Longer Lives Come with a Price – Often Poor Health

November 20, 2013

We are living longer, but spending more of those extra years with chronic disease and disabilities.  Is the trade off worth it?  It’s an interesting question as CNN’S Dr. Sanjay Gupta reports in the story above.

For most of human history, old people were rare.  A lucky few might make it to 60 or 70, but most people died before their hair turned white and their faces sagged. It wasn’t until the 20th century that the average lifespan reached 50.  A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association examines the cost of living longer.

The JAMA study found life expectancy in the United States for both sexes combined increased from 75.2 years in 1990 to 78.2 years in 2010.  It also found improvements in population health in the U.S. have not kept pace with advances in population health in other wealthy nations.  Click here to read more.

New Study Shows Many Herbal Supplements Fake

November 6, 2013

Popular herbal supplements like echinacea, Ginko biloba, St. John’s Wart, and black cohosh are among dozens being called into question, in a new study that used DNA testing.  The study found many of these supplements don’t actually contain the herbs, at all.  Instead, they are little more than powdered rice and weeds.

Canadian researchers tested 44 bottles of popular herbal supplements sold by 12 companies.  A third of the pills actually contained none of the purported herb and 60-percent were diluted.

The New York Times reports on the controversy:

 Americans spend an estimated $5 billion a year on unproven herbal supplements that promise everything from fighting off colds to curbing hot flashes and boosting memory. But now there is a new reason for supplement buyers to beware: DNA tests show that many pills labeled as healing herbs are little more than powdered rice and weeds.

 

Using a test called DNA barcoding, a kind of genetic fingerprinting that has also been used to help uncover labeling fraud in the commercial seafood industry, Canadian researchers tested 44 bottles of popular supplements sold by 12 companies. They found that many were not what they claimed to be, and that pills labeled as popular herbs were often diluted — or replaced entirely — by cheap fillers like soybean, wheat and rice.

Click here to read more from the New York Times.

 

Ways to be More Productive

September 20, 2013

Eating more super foods and looking at pictures of kittens top the list of ways to become more productive, according to a British study.  No seriously, I have to admit I felt more alert after looking at this cute little fur ball!  Research has shown looking at cute images does indeed stimulate the pleasure centers of the brain.

Okay, so after you look at cute baby animals, here are a few more ways to make your day more productive.  Health Care Communications reports:

1. Eat more super foods:  Ditch the left-over lasagna and eat more like a bird!  Fish, dark chocolate, nuts and seeds, avocados, raw carrots and blueberries all make the list of super foods.

2. Look at pictures of kittens:  Okay, we already established this.

3.  Take a break:  Regulars breaks dramatically improve productivity, especially if you work at a computer.

4. Focus on one activity:  Is it really a surprise that multi-tasking cuts DOWN on productivity? Oh, excuse me. I just got a text.

5.  Don’t force yourself to be a morning person:  Coffee can help, of course, but your “peak time” might just be late afternoon or even late at night.

Click here to read more in depth information about these tips on Ragan’s Health Care Communications News.

 

 

Why Can’t Small Businesses Get Loans?

September 18, 2013

Why is it that Sears, the once iconic retailer now on life-support, can get a $1 billion loan, but small businesses trying to get started or expand can’t get bupkis?  Al Lewis, one of our favorite business writers, took a crack at that question examining that dichotomy in his MarketWatch column.  Al writes:

I got a tweet this week from a guy who sells “Made In the U.S.A.” neckties in Belleville, N.J. “What financial institution would lend Sears $1B?” he asked. “They are a dying whale. But still small biz can’t borrow a dime!”

Since the financial crisis of 2008, the Federal Reserve’s accommodative policies have led to one big corporate refinancing after the next. Companies borrow billions for stock repurchases, dividend increases, refinancings and buyouts.

Al goes on to explain that Sears just wants to borrow more money to roll over debt it already has on the books. That’s a sure way to create more jobs, now isn’t it.  Click here to read more of Al’s column, “How come Sears can get a loan but you can’t?

