Last week saw the news that Humana, one of the country's largest health insurance companies, experienced much better second-quarter earnings than had been expected. The announcement amounted to confirmation that the Medicare drug benefit is working exactly as planned -- not for the people enrolled in it, but for the insurers who drafted it.
The Bush administration's Medicare drug plan, designed to specifications set by big insurers such as Humana and United Healthcare, is headed for more turmoil over the next year, and seniors will be the ones to suffer. Why? Because, while a handful of insurers and HMO's may be able to cash in on the program, by cornering enrollment or by drawing seniors into their managed-care programs, many health insurers are not likely to find the program the goldmine they had hoped. Industry consultants, Wall Street analysts, even conservative economists predict a major shakeout of plans, which will leave seniors bewildered and searching for new coverage. And some warn of premium hikes and reduced coverage by the plans that remain in the program.
Employers face new opposition in their efforts to rein in health-care spending, and it's not coming from the employees whom they are forcing to foot more of the bill. Instead, employers are at odds with their allies in the conservative think-tank world, who are mounting an all-out offensive to unravel the employer-based insurance system, which covers nearly 60 percent of Americans, by proposing to tax that benefit.
Once again the country is facing a flu vaccine shortage, but it has gotten little attention from the Bush administration. Health care facilities, schools, and supermarkets are canceling flu vaccine clinics in Arizona, California, Texas, New York, D.C., and elsewhere. As Hillary Clinton noted on November 10, the American Lung Association's Flu Clinic Locator Web site has been rendered almost useless because so many clinics have been canceled around the country.
A two-year battle ended last week in a major defeat for deregulators when Congress overruled a controversial Food and Drug Administration (FDA) decision.
Two years ago Daniel Troy, the first political appointee to become the agency's top lawyer, stripped the FDA of its ability to regulate cosmetic contact lenses. That action set Troy against the medical profession, manufacturers -- and the FDA's own scientists.
Troy's decision caused an uproar at the FDA. “Agency officials were very upset, very demoralized about what happened,” one former top official says. “Some almost quit.”
But on Wednesday, October 26, the House followed the Senate's lead and unanimously passed a bill reasserting the FDA's oversight over decorative contact lenses.