Tag: Policy

Researchers question publishing ethics of leading economics journal

Update: The Harvard Health Policy Review site is back up with an apology and disclaimer for not seeking a response from the JHE editors.

A Harvard Health Policy Review article that details two researchers’ account of unethical editing at the Journal of Health Economics (JHE) mysteriously has gone missing from the Internet (but not entirely–here’s the PDF). Actually, the journal’s entire site has been taken down.

The article is full of drama that rivals a John Grisham thriller. It involves the Ivy League, corporate greed, a suggestion of tainted science, and legal threats — which I’m guessing may not be over.

In the "missing" article, University of Pennsylvania sociologist Donald Light and health economist Rebecca N. Warburton, of Canada’s University of Victoria, recount their two-year ordeal to publish a critique of a 2003 study published in JHE, in which Tufts researchers — using confidential data supplied by drug companies — estimated research and development costs for a new drug at $802 million.

Light and Warburton had several criticisms of this article, namely the undisclosed conflicts of interest of the Tufts authors. But they say the JHE editors thwarted their efforts to publish a fair critique.

The "missing" article details the back and forth between the JHE editors (three of whom are Harvard professors) and the original authors. Light and Warburton called it "ultimatum editing," and said the editors "violated almost every ethical standard set for editors."

At one point in the process, Light and Warburton even threatened to sue. Alan Millstein agreed to make a legal case on behalf of the authors and drafted a complaint. “He did not expect much in monetary damages, but expected to win before a jury, revealing to the world how leading economists handled an independent critique of a key article concerning the high costs of drug development form an industry-sponsored research center.

Merrill Goozner wrote about the conflict in his post, "Where’s Harvard’s Missing Health Policy Journal?" PharmaGossip also writes about the missing journal here.

Health care stocks falling, too

Health care stocks are proving that they’re not recession proof as I and others predicted back in April.

Look at these charts
for 10 prominent health care stocks. Every one of them has declined so
much in recent weeks that in terms of relative strength, compared with
the market, they’re oversold. All are down significantly from their
52-week highs and several are making new lows.

Schering Plough (SGP), Novartis (NVS) and Quest Diagnostics (DGX) are still trading slightly above their April lows.


Mylan Labs (MYL), Wellpoint (WLP), Humana (HUM), United Health Group
(UNH), Aetna (AET), Universal Health (UHS) and LifePoint (LPNT) are all
trading below their April lows, if not at their lows for the year. (FD: I own none of these stocks.)

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Obama’s new ad is clever, but why aren’t they taking the open shot?

One of the few virtues of getting on a plane and leaving California is that you get to see Presidential political ads on actual TV. Obama has a new ad about health care which explicitly attacks “government run health care” on the left of an arrow and then attacks unregulated insurance companies on the right end. Geddit? Yup it’s 1996 Bill Clinton all over again. The man is a triangulator. Or an arrownator…

(Apologies for the poor quality but it’s the only version I can find online).

Obama’s plan is in the middle of the arrow of course. It’s a little bizarre that he attacks government-run health care — given that his plan involves both extending FEBHP and creating a separate version of Medicare/Medicaid that everyone can buy into. And of course Medicare is the most popular health insurance plan in the nation by a long way. I think the government still runs it.

But I guess that’s just politics. And of course nothing as major as what he’s talking about is going to happen once he gets elected anyway, (as I’ve been saying for more than a year).

But talking about politics, what I cannot get over is how the Obama team has not bothered to connect the McCain plan’s designs to push more people into the individual insurance market to specific actions of health insurers in California. There are still smart intelligent people running major health care lobbying organizations in DC (one of who I had dinner with last week in my professional life) who still have not heard about the retroactive policy cancellations in California despite the fact that all of the big insurers were doing it. And yet McCain’s plan is designed to explicitly put people into a situation where they’re at the mercy of those insurers!

This isn’t hard to explain. Why isn’t the Obama campaign featuring it? Especially as he’s now talking about health care. They are not taking the open shot (or as the English say, they’re missing an open goal!)

KevinMD turns into raving socialist…

Well not quite, but in his op-ed at USA Today Kevin talks about why it’s a problem for the US not to have wide deployment of EMRs, and notes that it’s the wrong incentives that are to blame—docs have to pay but others reap the rewards. So in Kevin’s words:

One needs to look at the Department of Veterans Affairs for an optimal model. All of the VA’s primary care physicians, specialists and hospital-based doctors across the country use the same electronic record system. It has played a significant role in the reduction of medical errors, optimization of cost efficiency, and attainment of high scores in preventive care measures.

