Entries in Health and Human Services (8)


Child Abuse Rates Down for Fifth Consecutive Year

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Child abuse and neglect cases in the U.S. fell for the fifth straight year, according to a government report released Wednesday.

According to data gathered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families, there were 681,000 cases of neglect or abuse in 2011, down from 723,000 five years ago.

“We have made excellent progress over the past five years,” said George Sheldon, acting assistant secretary of ACF, in a press release.  “But what this report tells me is that we still have 681,000 children out there who need our help.  We must continue coordination efforts among federal, state and local agencies to focus on child maltreatment prevention.”

The administration also tracked statistics on children facing abuse or maltreatment.  It found that 80.8 percent of abusers were the victim’s parent, and in 11.2 percent of cases the victim was physically or mentally disabled.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Foster Kids on Too Many Meds: Is the Government Taking Action?

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The senator who spurred the Government Accountability Office to investigate the startling numbers of foster children being put on powerful, mind-altering drugs is calling on the Obama administration to follow through on its vow to find solutions to the issue.

“This is a deeply disturbing problem that demands immediate attention,” Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., wrote in a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius provided exclusively to 20/20. "…Unless our Medicaid policies properly reflect best medical practices, the result will be damaging to the program’s financial bottom line but, more importantly, to the health and welfare of our nation’s foster care children.” (See the full letter here.)

As 20/20 and World News reported during ABC News’ own extensive investigation of the medication of foster children late last year, the GAO found that doctors prescribe psychotropic medications to foster children at a rate of up to 13 times that of children in the general population. The GAO investigation was launched at the request of the Senate Federal Financial Management Subcommittee, which is chaired by Carper.

[Watch 20/20′s full report on overmedication in the foster care system here.]

A spokesman for the Health and Human Services Department said that the agency received the letter Tuesday and will be responding as soon as possible.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Critics Call Government's Alzheimer's Plan Unrealistic

Tom Williams/Roll Call(WASHINGTON) -- The Obama administration and the National Institutes of Health have homed in on Alzheimer's disease, setting an ambitious goal to have an effective treatment for the brain-wasting disease by 2025.

The plan is intended to give a "clear, national focus and attention on Alzheimer's that we've given to other diseases," said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in a meeting at the NIH Tuesday.

But Alzheimer's disease experts' reactions to the pledge are less optimistic: Some say giving more attention to the disease can only help, while others call the goal unrealistic.

Most say it is helpful to focus the nation's lens on Alzheimer's, which currently ravages the brains of about 5.4 million Americans and strains 15 million caregivers, numbers that will surely climb as the population ages.

But for some experts, the scope of the government's effort is only a fraction of what is needed to make a difference.

"It's great to have the attention drawn to the disease and have a temporary blip in funding," Dr. Samuel Gandy, a professor of Alzheimer's disease research at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, told ABC News. "But this is at least an order of magnitude off the figure that is likely to have meaningful impact."

The NIH devoted $448 million in fiscal year 2011 for Alzheimer's disease research, compared with the nearly $5.5 billion for cancer research and $3.1 billion for HIV/AIDS. So far, progress against Alzheimer's has been disappointing. There is no cure for the disease, and the treatments that are available only temporarily relieve its symptoms.

Much of the research so far has focused on amyloids in the brain, and whether targeting these protein tangles can prevent or reverse the disease. But answers have been tantalizingly out of reach, despite much research.

"We have had good reason to focus therapies on amyloid, yet they have failed to date. That is discouraging," Dr. Richard Caselli, a professor of neurology at the Mayo Clinic, told ABC News. "So challenge No. 1 is finding good alternative targets."

Dr. Peter Whitehouse, a professor of neurology at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, said if the government plan is to succeed, the NIH should broaden its focus on research against Alzheimer's to include more that will help patients cope with the disease or prevent it altogether, such as community design, diet and exercise.

"The field of Alzheimer's research is getting a little distorted. There's a constant need to focus on magic bullets and single molecules," Whitehouse told ABC News. "It really requires a public health focus. The most effective interventions are not going to be drugs."

Other experts defend the government's efforts, saying the plan can only improve current efforts to fight the disease.