Who Buys Generic and Why

June 25, 2013

When you look at a generic product on the shelf, is there a little voice in the back of your head that says, ‘It must be a little bit inferior to the name brand‘?  That’s certainly what the name brands would like you to think, since they spend tons of money to get you to pick their product, but generally research shows most generics are almost identical to many name brands. And, of course, they cost a lot less.

So, who among us is smart enough to realize that and resist the urge to go for the well-advertised product, instead reaching for that blandly packaged generic?  According to a new study of shopping data by Nielson Co. people who work as nurses and chefs are among those who most often save the bucks and chose the generic.

Education appears to be a factor in choosing generics.  People who’ve gone to college are more likely to pick generic headache remedies than those who don’t.  The Wall Street Journal took an intriguing look at the new research.  You can read more here.

 

 

Protect Your Credit Card & Bank Account on Vacation

May 30, 2013

The summer travel season is here and that means scammers will be on the prowl trying to take advantage of tourists on vacation.  It’s important to be especially careful when using your credit card or ATM card on vacation.  Consumer Reports laid out some good advice on how to prevent a crook from stealing your ATM card password and how to protect yourself against unauthorized charges on your credit card.

The tips include inspecting an ATM for a false front and reporting any unauthorized charges immediately to limit your liability.  Click here to read more from Consumer Reports.

Protect Yourself

Creditcards.com recommends several other easy ways to protect your credit cards while traveling.

  1. Don’t pack all your cards.  No need to put them all at risk, just the one or two you know you’ll need.
  2. Watch your card.  Don’t leave purses or bags with credit cards unattended.
  3. Don’t use debit cards on vacation.  Stick with credit cards which offer more protection
  4. Check your card activity.  This will help you to learn quickly if someone has skimmed your card or made unauthorized charges.
  5. Create text alerts.  If your credit cards is stolen, activate text alerts on all your credit cards. That way anytime something is posted to your account, you get a text on your phone.
  6. Lock it up.  If you don’t need your credit card for the day, lock it up in your hotel room safe.

 

Nurse’s Allegations about Medicare Lead to $7.3 Million Settlement

May 23, 2013

A nurse’s allegations about excessive charges to Medicare led to a $7.3 million settlement between a Plano, Texas-based firm and the U.S. Justice Department.

Whistleblower Laura Davis’ complaint involved charges for Epogen, an anemia drug used to treat dialysis patients. A “qui tam” whistleblower lawsuit filed on her behalf in Baltimore alleged that Dialysis Corporation of America billed Medicare and other government healthcare programs for more Epogen than was used.

Epogen is an intravenous medication that is used to treat anemia, a common condition afflicting patients with end-stage renal disease. Epogen vials contain a small amount of medication in excess of the labeled amount, known as “overfill,” to compensate for medication that may remain in the vial after extraction and in the syringe upon administration.

The United States contends that from January 2004 through May 2011, DCA billed for 10-11% overfill whenever it administered Epogen. However, because of the types of syringes DCA used, the United States alleges that DCA was not able to withdraw and administer 10-11% overfill every time it administered Epogen to patients, and thus submitted false claims to Medicare that overstated the amount of Epogen that it was actually providing.

Dialsysis Corporation was acquired by U.S. Renal Care, which is headquartered in Plano, in June 2010.

Click here to read more from The Dallas Morning News.

Can You Trust Generic Drugs?

May 15, 2013

Many patients have come to accept generic drugs as a way to save costs when their insurance won’t cover name brands.  It seems like a reasonable alternative, but a recent whistleblower case calls into question whether the booming use of generics can be properly regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.

Generic drug maker Ranbaxy plead guilty to federal drug safety violations and will pay $500 million in fines to settle claims that it sold sub-par drugs and made false statements to the FDA about its two manufacturing plants in India.  The United States contends that Ranbaxy manufactured, distributed, and sold drugs whose strength, purity, or quality differed from the drug’s specifications or that were not manufactured according to the FDA-approved formulation. The Justice Department said it is the largest drug safety settlement to date with a generic drug manufacturer.

Many Generic Drugs Made Overseas

The global market for generics is estimated to be $242 billion and growing. Fortune Magazine examined the dark side of the generics boom in a recent article.  In Dirty Medicine, Fortune reports  more than 80% of active pharmaceutical ingredients for all U.S. drugs now come from overseas, as do 40% of finished pills and capsules.

