The head of anesthesiology at Memorial Medical Center, New Orleans, said he heard no discussions about nor saw any evidence of acts of euthanasia during the days that followed Hurricane Katrina, contradicting allegations made by a hospitalist at Memorial in an interview with CNN. The hospital and its owner, Tenet Healthcare Corp., declined to comment on the allegations. After the storm, 45 bodies were removed from Memorial and the state attorney general's office opened an investigation of any hospital or nursing home where patients died during the storm's aftermath. A spokeswoman for the attorney general's office said the investigation continues and may yield some results that can be made public in a few weeks. Tenet said it is cooperating with the office.
UnitedHealth profits up 21%
Profits at UnitedHealth Group, Minnetonka, Minn., the nation's second-largest health insurer and an industry bellwether, climbed 21% in the quarter ended Sept. 30 reflecting strong membership gains and slowing medical cost growth. The first major health insurer to report third-quarter earnings, UnitedHealth said net income reached $842 million, or 64 cents per share, up from $698 million, or 52 cents per share, in the year-ago quarter. Goldman Sachs analyst Matthew Borsch said the results bode well for the sector. "We expect another strong back-half for managed care," Borsch said in a research note. UnitedHealth's enrollment rose 7% over the year-ago quarter to 23.5 million members, driven by internal growth and the Sept. 19 acquisition of 130,000-member Neighborhood Health Partnership, Miami. Medical costs consumed 78% of commercial premium revenue, down from 78.6% in the 2004 third quarter. Revenue rose 15% to $11.3 billion. The company expects to add 2 million to 3 million new members next year because of the Medicare prescription-drug benefit that takes effect Jan. 1, 2006. Its $9.2 billion acquisition of Medicare HMO giant PacifiCare Health Systems would add an additional 3.2 million members.
Hospital prices rise 0.2%
Prices paid by consumers for hospital services rose 0.2% in September after a 0.4% drop in August, according to the seasonally adjusted Consumer Price Index from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In the 12 months ended in September, consumer hospital prices were up 4.7%. Meanwhile, consumer prices for physician services, which were flat in August, increased 0.3% in September and were up 3.2% in the 12 months.
FDA seizes pumps from Baxter
Federal regulators said Oct. 14 they seized thousands of drug pumps from Baxter International inventory because the medical devicemaker failed to follow manufacturing requirements. Baxter disclosed Oct. 13 that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration had confiscated nearly 7,000 infusion pumps-electronic devices that deliver intravenous therapies to patients-from two warehouses in Illinois on Oct. 12. The company voluntarily halted shipments of two pump models in July after discovering two unrelated design flaws that might have resulted in seven deaths and 16 serious injuries. The FDA said in a statement Oct. 14 that it ordered the seizure because Baxter "has continually failed to follow medical device manufacturing requirements." It also alleged Baxter violated federal regulations by not reporting the pump problems to the FDA. Baxter spokeswoman Cindy Resman declined to respond to the specific allegations.