This week on Silver Screen Feds, we examine two federal employees who couldn’t be any more different: Dr. Edwin Jenner, the doomed researcher at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the zombie apocalypse show “The Walking Dead,” and Ranger Smith, the hapless National Park Service ranger who can’t stop Yogi Bear from stealing them pic-a-nic baskets.
BEST FEDS: Dr. Edwin Jenner, CDC, “The Walking Dead” (Stephen Losey)
Edwin Jenner holds a unique place in the pantheon of TV and movie feds: The last civil servant on Earth.
Towards the end of the first season of “The Walking Dead,” a desperate band of survivors makes their way to the CDC headquarters in Atlanta, hoping to find refuge. What they don’t know is that Jenner is the only person left at CDC. He continues to singlehandedly study the brain tissue of a zombie — dubbed TS-19 — desperately hoping to find a cure. But the exhausted Jenner knocks over a vial inside an airlocked laboratory, triggering its automatic decontamination procedures. Jenner escapes the lab, but can do nothing but watch helplessly as the laboratory engulfs all the remaining samples in flames, destroying his work and all possibility of finding a cure.
There’s some apparent good news coming from the White House this afternoon on the improper payment front, according to a news advisory.
At 2:30 p.m., Office of Management and Budget Director Jack Lew and three other top administration figures are holding a conference call “to discuss the administration’s progress cutting wasteful improper payments by nearly $18 billion’’ the advisory says. FedLine had asked about this last week and was told the data was being finalized. Presumably these are figures for fiscal 2011 versus fiscal 2010.
Not clear is whether the nearly $18 billion figure is a cut in absolute terms or represents something more nebulous. In fiscal 2010, you may recall, improper payments jumped to about $125 billion from $110 billion in fiscal 2009 because of higher spending levels overall, according to OMB. But because the overall improper payment rate dipped from 5.65 percent to 5.49 percent, the administration could say its efforts saved $3.8 billion that would have otherwise mistakenly gone out the door.
Also participating in this afternoon’s call are Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Agriculture Department Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan. Why them? The reductions are fueled by decreases in payment errors in Medicare, Medicaid, college Pell Grants and food stamps, according to the advisory.
We’ll keep you posted.
The federal Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) has reopened public access to information on malpractice settlements and discipline taken against poor performing doctors.
But under its new data use agreement, publicly available information from the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB) cannot be reposted or used in combination with other information to identify a doctor.
HRSA took down its online public file of the NPDB Sept. 1, after a Kansas City Star reporter used the information to track down the identity of a doctor who had a long record of malpractice cases against him but was never disciplined by the state.
Now, if HRSA learns that data has been used to identify a doctor, it will ask that the data be returned, HRSA Administrator Mary Wakefield said in a statement.
The information can be used in statistical analysis and reporting, Wakefield said, such as “an article that talks about trends in malpractice or disciplinary actions that includes unidentified data to support the conclusions.”
Sen. Chuck Grassley, ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, pushed HRSA to restore public access since the database was taken down. He previously asked Wakefield to explain her agency’s response to the Kansas City Star reporter, submit all communication between HRSA officials and the doctor that was identified in the story, and outline what steps they are taking to restore public access to the data bank.
HRSA’s new restrictions on the use of public information within the NPDB is “overreaching” and “restricts the use of the information much more than the law specifies,” Grassley, R-Iowa, said in a news release.
“This agency needs to remember that half of all health care dollars in the United States comes from taxpayers, so the interpretation of the law ought to be for public benefit,” he said. “One complaint shouldn’t dictate public access to federally collected data for 300 million people.”
It’s also unclear how HRSA would monitor and take back misused data, Grassley said. He said he is seeking legal opinions on HRSA’s interpretation of the law.
The ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee is pushing the federal Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to reopen public access to information on malpractice settlements and discipline taken against poor performing doctors.
HRSA took down its online public file of the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPBD) Sept. 1, after a Kansas City Starreporter used the publicly available information to track down the identity of a doctor who had a long record of malpractice cases against him but was never disciplined by the state.
“Shutting down public access to the data bank undermines the critical mission of identifying inefficiencies within our health care system – particularly at the expense of Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries,” Sen. Chuck Grassley, ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a letter Friday to HRSA’s administrator Mary Wakefield. “More transparency serves the public interest. Generally speaking, except in cases of national security, the public’s business ought to be public.”
Information from the data bank is intended to be public as long as it does not identify particular health care entities or practitioners, Grassley said in the letter. And yet HRSA threatened the reporter, Alan Bavley, with civil monetary penalties for “republication of information obtained from the NPDB.”
Grassley asked Wakefield to explain her agency’s response to Bavley, submit all communication between HRSA officials and the doctor that was identified in Bavley’s story, and outline what steps they are taking to restore public access to the data bank.
The data bank site says HRSA plans to restore public access as quickly as possible. HRSA has previously said the process of further removing identifiable information from the database could take up to six months, Grassley said.
In the meantime, reporters and researchers can submit requests for data, which are subject to review.
Health and Human Services last week launched a new website aimed at educating providers and patients on the benefits and role of health information technology in delivering better care.
HealthIT.gov ”is designed to invite active participation and make complex subjects relatable,” said Peter Garrett, with HHS’ Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, which created the website. ”It lets personal stories fuel the national movement toward adoption of EHRs [electronic health records]. It puts the “I” in Health IT.”
Patients can find information about their privacy rights, talking points about health care to discuss with their doctors and stories from other patients. Healthcare professionals can view details on how to transition to electronic health records and learn how other doctors are using health IT.
