Senior writer and co-founder of C-HIT, Lisa Chedekel is an award-winning investigative reporter who wrote for the Hartford Courant for 15 years, covering a wide range of beats, from politics to healthcare. In 1999, she was among a team of reporters awarded the Pulitzer Prize for breaking news reporting. In 2002, she was among a handful of U.S. journalists who visited Saudi Arabia in the year after 9/11 to report on the aftermath of the terrorist attacks. More recently, she co-authored a series on mental health in the military that won a George Polk Award, the Selden Ring Award for Investigative Reporting, and was a 2007 finalist for the Pulitzer in Investigative Reporting. Before writing for The Courant, she was a staff writer and columnist for the New Haven Register. You can contact Lisa at chedekel at c-hit.org
Four nurses, all of them affiliated with a Derby pain clinic, were responsible for nearly all of the state’s 2014 Medicare spending on the powerful opioid painkiller Subsys, which is at the center of a kickback probe. New Medicare data for 2014 show the four nurses, all who worked at the Comprehensive Pain and Headache Treatment Center of Derby, were responsible for 279 claims for Subsys, at a cost of $2.3 million. The highest prescriber was Heather Alfonso, an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) formerly employed by the clinic who is awaiting sentencing on charges she took kickbacks from Arizona-based Insys Therapeutics for dispensing Subsys to patients. The new data is the first indication that the propensity to prescribe Subsys extended beyond Alfonso, to other clinic staff. None of the other three nurses has been implicated in an ongoing federal probe of Insys’ marketing of Subsys that resulted in the criminal charges against Alfonso.
Dozens of Connecticut doctors accepted six-figure payments from drug and medical device manufacturers in 2015 for consulting, speaking, meals and travel, with six of the 10 highest-paid physicians affiliated with academic institutions, new federal data show. The top 10 doctors – less than 0.1 percent of the 11,000 who received payments – took in $3.6 million, or nearly 15 percent of the total $24.9 million paid out. Among them is the dean of the Yale School of Medicine, Dr. Robert Alpern, who received $445,398 in 2015 from two companies – Abbott Laboratories and AbbVie – in consulting fees, meals and travel expenses for serving on the boards of both companies. In 2014, he received $458,194 from the two companies. The Yale medical school began a research partnership with AbbVie in 2013, after the pharmaceutical company spun off from Abbott Laboratories.
Connecticut still ranks high among states in the use of antipsychotic drugs for elderly nursing home residents, but its rate of use has dropped 33 percent since 2011 – a bigger decline than the national average — new government data show. The data released in June by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), show that nursing home residents in Connecticut, many with dementia, are still more likely to be given antipsychotics than their counterparts in 31 other states. But the state’s usage has fallen in the last 4 ½ years at a greater rate than the average drop of 27 percent, and it is now about the same as the national average — 17.4 percent. That’s down from 26 percent in 2011. CMS has been working with states for the past five years to address the overuse of antipsychotic medications in nursing homes.
Connecticut’s shift next month from weekly to “real-time” reporting of prescriptions for opioids and other controlled substances is an effective way to help stem opioid-related deaths, a new study suggests. Researchers from Vanderbilt University who analyzed states’ prescription drug monitoring programs – central databases that log controlled substances dispensed to patients — found that programs that were “updated with greater frequency” and that reported data for a broad range of drugs were associated with greater declines in opioid-related deaths. The study in the journal Health Affairs comes as Connecticut prepares to put a policy in place requiring that pharmacies report controlled substance (Schedule II to V) prescriptions “immediately,” or at least within 24 hours after they are dispensed, into the central database, known as the Connecticut Prescription Monitoring and Reporting System (CPMRS). The CPMRS, maintained by the Department of Consumer Protection, can be accessed by doctors and pharmacists to give them a complete picture of a patient’s medication use, including prescriptions by other providers. It also can be used by law enforcement officials to investigate physician prescribing.
A Derby nurse who admitted taking kickbacks from a drug company that makes the powerful opioid painkiller Subsys is cooperating with federal investigators, who recently charged two drug company employees with violating kickback laws, court documents show. Documents filed earlier this year show that Heather Alfonso, a nurse formerly employed by a Derby pain clinic, requested a delay in sentencing because she was “actively cooperating in an ongoing investigation in several jurisdictions, including Connecticut,” in which arrests were expected. “Ms. Alfonso’s cooperation with both state and federal investigations is significant when qualifying her character and conduct, relative to sentencing,” her attorney said in filings in U.S. District Court in Hartford. A judge agreed to delay Alfonso’s sentencing until Sept. 13.
