News in Brief: Week of March 19-23

March 21, 2012 02:55 pm News Staff

This roundup includes the following news briefs:

CDC Launches National Tobacco Education Campaign

The CDC's Office on Smoking and Health has launched a consumer media campaign to raise awareness of the suffering caused by smoking and to encourage smokers to quit.

According to an HHS news release(, the "Tips From Former Smokers" campaign profiles people living with adverse health effects due to smoking, including stomas, paralysis from stroke, lung removal, heart attack and limb amputation.

Of the numerous former smokers the campaign features, three provide tips on how they were able to kick the habit. Interested individuals can access free resources from the campaign online( or by calling the campaign's toll-free number, (800) QUIT-NOW [784-8669].

MedPAC Calls On Congress to Repeal the SGR

The Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC) is once again urging Congress to repeal the sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula, saying in its March report( to lawmakers that "it is critical for the Congress to act now to resolve the SGR for a number of reasons."

"First, the total cost of repealing the SGR grows inexorably with each passing year, as does the cost of temporary fixes," the report says. "Second, as the deficit grows, there is greater need to offset the full cost of repealing the SGR."

The commission sent a letter( to Congress in October, saying that the SGR is "fundamentally flawed" and creates "instability in the Medicare program for providers and beneficiaries."

The March report, like the October letter, urges Congress to repeal the SGR and replace it with a 10-year path of statutory fee-schedule updates. This path would include a freeze in current payment levels for primary care, along with a 5.9 percent payment reduction for other services for the next three years, followed by a freeze in payment levels.

Health Care Quality, Access Vary Widely Among States, Communities

All health care is local. At least that's one of the main conclusions of a new report issued by the Commonwealth Fund that finds where a person lives directly impacts his or her ability to access health care and the quality of care received.

The report, Rising to the Challenge: Results from a Scorecard on Local Health Performance, 2012(, compared 306 health care areas throughout the United States that are known as hospital referral regions. It found wide variations on key indicators of health system performance. These indicators include access to care, quality of care, costs and health care outcomes. All of the indicators varied significantly from one community to another, both within larger states and across states, according to the report.

Areas in the Northeast and Upper Midwest often ranked in the top quartile of health system performance, while places in the South, particularly within the Gulf Coast and the south-central states, had the lowest-performing health systems.

The report also found that

  • the proportion of older adults who received recommended preventive care was more than twice as high in the best-performing area, but even in the areas with the highest ratings, not enough adults 50 years and older received all recommended preventive services;
  • the percentage of uninsured adults ages 18-64 ranged from a low of about 5 percent in several areas in Massachusetts to more than half in two Texas areas with the highest uninsured rates; and
  • better quality of care, as measured by prevention and treatment indicators, also was associated with lower rates of potentially preventable deaths.