By Jonathan Tilove
WASHINGTON -- Retired Lt.
Gen. Russel Honore said Thursday that Charity
Hospital could and should have been
reopened after Hurricane Katrina, and that Louisiana needs to pony up the money for a
new hospital and stop dunning FEMA for money that's not going to come.
"The state of Louisiana
needs to pay for its own damn medical center," said Honore, who was the
commander of Joint Task Force-Katrina in the wake of the 2005 hurricane.
Honore made his remarks in his trademark blunt but genial
style after leaving a hearing of the House Committee on Transportation and
Infrastructure, where he testified that the Federal Emergency Management
Agency should be removed from the Department of Homeland Security and restored
to its status as an independent agency, with a seat at Cabinet meetings.
In remarks before the committee, and in comments
afterward, Honore said the recovery in New
Orleans has been woefully uneven to the detriment of
the working poor. He said private businesses and industry have come back
while many government facilities remain closed or in need of repair.
"The commercial world gets it done," he said.
But he said that nearly four years after Katrina, the state still is waiting
for FEMA to give it the down payment for a new hospital, money that he said
the Stafford Act does not permit FEMA to provide.
Honore said he doesn't doubt that New Orleans needs a more
modern medical facility, or that the "big brains" at LSU had come
up with a great vision of what that facility should be, but that paying for
that is not a federal responsibility, and that it is past time for Louisiana
officials to stop pointing their fingers at FEMA as a way of avoiding their
For too long, he said, Louisiana officialdom has "used FEMA
as a get-out-of-jail-free card."
Honore wrote last year that Katrina had been "used as
an opportunity to close the doors of Charity Hospital,"
hurting the city's poor residents.
Before the hearing, Honore met for about an hour with Rep.
Anh "Joseph" Cao, the freshman Republican from New Orleans, who believes that Charity was
more than half destroyed by Katrina and therefore eligible under the Stafford
Act for the full $492 million replacement cost the state is seeking. But that
was not the judgment of the FEMA office in New Orleans, which denied the state's
claim. This week, the FEMA regional office in Texas rejected the state's appeal of that
Instead, FEMA is offering Louisiana $150 million.
Cao said he told Honore that "Charity Hospital
had problems with recertification even before Katrina" and that it would
have been irresponsible to pump millions of dollars into a hospital that
might not be eligible for certification in the first place.
In August 2007, LSU Hospitals issued a statement saying
that, "Before Hurricane Katrina hit, the Charity Hospital
building failed accreditation reviews because it could not meet the demands
of modern health care."
But, according to a recent report by lawyers for the
Louisiana Justice Institute, which is among the parties that oppose the Louisiana State University
plan for a new hospital and support reopening Charity, Charity was awarded
accreditation on Jan.
10, 2003, for a period ending Dec. 14, 2005.
During the hearing, Cao said that in Charity's absence,
other health care institutions in his district were pushed to the brink of
bankruptcy as they took up the slack in providing indigent care, "while
FEMA is talking about the value of doorknobs and toilets."
Jerome Hauer, an emergency management expert who also
testified before the committee, said it was "unconscionable" that
FEMA had not seen to the replacement of Charity, but that, "because they
are giving out so much money" in the aftermath of major disasters, FEMA
is very "rule-centric."
Larry Gispert, director of Hillsborough County Emergency
Management in Florida,
said that whenever FEMA tries to get creative and bend the rules, the General
Accountability Office or inspector general "bangs them hard for breaking
the rules," sometimes demanding that parties that received money based
on lax FEMA rulings return the money.
When Cao pressed Homeland Security Secretary Janet
Napolitano about Charity's fate at a House Homeland Security Committee
hearing Wednesday, Napolitano cautioned that "we want to move the
Katrina recovery forward as expeditiously as possible, but we have a
responsibility; these are taxpayer dollars and we don't have unending
"There are some legitimate differences of
opinion," she said. "Ultimately I believe they will end up in
arbitration," referring to an arbitration process now being set up by
her department as a result of a congressional provision authored by Sen. Mary
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Posted by James Gill, Columnist
LSU says its spiffy new medical complex, after gobbling up
a vast tract of Mid-City, can be ready to open in 2013. If LSU says it, that
should be good enough for anybody. It won't open in 2013 for sure. Whether it
ever will is the question. The answer looks increasingly like no.