The announcement coincides with new proposed rules to strengthen patient’s access to their health information using health IT, specifically laboratory results. The proposed rule, drafted by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, HHS’ Office for Civil Rights and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, would allow patients to access their test results directly from the lab upon request.
Institutions can wait for written requests to disclose federally-funded researchers’ financial ties to pharmaceutical companies and other corporate interests, according to a final rule issued by the Health and Human Services Department Thursday.
This is a change from the proposed rule brought by the agency in May 2010, which would have required institutions to post information about conflicts of interest on a publically available website.
The final rule requires research institutions to determine if a researcher’s financial ties or interest in an outside company could bias or present a conflict of interest with federally funded research. It would apply to HHS’s National Institutes of Health, which received $32 billion in the President’s proposed 2012 budget. More than 80 percent of that is dedicated for research.
The Office of Management and Budget was reviewing the rule before its final issuance. A source close to the review told Nature magazine that an OMB official had pushed for the removal of the website requirement. Sen. Chuck Grassley has asked the Office of Management and Budget for internal communications that could reveal why the requirement was limited and by whom.
In his former seat on the Senate Finance Committee, Grassley, R-Iowa, found instances where researchers were receiving money from the federal government to study drugs from companies to which they also had financial ties. The written request option is a barrier that institutions can hide behind if they don’t want to readily disclose information, he said in a statement.
“This is a missed opportunity to inject transparency where it’s really needed,” said Grassley, now ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “With less public scrutiny than we could have had, we’ll lose a valuable layer of oversight.”
Sen. Chuck Grassley asked the Office of Management and Budget this week for internal communications that could show who is trying to limit a rule that would require federally-funded health researchers to disclose their corporate ties.
A recent article in Nature magazine said that OMB, which is reviewing the proposal, is gutting the rule of the requirement that researchers’ outside financial interests be posted on a publicly available website, instead allowing institutions to choose their own disclosure methods.
That will likely to make it much harder for members of the public to find these details, Ned Feder, a senior staff scientist with the Project on Government Oversight, told Nature.
The rule, proposed by the Health and Human Services Department in May 2010, would require research institutions to determine potential conflicts of interest grant by grant, such as whether the doctor owns shares in a company that could bias his or her federally funded research.
The rule would apply to HHS’s National Institutes of Health, which received $32 billion in the President’s proposed 2012 budget. More than 80 percent of that is dedicated for research.
In his former seat on the Senate Finance Committee, Grassley, R-Iowa, found instances where researchers were receiving money from the federal government to study drugs from companies to which they also had financial ties.
Grassley, now ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in his Aug. 4 letter that removing the public posting requirement “flies in the face of President Obama’s call for more transparency in the government.”
The best amatuer stand up comics within the federal sector will be cracking jokes for the glory and splendor of being crowned DC’s Funniest Fed.
Unfortunately the show is sold out, but good luck to the finalists!
Don Heitman (CFTC)
Tim Miller (US Army)
Abe Barth (HHS)
Kate Taylor (US Senate)
Jonathan Shepard (USAID)
Nate Johnson (SSA)
The show isn’t just for “you know what” and giggles, 20 percent of ticket proceeds will be donated to Fisher House Foundation to help families of wounded soldiers visit their loved ones while they are recuperating.
The federal office overseeing the nation’s transition to electronic health records plans to award $5 million in prizes to spur innovation in health IT.
A new program launched by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology will award $5 million in prizes to spur innovation in health IT through challenges.
Investing in Innovations or (i2) The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology will introduce up to 15 prize competitions each year until March 2013, according to ONC. For example, software developers could be asked to build new tools allowing for health care providers and patients to share information electronically or new applications allowing for patients to download their clinical information.
The program, called Investing in Innovations or (i2), is similar to efforts by other agencies such as NASA, which that use public competitions to increase citizen engagement and solve tough problems.
Under the 2010 America Competes Reauthorization Act of 2010, more agencies were given authority to host prize competitions.
A website launched by the General Services Administration in September — challenge.gov — allows agencies to populate the site with challenges offering monetary awards, blogs, and discussion boards and monetary awards. Nearly 100 challenges are posted on the site.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has finally stopped wasting our time with swine flu and given us advice we can actually use: How to survive a zombie apocalypse.
CDC’s “Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse” blog — written by Assistant Surgeon General Ali Khan — briefly discusses the history of zombies and the viruses that could cause the dead to rise and start snacking on brains. It then segues into serious advice on how to make an emergency kit and evacuation plan, which would also be useful for hurricanes, earthquakes and other non-undead emergencies.
But the blog gets really funny when it seeks to reassure us that CDC would have matters well in hand if there were a zombie outbreak. CDC said it would help cities, states and other nations with lab testing and analysis, patient management and care, tracking of contacts with the infected, and quarantining those who have been exposed:
Not only would scientists be working to identify the cause and cure of the zombie outbreak, but CDC and other federal agencies would send medical teams and first responders to help those in affected areas. (I will be volunteering the young nameless disease detectives for the field work.)
Oh, please. Anyone who saw the season finale of AMC’s “The Walking Dead” knows that [SPOILER ALERT] within a few months of the zombie apocalypse, CDC’s Atlanta staff will be down to just one alcoholic researcher, gradually succumbing to suicidal depression. Trust FedLine: You’d be better served by stocking up on baseball or cricket bats, axes and shotgun shells than waiting for CDC to save the day.
But there’s clearly a pent-up demand from the public for this kind of information: Zombie-related traffic crashed CDC’s public health blog Wednesday.