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HEALTH CARE NEWS

US Congress extends CHIP, funds opioid crisis response following temporary shutdown

Publish date: February 9, 2018

By 

Gregory Twachtman 

Oncology Practice

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Congress, despite a second shutdown in less than a month, was able to pass a number of financial extenders to fund key health care programs.

The bipartisan spending bill (H.R. 1892), passed in the early morning hours on Feb. 9 by a 71-28 vote in the Senate (16 Republicans and 12 Democrats voted against it, and Sen. John McCain [R-Ariz.] was not present) and a 240-186 vote in the House (67 Republicans and 119 Democrats voted against and 5 representatives did not vote). President Trump signed the bill later that morning.

 

The spending bill and continuing resolution to fund the government through March 23 includes $6 billion to fund treatment for opioid addiction and other mental health issues, $2 billion in additional funding for the National Institutes of Health, and 4 additional years of funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program. The additional CHIP funding extends the program for a total of 10 years.

The funding bill also made a technical correction to the Merit-based Incentive Payment System (MIPS) track of the Medicare Quality Payment Program. It removes Part B drug reimbursement from the MIPS payment adjustment, so any positive or negative change to physician payments based on the MIPS score will only be applied to physician fee schedule payments.

The bill also repeals the Independent Payment Advisory Board, a panel created by the Affordable Care Act that would have the power to slash Medicare spending under certain budget circumstances. That board was never convened.

The funding legislation also accelerates closure of the Medicare Part D “donut hole,” the coverage gap in which beneficiaries must pay 100% of medication costs prior to entering catastrophic coverage.

Just over $7 billion was provided for community health centers and Medicare’s therapy caps were repealed.

While the funding bill was written in the Senate with bipartisan input and received bipartisan support, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) held up votes over objections to the more than $1 trillion it will add to the nation’s debt, as well as for the fact that there was no opportunity to introduce and vote on amendments, leading to an hours-long government shutdown.

There also were concerns about two issues that could have derailed the vote in the House. Democrats wanted to add language to address immigrants brought to this nation illegally as children, while some Republicans did not want to increase the federal debt. However, there were enough votes to pass the funding legislation.

gtwachtman@frontlinemedcom.com

New Lyme Disease Tests Could Offer Quicker, More Accurate Detection

Drotumdi O

Newswise — New tests to detect early Lyme disease – which is increasing beyond the summer months – could replace existing tests that often do not clearly identify the infection before health problems occur.

In an analysis published on December 7 in Clinical Infectious Diseases, scientists from Rutgers University, Harvard University, Yale University, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases of the National Institutes of Health and other academic centers, industry and public health agencies say new diagnostic methods offer a better chance for more accurate detection of the infection from the Lyme bacteria.

“New tests are at hand that offer more accurate, less ambiguous test results that can yield actionable results in a timely fashion,” said Steven Schutzer, a physician-scientist at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School and senior author. “Improved tests will allow for earlier diagnosis, which should improve patient outcomes.”

Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne infection in North America and Europe. There are currently over 300,000 cases of Lyme disease annually in the United States alone, and the disease is increasing and spreading into new regions. Lyme disease frequently, but not always, presents with a bull’s-eye rash. When the rash is absent, a laboratory test is needed. 

The only FDA-approved Lyme disease tests, based on technology developed more than two decades ago, rely on detecting antibodies that the body’s immune system makes in response to the disease. These antibody-based tests are the most commonly used tests for Lyme disease and are the current standard.

[[image:2:right:35]]One problem, however, is that many people produce similar – called “cross-reactive” – antibodies in response to other bacteria not associated with Lyme disease, which causes confusing results and makes test accuracy more difficult.

“New tests are more exact and are not as susceptible to the same false-positive or false-negative results associated with current tests.” said Schutzer. 

Schutzer and his colleagues say more accurate testing would help doctors decide when to prescribe the antibiotics used to clear the infection and help avoid severe long-term health problems. Antibody tests, can take three weeks or more for the antibody levels to reach a point where the tests can pick up a positive result.

Those involved in the paper joined forces after meeting at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory’s Banbury Center, a nonprofit research institution in New York.  The meeting organized and chaired by Schutzer and John A. Branda, assistant professor of pathology at Harvard Medical School, focused on current Lyme disease tests and new scientific advances made in increasing the accuracy of the diagnosis.

“This meeting and paper resulting from it are particularly significant,” said Jan Witkowski, professor in the Watson School of Biological Sciences at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory who along with Nobel Laureate James Watson asked Schutzer to lead several symposia. “The participants noted that there are greatly improved diagnostic tests for Lyme disease that can be implemented now, and that the way is open to the development of further tests.”

 

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