role in responding to health threats.

Now officials are scrambling to regain the confidence of the public and health care workers as elevated fears about the often fatal virus play out in a highly partisan pre-election environment.

‘We got hit by something we never had to deal with so far in this way,’ said Scott Burris, professor and co-director of Temple University’s Center for Health Law, Policy and Practice. ‘I think we have had a myth of preparedness to some degree.’

Although officials haven’t pinpointed how the nurses got infected, much of the criticism has focused on whether proper personal protective gear and clear guidelines were in place for health care workers.”

By Melanie Zanona Posted at 6:43 p.m.
Uncategorized

October 24, 2014

Cell Phone Data Tracking Rules Hinders Ebola Tracking in West Africa

Amid ongoing controversy over privacy concerns and national security requirements over screening of cell phone data in the U.S., the Ebola crisis in Africa offers a different perspective on the issue. Public health researchers have found that cell phone data is useful in quickly tracking diseases and could be used to monitor the spread of Ebola virus.

This week’s edition of the Economist magazine reports that researchers were able to use cell phone call-data records after previous disease outbreaks to track the spread of the disease. However, real-time access to cell phone data is restricted by government privacy rules and paperwork – plus likely beleaguered West African government agencies. For now, the concept of tracking Ebola through cell phones is on hold but a United Nations telecommunications agency has added emergency access to cell phone data to its agenda for an upcoming meeting next month in South Korea.

 

 

October 22, 2014

EPA Waste Discharge Rule Targets Dentists

The Environmental Protection Agency periodically weighs in on health care provider regulatory matters, usually addressing pollution concerns about medical waste. Today, the environmental regulatory agency published proposed rules on discharges of mercury from dental offices.

Dentists use an amalgam for dental filings and the metal — mostly silver — is bonded together with mercury. The EPA notes that dentists are the main source of mercury discharges into water treatment facilities. The agency claims that mercury waste diffused into the environment is a global pollution problem. The proposed regulations require dentists to use amalgam separators, which separate the mercury for alternative disposal instead of rinsing excess amalgam into the local waste water treatment system.

 

 

 

By Paul Jenks Posted at 3 p.m.
Uncategorized

October 20, 2014

UN Ebola Response Trust Fund Struggles to Turn Pledges into Cash

The United Nations has set up a special trust fund to assist efforts to combat the spread of the Ebola virus in West Africa. However, the response from UN member nations has not overwhelmed the trust fund’s accountants. The UN announced the nearly $1 billion effort in September and Reuters reports that $365 million has been pledged to the fund. However, countries have not been quick to redeem pledges with immediate cash contributions. Colombia led the way with a $100,000 check. On Friday Australia deposited $8.7 million. Even if outstanding current pledges from Venezuela, Chile, Estonia, Finland, India, Kazakhstan, New Zealand, Norway and Romania are received before the end of the month, the fund will still substantially miss its initial $100 million October target.

 

 

 

By Paul Jenks Posted at 3:23 p.m.
Uncategorized

This Week: Another Committee Hearing on Ebola; Groups Examine Improvements to the Delivery of Health Care

Congressional committees are quickly mobilizing to examine the response effort to combat the spread of the Ebola virus. This week, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Friday takes its turn in quizzing federal health officials. A House panel started the push for hearings in a session last week. Meanwhile, the Aspen Institute today examines leadership of the effort to combat the Ebola virus in West Africa. On Tuesday, a foreign policy group conference call mulls the international implications of the pandemic in Africa. On Wednesday, the retiring House Democratic dean of health care topics, California Rep. Henry A. Waxman discusses national and global health care challenges in a Georgetown University lecture

