Thursday, February 16, 2017

On Call by Casey Ross & Max Blau
Good morning! We're here to catch you up on the latest news affecting hospitals and health care. For more coverage, follow us at @statnews@bycaseyross, and @maxblau on Twitter; or like us on Facebook.

Coming today: A confirmation hearing for Trump’s CMS pick 

The Senate Finance Committee today will hold a hearing on Seema Verma, President Donald Trump’s pick to run CMS. As a consultant, Verma worked with several Republican governors to reform Medicaid, in some cases requiring users to pay premiums or get job training to maintain benefits.

She is considered a policy all-star in the GOP, but expect her to get grilled by Democrats who argue that her reforms, if implemented broadly, would impede access to care and ultimately drive up costs. Verma is also likely to face sharp questions about how she and private consulting clients benefited financially from the public policies she helped to implement.

Read a STAT First Opinion on Verma here.

With help from Al Gore, climate conference cancelled by CDC proceeds

In late December, CDC officials decided to scuttle a long-planned climate and health summit out of fear that the incoming administration would be unfriendly toward it. But once word got out about its cancellation, a group of policy experts and politicians, including former Vice President Al Gore, decided to put together an unofficial one-day version. The American Public Health Association’s Dr. Georges Benjamin, one of the meeting’s co-organizers, tells STAT’s Max Blau he hopes the event will show the public that global warming is an issue that is “not only an inconvenience, but one affecting their health.”

The conference, which starts at 9 a.m. today, can be live-streamed here.

Quick poll: What's your favorite medical mystery of 2016?

 Figure 1

A riddle: What do limes, radio frequency microchips, and Syrian sand flies have in common?

Answer: They are all contained in a new top 5 list of medical cases featured last year by Figure 1, a STAT partner that crowdsources solutions to medical problems faced by clinicians around the world.

The cases involve rare infections, rapid problem-solving by doctors and nurses (the heart sketch above was drawn to help a nurse with a complicated cardiac patient), and exceedingly bizarre patient behavior. One favorite is a patient whose X-ray showed a radio frequency identification chip embedded in his hand. The patient explained that he implanted the chip himself so he could swipe his hand to pay for things without pulling out his wallet.

Quick poll: What’s your favorite of the top 5 cases? Send your responses to and we’ll include the results in an upcoming edition.

Sponsor content by Redox

How patients will dictate the next wave of technology adoption in healthcare

Over the last decade healthcare has struggled to effectively adopt new technology. Thankfully, the constraints primarily responsible for this delayed adoption have been resolved. We are on the cusp of a revolution that promises to completely reimagine the way care is delivered and received. Join us as we outline the key developments that have made this evolution possible and what the future of technology adoption in healthcare will look like.

Today in STAT: Doctors still vary in opioid prescribing practices

Despite intense scrutiny of opioid painkillers, some doctors are still giving them out at much higher rates than their colleagues, resulting in wide disparities in prescribing practices across the US.

A new study of 14,000 doctors by the New England Journal of Medicine found significant variations in practice by physicians working in the same ER. It also found that patients treated by frequent prescribers were 30 percent more likely to become long-term opioid users. STAT’s David Armstrong reports that the disparity reflects a continued lack of consensus on opioids within the medical community.

Read more.

New research: Health care spending will account for 20 percent of GDP by 2025

A new report by CMS projects health care spending will rise to more than $5.5 trillion in 2025, accounting for nearly 20 percent of the nation’s economic output. That’s one sick country. The report projects that average annual health spending will rise at an average rate of 5.6 percent per year over the next decade, driven largely by increasing prices for medical services and an aging population.

Why does that matter? Because the additional money poured into health care could instead be spent on improving education, fixing roads and enhancing public safety. The report’s projections do not account for any future changes to Obamacare or other federal regulations that could impact spending in coming years.

The outcome of the effort to reform the Affordable Care Act remains uncertain. But what’s clear is that it’s going to take more than a few regulatory changes to achieve the bipartisan goal of making America's health care budget healthy again.


  • New Obamacare draft rule suggests Trump administration has bigger plans (Axios)
  • Massachusetts clinic accused of bribing Bermuda official in federal lawsuit (Boston Globe)
  • RFK Jr. says he expects Trump to move forward with vaccine panel (STAT)
  • Rare appearance of rat-related disease spurs investigation in the Bronx (New York Times)

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