Health

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Specialty Hospitals Get A Favorable Vote

Feb 23, 2012

The House Health and Human Services Committee has sent an amended bill allowing not just Cancer Specialty Hospitals but all specialty hospitals to bypass the Certificate of Need process. All other hospitals in the state must go in front of the CON board to gain approval for new or expanded services.

Rep. Lynn Blakenbeker, Republican of Concord, voted in favor of the bill.

"We as a state should be encouraging businesses all kinds to come into the state especially when it comes to specialty healthcare treatment we should be offering all options," she says.

A key federal panel Wednesday recommended the Food and Drug Administration approve the first new weight-loss drug in more than a decade.

At the conclusion of a day-long hearing, the FDA's Endocrinologic and Metabolic Drugs Advisory Committee voted 20-2 to endorse a request from Vivus to approve the drug Qnexa. The same panel gave a thumbs-down to Qnexa in 2010.

Qnexa is a combination of two generic drugs that are already on the market:

A group of weight-loss clinics in Southern California is under fire for an aggressive advertising campaign and the death of five patients.

The 1-800-GET-THIN marketing campaign and its affiliated surgical centers are being investigated by local, state and federal agencies, including Congress.

Photo:<a href="http://www.401kcalculator.org">401Kcalculator.org</a> / Flickr

As part of the  Affordable Care Act, every state must have a health insurance exchange in place by January 2014. An exchange is a clearinghouse of sorts where people and small business can go to buy insurance and also find out which tax rebates they may use to help them buy coverage.

Parents and doctors around the world have been alarmed by the dramatic increase in childhood asthma.

One factor in the upswing is better detection by doctors, but at least one doctor thinks a common over-the-counter drug also has something to do with it.

One tool doesn't fit all when it comes to surgery.

Pediatric surgeons know this all too well when it's time to operate on a baby. Some infants are born prematurely. Others have congenital defects — some part of their internal anatomy that just didn't develop the way it was supposed to.

Tracy Grant was just 39 when she got the diagnosis.

"They asked me to stay a little bit longer because they saw something a little weird," she remembers. "In my mind I was saying, ... 'Here we go, this doesn't look good.' "

It was breast cancer. As devastating as the news was, it wasn't a surprise. Her mother, Catherine Grant, was diagnosed at age 51.

Certificate Of Need--Is It Still Needed?

Feb 14, 2012
Auntie P / flickr

New Hampshire lawmakers are proposing a law that would do away with the Certificate of Need process. This is a state requirement for hospitals and other healthcare facilities that want to expand or establish new medical facilities. The aim of CON is to keep redundant healthcare out of the system.

Cancer Treatment Centers of America is eyeing a spot in New Hampshire. The for profit chain wants to build a hospital in the Northeast. CTCA successfully lobbied Georgia to change its regulations so a specialty hospital could be built in that state. The company is hoping lawmakers in New Hampshire will make similar changes. A proposed law would exempt specialty cancer hospitals from certain regulations and also from Medicaid taxes.

Photo by wanpark2, courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

How many times have you ordered an entrée at a restaurant only to end up with a pile of food on your plate you then feel obligated to take home in a doggie bag? Overly large portions must have some appeal for restaurant goers…after all, some chains rely marketing campaigns that talk about little else…

Does New Hampshire Need Specialty Cancer Centers?

Feb 7, 2012
Miss A Liss / Flickr

Lawmakers are now considering whether to give exemptions to for-profit cancer centers so they can do business in the state. Under current regulations these cancer centers are likely  to be deemed redundant. But a new bill would allow them to avoid what is known as a Certificate of Need--to which all other hospitals must comply. These centers would also be exempt from Medicaid taxes.

Flickr Creative Commons

A little over a year ago, a Massachusetts bone marrow registry made headlines for hiring models in blue wigs and black skirts to attract prospective donors.  To make matters worse,  the registry was part of a scheme to charge insurance companies extremely high fees for lab tests.

Rachel Gotbaum / NHPR

New Hampshire has one of the worst prescription drug abuse problems in the country. The state now ranks 5th in the nation for percentage of residents who abuse medications such as percocet, vicodin, and oxycodone, according to the Federal Centers for Disease Control. The problem is especially alarming among young people. New Hampshire has the second highest rate of 18-25 year olds who abuse prescription drugs in the nation.

Danielle Fiore , 24, says she was addicted to painkillers for most of her childhood.