Overhauling the Delivery of Care

A forum today examines current training and certification standards, best practices and challenges for community health workers. A video of the session will be posted after the discussion. Also, the Brookings Institution will broadcast a half-day forum examining the latest results of accountable care organizations (ACO) efforts to overhaul the delivery of health care. The ACO’s are empowered by the Affordable Care Act to change the method of care delivery with an eye toward reducing health care costs. Also this week, a Capitol Hill conference features prominent health group leaders addressing how hospitals and health systems can foster improvements in delivering health care services. Meanwhile, IBM hosts a conference this week in Arlington, Virginia exhibiting new approaches to delivering health and social programs and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce weighs in with a conference on Wednesday on how the private sector can drive improvements to the health care delivery system

 

October 17, 2014

Advocates and Chefs Judge Congress on Food Policy

Celebrity chefs might be more accustomed to judging food dishes, but on Thursday they teamed up with farm advocates and policy makers to offer their ratings on something people haven’t always found palatable – Congress.

“Top Chef” head judge Tom Colicchio and Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook – who spearhead the nonprofit organization Food Policy Action – released their third annual National Food Policy Scorecard, which grades lawmakers based on key food and farm bill votes determined by an advisory board. The event took place at Graffiato restaurant in Washington, D.C., where guests could nosh on pizza and other Italian-inspired bites from fellow “Top Chef” alum Mike Isabella.

“Most people don’t connect the dots between what you put on the table and what goes on in Washington,” Colicchio said.

tom 240x320 Advocates and Chefs Judge Congress on Food Policy

Members were judged on their support for a variety of bills and amendments, ranging from sustainable farming and food subsidizes to labeling requirements and safety regulations.

A total of 71 lawmakers from both the House and Senate received perfect scores. All of them were Democrats, with the exception of Independent Sen. Angus King of Maine and Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. One of the lowest rated Democrats was Collin C. Peterson of Minnesota, who is ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee and got a grade of 39 percent. Seven other Democrats received scores under 50 percent.

Meanwhile, 35 lawmakers – all Republicans – received scores of zero, which the group labels as “food policy failures.”  But not all from the GOP missed the mark. In addition to Murkowski’s perfect score, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine got a 75 percent rating, followed by Republican Rep. Christopher H. Smith of New Jersey with 61 percent.

fork 240x264 Advocates and Chefs Judge Congress on Food Policy

Colicchio noted that they had already received a range of positive and negative calls from lawmaker’s offices since releasing the scorecard on Capitol Hill that morning. “People are starting to take notice,” Colicchio said, adding “We’re not going away.”

October 16, 2014

Cocoa Companies Stir Up Plan to Fight Ebola

Everyone from chocolate companies to social media sites have lined up to help stop the deadly Ebola virus from spreading in West Africa and beyond.

On Wednesday, the World Cocoa Foundation announced at its annual meeting that it will donate $600,000 to support Ebola prevention and care efforts led by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and Caritas. The organization said the donations were collected from a variety of its members, including Nestle, Ghirardelli Chocolate and The Hershey Company.

“The spread of Ebola is a serious concern to WCF and our member companies, given our deep and longstanding support for the well-being of West African cocoa-growing communities,” said World Cocoa Foundation President Bill Guyton in a press release. “This member-led contribution reflects an ongoing strong commitment by our industry to health and humanitarian relief efforts during international crises.”

Although Ghana and Ivory Coast – two of the largest cocoa growers – have not yet experienced an Ebola outbreak, the press release notes that 70 percent of the world’s cocoa supply originates in West Africa, which means it could be severely impacted if the virus continues to spread.

Meanwhile, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announced yesterday that he and his wife would donate $25 million to the Centers for Disease Control Foundation, calling the Ebola epidemic a “critical turning point” in a Facebook post. Zuckerberg added that “grants like this directly help the frontline responders in their heroic work. We are hopeful this will help save lives and get this outbreak under control.”

Before the first case of Ebola was even diagnosed in the U.S., the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation pledged a whopping $50 million last month to combat the epidemic in West Africa, stepping up the pressure on other tech companies.

October 15, 2014

Telemedicine Has an Easier Pathway Outside the U.S.

Healthopolis last month highlighted a new report on varying state regulatory agency acceptance of the use of telemedicine, or remote access to health care services through telecommunications devices. The Economist magazine this week examines the varying range of acceptance of telemedicine around the world.

