Healthcare Monday

One week ahead of the midterm elections, the focus for health-policy observers is largely on battleground races and what a change of leadership could mean for healthcare. Still, Congress continues to move forward with its nitty-gritty work of oversight, including a flurry of recent activity by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), ranking member on the Finance Committee.

Payments to physicians questioned: Grassley, who is up for reelection this year, wrote to the Food and Drug Administration on Friday demanding to know whether the agency monitors medical device companies' payments to doctors who are involved in clinical studies of the companies' products, reports the Star Tribune. In his letter to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, Grassley raises concerns with a recent report that discovered that of 50 clinical investigators studying Medtronic products, "almost all ... received significant payments" from the company.

The new letter follows similar concerns Grassley has raised with Medtronic's payments to Stephen Ondra, who was appointed by President Obama as the senior policy advisor for health affairs at the Department of Veterans Affairs. In a letter to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki late last month, Grassley pointed out that Ondra had been the lead principal investigator or an active participant on six recent Medtronic-funded studies focusing on the spine.

Grassley followed up last week with letters to the VA and to Medtronic.

Separately, Grassley has been going after doctors who overprescribe mental-health drugs paid for by Medicare and Medicaid. The concerns were sparked by reports that doctors in Miami and Ohio wrote about 100,000 prescriptions each in just two years.

Pro-reform union gets out the vote: The AFL-CIO — one of the biggest proponents of healthcare reform legislation — is sending out 10 million pieces of mail during the final week of the 2010 midterm campaign.

Campaigning hard since the summer, the nation’s largest labor federation is now moving towards revving up its massive get-out-the-vote effort after working to persuade union members to vote for Democratic candidates this November. By the end of the week, the AFL-CIO will have sent out more than 28 million direct-mail pieces during the 2010 election cycle.

American Action Network launches new ads: The conservative American Action Network is launching new television and Internet ads in 12 battleground districts. While 10 of them focus on the lame-duck session (urging incumbent Democrats to vote for the extension of tax cuts for example), several take issue with incumbents' vote for healthcare reform.

"As the lame duck session approaches, Congress must realize that higher taxes, growing deficits, and a government takeover of healthcare will not help small businesses struggling to stay afloat or families trying to make ends meet," CEO Norm Coleman and President Rob Collins said in a statement. "These campaigns urge incumbents to reject the free-spending, big government policies that got us into this mess and support fiscally responsible center-right solutions during the lame duck."

The 10 Democrats being targeted:

• Rep. Charlie Wilson (Ohio);

• Rep. Mark Critz (Pa.);

• Rep. Steve Kagen (Wis.); 

• Rep. Ed Perlmutter (Col.);

• Rep. Joe Donnelly (Ind.):

• Rep. Martin Heinrich (N.M.);

• Rep. Kurt Schrader (Ore.);

• Rep. Chris Murphy (Conn.);

• Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (S.D.);

• Rep. Tom Perriello (Va.)

The American Action Network is also running ads in the districts of Rep. Alan Mollohan (W.Va.) and Rep. Marion Berry (Ark.), who are not running for reelection.

Planned Parenthood spells out strategy: The Planned Parenthood Action Fund explains in a press release what it's doing in "targeted, competitive races where women voters hold the key."

• Direct voter contact: Over the weekend, volunteers reached nearly 50,000 undecided women voters in select regions through live phone calls and door-to-door canvassing in key races across the country;

• Aggressive mail program: Multiple mail brochures to more than 1.4 million households will be sent between now and Election Day in specific areas;

• Active social media: More than 250,000 online supporters, primarily young women, are being rallied to get out the vote through Facebook, Twitter, e-mail, and text messaging alerts;

• Targeted TV ads: TV ads that appeal directly to women voters are airing in select markets with tight races. The commercials will run on cable channels that are popular with women viewers, including CNN, Lifetime, MTV, TLC, VH1, MSNBC, HGTV and Food Network. 

• Financial support: More than $320,400 has been contributed to pro-women’s health candidates in the 2009–2010 cycle by the the Planned Parenthood Action Fund PAC. The PAC gave contributions to 101 candidates, with more than three quarters (79%) of the contributions going to candidates in competitive races. In total, the Planned Parenthood Action Fund will spend $2.2 million helping elect pro-women’s health candidates in the midterm elections. 

Cell phones bad for the heart? There was already some evidence linking cell phones' microwave radiations to brain tumors, but new research published this weekend in the European Journal of Oncology suggests they could increase heart rates as well. Cordless phones, which transmit a similar pulsed signal as Wi-Fi networks at 2.4 Gigahertz, have been shown to almost double heart rates in some cases according to a double-blind, peer reviewed study.

New boss for pharmacy group: The National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA) on Sunday announced the appointment of Kathleen Jaeger as Executive Vice President and CEO. NCPA President Joseph Harmison made the announcement during his address to NCPA’s 112th Annual Convention and Trade Exposition.

ACOs are FUN: Someone made a video of the benefits of Accountable Care Organizations. Seriously: