News in Brief: Week of Nov. 21-25

November 23, 2011 04:30 pm News Staff

This roundup includes the following news briefs:

Berwick Steps Down as CMS Administrator

CMS Administrator Donald Berwick, M.D., resigned on Nov. 23 after Senate Republicans indicated they would block his nomination.

President Obama used a recess appointment to make Berwick the administrator of CMS in July 2010, thereby circumventing a contentious confirmation process for the nomination in the Senate. Republicans and some Democrats opposed Berwick's nomination because of concerns that he was a proponent of health care rationing and government run health care programs. Without sufficient support in the Senate, Berwick was unable to win Senate confirmation for another term, making his resignation a foregone conclusion.

NIH Research Indicates Primary Care Influence Helps Weight Loss Numbers

The NIH has unveiled two studies( with promising news on how family physicians can help their patients with weight loss. The studies were part of the $17.5 million Practice-based Opportunities for Weight Reduction, or POWER, trials funded by the NIH's National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

The first study reported that adult patients who received support from their primary care physician, as well as coaching via the phone, Internet and e-mail, lost a significant amount of weight and kept it off. According to the study, participants lost as much as 5 percent of their body weight and kept it off for two years.

The second study also showed promising results with regard to keeping weight off. Using "25 lifestyle counseling sessions, combined with the option to use weight loss medication or meal replacements (such as liquid shakes or meal bars)" helped a third of the study's participants to lose a significant amount of weight and keep it off for two years.

U.S. Falls Short in Preventing Avoidable Hospitalizations From Asthma, COPD

Despite leading the world in health care spending, the United States has the highest rate among 34 industrialized nations of avoidable hospitalization rates for asthma complications and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD. That's one of the main conclusions of a recent study released by the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, or OECD.

The Health at a Glance 2011: OECD Indicator( study found that the "United States does not do well in preventing costly hospital admissions for chronic conditions, such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which should normally be managed through proper primary care."

U.S. health care spending accounted for 17.4 percent of the country's gross domestic product spending in 2009, easily the highest share in the OECD, according to the report. Moreover, U.S. health care spending was $8,000 per capita in 2009, which is two-and-a-half times higher than the average for the other OECD-member countries.

However, the rate of asthma admissions in the United States was 121 per 100,000 adults in 2009, more than two times greater than the OECD average of 52. Hospital admission rates for COPD were 230 per 100,000 adults in 2009, far greater than the OECD average of 198.

HHS Releases Enhanced Version of Insurance Finder for Small Businesses

HHS has launched an expanded version of its insurance-finder tool(, which gives small-business owners the ability to compare the benefits and costs of health plans and choose plans that best meet the needs of their employees.

With the enhanced tool, small businesses can research "locally available products in an unbiased manner," which could result in a more transparent and competitive marketplace, according to HHS. The enhanced tool gives small businesses access to

  • insurance product choices for given ZIP codes sorted by out-of-pocket limits, average cost per enrollee or other factors;
  • a summary of cost and coverage for small group products that shows the available deductibles, the range of co-pay options included, excluded benefits and benefits available for purchase at additional cost; and
  • the ability to filter product selection based on whether plans are health savings account eligible, have prescription drug, mental health or maternity coverage, or allow for domestic partner or same sex coverage.