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Morning Read: What health-reform cost savings?

Highlights of the important and the interesting from the world of healthcare: What cost savings? A Medicare actuary released a report saying that the new health reform law will increase health spending by 1 percent. Does that mean that earlier Congressional Budget Office estimates that reform would lower the deficit are wrong? Not necessarily. The […]

Highlights of the important and the interesting from the world of healthcare:

What cost savings? A Medicare actuary released a report saying that the new health reform law will increase health spending by 1 percent. Does that mean that earlier Congressional Budget Office estimates that reform would lower the deficit are wrong? Not necessarily. The CBO numbers take into account both spending and revenues, while the Medicare report is only looking at the spending side, as Ezra Klein explains.

Further, most reform advocates would likely say the spending increase is well worth it, if the result is an additonal 34 million Americans with health insurance coverage, as the Medicare actuary estimates. The report also suggests that reform could drive Medicare premiums down, something that few of us (except maybe doctors and hospitals) would argue with. Finally, it’s worth noting that the report comes from the same actuary who generated controversy during the George W. Bush administration when he “misoverestimated” the cost of Bush’s Mediare  Part D prescription drug plan by 37  percent. So don’t be fooled by  the latest  numbers. Bottom line: As Klein points out, the spending estimates (and our reaction to them) tell us more about our own biases than they do about the effects of the reform law.

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A Deep-dive Into Specialty Pharma

A specialty drug is a class of prescription medications used to treat complex, chronic or rare medical conditions. Although this classification was originally intended to define the treatment of rare, also termed “orphan” diseases, affecting fewer than 200,000 people in the US, more recently, specialty drugs have emerged as the cornerstone of treatment for chronic and complex diseases such as cancer, autoimmune conditions, diabetes, hepatitis C, and HIV/AIDS.

More bad news for insurers: A judge in Maine has limited insurers’ ability to implement rate hikes, upholding the state regulator’s decision to reject Wellpoint’s proposed 18 percent increase. The regulator earlier gave the insurer the right to increase rates 10.1 percent, but drew the line at the bigger proposed hike. What happens in Maine may not necessarily stay in Maine, as California, Colorado and Massachusetts are experiencing similar  battles.

A kinder, gentler chicken: A Purdue University researcher is breeding a more sedate egg-producing chicken, in an effort to curb chicken-on-chicken violence that results from having the birds in close quarters in live-stock cages. Decades of breeding white leghorn hens, which supply most of the nation’s eggs, have not only resulted in a more productive bird but a more aggressive and violent one, too, the AP reports. And when food companies put these aggressive chickens together in small cages, the feathers (and blood) start to fly.

“If you leave their beaks intact it’s a bloodbath,” the Purdue researcher said. “They will literally kill each other. It’s kind of a dominance thing. … They just peck each other to death.”

A Dutch genetics company has already begun breeding the friendlier chickens, which are expected to be commercially available in about three years.

Protection from death panels? “Confusion is the scammer’s best friend,” and many a con artist is taking advantage of public confusion over health reform to rip people off, various state insurance officials have said. The scams include offering protection from death panels and people posing as government employees to collect insurance payments for “Obamacare.” The elderly and poor are the most vulnerable to such scams, though most rip-offs are easy to detect, experts say. But the threats have been serious enough to generate warnings from the federal government and state insurance commissioners, the New York Times reports.

Photo from flickr user alanacleaver_2000