The debate over importing prescription drugs from Canada saw two conflicting developments in the past two weeks, leaving Outliers to wonder where this issue is headed.
New Hampshire Gov. Craig Benson made his state the latest to link its official Web site to an approved Canadian pharmacy site-canadadrugs.com-that exports drugs to the U.S. "I will not stand by and watch our seniors overpay for life-saving medication," he says. "The pharmaceutical industry has balanced their books on the backs of seniors for too long. They line their pockets through scare tactics and misinformation."
Benson has been trying to get a waiver from the federal government to allow New Hampshire to buy cheaper drugs from Canada. The Food and Drug Administration last week condemned his endorsement of importing the drugs as placing people at unnecessary risk.
Meanwhile, a coalition of six healthcare consumer advocacy organizations in Canada has called on the nation's government to stop Internet-based exports to U.S. consumers, claiming that they are putting the health and welfare of Canadians at risk.
Louise Binder, chairwoman of the Canadian Treatment Action Council, says, "There will be shortages if we keep giving the amount of drugs that companies send into Canada outside the country."
The Canadian government has said it is monitoring the industry, but so far has not found any evidence that Canadians are facing drug shortages because of online pharmacies. However, a number of U.S. pharmaceutical manufacturers have recently threatened to cut off the supply of drugs to Canadian firms that export them back to the U.S.
To learn more about the reimportation debate, read our online exclusive at modernhealthcare.com.
Gold is the color of his parachute
Cigna Corp.'s former president of healthcare, Patrick Welch, received $4 million in parting funds in 2003 after having worked for the beleaguered insurer for only 13 months, according to the company's proxy statement with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Welch earned a salary of $576,900 and bonus of $600,000 in 2003. He also received $1.26 million in severance pay, restricted stock and other compensation. The $4 million also includes $1.56 million in cash and restricted stock paid in April 2003 under a long-term incentive program, based on company performance from 2000 to 2002. Welch was hired in June 2002 to head Cigna's troubled healthcare unit but was replaced in July 2003 by company CEO H. Edward Hanway.
Cigna has been struggling with sagging profits and a drop in enrollment, but its financial situation seems to be looking up. The company last week reported first-quarter earnings of $245 million to $275 million, or $1.75 to $1.95 per share higher than previous forecasts. It is laying off 3,000 workers to achieve its cost-cutting goals.
No word on how many of the laid-off workers received large blocks of cash and stock on the way out the door.
A show of hands
From the ruins of a dot-com idea that went bust, a technology has emerged that can detect the dirty hands of caregivers.
High-tech survivor eMerge Interactive, based in Sebastian, Fla., says hospital workers can lower rates of nosocomial infections by making sure hands are clear of deadly fecal contaminants after cleanings. Its hand-held or wall-mounted devices, which sell for up to $3,000, can also serve as the hospital's eyes.
"Hand-washing compliance (in the hospital industry) is about 40%. It's not very good," says Rich Stroman, executive vice president of the VerifEye unit of eMerge.
By programming employees' identification into the systems, hospitals can monitor employee hand hygiene-including frequency and thoroughness of washings. The device uses light-scanning technology that highlights contaminants on the hands.
"It has the ability to record data," Stroman says. "It knows who you are, or (has) the ability to know who you are, and record your compliance in your overall group."
Once an online cattle peddler, eMerge recorded a net loss of $9.7 million on revenue of almost $927,000 in fiscal 2003 vs. a loss of $30.6 million on revenue of $13.2 million the previous year. Its cattle-selling roots helped develop the technology that detects the deadly contaminants.
VerifEye expects to roll its products into hospitals later this year.
For the first time in his 42-year Senate career, Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) has been named "Porker of the Month" by the Citizens Against Government Waste. Usually the honor goes to lawmakers who secure money for pet projects in their states and districts. But Kennedy earned his award by criticizing the Bush administration for the high cost of the Medicare bill when he supported proposals that could have cost twice as much.
When Congress crafted and voted on the Medicare reform bill last year, it assumed a $395 billion price tag; in January, the Bush administration said the measure would actually cost $534 billion to enact. Ever since the new estimate surfaced, Kennedy has been vocal about the need to find out what President Bush knew and when he knew it.
The latest 10-year estimate of what the prescription drug law will cost "means an extra $49 billion in profits for drug companies," Kennedy said in January.
"To see Sen. Kennedy wring his hands and cry crocodile tears over the higher cost estimates for the new Medicare plan is laughable," the CAGW says in a news release naming Kennedy March's Porker of the Month. The group cites the senator's support for a Democratic drug bill that would have cost at least $800 billion, as well as his "fiscal unfitness on the Medicare program and healthcare in general."
Kennedy's office did not return calls seeking comment on the award.