The healthcare industry often complains about the incomprehensibility of HCFA's regulations. While HCFA may talk in tongues to providers, it apparently can explain the Medicare program to beneficiaries.
That's right: The same agency that brought you such notoriously complex rules as the proposed Stark II regulations and the Medicare outpatient prospective payment system has actually won an award for translating wonk-speak into plain English. HCFA snagged the No Gobbledygook Award-a plaque engraved with the image of a turkey-earlier this month for its "Medicare & You" 2001 handbook for Medicare beneficiaries.
Not surprisingly, the award came from the Clinton administration, which runs HCFA until the new Bush administration takes over Jan. 20. The National Partnership for Reinventing Government, an interagency task force set up by outgoing Vice President Al Gore, sponsors the award.
Strange bedfellows ham it up. Forget Harry and Louise. Try Ron and Chip. At a briefing on the uninsured last week in Washington, no one could resist making jokes about the infamous "Harry and Louise" advertising campaign that helped sink the Clinton healthcare reform plan in 1994. That includes Ron Pollack, executive director of the consumer group Families USA, and Chip Kahn, president of the Health Insurance Association of America.
The HIAA paid for the Harry and Louise ads, which featured a fictional yuppie couple kvetching about healthcare reform. Families USA and the HIAA joined forces to try to make health insurance more affordable and available to the nation's 43 million uninsured. Last November, the two groups unveiled a plan that combines tax credits and Medicaid expansions to cover more Americans.
At the briefing, Pollack said the groups were hoping "to reach out to the public at large," possibly through another series of TV ads. When moderator Susan Dentzler, a correspondent for "The NewsHour," asked what the new ads would look like, Pollack couldn't resist taking a good-natured jab at his former nemesis. "I don't know if Chip will admit it, but Harry and Louise became uninsured after 1994," quipped Pollack. "So they're more than happy to speak out for the uninsured." Not to be outdone, Kahn volunteered to play the role of Louise, even offering to wear a wig. Stroking his well-trimmed beard and mustache, he added, "I don't know if I'll be able to part with this."
Easy access. Here's one more thing you can do illegally online: practice planned parenthood.
According to a report in the January issue of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Web surfers can easily obtain oral contraceptives and intrauterine devices not approved by the Food and Drug Administration-without so much as a prescription. Investigators from the University of Washington in Seattle posed as consumers and ordered various contraceptive products from Web sites found through commonly used search engines. The team discovered that birth control pills, vaginal sponges, diaphragms and emergency contraceptives could be bought from several Internet sites, though delivery often took up to 12 days.
The controversial "morning after" pill Preven could be obtained within 48 hours for $141. While prescriptions were generally required for Preven, several sites couldn't confirm the credentials or backgrounds of the physicians responsible for generating prescriptions online.
From Web sites outside the U.S., the researchers were able to buy not only birth control pills but also IUDs, which are banned domestically, without a prescription. Many of the oral contraceptives arrived in the mail with little or no information about their proper use or associated risks.
Wildfires and your health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta and the Montana Department of Health and Human Services are trying to determine whether wildfires that raged through much of the state last year may have driven up hospital admissions. Nearly two dozen wildfires in Montana-most ignited by lightning strikes-burned 950,000 acres last year.
"We want to determine who might be most susceptible to smoke from wildfires and what kind of impact it might have on the population," says Joshua Mott, the CDC epidemiologist who is leading the study.
Richard Brown, a senior vice president at the Montana healthcare association, confirmed that emergency-room admissions at 48-bed Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital in Hamilton, Mont., tripled during the fires. Hamilton is in Ravalli County, one of the counties participating in the CDC study.
Officials say the CDC was prompted to study the situation after Montana lawmakers lobbied the agency and HHS to examine the health effects of the fires.
The results are expected to be released later this year.