Perhaps this is a shame; with the up-to-the-minute plant
envisaged by LSU, New Orleans could pack in
more invalids than Lourdes.
The streets would be thronged by doctors, medical researchers and students.
The economy would just hum along, and the old town would enjoy new prestige
across the land.
So say proponents of the new complex, and nobody can deny
that we could use the boost that would come from a medical campus also
incorporating the new Veterans Affairs hospital, which is due to open in
2012. That date is a real one, for the VA has its money lined up. Not so LSU.
That has not prevented LSU from developing plans even more
grandiose than its public pronouncements suggested. Until now we have been
led to believe LSU needed to obliterate a national historic district to build
its medical complex at a total cost of $1.2 billion. The entire campus,
including the VA hospital, is supposed to span 70 acres.
No doubt, $1.2 billion will get you a mighty fine hospital
and ancillary buildings, but, as architects' renderings now reveal, not
enough to occupy a site of this size. Vast expanses are shown vacant.
LSU plans to grab much more land than it could possibly
use for years to come just in case another round of major construction should
become feasible later. The $1.2 billion project suddenly becomes "phase
LSU has been addicted to hole-and-corner planning from the
start, but there is no need for the public to feel left out. Even august
personages, and potentially useful allies, got the same treatment. House
Speaker Jim Tucker, R-Algiers, and state Health Secretary Allen Levine were
both taken aback to discover LSU was contemplating a phase two.
But these issues seem purely academic. There isn't much
point in worrying about phase two, when there is little prospect of phase
If LSU is to have any hope of raising enough money for its
new medical center, it must first persuade FEMA to hand over $492 million,
the full replacement cost of its abandoned Charity Hospital.
LSU, which claims that Charity was so damaged by the storm
that it was rendered unusable, must be horrified to discover that FEMA did
not just fall off a turnip truck. FEMA this week denied LSU's appeal and
decided that Charity could have been restored to its former glory for $150
LSU can appeal further, but tons of evidence, including
photographs taken by doctors working there immediately after the storm,
indicate that Charity did not come out of the storm in that bad shape.
Congressman Anh "Joseph" Cao, R-New Orleans,
took up LSU's cause a couple of weeks back when he wrote in a letter to
President Barack Obama that "Charity
Hospital was completely
destroyed by Hurricane Katrina." Cao is new to Washington. Someone must have told him
that telling whoppers is the secret to success there.
Cao's constituents, as he wrote in his letter, have been
without "critical services offered by this facility for four
years." Perhaps those constituents would have been better served if, as
the preservationists argue, LSU had opted to refit and reopen Charity. There
will be no "critical services" for many years yet while LSU pursues
its wild ambitions.
Even if FEMA should relent, the LSU project will still
require huge loans, which may not be easy to come by when the markets are in
turmoil and the future of health care most uncertain.
This looks more and more like an overreach by LSU, but it
is too early to be certain. All we can be sure about is that the new hospital
will not be up and running in 2013.
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Charity Hospital Denied FEMA Funds
The head of the Louisiana Recovery Authority is blasting
this week's decision by FEMA to deny New Orleans
the 500 million dollars it says it needs to rebuild Charity Hospital.
Paul Rainwater says after three years of study and debate
FEMA still refuses to acknowledge Charity
substantially damaged by Katrina.
The decision, rainwater says, the is particularly
difficult to understand since the administration is in a unique position to
correct the mistakes of the past and make good on President Obama's pledge to
take a fresh look at Gulf Coast recovery, end quote.
had been relying on nearly a half billion dollars in federal funds to rebuild
what was once one of the best and most important hospitals in the state.
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(AP) — NEW ORLEANS - A
shakeup of FEMA's hurricane recovery operations in Louisiana and the termination of an
official accused of misconduct served as an "easy fix to a messy
political situation," an attorney for former FEMA Louisiana chief of
staff Doug Whitmer said.
