Friday, December 9, 2016

On Call by Casey Ross
Good morning! Here's the latest news on hospitals and health care. For more, follow @statnews on Twitter or like us on Facebook.

New data: These Medicare drugs are costing taxpayers a pretty penny

American taxpayers and hospitals are at the mercy of unpredictable swings in drug prices. An increase for a single drug can — and often does — multiply costs by millions of dollars.

New data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services shows where the money went in 2015 for Medicare, and what medical problems are driving that spending. Price hikes for drugs to treat cancer, high blood pressure, and seizures all hit taxpayers hard — perhaps presenting a few targets for President-elect Trump in his pledge to take on drug prices.

Here are a few quick bullets:

  • Mitomycin, chemotherapy drug, 163 percent increase, to $58.07 per unit, total spending of $15.7 million
  • Cozaar, high blood pressure, 491 percent increase, to $3.22 per unit, total spending of $6.7 million
  • Epitol, used to prevent seizures, 451 percent increase, $0.52 cents per unit, total spending of $6.6 million

Read more.

Tackling teen pregnancy with this one question

In health care, asking a simple question can dramatically change outcomes. Here’s one being asked of teenage girls: “Would you like to become pregnant in the next year?”

In a First Opinion for STAT, Dr. Elise DeVore Berlan writes that a drop off in sex education, particularly in rural areas, is creating a disparity in teen pregnancy rates that must be addressed. At her hospital, Nationwide Children’s in Columbus Ohio, caregivers launched a novel solution.

Read more.

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Fresh take: Trump dominated the vote in states with the highest mortality rates

There’s no shortage of explanations for Donald Trump’s victory, but one possibility is that Trump voters viewed the election as a life-or-death matter.

Using 2014 data (the latest available) from the University of Pittsburgh’s Mortality and Population Data System, researchers found that Trump swept the 16 states with the highest mortality rates, while people in 15 of the 18 states with lowest mortality voted for Clinton.

Among the 16 states in this block that voted for Trump, Mississippi, West Virginia, Alabama and Kentucky had the worst mortality statistics, with more than 900 deaths per 100,000, reports STAT’s Bob Tedeschi. The states with the lowest mortality — Hawaii and California — had roughly 600 deaths per 100,000, and both voted heavily for Clinton. (A few states bucked the trend: the Dakotas have low mortality rates but voted for Trump in droves.)

"These data suggest that Trump voters were expressing dissatisfaction with real problems that included shorter lives and less healthy living conditions," said Dr. Donald S. Burke, dean of the University of Pittsburgh’s graduate school of public health.

Whether Trump’s health care policies will help change their fortunes for the better remains to be seen.

Just in: US health providers are failing to help people with complex needs

People with complex medical needs are not slipping through cracks in US health care. They are plunging through gaping holes.

That’s the conclusion of a new survey by Commonwealth Fund that examines the struggles of 1,805 people with chronic diseases, disabilities and other limitations. A few key findings:

Nearly half (47%) visited the emergency department (ED) multiple times in the past two years. Almost two-thirds (62%) experienced stress about their ability to afford housing, utilities, or nutritious meals. This compares to just 32% of people without high-needs.

A majority (59%) worried about being a burden to family and friends.

The Commonwealth Fund notes that 10 percent of the US population accounts for up to 65 percent of its medical costs. Today, it is teaming with four other organizations to launch a playbook to help care for them more effectively. It includes suggestions such as focusing on evidence-based medical interventions that produce results, not more empty costs; and better, more frequent communication that links patients to care in time to head off bigger problems.

“For health systems to improve outcomes and lower costs,” it concludes, “they must assess patients’ comprehensive needs, increase access to care, and improve how they communicate with patients.”


  • Former drug execs charged with bribing doctors to prescribe powerful opioid (STAT)
  • Georgia’s failed foray into interstate health insurance sales (Kaiser)
  • Immunotherapy’s success, in one woman, against a common cancer mutation (NY Times)
  • AHIP's memo to Trump on Medicaid: Tread carefully (FierceHealthcare)

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