Entries in Obama Administration (3)


Federal Regulators to Probe Health Insurance Rates

Creatas Images/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- On Thursday, the Obama administration plans to begin probing any proposed increases of health care premiums that exceed nine percent, The Wall Street Journal reports.  The close inspection of these rate increases are part of the administration's 2010 health-overhaul law.

Significant rate increases have taken place in recent years, particularly for those who received policies through small business employers and those who purchased their own.  The new attention to rate increases is expected to apply to nearly 34.8 million insurance policies, WSJ reports.

Industry lobbying group America's Health Insurance Plans found half of all increases on health insurance premiums in the individual insurance market were greater than 10 percent over the past three years, according to WSJ.

Now, insurers will be required to submit a seven-page form including justification for increases of 10 percent or more to federal regulators.  Though the government cannot legally prohibit these increases, the administration hopes that public disclosure of rate increases will be a deterrent for insurers.

Large increases will be posted on the Department of Health and Human Services' website.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Obama Admin Under Fire for Proposed 'Mystery Shoppers' to Call Docs 

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- On April 28, 2011, the Department of Health and Human Services posted a notice in the Federal Register seeking public comment on a proposal for “mystery shoppers” to contact doctors’ offices to try to figure out why so many new patients are having problems obtaining a primary care physician.

On Monday afternoon, the American Medical Association official came out against the proposed survey, with AMA Immediate Past-President Cecil B. Wilson, M.D. saying, “We know there is a physician shortage in this country that will only grow worse as more people enter Medicare and coverage is expanded to those currently uninsured. The government should be working to address this shortage so all patients can have access to the health care they need, rather than using mystery shoppers to tell us what we already know.”

Assuming the White House signs off on the proposal, the operation would have more than four thousand mystery shoppers contact 465 physician’s offices in nine selected states “in order to accurately gauge availability of Primary Care Physicians (PCPs) accepting new patients, assess the timeliness of services from PCPs and gain insight into the precise reasons that PCP availability is lacking,” the Federal Register notice said. Each physician would be called by a (fake) prospective patient with private insurance, by one with public insurance, and by someone saying he or she is conducting a study.

“It's important to point out that this is a proposal,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said Monday. “There will be public hearings.  It hasn't happened yet.  We will look at this and decide after comment from all quarters about moving forward.”

Carney also pointed out that previous administrations had conducted similar “mystery shopper” operations, including a 2007-2008 secret shopper survey by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services that looked for any problems that existed with insurance companies offering the Medicare prescription drug benefit. In 2004, the Government Accountability Office used secret shoppers to look at Medicare's help line, 800-MEDICARE. The GAO survey indicated that almost 30 percent of the answers given to callers were incorrect.

Plans for this new survey were first reported by Robert Pear of The New York Times, who quoted a number of physicians, who objected to the proposals including Olympia, Wash., family physician Dr. Stephen Albrecht, who said, “If federal officials are worried about access to care, they could help us. They don’t have to spy on us.”

Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., who is a physician in addition to chairing the House Republican Policy Committee, also objected to the proposal, saying, “Doctors should be able to spend their time focusing on providing the highest level of quality care to their patients, not wondering when Uncle Sam might be calling to spy on them. This type of outrageous action sows yet another level of distrust between government and the people it serves, and it does nothing to address the underlying issue of access to care.”

Another take -- from Fox Nation -- reads: “Liberals Want to Spy on Doctors but Not Terrorists.”

A White House official, speaking not for attribution, said that there is no intent to collect individual information about any of the physicians.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Obama Administration Seeks Tougher Painkiller Regulations

Comstock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Public health and law enforcement officials in the Obama administration released a national anti-abuse plan for prescription drugs Tuesday. 

The plan would require physicians to participate in an educational training before they are permitted to prescribe painkillers such as OxyContin.

Prescription drug abuse has reached epidemic levels, but with this plan, officials hope to reduce the rate of abuse for these drugs by 15 percent within five years.

"We are in the midst of a public health crisis driven by prescription drug abuses," Gil Kerlikowske, White House Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), said at a press conference Tuesday.

The plan -- called "The Administration's Epidemic: Responding to America's Prescription Drug Abuse Crisis" -- will also support state-based programs to monitor prescription drug use as well as programs for the safe disposal of prescription narcotics.

Administration officials add that legislation on the matter will also be introduced in Congress, requiring prescriber education training for doctors, but they remained tight-lipped on when or who might introduce the bill.

With mortality rates for prescription drug abuse exceeding overdose deaths from cocaine and heroin combined, Kerlikowske also said -- under the not-yet-introduced bill -- the DEA  would be able to crack down on doctors who run "pill mills," illegally giving narcotics aways for money.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 

ABC News Radio