The report notes that the telemedicine concept, which was touted as far back as 1924, is still not completely accepted worldwide despite new electronic devices. The U.S. lags behind in acceptance due to varying state and federal restrictions, but European regulations are simpler and telemedicine increased in Israel after health authorities relaxed guidelines. However, evidence is limited on the cost-effectiveness of remotely offered health services and some physicians are reluctant to adopt the concept.

 

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October 14, 2014

Today and the Week Ahead: Medicaid Spending Report, Experimental Treatment Access and an Ebola Hearing

The quickly developing Ebola crisis is some lawmakers unwilling to wait for their official return from a recess break. A House subcommittee on Thursday will hold a rare recess period hearing in Washington, DC to question CDC Director Thomas Frieden and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease Director Anthony Fauci regarding federal efforts to stem the spread of the virus. Meanwhile, this morning international affairs experts in webcast conference will examine the impact of the Ebola crisis on international security.

Other health topics will try to compete with Ebola this week. This morning, the Kaiser Family Foundation and the National Association of Medicaid Directors will unveil a survey report on state Medicaid spending. Separately, the Aspen Institute holds a private briefing with National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins on the current state of cancer research.

Also, this week the Biotechnology Industry Organization hosts a summit of health organizations and biotechnology industry leaders to discuss patient and health advocacy and biotechnology issues. Later this week, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society on Thursday hosts a Capitol Hill briefing on efforts to expand access to experimental therapies that are currently within FDA-sponsored clinical trials.

October 10, 2014

HHS Yields to the States on Health Insurance Network Adequacy

Many health insurance exchange plans have managed to adjust to the requirements of the Affordable Care Act by limiting the network of health care providers available to insured consumers. The law requires networks to be adequate and include a sufficient number of providers but is not specific about details on an adequate network. Some consumers have complained that their plans have left off their networks the largest or most important hospitals or physician groups in their communities.

CQ HealthBeat’s (@CQHealthTweet) Rebecca Adams reported (subscription) Thursday that Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell, speaking at a Washington, D.C. press briefing (view C-SPAN video), said that she is waiting on state insurance officials to weigh in on network adequacy concerns before determining if any action is required by federal officials.

 

 

Global Ebola Worries: Congress Mulls Funding and the Pentagon Fears Ebola in the Western Hemisphere

The West African Ebola crisis escalated further this week into a global concern. At a World Bank conference on Thursday, CDC Director Thomas Friedenjoined by a panel of representatives from other Ebola impacted countries — stressed at the need to quickly invest in public health services.

Meanwhile, the recess-bound Congress is preparing for to return for a ‘lame-duck’ session next month, which will likely focus primarily on the Ebola crisis. Several lawmakers this week urged the addition of Ebola response funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Institutes of Health in a possible omnibus spending bill, which is due by Dec. 11. Lawmakers will also gauge the effectiveness of new procedures introduced this week to screen arriving airline passengers.

Additionally CQ HealthBeat’s (@CQHealthTweet) Rebecca Adams, at a Thursday media breakfast with HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell, recorded Burwell as saying: “we had one case and I think there may be other cases, and I think we have to recognize that as a nation.” Separately, Roll Call’s Hannah Hess reported that Congress’ in-house physician has readied an Ebola preparedness plan.

Meanwhile, House appropriators this week approved additional Defense Department funding transfers for the Pentagon’s Ebola relief mission in Africa. However, CQ Roll Call’s John Donnelly and Megan Scully reported (subscription) that Senate approval hinges on additional details on force protection plans.

Earlier this week, the Pentagon’s commander of the African relief effort discussed how the military units would interact with local health officials and Ebola patients. On Thursday, the commander for Western Hemisphere military operations noted that his “nightmare scenario” is an Ebola outbreak in Central America and Haiti.