But a spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security,
which oversees the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said Thursday that
the reorganization and the termination were unrelated issues.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who came
into office under President Barack Obama's administration a few months ago,
promised to take a fresh look at the rebuilding effort. State and local
officials have complained that was still mired in bureaucracy after the
devastating 2005 Gulf
That was followed by a news report in February that more
than 30 complaints had been filed against Whitmer, a top aide in the Louisiana recovery
office. U.S. Rep. Anh "Joseph" Cao, R-La., and U.S. Sen. Mary
Landrieu, D-La., called for Whitmer's resignation. Whitmer attorney Mark Zaid
responded by asking them to stop making comments "based on one-sided
allegations, the majority of which" had not been communicated to
Nancy Ward, then-acting FEMA administrator, was sent to New Orleans to oversee an internal review and Whitmer
was asked to take a temporary assignment at a Texas regional office. Zaid said Whitmer
was there when he received his termination notice last month.
Zaid said FEMA has not responded to his request for
information that would justify Whitmer's termination and for other
documentation of the alleged complaints. Zaid said he's never seen more than
three accusations against Whitmer and said those were raised by
Homeland Security spokeswoman Amy Kudwa said FEMA's Louisiana
reorganization resulted in nine employees receiving termination letters, four
of whom requested a transfer to "as-needed" disaster aid work. She
noted their positions were "temporary"-essentially, subject to
their being needed for the work at hand. Other affected employees were
reassigned, she said.
Kudwa declined to comment on whether any complaints
against Whitmer had been verified, citing it as a personnel issue. But she
said, "we can say the original complaint allegations, exaggerated in the
media, were woefully in error."
While an operational and staffing review continues, Kudwa
said initial decisions included realigning the Louisiana office and
dissolving the Gulf Coast Recovery Office, as most management oversight it
once had had been transferred elsewhere.
With that dissolution, the head of the Gulf Coast
office, Jim Stark, a former director of the Louisiana office, also received a
termination letter, she said. It also had nothing to do with the allegations,
Napolitano, in announcing dissolution in April, said the
goal was to achieve greater efficiency and faster decision-making. The move
was among others that the administration had announced with the same stated
goal, including the creation of state-federal teams meant to help settle
infrastructure funding disputes.
Some local officials, including in New Orleans, say they've noticed positive
changes, citing improved communication and clearing of financial logjams on
Nearly four years after Hurricane Katrina, hundreds of
millions of dollars have been lined up to rebuild battered infrastructure and
for economic development and neighborhood-level rebuilding projects in New Orleans. But many
residents are eager for signs that the pace of recovery is accelerating.
Landrieu credited the recently installed acting director
of the Louisiana
office, Tony Russell, with helping to free up rebuilding dollars. But she
said she still has concerns about staffing and a need for a better training
system for workers.
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records may be somewhere here. Or not.
HURRICANE KATRINA’S effect on the city of New Orleans has been
much longer-lasting than most expected. Almost four years after the storm, a
quarter of the population has never returned. A third of homes still lie
empty, many decked with tarpaulins and with the flood-line still visible.
Residential streets are lined with houses with collapsing porches, fallen
plasterwork and hopeful For Sale signs. Less than half the city’s public
transport facilities have been restored, and the wheels on the city’s famous
street-cars, even the one named Desire, are still rusty.
AP Your records may be somewhere here. Or not
Most important, though the number of chronically sick in
the city has risen sharply, medical services remain in tatters. Only 57% of
the city’s medical facilities have reopened, and tens of thousands of records
have been lost. In St Bernard Parish, which once had two hospitals, there is
now none. Charity
Hospital, the main
refuge for the poor and uninsured for more than 250 years, is shuttered and
surrounded by wire fencing. Doctors, nurses and military personnel spent a
month cleaning and decontaminating the first three floors in the weeks after
Katrina, but the hospital remains closed. Last month a group of citizens
launched a legal appeal for it to be reopened, claiming that corrupt
officials are using it as an excuse to get access to federal relief funds.
But the owners of the building want to sell it.
The Lindy Boggs Medical Centre became a symbol of the
struggle for survival in the hot, dank days after the flood. A day after the
levees broke, the generators in the hospital failed, knocking out
ventilators, transfusion machines and fresh water supplies. Nineteen patients
died. The hospital is now to become a shopping centre.
Even in hospitals that are functioning again, medical
staff are in short supply and treatment has become riskier. Emergency-room
medics complain of having to treat too many desperately ill patients
simultaneously. This increases the chance of both mistakes and lawsuits. That
fear has led some doctors who live in the city to commute to hospitals far
outside New Orleans
rather than work locally.
Even before the storm, Louisiana
was the least healthy state in America. In the past few years,
however, levels of sickness have risen sharply. Almost two-thirds of New Orleans residents
now report chronic health problems, a 45% rise since 2006. The percentage of
people suffering from mental difficulties, mostly depression, has tripled
since then, and the suicide rate has doubled since 2005. For months thousands
of people were housed in temporary trailers which were poorly ventilated and
contained high levels of formaldehyde. In the houses which were left
habitable, mould and spores grew during the many humid weeks when the city
lacked electricity. As a result, respiratory and skin problems are rife.
Greater poverty is also a factor. Almost a fifth of New Orleans households
now live below the federal poverty line ($22,000 a year for a family of
four). Many people were unemployed for months after Katrina and, although the
number out of work has fallen, the effects endure. An estimated 12,000 people
are still homeless.
The situation is expected to deteriorate in the coming
years. Nearly 20% of people are now without health insurance. One in four say
the emergency room is their primary source of care and, as the recession
bites, that proportion is growing. Plans for two new hospitals are mired in
payment battles and preservation disputes, meaning neither will become
operational until at least 2013. It is little wonder that one in five New Orleans residents
say they are considering leaving.
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A new study has found that 67% of the fatalities in New Orleans after
Hurricane Katrina hit in August 2005 resulted from direct impacts of the
flooding that occurred when the levees collapsed. Most of the deaths were
caused by drowning or physical trauma from debris or building collapse. Some
victims who remained in the flood zone in attics or floors that were not
flooded died from adverse conditions associated with extended exposure
including dehydration, heat stroke, heart attacks, strokes or other
conditions associated with lack of medical supplies.
In all, 518 out of the analyzed 771 deaths in New Orleans
resulted from direct exposure to the flooding, according to the results of
the study “Loss of Life Caused by the Flooding of New Orleans After Hurricane
Katrina: Analysis of the Relationship Between Flood Characteristics and
Mortality,” which is reported in the May issue of the peer-reviewed journal
Risk Analysis, published by the Society for Risk Analysis.
Another 106 deaths were indirect and occurred in public
shelters and hospitals in the flooded area. These fatalities were due to lack
of necessary medical services, chronic conditions, stress-induced heart
attacks or strokes or violence, according to Sebastiaan Jonkman at the University of Delft in The Netherlands and
co-authors from Louisiana State University (LSU). The remaining 147 deaths
occurred outside of the flooded area. Jonkman and his colleagues found that
disease and toxic contamination caused by the flooding did not contribute
significantly to the fatality rate.
“The elderly were the most vulnerable. Nearly 60% of
fatalities were over 60 years and 85% were over 51 years,” Jonkman’s team
found. He believes that this was due to elderly people’s inability to
evacuate easily and their vulnerability if they stayed and tried to survive
the hazards of an event of this magnitude.
Mortality rates were highest in areas near levee breaches,
particularly the severe breaches in the Lower 9th Ward where flooding
occurred extremely rapidly and the velocity of the water caused drowning and
The research team describes their results as preliminary
because the mortality data are incomplete and some of the flooding
characteristics are based on simulations. However, they believe that despite
the limitations, the results provide important insights into the relationship
between flood characteristics and mortality. In particular, contrary to
current theory, they found that the Katrina flood was very comparable to
historical large-scale floods, including the number of people killed.
“Overall, the available data for New Orleans do not support the claim that
mortality among those exposed during a contemporary flood event is lower than
during historical events,” Jonkman explained.
Based on this
study, he said that “more specific disaster management strategies are needed
to target elderly populations and that the direct impacts of large flooding
events can be reduced with improved preparation of health care facilities and
systems in and outside of flood-prone areas.”
Emergency medicine LSUHSC New
Orleans cited for service
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By Leslie Capo
The Emergency Medicine Residency Program at LSU Health
Sciences Center New Orleans will be recognized for its continuous service to
the underserved and medically indigent during Hurricane Katrina and
throughout response and recovery. The LSUHSC program is also being
cited for teaching and training Emergency Medicine residents during and
post-Katrina. The Society for Academic Emergency Medicine’s Diversity
Interest Group will present the award to Dr. Peter DeBlieux, LSUHSC Vice
Chair for Emergency Medicine Faculty and Resident Development, and Dr.
Micelle Haydel, LSUHSC Emergency Medicine Residency Program Director, on
Friday, May 15,
2009, at 4:30 p.m. at the Sheraton New Orleans Hotel, 500 Canal Street,
Within hours of the evacuation of Charity
Hospital, LSUHSC emergency
physicians and support staff returned to New Orleans
and began treating patients outside the Ernest N.
Center, against a background of martial law,
flood dangers and power outages. Four weeks after the hurricane, the
U.S. Navy ship Comfort, staffed by LSU Health Sciences Center New Orleans
School of Medicine emergency physicians and trauma surgeons, began treating
patients. LSUHSC Emergency Medicine physician Dr. James Aiken served as the
medical director aboard the Comfort. The LSUHSC Emergency Medicine service
became the first civilian ER service ever to be embedded in a Combat Support
Hospital, which was located in the Morial Convention Center. Care and training continued
at a variety of locations including in the Carolinas Med-1 mobile hospital
brought to the LSUHSC campus to support the first post-K Mardi Gras, in the
former Lord and Taylor Department Store, and in Jefferson Parish at
Ochsner-Elmwood before the Interim
Hospital opened in
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By CAIN BURDEAU
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A trial against the Army Corps of
Engineers for the flooding of eastern New Orleans, the Lower 9th Ward and St.
Bernard Parish during Hurricane Katrina ended Thursday after four weeks of
Now, U.S. District Judge Stanwood R. Duval Jr. will take
the case under consideration and rule sometime in the coming weeks or months.
The lawsuit was the first major case against the federal
government over Katrina flooding to go to trial. Much is at stake because the
fate of more than 120,000 other claims by individuals, businesses and
government bodies hinge on Duval's ruling. The claims amount to billions of
dollars in damages.
The suit claims the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet, a
76-mile shipping channel the Army Corps dug in the late 1950s as a shortcut
between New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico,
led to the destruction of the environment southeast of New Orleans and the devastating flooding
A decision rests with Duval because a jury cannot try a
case against the federal government. Duval has not indicated how or when he
The trial has been an in-depth exploration of conflicting
expert testimony about highly technical issues — dense with debate about soil
types, hydrodynamic modeling, differential equations, slope stability,
lateral displacement, factors of safety, still water levels and the physics
of wave action.
Now, Duval will have to make sense of divergent scientific
and engineering analyses and decide one of the most unusual legal cases ever
brought against the federal government: Was the Army Corps at fault for the
flooding of New Orleans?
At the close of the trial Thursday, Duval acknowledged the
difficult task ahead of him.
"This political science major is going to have to go
through this and do the best job I can, which I will do," Duval said.
"We have had some very smart people testify here over the last month and
the court has been very impressed with the caliber of expert witness."
The plaintiffs are asking for damages between $300,000 and
$400,000 for each individual. If the corps is held liable, the plaintiffs
lawyers said they would like Congress to set up a compensation fund similar
to one set up for victims of the 1974 break of Idaho's Teton Dam for the tens of thousands
of other people with Katrina claims.
"There have been cases like this," said Gerald
Galloway, a levee expert and civil engineering professor at the University of Maryland,
"but nothing on the scope of the MRGO because you're bringing in all the
losses of New Orleans."
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By Jan Moller, Capital bureau
BATON ROUGE -- After turning back an attempt to scuttle a
proposed deal to keep the Saints in New
Orleans, the House approved a $27 billion budget
Thursday that eliminates more than 3,600 state jobs and cuts spending on
health care, higher education and a host of other government programs.
The 2009-10 spending bill, which now heads to the Senate,
reflects a $1.3 billion drop in state revenues resulting from lower energy
prices, a slowing economy and tax cuts approved in recent years.
"It's an unfortunate situation, but it's the hand
that we've been dealt, and at this point and time in history that we must act
upon," said Rep. Jim Fannin, D-Jonesboro, the author of the budget
measure, House Bill 1.
Approval followed nearly seven hours of debate, with
opponents saying the House was too reluctant to challenge Gov. Bobby Jindal's
"I'm afraid that this body is going to give up its
independence, the power that the people give us, for pet projects, for
friendships and relationships with the governor," Rep. Cedric Richmond,
D-New Orleans, said. Richmond
was absent for the vote, which was 87-16, but later got permission to have
his vote recorded as "no."
--- Saints amendment blocked ---
Legislators spent most of the day debating amendments to
the bill, including a proposal by Rep. Karen St. Germain, D-Pierre Part, that
potentially could have scuttled the agreement to keep the Saints in New Orleans.