"I had fractured my ankle and I was prescribed vicodin and it felt good. I was ten or eleven," she says. "As time went on I would get something else hurt or a toothache or something and I would get more painkillers. I have a bunch of teeth missing because I would complain and get them pulled so I would get pain killers."

Currently New Hampshire has no prescription drug monitoring program. The program, which is up and running in 48 other states, is initially funded through federal grants. The proposal to create a centralized prescription database that doctors and law enforcement could check to track so called "doctor shoppers" has been defeated several times in the state Legislature. A new bill is now being considered this session and its sponsor Senator Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, is hopeful that there is enough support for a statewide prescription monitoring program this time. He cites the growing number of overdose deaths in the state from prescription drugs. In the last decade overdose deaths from these medications have more than tripled.

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Data source: NH Office of the Chief Medical Examiner

"There are more people dying because of abuse of prescription drugs that are legal than automobile accidents, he says. "We ought to have a tool to try to sort out the legal use of these drugs and the appropriate use and those that aren’t."

For those who oppose a statewide prescription drug database privacy is a major issue. Rep. Neal Kurk, R-Weare, says such a program goes against the Granite State's core philosophy.

 "This is New Hampshire, this is the 'Live Free or Die' state, " says Kurk.  "One of the major reasons this bill has not been adopted is because most people feel it’s the independent philosophy,  personal responsibility philosophy that prevails and that government should be small and not interfere with people’s lives."

Many of the state's independent pharmacists are also against a monitoring program because they worry they will end up footing the bill. The database would be drawn from pharmacy records. Rick Newman, a lobbyist for the New Hampshire Independent Pharmacy Association, says the small business people he represents will be end up carrying the burden of the costs of such a database.

"I can’t sit here as anyone with any kind of intelligence and disagree that’s there's a problem with people abusing prescription drugs in this country, of course there is," says Newman. "The question becomes whose burden is that? We can’t pass laws to put the burden on the small business person because they happen to be one part of the pipeline."

Emergency room doctors and those that treat pain say they are often confronted by patients who may be faking symptoms to get narcotics for their addiction or to sell on the street.

"I want people who have legitimate pain to get the proper pain medications that they need," say Dr. David Heller, an emergency room physician at Portsmouth Hospital.  "But I don’t want to feed somebody’s addiction and I don’t want to write a prescription for drugs that are going to be sold to my kids or my kid's friends."

Photo by Rakka, courtesy of Flickr creative commons

The alarming spike in type-1 diabetes. Though type-2, commonly known as adult-onset diabetes, has been in the spotlight recently with Food Network star and butter-abuser Paula Deen's announcement that she is living with the condition, type-1 is also on the rise. The worldwide annual growth rate has climbed past three-percent. With its serious health risks and lack of a cure, public health researchers are scrambling to find the cause of type-1's recent spike.

Obesity Epidemic May Have Peaked In U.S.

Jan 17, 2012

The nation's obesity epidemic appears to have hit a plateau, according to the latest federal data released Tuesday.

Obesity soared in the U.S. during the 1980s and 1990s, doubling among adults and tripling among children. That raised widespread alarm and debate about the causes and possible solutions. Obesity can increase the risk for diabetes, heart disease, cancer and other serious health problems.

In the world of weight loss programs, Weight Watchers rules, with more than a million members worldwide. New CEO David Kirchoff is credited with increasing meeting attendance in North America by fourteen percent, and upping online membership by 64%. Those numbers mean money, of course. Weigh Watchers is valued at an estimated at five billion dollars…double that of a year ago.

UConn Claims Resveratrol Researcher Falsified Work

Jan 12, 2012

The already shaky case for the anti-aging powers of resveratrol, a substance in red wine, is looking a little shakier.

After a three-year investigation, the University of Connecticut Health Center has told 11 scientific journals that studies they published by resveratrol researcher Dipak K. Das may not be trustworthy.

A new study in the journal Health Affairs estimates that a penny-per-ounce tax on soft drinks and other sugary beverages could prevent about 240,000 cases of diabetes per year, and 8,000 strokes and 26,000 premature deaths over a decade (or 2,600 per year).

Yes, death by soda.

So the analysis got me thinking: Our behavior is hard to predict, right? I know mine is.

Lawsuits Over State Cuts To Medicaid

Jan 11, 2012
<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/morrissey/5503915810/">Morrissey</a> via / flickr

Attorneys for the state and for ten N.H. hospitals are in federal court this week. The hospitals are suing the state over major cuts in Medicaid they say are impacting medical services for low income patients.

