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HHS Secretary Nominee Feels the Heat in Hearing


Potential HHS Secretary, Rep. Tom Price was targeted by Senate Democrats who questioned his ethics and his philosophy on health insurance for all.

Welcome to Practice Rounds, our weekly column exploring what's being covered in the larger world of healthcare.

Tom Price Defends Himself in Hearing

Rep. Tom Price, an orthopedic surgeon and Republican Congressman from Georgia, had his first hearing this week on whether or not he will lead the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The hearing was contentious as Price's financial investments were brought into question. Democrats aimed questions at Price on whether he invested in health companies and then introduced legislation to help them. For his part, Price said he was unaware what stocks his trader bought. There were also questions and arguments on his philosophy over giving health insurance for everybody, Medicaid expansion, lowering drug prices and more. Price's second hearing will commence next week. After that hearing, his confirmation will be put to a vote in the House and Senate.

Obamacare's Popularity Increases

As it faces near-certain extinction, the Affordable Care Act's popularity continues to rise. According to a NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, 45 percent of Americans say the health law is a good idea, while 41 percent say it's a bad idea. For this particular poll, this is the highest percentage of people that have ever said it's a good idea and the first indicator more people supporting Obamacare. Moreover, half of the people in the poll say that they have no faith in the Republicans to replace the law with something better. Congressional Republicans have already begun the process of repealing the health law. 

Surprise Bills for All

A recent study this week found that one in five patients that go to the emergency room are faced with a surprise bill afterwards. It's not just emergency physicians that are providing surprise bills either, found the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health in a recent study. Researchers found that anesthesiologists, emergency physicians, pathologists, and radiologists all charge more than four times what Medicare pays for similar services. Researchers from Johns Hopkins say that most patients do not choose doctors with the highest markups, allowing them no opportunity to anticipate how high their bills will be. "Many people are shocked two weeks or two months later when they get a bill from a doctor they didn't really meet and no one told them what the exam would cost and later they discover the price is outrageous. But this is happening all the time," study author Gerard F. Anderson, PhD, a professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Bloomberg School, said in a statement.

Court Cases to Watch

There are several high profile cases that health executives should be following this year, reports Managed Health Executive.  In particular, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) is challenging the merger of Anthem, Inc. and Cigna Corp. The DOJ is concerned that since the two insurers cover about 17 percent of the U.S. population, a joint company would leave only three insurers capable of providing nationwide employer-provided health insurance coverage for larger employers. The court result could have an impact on another major merger, between Aetna and Humana.  These court cases will be decided in the U.S. District Court, District of Columbia at the end of January.

Quote of the Week:

The Why and How of Dismissing a Patient

 "If a patient is being abusive, either to your staff or financially abusing you … if this is a business arrangement, you don't have to put up with that. Asking them to leave for whatever your reason, you should have documentation, but it's your practice. You can ask people to leave."

Rebecca Fox, a pediatrician at FoxCare Integrative Pediatrics in Loudon County, Va.

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