Kevin’s usually criticizing me for being the wooly lefty, but I could be pardoned for thinking that he’s suggesting that we junk the current US system in favor of rolling all docs and patients into the VA. I wouldn’t suggest that but far be it from me to tell Kev that he’s wrong!

Busines ties and MRIs — it’s not rocket science

The Health and Human Secretary Inspector General’s office concluded last week that doctors are likely to order more MRIs if they have business ties with the imaging provider.

Shocking, isn’t it?

Modern Healthcare reports that inspector general’s report was a follow-up to a previous finding that MRI claims paid under Medicare’s physician fee schedule increased fourfold from 1995 to 2005.

“The complexity and limited transparency with which these services are provided warrants continued attention to ensure that services are reasonable, necessary and compliant with Medicare statutes and regulations,” the report states.

Some good news in health care, really

Even as the economy has fallen into an abyss and I find myself with distressing frequency discussing with people whether Levi Johnston really loves Bristol Palin, it turns out that there is actually some good news out there about health coverage.  Over the past year, 19 states have taken significant strides toward covering more children despite challenging fiscal times. At a National Health Policy Forum last week, three states explained their progress. And, no, the featured states weren’t the usual suspects like Massachusetts with its impressive, but so-complicated-that-you-need-an-MIT-degree-to-untangle-it system or Vermont with its population of 62 people and 4 dairy farms. They were Louisiana, Iowa, and Pennsylvania.

Here are the details of what they’ve done:

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Study Shows Unpaid Medical Bills Put Families in Debt

While the federal government plans to bail out the financial sector with $700 billion of taxpayer dollars, a growing number of tax payers are grappling to get themselves out of debt from unpaid health care bills.

Yesterday’s New York Times discussed two studies released on Wednesday by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Center for Studying Health System Change. The studies show that more and more American families have debt from health care.

"Premiums for employer-sponsored health insurance rose to $12,680 annually for family coverage this year – with employees on average paying $3,354 out of their paychecks to cover their share of the cost," said the Kaiser Family Foundation news release of the study.

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Health reform prospects in the wake of Black Sunday

"Opening up the health insurance market to more vigorous nationwide competition, as we have done over the last decade in banking, would provide more choices of innovative products less burdened by the worst excesses of state-based regulation," said John McCain to a reporter in an interview in Contingencies magazine. The article is titled: "Better Care at Lower Cost for Every American."

This isn’t a Photo-shopped, made-up comment. See page 30 of the publication, the last paragraph in the left hand-column which continues into the right side.

Contingencies is the magazine of the American Academy of Actuaries. These are those sober professionals who, according to their mission statement, "put a price tag on risk." They do that through evaluating the likelihood of future events, and, in their words, "designing creative ways to reduce the likelihood of undesirable events."

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Health Affairs makes an apPaul(y)ing choice

Health Affairs ran a couple of partisan analyses last week. Joseph Antos, of AEI, Gail Wilensky, former Bush 41 HCFA administrator, and Hans Kuttner labeled the Obama plan as excessive tax and spend socialized gulag regulation.

In the other analysis, four liberal academic wonks — Thomas Buchmueller, Sherry A. Glied, Anne Royalty, and Katherine Swartz — derided the McCain plan as the counter-productive ravings of a right wing nutjob. OK so they didn’t exactly say that, but you get the message. No surprises here.

The McCain plan is so far out of the mainstream that, when Bush proposed something very similar in 2006, he could not even get it introduced into a Republican-controlled Congress. Obama’s plan is a wishwashy centrist Democrat plan that doesn’t even pretend to get to real universal coverage and ignores the fact that the vast majority of Democrats prefer a straight single-payer plan (and so does he when scratched hard!).

So who does Health Affairs chooses to create a middling compromise between these two?

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Free Lunch: David Cay Johnston off the leash

A version of this review appeared at Spot-on last week, but as you know over there I get heavily edited by Chris Nolan who’s a real journalist and all that. The beauty of the zero cost of publishing online is that you can show lots of versions. This is what it looked before it got to her. Enjoy.

Despite being buried in Health 2.0 work, somehow I’ve been managing to read a few books lately. But none of them have been quite as staggering as Free Lunch, the latest from former NY Times investigative reporter David Cay Johnston.

Johnston’s best known for his exhaustive investigation into how corporations and very very rich individuals subvert the tax code so that they pay less, while the rest of us pay more. But in this book (probably because he’s no longer a NY Times Reporter and is off the leash of restraint that the Grey Lady seems to put on its reporters) he gets almost biblical in calling out the cheats, crooks and murderers.

And when I say murderers, Johnston is talking about John Snow, Bush’s former treasury secretary — yup the one who did such a great job regulating the sub-prime mortgage market that the potential for a credit and housing collapse in the latter part of this decade was avoided…oh, wait….

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