- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 16, 2006

The federal government is expected to make a final decision in the next several weeks on whether it will cover surgeries for obese Medicare patients.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) in November urged coverage for obese Medicare patients for gastric bypass or banding surgeries, even if they do not have any chronic illnesses such as hypertension, diabetes, osteoarthritis or heart disease.

“The bariatric issue is coming close to a decision,” said Don McLeod, spokesman for the health agency that handles public health insurance programs for the poor and elderly.

Mr. McLeod said the 90-day period in which the agency is required to make a ruling is running out and a ruling is expected to come in the next week or two.

In its initial proposal, CMS also requested to stop coverage of bariatric surgeries for patients who are 65 or older, citing scientific evidence that these surgeries carry greater health risks.

Currently, Medicare covers bariatric surgeries for patients with existing obesity-related illnesses, regardless of their age, Mr. McLeod said. Coverage has been available for at least the past decade.

The proposed policy changes follow a decision by CMS in July 2004 to eliminate language from Medicare’s coverage manual that said obesity was not a disease.

That move, which stopped short of classifying obesity as an illness, allowed Medicare participants to ask for reimbursement for treating excessive weight.

Big bucks for nursing-home chiefs

A nursing-home administrator can expect to take home an annual salary on average of $77,300 to $110,000 depending on the size and location of the facility, according to a new report.

WageWatch Inc., a Scottsdale, Ariz., benefits data research company, on Tuesday released its first report on salaries for nursing-home employees. The study surveyed 90,000 workers at 1,500 senior care facilities last year.

The study found a registered nurse’s wages average $50,100 nationwide, while a licensed practical nurse earned $38,500 on average.

Wage levels for those jobs varied depending on the location of the facility, with licensed practical nurses making $33,800 on average in the Southeast while those in the Northeast earned about $40,800.

Local medication progresses

Prestwick Pharmaceuticals Inc., a D.C. pharmaceutical company, this week released a study that showed its drug, Xenazine, reducing symptoms of Huntington’s disease.

The degenerative brain disorder, which causes uncontrolled movements, loss of intellectual faculties and emotional disturbance, has no cure and affects an estimated 30,000 Americans, according to the most recent government data.

Prestwick, which has applied for Food and Drug Administration approval to market Xenazine, released phase-three clinical trial results of the treatment in the Tuesday issue of Neurology, the journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

In the clinical trial, doctors said 45 percent of patients, who were on a 12-week treatment of Xenazine, were “much to very-much improved” with their symptoms. Only 7 percent of patients in a placebo group had the same results.

Health Care runs Fridays. Call 202/636-4892 or e-mail mhiggins@washingtontimes.com.

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