November 26, 2015

Missouri Senator Blunt blames Affordable Care Act for projected Medicare premium increases

Medicare Part B premiums are expected to increase by more than 50% next year, unless Congress figures out a solution. Part B is a Medicare option that covers doctors’ charges and outpatient care bills.

Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO)

Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO)

Senator Roy Blunt (R-Missouri) hasn’t offered a solution, but said the rise is due to the Affordable Care Act.

“Anybody that’s surprised by these costs and didn’t think they were going to happen when the federal government decided to so dramatically change all of healthcare without knowing what the impact would be has some second thinking to do and some explaining to do to the people we all work for,” said Blunt. “This is not the only part of healthcare that’s going up a lot. It’s going up generally a lot because of the President’s healthcare plan.”

Some Senate Democrats are exploring options to prevent the increase. If an agreement is not found soon, Democratic staffers said a freeze or other fix might be part of a year-end budget deal in Congress.

About 30% of the roughly 52 million people enrolled in Medicare could be affected by the increase. 2016’s open enrollment for Medicare is underway.

Missouri high court to consider timing as a factor in wrongful death liability

The state Supreme Court is being asked today whether a northeast Missouri doctor is liable in the death of a man due to a terminal brain tumor because he didn’t catch that tumor earlier.

The Missouri Supreme Court

The Missouri Supreme Court in 2014

A Hannibal man, Joseph Mickels, died in June 2009 after undergoing brain surgery in February of that year. A Hannibal doctor, Dr. Raman Danrad, didn’t detect Mickels’ brain tumor in a December, 2008 CT scan but did on a scan in February, 2009.

The Court is being asked to consider whether Mickels would have lived any longer if his tumor had been caught earlier. His family argues he would have, and say the doctor was negligent.

Danrad’s attorneys argue that under Missouri legal precedent, the doctor is not liable because the tumor was terminal regardless of how early it was found.

The family is asking the Court to allow a lower court jury trial to proceed.  Once the Supreme Court hears today’s arguments, it could issue a decision at any time.

Study finds misuse of opioid painkillers soars in Missouri

Research has found that hospital treatment for those misusing opioid prescription painkillers, such as morphine, codeine and oxycodone, has increased 137% in Missouri the past decade. Study author Mat Reidhead with the Missouri Hospital Association said the data on the Midwest is particularly alarming.

Prescription opioid painkillers

Prescription opioid painkillers

“The highest rate of increase of opioid overuse in the country was by far in a way in the Midwest. Looking at our data, we would have to assume that Missouri was a large contributor to that growth,” said Reidhead.

He said overuse is happening in both rural and urban areas.

“The highest rates of opioid overuse have remained in the metro areas but it’s startling to see that the fastest increases have occurred in more rural areas,” said Reidhead.

Northeast and southeast Missouri exceeded the treatment-for-misuse rates of both the St. Louis and Kansas City metro areas.

The highest rate of growth was among white males under age 30. However, significant increases were found in each age and gender category. The smallest rate of increase was among women older than 50, with a 116% increase.

Reidhead said there’s not enough awareness about the overuse of such drugs.

“Judging by the trends that we’ve seen over the last ten years where we’ve seen more than doubling of the number of hospitalizations for this issue in the state, nearly exclusively increases year in and year out, averaging a 12% annual increase. If the awareness was there I don’t think we’d be seeing those types of trends,” said Reidhead. “There really isn’t a silver bullet, but it’s going to require a lot of coordination from the healthcare provider community, policy makers and other stakeholders in the communities to reverse these trends.”

He said there’s a strong link between opioid abuse and heroin addiction. Approximately 42,000 Missourians are believed to be overusing opioid painkillers.

Missouri Senator: not enough being done to remove social security numbers from Medicare cards

Earlier this year, Congress passed legislation to require the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to remove social security numbers from Medicare cards by 2019. Federal funding was provided so the change could be made.

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri)

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri)

In a Senate Committee hearing, Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri) said other federal agencies such as the Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs have removed social security numbers as identification, but the CMS has not done enough.

“CMS has made minimal steps toward removing social security numbers from Medicare cards despite continued warnings from the Government Accountability Office in 2004, 2012, 2013 and 2015,” said McCaskill. Although CMS has offered a proposed plan and timeline, it has been quote planning to switch from using social security numbers as identifiers to alternative identifiers for almost a decade.”

Sean Cavanaugh, Deputy Administrator and Director of the Center for Medicare at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, testified at the hearing. He said the centers will make the appropriate changes by April 2019.

“This is a substantial undertaking requiring coordination with federal, state and private stakeholders, updating and modifying numerous IT systems, and conducting extensive outreach to beneficiaries, providers and other stakeholders. CMS must accomplish these tasks without disrupting beneficiaries’ access to care or payments to providers. CMS will assure a smooth transition by moving forward thoughtfully,” said Cavanaugh.

McCaskill said roughly 41-million Americans are enrolled in Medicare and those with social security numbers on their Medicare cards are at risk of identity theft and medical fraud.

She said medical identity theft is the fastest growing form of healthcare fraud.


Koster criticizes ‘assault’ on Missouri stem cell research, group says it’s misrepresented

A contentious issue from 2006 has re-emerged in Missouri, ahead of next year’s election. Republicans and Democrats are looking for ways to drive more voters to the polls, and one way could be to put embryonic stem cell research on the ballot.

Missouri voters passed a ballot measure in 2006 to protect any stem cell research, stem cell therapies or cures.

Attorney General Chris Koster/AG office

Attorney General Chris Koster/AG office

Attorney General Chris Koster is speaking out against what he’s calling renewed attempts to prevent Missouri institutions from conducting stem cell research. He cited a story by the Columbia Daily Tribune reporting that Missouri Right to Life is preparing to “launch an assault” on groundbreaking work.

“Republicans are again going back and fighting the stem cell wars that were settled back in 2005 and 2006. We had major fights during those years. Republicans were trying to criminalize this life-saving research,” said Koster. “What we want to make sure is that these researchers are protected in our state and that medical research is given the opportunity to progress freely without the religious wars of Jefferson City.”

Susan Klein with Missouri Right to Life, a pro-life organization, accuses Koster of misleading the public about what the group stands for.

“He’s trying to classify and put Missouri Right to Life in a category where we oppose all research and that’s just not true,” said Klein. “If and when there was ever any kind of an initiative that came from the pro-life side of this issue, it would absolutely not be to criminalize or to change research for adult stem cell research. It would be to clarify that you can not do embryonic stem cell research or human cloning and especially you can’t do it with our tax dollars.”

Klein said she’s unsure if an effort to end embryonic stem cell research in Missouri will be on the ballot in 2016, but says it’s an issue that’s always discussed. She said Missouri Right to Life is, however, working on legislation to introduce during the 2016 legislative session. She said it’s still early, but the group’s priorities would be to expand abortion clinic inspections and implement a ban on abortions that involve dismemberment.