Entries in HHS (6)


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


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 IG: 'Staggering Waste' as Insurers Overcharge Medicare, Patients

Dynamic Graphics/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- A new government investigation finds insurance companies have been overcharging taxpayers and patients by overstating how much they’re paying for drugs. The cost to taxpayers is nearly $2 billion a year.

At issue is Medicare Part D, a program that helps consumers afford prescription drug coverage. Insurers negotiate rebates from drug companies and they are expected to pass savings on to consumers. In fact, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Inspector General (HHS IG) found that some insurers failed to report all the rebates they received. They also did not pass savings onto beneficiaries. Insurers received more in rebates than they reported for about 23 million people -- on average about $7 more per beneficiary every month.

“As a result of this underreporting, the total excess rebate payments received by these plans is a staggering $1.98 billion per year, leading to increased drug costs for seniors and billions of American taxpayer dollars wasted,” said Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo.

The report said some of inaccuracies could be explained as honest mistakes.

“It is also possible, however,” the report continued, “that some sponsors may deliberately underestimate their rebates to increase profits.”

“When sponsors underestimate rebates in their bids, beneficiary premiums are higher than they otherwise would be and both the government and beneficiaries overpay for the benefit.”

Investigators say Medicare will get back some of the money it overpaid. Benificiaries, however, get nothing back.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


New Dietary Guidelines Being Released; Call for Less Salt Intake

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services will release the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans on Monday.

By law, the USDA and HHS reviews and updates the guidelines every five years.  This latest version includes several updated recommendations, most notably in sodium intake.

The government is asking nearly half of the U.S. population to cut the amount of sodium they ingest daily to 1,500 mg or less.  Those affected include African Americans, adults over the age of 51 and people suffering from hypertension, diabetes or chronic kidney disease.  For everyone else, the daily sodium intake remains at 2,300 mg.

Other recommendations include:

-- Encouraging less intake of saturated fats, trans fats and cholesterol, although no changes were made to the actual amounts recommended.

-- Reducing the intake of calories from solid fats and added sugars.  New recommendations will be stronger than those set in the 2005 Guidelines.

-- Consuming protein from a variety of sources, especially from seafood.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


CDC: 79 Million Americans at Risk for Diabetes

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(ATLANTA ) – New numbers from the Centers for Disease Control estimate that more than a third of Americans are pre-diabetic and nearly 26 million have diabetes.

According to the CDC, 79 million adults in the U.S. have blood sugar levels that are above normal, but are not high enough to be considered diabetic.

"These distressing numbers show how important it is to prevent type 2 diabetes and to help those who have diabetes manage the disease to prevent serious complications such as kidney failure and blindness," said Ann Albright, director of the CDC's Division of Diabetes Translation.  "We know that a structured lifestyle program that includes losing weight and increasing physical activity can prevent or delay type 2 diabetes."

Type 2 diabetes also puts a person at greater risk of heart disease and stroke. It is estimated that around 27 percent of those with diabetes are unaware they have the disease.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio