Family Physicians Urge Senate Confirmation of Dr. Satcher
The American Academy of Family Physicians and the American Medical Association issued strong statements in late January urging prompt Senate confirmation of David Satcher, M.D., Ph.D., as the country's next Surgeon General and Assistant Secretary for Health. While his nomination was voted on favorably in the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee last fall, some senators had blocked a full Senate vote prior to the congressional recess. The AAFP has mobilized family physicians throughout the country to share their support of Dr. Satcher with their senators. Additionally, family physicians have written letters to several newspapers expressing support. In a January statement, AAFP Board Chair Patrick Harr, M.D., emphasized that “Dr. Satcher is eminently qualified, because of his commitment to public health and his long involvement in family medicine.” Dr. Satcher has been an AAFP member since 1975. He became director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in November 1993. Prior to joining the CDC, he had served for 11 years as president of Meharry Medical College, Nashville, Tenn.
Sen. John Breaux Will Chair the Bipartisan Medicare Commission
On January 16, the chair and the administrative chair of the newly created National Bipartisan Commission on the Future of Medicare were named. Sen. John B. Breaux (D-La.) will serve as chair of the panel. He is a member of the Senate Finance Committee as well as the Special Committee on Aging, where he is the ranking minority member. The administrative chair position of the 17-member commission will be filled by Rep. Bill Thomas (R-Calif.), current chair of the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Health. The Senate Finance and the House Ways and Means Committees both have jurisdiction over the Medicare program. Representative Thomas will select the commission's staff director, with approval from Senator Breaux, and the staff will report to both. The commission is charged with reporting to Congress by March 1, 1999, on the future of the Medicare program.
FDA Approves 121 New Original Drugs in 1997
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved 121 new original drugs in 1997. The median approval time for these drugs was 14.4 months, 6 percent faster than in 1996. Thirty-nine of the new original drugs were new molecular entities, which contain an active substance that had never before been approved for marketing in the United States. The median approval time for these new molecular entities was 13.4 months, 6 percent faster than in 1996. Nine of the new molecular entities were priority drugs, which received a quicker review because they represent a major advance in medical treatment. According to the FDA, Viracept, a new protease inhibitor for the treatment of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection, was approved in 2.6 months; Evista, which is indicated for prevention of osteoporosis in postmenopausal women, and Rezulin and Prandin, both for treatment of patients with type 2 (non–insulin-dependent) diabetes, were all approved in six months or less. Other priority drugs approved last year were Rescriptor, a combination therapy for HIV infection; Plavix, for the prevention of second stroke in patients with hardening of the arteries, and Agrylin, a blood thinner for patients with thrombosis.
The FDA also approved 35 biologic products. Biologic products cover a broad spectrum of new products, technologies, manufacturing methods, indications and premarket applications. According to the FDA, the most significant first approvals of biologics were Benefix, a new recombinant DNA-derived clotting factor for people with hemophilia B; Zenapax, a product that helps prevent kidney transplant rejection, and Rituxan, a monoclonal antibody for treatment of patients with one type of lymphoma.
NRHA Adopts 1998 Legislative and Regulatory Agenda
The Rural Health Policy Board of the National Rural Health Association (NRHA) has adopted a legislative and regulatory agenda that outlines health care policy issues important to the nation's rural health care delivery system. The NRHA's 1998 Legislative Agenda is intended to promote issues that need to be considered by Congress, federal regulatory agencies and the White House. The agenda recommends reforms to the Graduate Medical Educational program, opposes the phase-out of Medicaid cost-based reimbursement to rural health clinics and federally qualified health centers, and supports expansions and reforms for telemedicine reimbursement. More information about the agenda can be obtained by contacting the NRHA Government Affairs Office in Washington, D.C., at 202-232-6200 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. The full text is also available on the NRHA Web site at http://www.NRHArural.org.
HHS Announces $445 Million in Grants for HIV/AIDS Care
Health and Human Services Secretary Donna E. Shalala has announced awards of more than $445 million in grants to 49 metropolitan areas to fund primary health care and support services for low-income persons with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. Funded under Title I of the Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency (CARE) Act, these grants represent almost one half of the total $1.15 billion in CARE Act funds that will be awarded in FY 1998. “These CARE Act funds give communities most affected by the HIV epidemic the means to provide crucial services to those most in need,” said Secretary Shalala. “These awards are invaluable in providing comprehensive care for hundreds of thousands of people,” she noted.
Awards to metropolitan areas are determined by formulas set in law. To qualify for Title I funding, an eligible metropolitan area must have a population of at least 500,000 and have reported more than 2,000 AIDS cases in the past five years. Cities receiving grants include Houston (almost $13 million), Chicago (nearly $16 million), Miami ($18 million), Los Angeles ($30 million), San Francisco ($36 million) and New York ($93 million).