"No doubt it's an ambitious goal. What's different now is that we have a goal," said Harry Johns, president and chief executive officer of the Alzheimer's Association.

Sebelius announced new steps in the government's strategy to develop treatments for the disease and provide better support to patients, families and caregivers in the next 13 years.

The first steps include millions in NIH funding devoted to research on Alzheimer's. Two trials will begin immediately -- $8 million for a clinical trial of a potential treatment for early Alzheimer's (an insulin nose spray), and $16 million to study the potential for a treatment to target amyloid, the brain hallmark of Alzheimer's disease, in Colombian people who are healthy but have a genetic mutation that puts them at high risk for developing the disease.

The initiative is part of the National Alzheimer's Plan Act, signed into law by President Obama in January, which marks $50 million for Alzheimer's research in fiscal year 2012 and another $100 million in fiscal year 2013.

According to the Alzheimer's Association, caring for people with dementia cost $200 billion this year alone, and could reach $1 trillion by 2050. The disease is physically and mentally devastating, not just for patients but for families and caregivers who struggle to care for them.

To help embattled caregivers, the government launched, an online resource for patients, families and caregivers looking for information on dementia and where they can get help, and is assigning $26 million to provide resources for patients and caregivers, including support in local communities and a public awareness campaign with TV, radio, online and outdoor ads.

Sebelius said she hoped the government's effort would lead to a strikingly different picture of Alzheimer's disease in the U.S. by 2025.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


HHS Secretary Addresses Contraceptive Mandate, Drug Shortages

Tom Williams/Roll Call(WASHINGTON) -- The president’s controversial contraceptive mandate and ongoing national drug shortages were just two of the off-budget topics presented to embattled Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius at Wednesday’s Senate Finance Committee hearing.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, both expressed criticism and concern about the contraceptive mandate.  Hatch questioned whether Sebelius had consulted with any Catholic bishops on the matter prior to last week’s reversal on the mandate that would require religious employers to cover certain preventable health services, such as contraception.

“I did not,” she said, adding that the president has, “spoken to the bishops on several occasions,” but she was unsure if it was about the compromise in the requirement.

The comprimise touted by the administration after a firestorm erupted over the mandate did little to quell the controversy. This week, the nation’s Roman Catholic bishops rejected the Obama administration's compromise on birth control coverage and said they would continue to fight President Obama's plan to force employees of Catholic hospitals, universities and other institutions to provide free contraceptive coverage in their health insurance plans for their employees. 

Hatch also pressed her on whether HHS had conducted or requested any, “analysis of the constitutional or statutory religious freedom issues” surrounding the mandate.  Sebelius replied that she never spoke to anyone, but that HHS did, “look at a whole host of legal issues.”

Pressing the issue, Hatch asked if HHS consulted anyone at the Justice Department, to which Sebelius said “no.”

“I think you’ve got it very wrong the first try,” Grassley said, before turning his attention to whistle-blower protection.  “You have a lot more work to do.”

But it wasn’t all negative surrounding the mandate.  Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., commended the “reasonable position” HHS has taken.

“I think that it adequately protects religious liberty and it at the same time protects the right of women to obtain contraceptive services when they choose to,” Bingaman said.

The recent drug shortages making headlines across the nation were also a topic of discussion.

Citing a 3-year-old in his district who can’t get her leukemia medication, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., questioned why the government can’t, “fix this and stop playing catch-up ball.”

“The FDA did announce yesterday that they feel that in the next two weeks the leukemia drug shortage will indeed be resolved,” Sebelius said. “It’s resolved because what we can do at the FDA is accelerate alternatives, if we have notification.”

Sebelius cited a “market glitch” as the main cause of the problem.

“The market capacity for drugs has not increased,” she said.  “Currently, we have the same manufacturing capacity and drug marketers choosing which line of drugs to produce at which time.”

A bill currently pending in the House and Senate would make it a requirement for drug companies to notify the government of an impending shortage -- a process Sebelius said was “key” for the government’s role in preventing shortages.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Health and Human Services to Boost Alzheimer’s Research Funding

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The Obama administration plans to increase federal funding for Alzheimer’s disease research and caregiver support by more than 25 percent over the next two years, the Department of Health and Human Services announced Tuesday.

