News in Brief: Week of Aug. 22-26

August 24, 2011 04:05 pm News Staff

This roundup includes the following news briefs:

AstraZeneca Updates Prescribing Information for Asthma Drug

AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals LP is informing physicians about updated prescribing information( for its brand-name asthma medication Symbicort, which combines the corticosteroid budesonide with the long-acting beta agonist, or LABA, formoterol fumarate dihydrate.

The FDA announced in February 2010 that it would require new warnings for LABAs that state these drugs should never be used alone to treat asthma in children or adults but may be used in combination with another asthma controller medication, such as an inhaled corticosteroid.

AstraZeneca said in a letter to the AAFP that the prescribing information for budesonide and formoterol fumarate dihydrate includes a boxed warning to highlight the risk of asthma-related death. The manufacturer's letter also emphasizes the following new prescribing guidelines:

  • budesonide and formoterol fumarate dehydrate should only be used in patients who are not adequately controlled on long-term asthma medication, or whose disease severity warrants initiation of treatment with both a corticosteroid and an LABA;
  • when asthma control is achieved, assess the patient at regular intervals, step down therapy, if possible, and maintain the patient on a long-term asthma medication;
  • the medication should not be used by patients whose asthma is controlled on low- or medium-dose inhaled corticosteroids; and
  • the drug has a risk evaluation and mitigation strategy that consists of a patient medication guide( and a communications program.

Report Shows More Children Covered by Medicare, CHIP

A new report shows improvement in the number of children eligible for and enrolled in Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program, or CHIP. Between 2008 and 2009, the number of children who were eligible for one of the programs but not enrolled fell by about 340,000.

The report, Gains for Children: Increased Participation in Medicaid and CHIP in 2009(, was prepared by the Urban Institute, a nonpartisan Washington-based research organization, with funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The number of children eligible for Medicaid or CHIP increased by about 2.5 million between 2008 and 2009. Report authors said the bump was largely due to downward shifts in income related to the U.S. recession and the expansion of the two programs at the state level. At the same time, rates of participation increased from 82.1 percent to 84.8 percent.

Researchers also pointed out that 15 states and the District of Columbia had participation rates of 90 percent or higher in 2009. Just three states -- Texas, Florida and California -- accounted for about 40 percent of the remaining eligible but uninsured children.

CMS Takes Steps to Expand Competitive Bidding Program

CMS has undertaken a major expansion of a competitive bidding program that is intended to lower costs for quality durable medical equipment, prosthetics, orthotics and supplies.

The competitive bidding program uses competition between suppliers to set new, lower payment rates for certain medical equipment and supplies, such as oxygen equipment, walkers and some types of power wheelchairs. The first phase of the program was implemented in nine U.S. cities in January, and costs in the program were reduced by about 35 percent, according to CMS(

CMS will conduct a second phase of the program for a similar set of products in 91 major metropolitan areas this fall; new prices take effect on July 1, 2013. There will be no immediate effect on beneficiaries in areas where the program is expanding, CMS said. These beneficiaries can continue to use their current suppliers at this time.

The second round of product categories consists of:

  • oxygen, oxygen equipment and supplies;
  • standard power and manual wheelchairs, scooters, and related accessories;
  • enteral nutrients, equipment and supplies;
  • continuous positive airway pressure devices, respiratory assist devices, and related supplies and accessories;
  • hospital beds and related accessories;
  • walkers and related accessories;
  • negative pressure wound therapy pumps and related supplies and accessories; and
  • support surfaces (e.g., group 2 mattresses and overlays).

Graham Center's UDS Mapper Takes First Place at International Conference

UDS Mapper(, a geographic information system that was developed for the Health Resources and Services Administration by the AAFP's Robert Graham Center(, won first place for the best Web-based application during the recent Economic and Social Research Institute International Users Conference in San Diego.

UDS Mapper is an online tool that allows researchers to identify areas served by federally qualified health centers, the change in the number of people who receive services from these centers over time, and an estimate of places where additional services and health center expansion would be most beneficial. It allows users to visualize and understand the primary care safety net through maps, tables and numerous data layers.

The tool is proving valuable to health planners as the community health center network grows, said Robert Phillips, M.D., M.S.P.H., director of the Graham Center. UDS Mapper is based on algorithms developed by John Snow Inc.