Premier pushes training funds. Seizing on an early agenda item of the Bush administration, the Premier hospital alliance is asking the White House to include in its education plan money to help train nurses and other healthcare workers. The plan was forwarded to Congress last week, and it wasn't clear how the administration would respond to Premier's request. In a letter signed by Herb Kuhn, Premier's vice president of advocacy, the alliance argues that funding should be set aside to help schools add faculty for nursing and other healthcare professional programs because not enough class slots are available for interested students. The letter also calls for funding to help hospitals train staff to use technology that can reduce medical errors.
HHS testing Medicare drug benefit. In an experiment that may be the precursor to a Medicare drug benefit, HHS last week announced that a small group of Medicare beneficiaries who are retired miners will test a prescription-drug benefit in a demonstration project. The project's task is to show whether an outpatient prescription drug benefit will result in overall cost savings for Medicare and better utilization of other services. HCFA officials hope that combining the benefit with a pharmacy benefits manager and mandatory generic drug substitution will keep costs down. The project was one of the final acts of the Clinton administration, which announced the plan shortly before handing over the reins to President Bush.
Inspector general hits drug buying. Medicare could more than halve its $3.1 billion annual bill for 24 common drugs if it bought the products directly from wholesalers as does the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, HHS' inspector general said in a report released last week. Instead, Medicare reimburses providers for drugs based on average wholesale price data supplied by drug manufacturers. The government is investigating whether some manufacturers inflate those prices to increase reimbursement for their products. Under a law passed last year, HCFA can't lower Medicare's drug reimbursements until the General Accounting Office completes a drug pricing study this summer.