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Surgeon Heads House Panel

Dr. Charles Boustany Jr., a Republican House member from Louisiana and a former cardiothoracic surgeon, has been named to head the Ways and Means Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee. In a statement after his appointment, Rep. Boustany made no secret of his desire to take on the Affordable Care Act through his subcommittee. “As we begin to undo the damage caused by President Obama's health-care law, I plan to hold [Internal Revenue Service] officials accountable to the taxpayers and press them on how this law will be implemented,” he said. “I also plan to work with the Government Accountability Office and other watchdog groups to identify existing programs … that warrant review and improvements to save taxpayer dollars and increase efficiency,” he said. Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid are among the programs that are within the Ways and Means Committee's jurisdiction. Meanwhile, Rep. Wally Herger (R-Calif.) was appointed chairman of the Ways and Means Health Subcommittee. He told the Congressional Quarterly that he too will focus on repealing health care reform, as well as bringing down medical costs.

Company Offers Freebie Advice

The Advanced Medical Technology Association (AdvaMed) has issued new guidance to its member companies on business meals, educational support, gift items of benefit to patients, and appropriate support of conferences. The advice focuses on certain sections of the association's Code on Ethical Interactions with Health Care Professionals, last revised in 2009. “The guidance issued by AdvaMed today provides an easy to digest set of practices to help industry follow the AdvaMed code and is the first in what we anticipate to be continued quarterly guidance on industry best practices,” said Jeffrey R. Binder, chairman of the AdvaMed ethics committee and CEO of Biomet, in a statement.

Coding Gets New Rhythm Section

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has developed a new specialty code that the Heart Rhythm Society had advocated for electrophysiology, allowing the CMS to distinguish between an electrophysiologist's and a cardiologist's billing of Medicare. Effective April 1, the new physician specialty code number 21 “will allow for the reporting of the involvement of two specialty physicians providing distinct services to an individual patient, and will enhance our efforts to improve the quality of care for people living with heart rhythm disorders,” said Dr. Douglas L. Packer, president of the Heart Rhythm Society, in a statement.

Women's Care Graded 'U'

The United States has once again deserved an overall grade of “unsatisfactory” in meeting women's health needs, according to a new report card from the National Women's Law Center. The report, which is the fifth produced by the group, graded the nation “satisfactory” on only three indicators of women's health: those aged 40 and older receiving regular mammograms, annual visits to the dentist, and women aged 50 and older getting colorectal cancer screening. But the United States received a failing grade on 13 of 26 indicators. The nation improved on only one indicator, rising from “unsatisfactory” to “satisfactory minus” in cholesterol screening for women.

Life Expectancy Declines a Bit

Overall life expectancy in the United States declined by about 1 month from 2007 to 2008, but it will take more years to determine whether that decline represents a trend, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Life expectancy at birth fell from 77.9 years in 2007 to 77.8 years in 2008 for both men and women. However, black men gained a record-high life expectancy of 70.2 years in 2008, which was up from 70.0 years in 2007, and the gap between white and black populations was 4.6 years in 2008, a decrease of two-tenths of a year from 2007, the agency said. Heart disease and cancer, the two leading causes of death, accounted for 48% of all deaths during 2008. Stroke fell from the third-leading cause of death to the fourth, whereas chronic lower respiratory diseases took their place as number three on the list, the NCHS said. However, that shift may be the result of a modification in how deaths from chronic lower respiratory diseases are classified, the agency said.

Report: Send Technology Home

One solution to two major challenges facing health care systems worldwide could be the expansion of home health care technology, according to a report by the Rand Corp. “The aging of the world's population and [the] fact that more diseases are treatable will create serious financial and manpower challenges for the world's health care systems,” Dr. Soeren Mattke, lead author and a senior scientist at Rand, said in a statement. It is possible to move technologies ranging from glucose meters to advanced telemedicine devices into homes, “where patients or family members can manage care,” said Dr. Mattke. He and his coauthors admitted in their report that barriers exist, such as insurance coverage, patients' readiness, and their compliance. The authors arrived at their findings after interviewing providers, officials, insurers, and patient groups in China, France, Germany, Singapore, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

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