St. Germain's amendment would have barred any state agency
that relocates to Dominion
Tower from paying more
money per square foot than it is currently paying. A deal announced earlier
this month calls for Saints owner Tom Benson to buy the downtown office
building near the Superdome and lease about two-thirds of it to state
agencies at $24 per square foot, higher than what the agencies are now
paying. The agreement also includes $85 million in Superdome upgrades and
St. Germain, who heads the Democratic delegation in the
House, said having the state increase its leasing cost at a time when budgets
are shrinking "is beyond my comprehension and is not anything I can
explain to my public."
House Speaker Jim Tucker, R-Algiers, defended the deal,
saying state agencies in New Orleans
are currently too spread out, and that some of them are housed in substandard
office space. The Dominion
Tower deal also
includes parking, which the state currently doesn't have, which accounts for
some of the price difference, Tucker said.
St. Germain's amendment was defeated, 27-72.
The next challenge for the Saints deal will come today, when
the full House is scheduled to take up the $5.3 billion state construction
budget, which includes the money for the Superdome upgrades.
--- Money shifting attempts ---
At the urging of Fannin, lawmakers also rejected multiple
attempts to add money for education, crime-prevention and other programs by
taking money from various funds. Among the most frequent targets was the
Louisiana Mega-Projects Development Fund, which was set up in 2007 to lure
large-scale industrial projects to the state.
An amendment by Speaker Pro Tem Karen Carter Peterson
would have redirected $59 million from the fund into higher education. It
died on a 44-52 vote. Similar amendments -- proposing to shift money to Louisiana State University,
Southern University and elsewhere -- met the same fate.
The mega-projects fund, which had $414 million when the
session began, has been whittled to $186 million after legislators agreed
this week to subsidize a north Louisiana
chicken plant, a spaceship components plant and an office complex.
Another Peterson amendment sought to redirect $28.5
million in surplus cash within the Department of Health and Hospitals into
the Medicaid program, while Richmond
tried unsuccessfully to shift money from a private-school voucher fund into
the Orleans Parish Juvenile
Legislators did agree to an amendment by Fannin to take
$13.5 million from the state's "rapid response" economic
development fund and plug it into higher education. The money was returned
earlier this month by the Shaw Group.
As it came to the Legislature, the budget bill contained
more than $400 million in cuts to health-care programs for the poor, and $219
million in reductions for public colleges and universities. Nearly every
state agency took a financial hit, despite the inclusion of about $1.3
billion in federal economic stimulus dollars.
After spending more than 90 hours reviewing the bill, the
House Appropriations Committee last week restored some money by raiding an
expired insurance-incentive fund and an anticipated windfall from a
tax-amnesty program. The restorations include about $90 million for higher
education, which includes money from a tuition increase; $6 million for the
Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism; and at least $35 million for
Members also added more than $11 million for pet projects
in their districts.
[BACK TO TOP]
Melinda Deslatte |
BATON ROUGE, La. -- The Louisiana House approved a $27
billion budget proposal Thursday that includes large cuts to public colleges,
health care services and government jobs next year to cope with a steep drop
in state revenue.
The spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1
uses $1 billion in federal stimulus money, cuts planned pay raises for state
employees and taps into an expected windfall from a planned tax amnesty
program. But the money doesn't cover all the shortfalls.
Supporters said they did their best to balance the needs
of the state while dealing with tight fiscal constraints.
"I wish it could have been better. I wish we had more
money," said Rep. Eddie Lambert, R-Gonzales. "But we don't. We did
the best with what we had."
Opponents said the budget doesn't include enough money for
health care or education and leaves unspent funds on the table.
"We're going home today with people being sick,
people not having clothes, people hungry, and we have to ask ourselves, 'Did
we do enough?"' said Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans. "I don't
want to take credit for what we did today."
The House agreed to the spending plans in an 87-17 vote
after seven hours of debate, going through the 291-page bill department by
department. Most attempts to make changes were defeated.
As they spoke against the budget, a handful of lawmakers
lodged complaints about Gov. Bobby Jindal's stance against tax increases to
help fill budget gaps and the Jindal administration's opposition to most of
the amendment proposals.
