Weekend update / Miscellany

The Weekend Update is being written on Monday morning because I spent the weekend with my family in frigid Madison, Wisconsin. (Go Big Red.) Why couldn’t UW schedule Freshman Parents Weekend for early October, rather than the weekend before midterms? The Medicare annual coordinated election period for Medicare Advantage and Medicare prescription drug plans began on November 15 and continues through December 31, 2008, according to a CMS press release. The ongoing Federal benefits open season ends on December 8. The Oh My Gov! website discussed the Plan Smart Choice web tool available to help federal employees and annuitants choose a plan and its underwriting support from Health Grades. Many federal agencies offer employees access to Consumer Checkbook’s online FEHBP open season tool.
Several articles follow up on the final AHIC meeting held last week. According to Government HIT News, a study reported that while 78% of hospitals use at least one component of a complete electronic health records (“EHR”) system, i.e., electronic reporting of lab test results, only a small percentage of hospitals have complete EHR systems. According to the author of the study,

e-prescribing is the biggest hurdle facing most hospitals at this time. They cited cost as a major barrier.

[HHS Secretary Mike] Leavitt expressed disappointment at the way the data was presented to the AHIC. “It belies the actual progress to simply measure those who have arrived” at the goal of comprehensive EHRs, he said.

[Study author Dr. Ashish Jha] said that in many cases the hospitals have laid the foundations for more automation and can now move ahead with implementation.

AHIC recommended that HHS developed EHR templates in the same manner that it developed templates for electronic claims. According to Government Health IT News, “The plan is for HHS to convene an expert panel to determine what medical and related data is required for regulatory, licensing, accreditation, quality reporting and payment purposes.” Such a panel presumably would be more pro-active than the existing Certification Commission on HIT, which reportedly will continue to have a role going forward.
The labor union coalition, Change to Win, has launched a website Alarmed About Caremark where you can download the report CVS Caremark: An Alarming Prescription. According to an AP report,

At issue is a mailing sent by Caremark and paid for by drugmaker Merck and Co. to doctors who treat Caremark patients with type 2 diabetes. The letter touts Januvia’s potential benefits in improving blood sugar control, and suggests doctors may want to consider talking to their patients about using Merck’s drug Januvia in addition to their current treatment.

The Change to Win union coalition says the mailings are intrusive and an improper use of CVS Caremark’s relationship with its patients. Merck and CVS Caremark say they are trying to make physicians aware of a drug that may be more effective than older therapies, and that personal information on patients is not being shared.