Ten of the state’s largest hospitals say that $130 million in state Medicaid cuts is not only forcing hospitals to cut services to the poor, but they are also illegal. Gordon Macdonald is the hospital’s attorney.

To life's many small irritations, you might add filling prescriptions.

Starting this year, many Americans may be surprised to find that their local Walgreens pharmacy is no longer in their network. That's because of a contract dispute between the nation's largest drugstore chain and a company that manages prescriptions for health insurance companies.

<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/nuttz/243256328/in/photostream/" target="blank">Jim Nutt</a> via Flickr/Creative Commons

The hospital delivery room is not a fun place for surprises - the more parents and medical staff know going in, the better the outcome usually is. The Predibirth system helps keep surprises to a minimum by MRI-scanning Junior in the womb* and running virtual simulations of labor - if it sees a potentially serious problem, like baby's head being bigger than expected, doctors can consider planning a c-section in advance.

There’s a lot of tension between New Hampshire and hospitals in the state right now.

The source of the problem....money, of course.

Thursday morning the two sides clashed in federal court over a cut in how much the state pays to treat low-income patients.

And then this afternoon, lawmakers drilled down on a tax dispute with some of the hospitals.

Even before the budget passed in June the state’s relationship with hospitals was strained.

But by the time the dust settled the relationship had been put in the ICU.

New Hampshire is denying claims made by the U-S Department of Justice that the state is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The Attorney General’s Office issued a formal response to the findings Tuesday.

The U-S Department of Justice concluded in April that the state was violating federal law in the way it treats the mentally ill.

It criticized the state for failing to provide adequate community-based services, leading to prolonged stays at the state hospital.

New Hampshire One of Healthiest States In Nation

Dec 6, 2011

A new report shows New Hampshire is again among the healthiest states in the nation.

But health officials say there is still room for improvement.

The United Health Foundation’s report looked at a variety of health issues, including heart disease deaths, cancer rates, premature births and access to health insurance.

New Hampshire was ranked second healthiest, an improvement from third last year.

The state scored well because of its low percentage of children in poverty, low crime rate, and high use of prenatal care and immunizations.

Updated at 2:52 p.m. ET: Wal-Mart issued a statement Wednesday saying its request for partners to provide primary care services was "overwritten and incorrect." The firm is "not building a national, integrated low-cost primary health care platform," according to the statement by Dr. John Agwunobi, a senior vice president for health and wellness at the retailer.

<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/niteseeker/69962792/in/photostream/" target="blank">Melinda Taber</a> via Flickr/Creative Commons

Ever used one of those machines at the gym where you can place your hands on the grips and it'll track your heart rate? German scientists - probably the ones who spend a lot of time working out  - wondered if they could put those sensors in the steering wheel of a car to detect driver stress.

When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended a half-dozen years ago that preteen girls be vaccinated against human papillomavirus, two things happened.

A lot of parents and some conservative groups were jarred by the idea of immunizing young girls against a sexually transmitted virus. And uptake of the vaccine has been poor — only about a third of 13- to 17-year-old girls have gotten the full three-shot series.

The Obe$ity Battle: Why Solving it is So Hard

Sep 23, 2011
Graphic Created by Sara Plourde / NHPR

Today health reporter Elaine Grant shines a light on the epidemic itself, which is costing the U.S. more than $150 billion dollars a year in medical spending alone.  

When Jennifer Riccio was in college, she started gaining weight. “I couldn’t really figure out what I was doing differently. In my mind I didn’t really have any difference in eating, or exercise habits at that age.”

Mystified, she visited doctor after doctor.

It was the beginning of a 15-year journey to determine why she kept putting on pounds.

Photo: iStock

In 2002, Ken Jue found himself going to funeral after funeral. But at the time Jue wasn’t sure what was killing so many of his mental health patients.

Ten years ago, lots of people were asking the same questions as Ken Jue.

Why were people diagnosed with bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia and depression dying so early in life?

“I decided that I needed to look into this because it was just happening too frequently.”

Studies Put Soda in the Crosshairs

Sep 22, 2011

All this week, NHPR has been looking at the challenge of reducing the number of overweight people in the state.

At the national level, there is the barest glimmer of good news.  One study suggests that obesity rates among some groups might be leveling off.

A separate analysis  found that the consumption of certain sugars in our diet dropped about 25%

Taken together, the two results have drawn even more attention to one of the most common American habits – drinking sweetened soda, teas, and fruit drinks.

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