Remark excerpt from U.S. Southern Command Chief, General John Kelly at a conference on Thursday:

The one thing you can bet, the five services of the U.S. military — Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard — will get it done and will be a large solution to this problem. Specifically in my part of the world, when the Ebola crisis first started maybe three weeks ago, a month ago, I told my staff, let’s pretend that it’s hit our AO, our area of responsibility. The two nightmare scenarios would be Central America and Haiti. And now we’re just watching what AFRICOM does, since they’re doing it, and their plan will be our plan.

But, again, it goes back to this interagency. You’d be surprised how little the U.S. military is actually tasked to do until the problem grows so big, no one else can do it, and then we get called in to do it. The interagency is certainly aware of the possibility of — and likelihood, frankly, of Ebola coming to the Western Hemisphere. But I think the best way to deal with it will be the way it’s being dealt with in Africa. And God forbid — and unfortunately, I think it will happen — when it does come to the hemisphere, we’ll just replicate that.

But there’s only so much bandwidth, if you will, of preventive medicine people and the like that — to go around, and they are totally involved in trying to deal with the problem in West Africa. If it broke into the Western Hemisphere, the countries we’re talking about have almost no ability to deal with it, particularly Haiti and the Central American republics, almost no ability to deal with it.

 

 

By Paul Jenks Posted at 8:30 a.m.
Uncategorized

October 6, 2014

The Week Ahead: Hill Briefings; NIH & FDA Officials Travel to Michigan

Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell on Thursday will respond to media questions on health topics at a press breakfast hosted by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the journal, Health Affairs. The health journal hosts a Tuesday briefing, which is open to the public, on specialty pharmaceuticals. Also, this week at the nearby National Harbor conference center in Maryland, the American Health Care Association and the National Center for Assisted Living holds its annual convention and exposition.

On Capitol Hill on Tuesday, the American Hospital Association and the Association of American Medical Colleges holds a briefing for congressional staff on the role of academic medical centers in developing improvements in patient care. On Wednesday, America’s Health Insurance Plans, the trade association of health insurance companies, hosts a congressional staff luncheon discussion on the development of new health care delivery and payment models.

Off the hill on Thursday, the Brookings Institution holds a webcast program on improving the connectivity of patient-provider communication in health through monitoring real-time data. The event follows the release last week of new FDA guidance on cybersecurity protection for medical devices.

Meanwhile, the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Tuesday holds a field hearing on a budding effort led by committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., to forge new legislation to improve the process of enticing and encouraging medical advances and new technologies. Panelists at the session IN Kalamazoo, Mich., include NIH Director Francis Collins and FDA medical device chief Jeffrey Shuren.

 

 

 

October 3, 2014

HHS Offers Revisions to ‘Safe Harbors’ From Health Payment Fraud Rules

The rules regarding federal payments to health care providers are chock full of complex formulas and restrictions. One element of health payment fraud rules focuses on preventing payment kickbacks. It is a felony to reward – or receive remuneration – in order to induce something that is reimbursed a federal health care program. However, not all health care activities that involve reimbursement of another party are nefarious or fraudulent and many can include arrangements that improve or increases beneficiary access and coordination of care, such as drug benefits, emergency medical transportation and co-payment waivers.

Today, the Department of Health and Human Services Inspector General published proposed revisions on allowed activities – termed ‘safe harbors’ – that will not trigger enforcement of anti-kickback and payment fraud laws.

 

October 1, 2014

FDA Unveils Draft Plans for Regulating Lab-Tests

The FDA has signaled its initial foray into regulating laboratory-developed tests, which are high-tech procedures used by an independent laboratory to test for high-risk diseases and offer a foray into the world of personalized medicine. Often the tests are marketed to the general public to examine genes and DNA to see if they indicate the presence of, or risk for developing, particular diseases or disorders, which then can be used to develop treatment plans.

The drug and device supervision agency on Tuesday, responding to some congressional pressure, announced draft guidance on a framework for regulating the tests, plus the process for a clinical laboratory to notify the FDA of a laboratory developed product. The documents are early drafts and official notices seeking public comments on the framework and notification guidance will be published on Friday.

 

 

 

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