Our weekly roundup of the latest news in the world of health.
Health policy research released this week found that it's hard to get a price estimate for surgery and that anti-smoking efforts can produce big health-care cost savings. A survey found that 1 in 9 young U.S. women have used the "morning-after pill." A study of Medicare patients showed that those who had surgery right away for kidney cancer were more likely to die than those who opted to wait. The Institute of Medicine focused this week on the problem of fake drugs. It called for a tracking system to help ensure quality.
This Issue: Study: Price Estimates for Surgery Hard to Get Morning-After Pill More Widely Used Study: California Saves Big with Smoking Prevention Study: No Surgery Better for Seniors with Kidney Cancer Drug-Tracking System Proposed
In the News:
Study: Price Estimates for Surgery Hard to Get
If you want to shop around for a hip replacement, expect to encounter a wide price range. But good luck in actually finding out the costs ahead of time. That's what researchers report in a study published this week. Researchers called 122 U.S. hospitals. The list included all 50 states. They asked how much a healthy 62-year-old woman would have to pay for a hip replacement. The caller said the patient had no insurance but could afford to pay out of pocket. With persistence, the callers got complete fees for about half of the hospitals. Usually, this required calls to both doctors and hospitals to get fees for both. The totals ranged from $11,000 all the way up to $126,000. Most hospitals were unprepared to answer the questions, researchers found. Callers were transferred between departments and left messages that were never returned. Sometimes they were told that they couldn't get a price without an office visit. Despite multiple calls, 15% of the hospitals never provided a price estimate. The journal JAMA Internal Medicine published the study online. The Associated Press wrote about it.
Morning-After Pill More Widely Used
About 11% of young U.S. women have used the "morning-after pill" to prevent pregnancy, a new survey shows. That's an increase from 4% in 2002, when the pills were new to the market. Now they are easier to obtain. Adults no longer need a prescription. The survey included 12,000 women, ages 15 to 44. Half of those who used the pill said they did so after having unprotected sex. The others cited concerns about birth control failure, including broken condoms. Use was highest among women in their 20s. Of all the women who used the pill, 59% had used it once, 24% twice and 17% at least 3 times. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the study this week. The Associated Press wrote about it.
Study: California Saves Big with Smoking Prevention
California's smoking prevention efforts have saved $134 billion in health care costs, a study released this week concludes. That's equal to about $56 for every $1 spent, the study found. Researchers compared health care costs in the state to 38 states that had few or no tobacco control measures. California's program spent $2.4 billion between 1989 and 2008. It included advertising campaigns on billboards and TV. The state supported programs to help people quit smoking. It also used laws to require smoke-free public buildings. Most of the funds for the program came from a cigarette tax increase. The adult smoking rate in California was 23.7% in 1988. It dropped to 12% by 2010. That's among the lowest rates in the nation. The online journal PLoS One published the study this week. The Associated Press wrote about it.
Study: No Surgery Better for Seniors with Kidney Cancer
Older adults with small kidney tumors may be better off postponing surgery, a study published this week suggests. The study found that Medicare patients were much less likely to die if doctors monitored their disease instead of doing surgery. The study included 7,000 people, ages 66 or older. About three-quarters chose to get surgery right away. The others got regular imaging tests to see if their cancer was growing. Within 5 years, 24% of those who had surgery died of any cause. The death rate was 13% among those who chose to wait. Overall, 3% of each group died of kidney cancer. People in the surgery group also were twice as likely to have a heart attack, new heart disease or stroke during the follow-up period. Rates were 27% in the surgery group and 13% in the monitoring group. The American Society of Clinical Oncology and two other cancer groups released the research this week in a telephone news conference. The Associated Press wrote about it.
Drug-Tracking System Proposed
The problem of fake drugs is big enough that a tracking system is needed, a report released this week said. The Institute of Medicine, an independent group of experts, called for a chain of custody process for medicines. It would be similar to what U.S. courts require for evidence in a trial. It could include bar codes or other electronic tags. But the system would have to be global. Fake and poor-quality drugs have become a greater concern in recent years. The problem also is harder for the United States to control as more drugs are made overseas. A contaminated blood thinner made in China led to several deaths of U.S. patients in 2008. Several counterfeit batches of cancer drugs also have been reported. The Associated Press wrote about the report.
Used with the permission of the copyright owner. All rights reserved. The above summaries are not intended to provide advice on personal medical matters, nor are they intended to be a substitute for consultation with a physician.