"I'm afraid that this body is going to give up its
independence, its power that the people give us, for pet projects and
friendship and relationships with the governor," Richmond said.
The budget heads next to the Senate for debate, where the
Senate Finance Committee is scheduled to begin hearings Monday.
The 2009-10 spending plan would shrink from a $30 billion
budget in the current fiscal year.
A large slice of the reduction is tied to the loss of
one-time federal hurricane recovery dollars. The state also faces an
estimated $1.3 billion drop in state general fund revenue, thanks to the
recession, plummeting oil and gas prices and a slew of large tax breaks
approved recently by lawmakers.
"It's an unfortunate situation, but it's the hand
that we've been dealt," said Rep. Jim Fannin, D-Jonesboro, who as
chairman of the House Appropriations Committee handles budget bills in the
Fannin fended off any major changes to the budget,
successfully opposing more than a dozen amendments that would have shuffled
dollars among agencies, used millions from an economic development fund to
stop some cuts to higher education, and disrupted a planned new state subsidy
deal for the New Orleans Saints.
Efforts by at least three lawmakers -- Reps. Karen Carter
Peterson, D-New Orleans; Michael Jackson, D-Baton Rouge; and Franklin Foil,
R-Baton Rouge -- to move money from a $186 million economic development fund
to public colleges failed.
Fannin choked up as he described grappling with requests and
cuts during the weeks of budget work in his committee. He summed it up by
saying, "We did the best we could."
To start the budget discussion in March, Gov. Bobby Jindal
recommended deep cuts to higher education, health care, arts programs and
social services to balance the budget.
The Appropriations Committee reworked those plans,
restoring funding for arts programs, state historic sites, agriculture
extension services, health care services for the developmentally disabled and
care for the uninsured at hospitals.
Lawmakers reversed $100 million of the $220 million in
cuts Jindal proposed for public colleges, though part of that was linked to a
tuition increase legislators agreed to levy on students. Higher education
leaders say the remaining cuts still would force layoffs, boost class sizes
and damage services to students.
The rates paid to health care providers in the Medicaid
program for the poor, elderly and disabled would be slashed, which could
More than 3,600 state jobs would be cut, and about
two-thirds of those job reductions would be layoffs.
While they couldn't afford to undo all the cuts, House
members shifted more than $11 million for favored local projects, including
small museums, boat launches, councils on aging and nonprofit organizations
that provide services in their communities.
Certain areas aren't proposed for cuts, including the
state Board of Ethics, a voucher program for students in New Orleans and the free college tuition
program known as TOPS.
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Monroe News Star | 05.15.09
By Mike Hasten
BATON ROUGE — Most northeastern Louisiana state representatives voted for
the $27 billion budget approved by the House Thursday, but few liked it.
Lawmakers complained throughout the day-long debate about
having to cut education, health care and other services, but only one
amendment offered to shift money was approved. Rep. Rickey Nowlin,
R-Natchitoches, sneaked through an amendment with a 48-43 vote allocating
$768,097 to the Louisiana
School for Math,
Science and the Arts to restore cuts.
Even though amendments in the House Appropriations
Committee restored some cuts in the Jindal administration's original budget,
deep cuts still exist to accommodate a $1.4 billion drop in state revenue —
not including a loss of $4 billion in federal funds. Some of the hole is
filled by $1 billion in federal stimulus money.
The bill now heads for the Senate, and lawmakers said they
expect that, as usual, the Senate will shift the House priorities and find
Rep. Jim Fannin, D-Jonesboro, who led the House debate as
chairman of the Appropriations Committee, acknowledged that there still is
some unused money in the budget. But he encouraged House members not to spend
it because it might be needed during the fiscal year that starts July 1.
"We have not spent any more general fund money,"
he told the House. But the budget has $15 million left over in the Insure
Louisiana Fund that was created to try to lure insurance companies to the
state, $14.8 million in an "overcollections" fund and $186 million
in the Mega-Projects Fund created to lure major industries.
"It is absolutely a balanced budget," Fannin
said. "I probably could never give you a perfect instrument."
Fannin described slicing so much from the budget "an
unfortunate situation, but it's the hand we've been dealt. As many times I
have had to say 'No' was not enjoyable."
Rep. Noble Ellington, D-Winnsboro, said this marks the
22nd time he has voted for an appropriations bill.
"Has there ever been one I was completely happy with?
No," he said.
