Investigations Examine Medicare's Dialysis System, CT Scanners And Drugs

Several high-profile investigations probe health care issues.

ProPublica reports on the costs and risks associated with dialysis: "In 1972, after a month of deliberation, Congress launched the nation's most ambitious experiment in universal health care: a change to the Social Security Act that granted comprehensive coverage under Medicare to virtually anyone diagnosed with kidney failure, regardless of age or income. … Now, almost four decades later, a program once envisioned as a model for a national health care system has evolved into a hulking monster. Taxpayers spend more than $20 billion a year to care for those on dialysis — about $77,000 per patient, more, by some accounts, than any other nation. Yet the United States continues to have one of the industrialized world's highest mortality rates for dialysis care."

The findings of the year-long reporting project "were bleak: At clinics from coast to coast, patients commonly receive treatment in settings that are unsanitary and prone to perilous lapses in care. Regulators have few tools and little will to enforce quality standards. Industry consolidation has left patients with fewer choices of provider. The government has withheld critical data about clinics' performance from patients, the very people who need it most. Meanwhile, the two corporate chains that dominate the dialysis-care system are consistently profitable, together making about $2 billion in operating profits a year. One reason the system's problems have evolved out of the health care spotlight is that kidney failure disproportionately afflicts minorities and the dispossessed" (Fields, 11/9).

The New York Times: "The Food and Drug Administration has concluded that manufacturers of CT scanners should do a better job of training and educating those who use their equipment, and that the machines themselves could be made safer by warning operators that a dangerously high radiation dose is about to be administered. These two conclusions, in documents to be released Tuesday, are the result of a yearlong investigation by the F.D.A. into hundreds of radiation overdoses in 2008 and 2009 that occurred during a specific diagnostic test for a stroke, called a CT brain perfusion scan. The agency had earlier concluded that equipment failure played no role in the overdoses, which left dozens of patients in California and Alabama with a variety of ailments, including hair loss, confusion and memory problems" (Bogdanich, 11/9).

The Wall Street Journal: "Congress's watchdog arm has criticized the Food and Drug Administration for creating the appearance of favoritism toward a Boston company that won lucrative first rights to sell a generic drug after providing free consulting work to the agency. On Tuesday, a congressional committee plans to release a report by the Government Accountability Office that says the FDA risked giving the appearance that it had compromised its integrity because of its dealings with the company, Momenta Pharmaceuticals Inc. Winning the first right in July to sell the generic version of the blood thinner Lovenox has already meant hundreds of millions of dollars in sales for Momenta and its partner, Novartis AG's Sandoz unit" (Mundy, 11/8).

Reuters: "Momenta reported a better-than-expected quarterly profit earlier this month, helped in large part by the launch of the blood thinner" (Comlay, 11/8).

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