When you consider just how much of America’s generic drug supply comes from factories outside of the U.S., the Ranbaxy case is cause for concern.  It puts the FDA in a difficult position when it comes to policing facilities that produce the generic drugs Americans are increasingly ingesting.

Fortune reports, as our dependence on generic drugs from overseas has grown, so have questions about their oversight and safety. A report by the Government Accountability Office found that in 2009, regulators inspected only 11% of foreign drug manufacturing plants, while they inspected 40% of domestic ones.

Here is an excerpt of the Fortune report:

Fortune’s investigation yields the first comprehensive picture of how one under-policed and far-flung generics company operated. It is not a tale of cutting corners or lax manufacturing practices but one of outright fraud, in which the company knowingly sold substandard drugs around the world — including in the U.S. — while working to deceive regulators. The impact on patients will likely never be known. But it is clear that millions of people worldwide got medicine of dubious quality from Ranbaxy.

Click here to read more.

 

 

Medicare’s Pay & Chase Phenomenon

May 3, 2013

Forget about drug-dealing, Medicare fraud is becoming America’s new get rich quick scheme of choice.  Why? Because it’s easy money, with little threat of prosecution. An article in the Broward Palm Beach New Times explains the crime is so widespread, prosecutors don’t even bother going after anyone unless they’ve stolen $500,000 or more.

Reporter Chris Parker rode along with agents, driving by strip mall after strip mall packed with pop-up medical clinics that authorities say game the system. First , the money comes fast and easy. Medicare generally pays invoices first and pursues criminals later, only after time-consuming audits. It’s a phenomenon that’s become known as “pay and chase” by insiders.

The sheer volume of offenders makes going after the bad guys overwhelming, and the bad guys know it. Click here to read more about the onslaught of Medicare fraud in the New Times report on how Medicare fraud has become big business in South Florida.

Employees within these clinics and even big hospitals are generally the whistle-blowers who come forward to expose the fraud. Authorities depend on these citizens to stop the systemic fraud that’s ripping off taxpayers. Click here to learn more from the James Hoyer Law Firm about how and why to become a whistle-blower if you have inside knowledge about fraud against the government.

 

 

 

What Made Your Doctor Prescribe that Drug?

April 29, 2013

Could an all expenses paid fishing trip or dinner at a five star restaurant influence your doctor when it comes to which prescription to give you? It’s a serious concern which is the focus of attention again because the US Attorney in Manhattan filed suit against drug maker Novartis for allegedly paying kickbacks to increase its prescription-drug sales.

Whistleblower Case

A whistleblower first brought the case to light and now the federal government is putting its power behind the allegations with the filing of this federal lawsuit.  The Switzerland based drug-maker is accused of violating the Anti-Kickback Statute to increase sales of two hypertension drugs, Lotrel and Valturna.  US Attorney in the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara said in a statement, “Novartis reaped dramatically increased profits on these drugs, and Medicare, Medicaid and other federal health-care programs were left holding the bag.”

Pharmacy Kickbacks?

This suit against Novartis comes just days after the same US attorney’s office filed suit against the company for another alleged violation of the False Claims Act.  That suit claims Novartis paid kickbacks, disguised as rebates and discounts, to at least 20 pharmacies for switching patients to its drug Myfortic, which is an immuno-suppressant.

It’s not the first time Novartis has faced such allegations.  Just three years ago, the company settled criminal and civil charges that it illegally promoted drugs for off-label uses. Once again, the company was accused of providing illegal kickbacks to doctors through special junkets and entertainment.  Novartis paid $422.5 million to settle that case and signed a corporate integrity agreement to promise that its promotions would comply with federal anti-kickback laws.

Returning Money to Taxpayers

When whistleblowers working for pharmaceutical companies come forward to report suspected violations of these anti-kickback laws, it lays the groundwork for the government to recover what often amounts to millions of dollars in improper Medicare and Medicaid payments. That means money returned to the taxpayers.

Novartis denies wrongdoing in both of these most recent cases and vows to defend itself in court.

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