Connecticut’s outpatient surgery centers fare well in preventing patient falls and wrong-site surgeries, compared to national rates, but poorly in avoiding patient burns and in ensuring that surgical patients get intravenous antibiotics, new federal data show. In addition, many of the state’s 45 Medicare-certified centers perform significantly more surgical procedures than the national average, with eight centers reporting more than double the average caseload. The data — recently made public by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and now available on C-HIT’s website – show that Connecticut’s ambulatory surgery centers (ASCs) have a lower average rate of patients who suffer falls than the national average — .077, compared to .095. The data is from 2013 and 2014, the most recent years available. The state’s ASCs also have a lower rate, on average, of patients who experience a wrong-site, wrong-patient or wrong-procedure error — .017, compared to the national average of .028.
Lapses in cleanliness, infection-control procedures and in the treatment of patients with behavioral health problems were among the most common violations found in Connecticut hospitals inspected by the state health department in 2015, reports collected by C-HIT show. Inspection reports from the state Department of Public Health, spanning 2013 through 2015 – posted in C-HIT’s Data Mine section — show a mix of citations for poor physical conditions, such as mold and fungus in pharmacy preparation areas, and inadequate patient care, including improper evaluation and treatment of psychiatric patients and use of restraints. The state DPH inspects hospitals, which are all Medicare-certified through the federal government, once every four years. Inspections also occur when the DPH receives a complaint against a facility or is following up to ensure compliance with a corrective action plan. C-HIT’s database, based on DPH records through late 2015, includes reports on all 29 acute-care hospitals.
The rate of denials by the state’s largest managed care insurers of requests for mental health services rose nearly 70 percent between 2013 and 2014, with an average of about one in 12 requests for prescribed treatment initially rejected, a new state report shows. At the same time, the proportion of enrollees in the largest managed care companies who received outpatient or emergency department care for mental health doubled, from an average of 9.4 percent in 2013 to 20.8 percent in 2014, according to an analysis of the 2015 Consumer Report Card on Health Insurance Carriers in Connecticut, issued by the state Insurance Department. The percentage of members who received inpatient mental health care also doubled, although it remained low, with most companies providing inpatient services for less than .5 percent of all enrollees. The rise in rejections by the state’s 10 largest indemnity managed care companies – private health insurers, not including Medicare or Medicaid — came as state officials focused on improving mental health outreach and treatment, in the wake of the Sandy Hook school shooting in December 2012. The managed care organizations include companies such as Aetna Life Insurance Co., Anthem Health Plans, CIGNA Health and Life Insurance Co., and UnitedHealthcare Insurance Co.
Blacks and Hispanics are less likely than whites to get flu vaccines, have a preventive health care visit, or receive follow-up care after being hospitalized for a mental health disorder, according to a first-of-its kind federal report that looks at health disparities among people on Medicare Advantage plans. “While these data do not tell us why differences exist, they show where we have problems and can help spur efforts to understand what can be done to reduce or eliminate these differences, ” said Dr. Cara James, director of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Office of Minority Health, which released the report. The report looks at 27 clinical care measures and eight patient experiences to gauge differences in treatment among whites, blacks, Hispanics, and Asians or Pacific Islanders. It has some bright spots: Blacks and Hispanics reported slightly better communication with doctors than whites did. Hispanics had higher rates than non-Hispanic whites of colorectal screenings, blood sugar testing for diabetes, and treatment for osteoporosis (among women) after a fracture.
Some newly enrolled veterans seeking a primary care appointment at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) wait more than 90 days before they see a provider, and the agency’s way of calculating wait times understates them, according to a new report by a government watchdog office. “This most recent work on veterans’ access to primary care expands further the litany of VA health care deficiencies and weaknesses that we have identified over the years,” Debra Draper, director of the Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) health-care team, said in testimony to the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. “As of April 1, 2016, there were about 90 GAO recommendations regarding veterans’ health care awaiting action by VHA … (including) more than a dozen recommendations to address weaknesses in the provision and oversight of veterans’ access to timely primary and specialty care, including mental health care. “Until VHA can make meaningful progress in addressing these and other recommendations,” she added, “the quality and safety of health care for our nation’s veterans is at risk.”
The new GAO report looked at wait times for newly enrolled veterans seeking primary care appointments at six VA medical centers around the country. Among a random sample of 180 of those veterans, 60 who requested care had not been seen at all by primary care providers, in some cases because the VA never contacted them or because they were left off an eligibility list in error.