July 12, 2008
Dr. Angell, a senior lecturer at Harvard Medical School and a former editor-in-chief of The New England Journal of Medicine, was called “an unlikely muckraker” by The New York Times in 2004, when she published a powerful expose of the drug companies.
Her position on health reform appeals not to corporate interests but to common sense and the desire for good medical care, making it appear radical:
“The only workable solution is a single-payer system (there, I said it), in which everyone is provided with whatever care he or she needs regardless of age and medical condition,” she writes. “There would no longer be a private insurance industry, which adds little of value yet skims a substantial fraction of the health-care dollar right off the top.
“Employers, too, would no longer be involved in health care,” she continues. “Care would be provided in nonprofit facilities. The most progressive way to fund such a system would be through an earmarked income tax, which would be more than offset by eliminating premiums and out-of-pocket expenses.”
Until then, will state and federal lawmakers be willing to rein in a system that dishes out Tylenol at $1,089.50 a pop?
July 10, 2008
I was surprised to see that Allstate beat State Farm in this race for Worst Insurere Title. Now you can decide with whom you should insure yourself.
The American Association for Justice, an organization of personal injury attorneys, often has to go up against insurance companies. So they might be considered a good source for knowing which ones actually pay and which do not.
Drum roll please – The number one worst insurer for consumers is Allstate, says AAJ.
AAJ investigators sorted through thousands of legal documents, financial filings, as well as complaints filed with state insurance departments, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and FBI records, to determine how many claims were paid and how often the company employed hardball tactics against policyholders.
“While Allstate publicly touts its ‘good hands’ approach, it has instead privately instructed its agents to employ a ‘boxing gloves’ strategy against its policyholders,” said American Association for Justice CEO Jon Haber says in a statement. “Allstate ducks, bobs and weaves to avoid paying claims to increase its profits.”
Allstate is known to force consumers to accept lowball claims or to deny claims altogether. One Allstate employee reported that supervisors told agents to lie and blame fires on arson, and in turn, were rewarded with portable refridgerators.
Among other wrongdoings AAJ found were extravagant salaries for upper-ranked executives and raising premiums while hoarding profits.
Rounding out the rest of the Top Ten are:
* Unum – which sells disability insurance. In 2005, Unum agreed to a settlement with insurance commissioners from 48 states over their practices.
* AIG – The world’s biggest insurer, AIG’s slogan was “we know money,” and is accused of engaging in massive corporate fraud and claims abuses, paying $1.6 billion to settle a host of charges.
* State Farm – Lawyers are familiar with State Farm’s deny and delay tactics, especially during Hurricane Katrina.
* Conseco – Conseco sells long-term care policies, typically to the elderly, unfortunately a delay may mean that the insured either died or gave up. Company was fined for filing misleading financial statements with regulators.
* WellPoint – Health insurer with a long history of putting profits ahead of policyholders, canceling policies of pregnant women and chronically ill.
* Farmers – Swiss-owned ranks at or near the bottom of homeowner satisfaction surveys, partially based on its “Quest for Gold” policy that offered incentives to those agent with low claims payout goals.
* UnitedHealth – Following an SEC investigation, the former CEO had to return more than $600 million in compensation.
* Torchmark – According to Hoover’s In-Depth Company Records, Torchmark’s very origins were little more than a scam devised to prey on low-income Southerners and minority policyholders.
* Liberty Mutual – Like Allstate and State Farm, Liberty Mutual hired consulting giant McKinsey to adopt aggressive tactics.
While the insurance industry has relied on McKinsey Consultants to determine how best to attain and retain profitability, over the last decade the industry has enjoyed annual profits exceeding $30 billion while taking in more than $1 trillion in premiums annually.
CEOs took home an average of $8.9 million in 2007, while median company CEOs can earn $1.6 million per year.
July 8, 2008
Federal drug safety officials have imposed the government’s most urgent warning on Bayer’s AG Cipro and similar antibiotics, citing risks that they can cause tendon ruptures, a serious injury that leaves some patients incapacitated.
The Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday ordered makers of flouroquinolone drugs — a potent class of antibiotics — to add a ‘black box’ warning to their products which include Cipro, Levaquin, Floxin and other medications.
Labels for the antibiotics already include cautions about the tendon problems, but the bolder, boxed warning would be stronger, the FDA said.
The risk is greater in patients 60 and older, those who have had certain organ transplants and those using concomitant steroid therapy, the agency said. It added doctors should restrict use of the drugs to conditions clearly caused by bacteria.
Patients should immediately stop taking the medications if they develop any tendon pain, swelling or inflammation.
July 5, 2008
Access to medical care has deteriorated sharply among people living in the United States, a survey has found. The proportion of people who report delaying medical care or not getting it at all rose from 14% in 2003 to more than 20% in 2007. Perhaps surprisingly, the decline in access was greater among people with health insurance than among those without it.
The findings are part of the 2007 health tracking household survey, a representative, cross section survey of 18 000 persons interviewed by phone. It was conducted by the Center for Health System Change and released at a news conference in Washington, DC, on 26 June.
Extrapolating from the data suggests that the number of Americans who experienced problems with access to care over the previous 12 months rose from 36 million in 2003 to 59 million in 2007.
by Bob Roehr
July 2, 2008
The FDA and CDC have expanded their investigation of the ongoing Salmonella Saintpaul outbreak to target “foods commonly served with tomatoes.”
But David Acheson, M.D., the FDA’s food safety director, refused to name the other possible salad-bowl suspects, although he did confirm that evidence uncovered over the weekend persuaded the FDA and CDC to widen the search.
Nonetheless, Dr. Acheson said, tomatoes remain the main suspect.
In addition to widening the search to include other produce, Dr. Acheson said the FDA has activated the Food Emergency Response Network (FERN), a cooperative laboratory network established in the wake of Sept. 11.
He said that FERN was last activated during the E. coli contaminated spinach investigation last year and before that was used to pinpoint the source of contamination of dog food imported from China.
Also today the CDC announced that the number of confirmed Salmonella serotype Saintpaul cases now stands at 869, with 107 hospitalizations.