The decision will provide $156 million in added funds through 2013 if authorized by Congress. The National Institutes of Health already spend $450 million in research of the condition.

Congressional approval will not be required for part of the measure: $50 million for research will be released immediately to NIH as part of the White House’s “We Can’t Wait” initiative. An additional $80 million will be allotted in the government’s 2013 budget proposal.

The remaining $26 million will be allocated to goals outside pure research, including public awareness and support for caregivers. According to government statistics, more than 5 million Americans suffer from the condition. At the National Press Club Tuesday morning, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said that because of the aging of the U.S. population, the number of patients could double by 2050.

“We cannot wait to confront the growing threat that Alzheimer’s disease poses to American families and our nation as a whole,” she said.

Tim Armour of the Cure Alzheimer’s Fund echoed the sentiment, pointing out that Baby Boomers are now entering the age of highest risk.

“Alzheimer’s threatens to bankrupt our health care system, affect the quality of care provided to patients, and mature into one of the worst health care crises our nation has ever seen,” Armour said.

The move comes on the heels of the National Alzheimer’s Project Act, which was signed into law by President Obama in January. The order called for a more focused and coordinated plan for research and prevention of the disease.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Program to Use Mystery Shoppers to Probe Doctors Scrapped

Comstock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has decided against using "mystery shoppers" to investigate whether primary care physicians are accepting or rejecting new patients depending on the type of insurance they have.

"After reviewing feedback received during the public comment period, we have determined that now is not the time to move forward with this research project," an HHS official said in a statement.

Instead, according to the statement, the government would focus on improving access to primary care in other ways, including an emphasis on training new practitioners and encouraging providers to practice in underserved areas. The Obama administration is also working on a plan to offer better payments to providers.

The original government proposal describing the program said staff from the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation would call 4,185 primary care physicians in nine states and pose as prospective new patients, saying they had either private or public insurance. The purpose would be to determine if the doctors' willingness to accept new patients depended on the type of insurance.

ABC News asked a number of primary care physicians and health policy experts for their thoughts on the government's "mystery shopper" initiative. Many of the responses were negative and accused the government of spying and being deceptive.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


HHS in Campaign to Cut Hospital Errors

Thomas Northcut/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Tuesday announced a national program to help save 63,000 lives and up to $35 billion in health care costs over the next three years by preventing hospital-related injuries.

"Americans go the hospital to get well, but millions of patients are injured because of preventable complications and accidents," Sebelius said. "Working closely with hospitals, doctors, nurses, patients, families and employers, we will support efforts to help keep patients safe, improve care, and reduce costs. Working together, we can help eliminate preventable harm to patients."

Sebelius was joined by hospital leaders, employers, insurers, doctors, nurses and patient advocates.

As many as one-third of hospital visits lead to hospital-related injuries, according to an April 7 report in Health Affairs. The missteps range from hospital-acquired infections to deadly surgical mistakes.

Sebelius said under the Partnership for Patients, HHS would invest up to $1 billion in federal funding through the Affordable Care Act.

The Community-based Care Transitions Program pledged $500 million and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services will pitch in up to $500 million more to achieve the partnership's two main goals: To reduce preventable injuries by 40 percent; and cut preventable hospital readmissions by 20 percent.

"Reaching those targets would save up to $35 billion over the next 10 years," Sebelius said, adding that $10 billion of that would come from Medicare savings. "That's a return of up to $10 for each dollar we're investing."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


HHS, DOJ Recoup More Than $4 Billion in Taxpayer Dollars

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) – In a joint operation, the Department of Health and Human Services, along with the Justice Department, recovered more than $4 billion in taxpayer dollars lost to fraud in 2010, reports MedPage Today. 

The DOJ has said the funds represent the largest recovery of taxpayer dollars in the department’s history.

The prevention and enforcement operation was part of the Health Care Fraud and Abuse Control Program (HCFAC), which was implemented to recover and return such funds to the Medicare Health Insurance Trust Fund, the Treasury and other departments.

The HCFAC received $350 million from the Affordable Care Act to aid in its operations.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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