Vaccine Manufacturer Expecting Delays in Distribution of Fluvirin
At the end of August, the manufacturer of the influenza virus vaccine Fluvirin, Chiron Corporation, announced that distribution delays of the vaccine are expected. Even with the delay, which was caused by a sterility problem in several lots, the company expects to produce 100 million doses. After putting all lots through safety testing, Chiron estimated that shipping would begin in early October. The other major supplier of the vaccine, Aventis, began shipping in early August. Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are expecting that there will be adequate supplies of influenza vaccine despite the delay. For Chiron’s press release, go to http://www.chiron.com/media/pressreleases/press_release082604.html. The American Academy of Family Physician’s (AAFP) recommendations for influenza immunization are available online at https://www.aafp.org/x14093.xml.
U.S. Census Bureau Report Confirms Rising Number of Uninsured Americans
In a new report, “Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2003,” the U.S. Census Bureau confirms that the number of Americans without insurance is rising. About 45 million persons did not have health insurance in 2003, which is an increase of 1.4 million since 2002. The number of uninsured children in 2003 remained at 8.4 million (11.4 percent), level with 2002. According to the report, the percentage of Americans covered by government health insurance programs was up from 25.7 percent in 2002 to 26.6 percent, primarily because of Medicaid and Medicare coverage increases. The uninsured rate did not change for blacks (19.5 percent), Asians (18.7 percent), or Hispanics (32.7 percent). The full report is available online at http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/income03.html.
CDC Reminds Physicians to Consider West Nile Virus in Pregnant Women
In areas where the virus has been transmitted, the CDC has asked physicians to check for West Nile virus infection in pregnant women presenting with unexplained fever or neurologic illness. Interim guidelines for evaluating infants born to women infected with the virus during pregnancy are available through the CDC’s Web site at http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dvbid/westnile/congenitalinterimguidelines.htm. The CDC urges health care professionals to report any patients infected with the virus during pregnancy promptly to the local or state health department. Although rare, infection during pregnancy has been associated with spontaneous abortion and neonatal illness. It has not been known to cause birth defects. For general information on the virus, go to http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dvbid/westnile/index.htm. A patient information handout on West Nile virus from the AAFP is available online at https://familydoctor.org/790.xml.
New Studies from Robert Graham Center Focus on Race and Access to Health Care
A new study from the Robert Graham Center: Policy Studies in Family Medicine and Primary Care, “Variation in Participation in Health Care Settings Associated with Race and Ethnicity,” was published in the September issue of the Journal of General Internal Medicine. According to the report, blacks and Hispanics are less likely than whites to receive health care in physician offices, outpatient clinics, and emergency departments. The groups did not differ in the likelihood of receiving care in the hospital or at home. An abstract of the study is available online at http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/servlet/useragent?func=synergy&synergyAction=showTOC&journalCode=jgi&volume=19&issue=9&year=2004&part=null. Another study from the Robert Graham Center, “Modifiable Determinants of Healthcare Utilization Within the African-American Population,” was published in the September issue of the Journal of the National Medical Association. Results of the study showed that the strongest changeable factors predicting use of health care services by blacks were having health insurance and a regular physician or place for health care. Emergency department visits showed little variance based on these modifiable risk factors. For more information, go to https://www.aafp.org/x29129.xml. The full report is available online at http://www.nmanet.org/Publications_JNMA_Issue_September04.htm.
HHS Announces Medicare Premium and Deductibles for 2005
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has announced the Medicare premium, deductible, and coinsurance amounts to be paid by Medicare beneficiaries in 2005. The monthly premium will increase from $66.60 to $78.20, which is 17.3 percent higher than in 2004. HHS reports that the increase is to cover general growth in health care costs, higher payments to physicians, building reserves, and coordinated Medicare Advantage plans. The primary contributing factor, accounting for about 80 percent of the higher cost, is higher physician payments. In 2005, payment rates for physicians will increase by 1.5 percent, preventing a 4.5 percent reduction that could have restricted access to higher quality services. The new premium will “reflect an enhanced Medicare that is providing seniors and people with disabilities with strengthened access to physician services and new preventive benefits,” said Mark McClellan, M.D., Ph.D., administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. More information is available online at http://www.dhhs.gov/news/press/2004pres/20040903a.html.
CCHIT Names Members to Information Technology Commission
On September 1, Douglas Henley, M.D., executive vice president of AAFP, and 11 others from the medical and information technology communities were named to the new Certification Commission for Healthcare Information Technology (CCHIT). The commission will launch the nation’s first impartial mechanism to certify health information technology products, ensuring that the products meet the criteria necessary to be compatible and interoperable with local and national health information infrastructures. CCHIT aims to have initial certification requirements and processes ready for testing by the summer of 2005. The three health care organizations that created CCHIT are the American Health Information Management Association, Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, and the National Alliance for Health Information Technology.