With so many organizations passing the buck these days, Outliers is heartened to see someone accept responsibility.
The Center for Studying Health System Change, a Washington-based research group, swallowed its pride and admitted an error in its recent annual report on healthcare cost trends.
The sixth annual study, released on Sept. 26, showed a 7.2% increase in healthcare costs in 2000. The report concluded that hospital expenses accounted for 47% of the increase (Oct. 1, p. 4).
But after a further look, researchers at the center realized the data didn't make sense. On Oct. 25, the organization issued a revised version of its report. In a statement, President Paul Ginsburg said figures used to estimate the shares of increases by the three major spending components in 1999 and 2000 were wrong. The statement said the figures had been provided by an actuarial firm.
The initial report slightly overestimated the contribution of hospital spending to the cost increase and understated the factors of prescription drugs and physician services. In fact, hospital costs drove 43% of last year's spending hike, 12% for inpatient care and 31% for outpatient care, according to corrected figures. Prescription drugs drove 29% of the increase, while physician care accounted for 28%. The errors did not change the report's general conclusion that hospital costs increased significantly last year.
A spokesman for Seattle-based Milliman USA, which supplied the figures, said the wrong set of data was sent to the center. "It was inadvertent," Peter Cullum said.
Nevertheless, Alwyn Cassil, the center's spokeswoman, said the organization accepts complete blame and is taking steps to prevent future errors, including possibly buying data. "It should not have happened," she said.
A profound loss. Don Bierle, who co-founded one of the predecessor organizations of the American Health Lawyers Association, died early last month. He was 75.
In 1968, Bierle and others started the American Academy of Healthcare Attorneys as a personal membership group of the American Hospital Association. In 1997, the AAHA merged with the National Health Lawyers Association, and the following year the combined association was renamed the AHLA. Bierle also was a trustee on the Catholic Health Association's board from 1975 to 1978.
Bierle made a great contribution to healthcare in his native South Dakota. He worked as a healthcare lawyer beginning in the 1960s, when he became a legal adviser to two South Dakota-based religious orders-the Presentation Sisters of Aberdeen and the Benedictine Sisters of Sacred Heart Monastery, Yankton-that sponsored hospitals and clinics. He was one of the first officers of Presentation Health System when it began in 1978 and helped steer the merger of Presentation and the Benedictine health system in 1998, under the name Avera Health, based in Sioux Falls, S.D.
Bierle also served as a state senator from 1971 to 1974. In that time, he sponsored two important healthcare-related laws. One measure added two years to the program at the University of South Dakota's School of Medicine, making it a complete program. The second law established a state authority to issue bonds for not-for-profit hospitals and education facilities.
Bierle, who died at Avera Sacred Heart Hospital in Yankton, is survived by his wife of 51 years, Pat; two sons; five daughters; and eight grandchildren.
Protecting yourself. The threat of bioterrorism has resulted in a booming latex glove business for Medline Industries-either that or consumers are suddenly keen on soft and moisturized skin.
The Mundelein, Ill.-based manufacturer and distributor of healthcare supplies reports a tenfold surge in inquiries since Sept. 11 from consumers, major retail outlets, government agencies and environmental consultants regarding protective gear. Medline would not provide dollar amounts, but retail sales are up 40%, says John Marks, a Medline spokesman. Institutional purchases of masks, coveralls and gowns have likewise climbed 40%, he adds.
The company reports particular demand for its Prohibit series of face masks ($24.95 for a box of 50) and the N-95 particulate respirator ($39.95 for a box of 35). The masks meet Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for tuberculosis exposure and reduce by 99% the risk that particles greater than 0.1 microns in size will pass through, Medline says. Anthrax has a particle size of 1 to 3 microns.
Coincidentally, Medline only recently made a push into the retail market, selling limited quantities of its Aloetouch latex gloves, coated with aloe vera gel and protective against most major bacteria, Marks says. Marks wasn't certain whether the recent boost in sales of the gloves is because of the aloe vera or because of the fear of anthrax. But he can take an educated guess.
"I guess you can assume that in general people are becoming more aware of the need to wear protective apparel," Marks says.