Health Highlights: Jan. 27, 2015

Health Highlights: Jan. 27, 2015

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

New Medicare Payment Changes Focus on Quality Over Quantity

Quality will take priority over volume as Medicare changes the way it pays hospitals and doctors, the Obama administration says.

The changes include accountable care organizations, in which doctors coordinate are to help prevent patients from being hospitalized for avoidable problems, the Associated Press reported.

Another new model of care is called a medical home, in which nurses monitor patients with chronic health problems such as high blood pressure in order to make sure they don’t get worse.

The goal is to link 30 percent of traditional Medicare payments to these new models of care by the end of 2016, rising to 50 percent two years after that, Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell said Monday.

The administration also wants to tie 85 percent of all payments under traditional Medicare to standards of quality or value by the end of 2016, rising to 90 percent two years after that, the AP reported.

Some of those quality/value measures are already in place. For example, there are financial penalties for hospitals with high rates of patient re-admitted within a month of being sent home.

Medicare serves seniors and disabled people and costs $600 billion a year.

Burwell also announced the creation of the Learning and Action Network, which will include a number of stakeholders who will provide input into changing how the United States pays for health care. The first meeting is scheduled for March.

“It is in our common interest to build a health care system that delivers better care, spends health care dollars more wisely and results in healthier people,” Burwell said.

The Obama administration also wants state Medicaid programs to join the payment-for-quality program, the AP reported.

The changes announced by Burwell are supported by insurers and the American Hospital Association. The president of the American Medical Association said the group is encouraged but wants more details.

The changes are a move in the right direction, according to Mike Leavitt, HHS secretary under former President George W. Bush.

“Transforming the health care system requires transforming Medicare,” he told the AP. “The fee-for-service payment system is at the root of much of the inefficiency our current system suffers.”


H7N9 Bird Flu Diagnosed in Canadian Woman

Bird flu has been diagnosed in a woman who recently returned to Canada from China.

It’s the first time the H7N9 strain of bird flu has been found in North America. The strain first appeared in China two years ago, and most human cases have been linked to contact with poultry, the Associated Press reported.

A man who traveled with the British Columbia woman was also recently sick. Tests are being done to determine if he was also infected with H7N9.

Nearly 500 people have been infected with H7N9 and about one-third have died. However, it appears that the virus is not easily passed from person to person and officials say the risk to Canadians is low, the AP reported.