Healthcare Wednesday

New data on health insurance denials help make the case for healthcare reform: 

Democrats expound on new Energy and Commerce memos in the next few weeks as they make one last push to sell healthcare reform before the midterm elections. The panel has been looking into insurance company policies concerning coverage denials and exclusions for pre-existing conditions, both of which are banned under the new law.

The key findings, according to the panel: 

· From 2007 through 2009, the four largest for-profit health insurance companies — Aetna, Humana, UnitedHealth Group and WellPoint — refused to issue health insurance coverage to more than 651,000 people based on their prior medical history. On average, the four companies denied coverage to one out of every seven applicants based on a pre-existing condition; 

· Over the same period, the number of people denied coverage by the four increased 49 percent (from 172,400 to 257,100) while applications only grew 16 percent;

· The four insurers refused to pay 212,800 claims for medical treatment due to pre-existing conditions during the 2007-2009 time period;

· Each company had business plans that relied on using pre-existing conditions to limit the amount of money paid for medical claims. Internal corporate documents show that insurance company executives were considering practices such as tighter underwriting guidelines, lengthening the look-back period, assessing separate deductibles specifically for identified pre-existing conditions, denying payments for prescription drugs related to pre-existing conditions, linking additional claims to pre-existing conditions exclusions, and narrowing the definition of prior creditable insurance coverage.

The panel also investigated maternity coverage and found that "women who are pregnant, expectant fathers, and families attempting to adopt children are generally unable to obtain health insurance in the individual market."

HHS discusses children's coverage: Jay Angoff, director of HHS’s Office of Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight, holds a press conference call this morning to discuss efforts by HHS and states to improve access to health coverage for children with pre-existing conditions. The call comes as House Republicans are clamoring for more information about some insurers' decision to stop issuing new child-only policies now that the healthcare reform law prohibits them from turning down children with pre-existing conditions.

CDC chief talks global health: Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, will talk about the importance of evidence-based global health today at the Stimson Center.

Could this explain why seniors aren't embracing healthcare reform? Most seniors enrolled in Medicare's prescription drug benefit don't know that the new healthcare reform law closes Part D's coverage gap, according to poll results released Tuesday. The findings are bad news for Democrats, who are hoping that seniors — among the most reliable voters in midterm elections — will flock to the polls next month in support of the party who backed the new benefits.

Florida docs' group endorses Rick Scott: The Florida Medical Association has endorsed Republican Rick Scott to be the next governor of Florida, arguing that he'll best address the state's tough medical liability environment because he's "not afraid of taking on personal injury lawyers and shaking up the status quo in order to get things done for the people of Florida." Scott, a healthcare entrepreneur, was CEO was forced out by the board of Columbia/HCA 1997 amid a federal investigation that led to the company paying a record $1.7 billion to settle criminal charges. He was never charged with a crime.

Caution urged in revamping medical device approval process: A bipartisan group of 12 Energy and Commerce members wrote Tuesday to Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Margaret Hamburg urging caution as the agency revamps the approval process for medical devices.

Healthcare manufacturers support middle-men: A group of small medical device manufacturers, pharmaceutical companies and distributors sent a letter to Senate Finance leaders on Tuesday stressing the importance of Group Purchasing Organizations. Ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) in particular has questioned the effectiveness of the middle-men in keeping healthcare costs down, but the letter's signers say the GPOs have helped get their products to market.

Obama asked to send letters of condolence for military suicides: Pressure is growing for the White House to reverse the military policy that prohibits the president from sending condolence letters to family members of military personnel who have committed suicide. The American Psychiatric Association on Tuesday joined Mental Health America and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention in asking for a reversal of the policy. These last two are gathering signatures on petitions in an attempt to overturn the policy.

Wireless innovation challenge launched for veterans' health: The West Wireless Health Institute, in collaboration with the Veterans Affairs Innovation Initiative (VAi2), has issued a $10,000 challenge to innovators to connect patients with their Veterans Health Care provider.

Climate change wrecking public health: How are climate change and energy scarcity impacting health care systems in countries around the world? Dramatically, the Post Carbon Institute says in a new report.

Patient safety data made available: Comparative data on patient safety and hospital quality are available online for the first time thanks to the The Commonwealth Fund’s The new measures, developed by HHS' Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, are available from data submitted by hospitals in nine states: Arizona, Florida, New York, Illinois, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Texas, Vermont and Washington.