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Health Highlights: April 23, 2012

Medicare Stable, Trustees Report Finds New Technology Developed to Help Older Drivers Scrap Medicare Bonus Program for Insurers: GAO

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

Medicare Stable, Trustees Report Finds

Medicare is stable but requires strengthening, according to U.S. Medicare Trustees report released Monday.

It said that Hospital Insurance Trust Fund expenditures in 2011 were lower than expected and that the fund should remain solvent until 2024, but action is needed to ensure it's long-term viability.

Without the Affordable Care Act, the Hospital Trust fund would expire in 2016. The Act provides tools to control costs over the long run, such as changing the way Medicare pays providers to reward them for efficient, quality care.

Because many of the Act's efforts to reform healthcare delivery are just launching, they were not factored into the report's projections, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

"The Trustees Report tells us that while Medicare is stable for now, we have a lot of work ahead of us to guarantee its future," acting CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner said in a CMS news release.


New Technology Developed to Help Older Drivers

New technology meant to help older drivers is being developed by a team at Newcastle University in the U.K.

They've turned an electric car into a mobile testing laboratory that includes navigation aids, night vision systems and intelligent speed adaptations. For example, there is technology that uses glasses to monitor drivers' concentration, stress levels and driving habits, BBC News reported.

Many older people stop driving due to slower reaction times and other issues. But doing so can cause them to become more isolated and inactive.

"For many older people, particularly those living alone or in rural areas, driving is essential for maintaining their independence, giving them the freedom to get out and about without having to rely on others," said Phil Blythe, professor of intelligent transport systems, BBC News reported.


Scrap Medicare Bonus Program for Insurers: GAO

An $8 billion Medicare demonstration program that provides bonuses as a way to improve the quality of Medicare Advantage insurance plans should be cancelled, according to a U.S. Government Accountability Office report to be released Monday.

The government auditors said most of the bonus money is going to plans rated average, which means they receive three to three-and-a-half stars on Medicare's five-star rating scale, the Associated Press reported.

There's no evidence that the bonus program will improve the quality of Medicare Advantage plans, the GAO said.

The Obama administration said it disagrees with the GAO findings and insists the bonus program will improve the quality of care, the AP reported.


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