In addressing the House, Ellington commented on the
decision to restore nearly $100 million of the $219 million cut from higher
"It's not like we're looking at higher education,"
Ellington said that while driving on Interstate 20 from Shreveport toward his home he noticed how close the
exits to Gambling State University
and Louisiana Tech University
are and thought "a lot could happen to make those schools work together
but it hasn't happened."
"Maybe this shortage of money can make things
happen," he said. "We don't have the money to do all we want to
Rep. Rick Gallot, D-Ruston, who was one of the 17 House
members who voted against the bill, said he opposed it "because we
didn't do all we could do to serve people. We worked hard, but we can do
Gallot said one of his problems with the budget is that
$10 million was injected to cover the cost of tuition increases for students
who have Taylor Opportunity Program for Students scholarships while "we
have a number of students who attend our institutions of higher education who
don't receive TOPS."
When tuition rises, like this year, "they have to dig
deeper and deeper into their pockets," he said. "We're creating a
more and more uneven playing field. I'm not going to go home and tell the
people who elected me to come down here 'tighten your belt.' We're going to
cut off our hand when it may just need to be a finger."
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Danna Barnes, member
Though it went largely unnoticed by those outside the
medical profession, last week was National Nurses Week.
While I realize that such observations are common and
sometimes considered not quite newsworthy, I believe that the importance of
nurses to Louisiana’s
health-care system cannot be overstated and their service deserves
Specifically, I would like to call attention to a group of
17 hardworking Louisiana
nurses who were recognized last week for their extraordinary dedication to
their patients: the recipients of the 2009 DAISY Awards for Extraordinary
These nurses, employees of the Ochsner Health Care System,
were honored for their exceptional work ethic and the remarkable compassion
they have for those whom they serve.
I have a special appreciation for nurses such as these and
a personal connection to the award winners. My family founded the
not-for-profit DAISY Foundation in memory of my brother-in-law, J. Patrick
Patrick died at age 33 in 1999 from complications of
idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura, an autoimmune disease.
DAISY is an acronym for Diseases Attacking the Immune
System. The care he received from nurses while he was ill inspired my family
to find a unique way to thank nurses for making a profound difference in the
lives of their patients and patients’ families.
Thus, we launched the DAISY Awards for Extraordinary
Nurses. With help from UnitedHealthcare, which employs more than 6,000 nurses
nationwide, the program has grown substantially, and more than 3,650 nurses
at 211 hospitals have been recognized with the awards.
Compassionate nurses are the backbone of our health-care
system, and they should be lauded. I urge you and all your readers to say
“thank you” to all of the dedicated, hardworking nurses in your community.
Danna Barnes, member
Board of Directors, DAISY Foundation Ball
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Re: "Dental clinic bill clears House panel,"
Page A3, May 13.
The Louisiana House Health and Welfare Committee, in a
process that dismissed the requests of many educators and child health
providers to provide testimony, intends to set this state back in its efforts
to advance oral health for children.
Dental service provided to students through school-based
services is an effective strategy for expanding access to dental care for
youth, especially those from poor families.
The 2007 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which surveyed a
majority of students in Orleans Parish, indicated that close to 50 percent of
students never saw a dentist for a check-up, exam, cleaning or other dental
work during the previous year, and the percentage approached 80 percent for
The focus should be on increasing access to school-based
health services for Louisiana
students, rather than eliminating needed dental services.
All dental services provided at schools must meet
requirements set forth by the state dental board, so the supposition that
school-based dental services or mobile dental units provide inferior services
is totally unsubstantiated.
School leaders and health service partners welcome collaboration
with private dentists and mobile dental services like those provided through
the New Orleans Health Department.
Finally, the idea that school-based care and mobile dental
units that serve schools should not be able to bill Medicaid and other third
party payers is misguided -- unless the goal is to ensure that our
underserved students never receive the care they need.
Don't all Louisiana
children deserve strong teeth and a healthy childhood?
Louisiana Public Health Institute
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by Linda A. Johnson, The Associated Press
TRENTON, N.J. (AP) -- Pfizer Inc. is unveiling a new
program Thursday that will let people who have lost their jobs and health
insurance keep taking some widely prescribed Pfizer medications -- including
Lipitor and Viagra -- for free for up to a year.
The world's biggest drugmaker will provide more than 70 of
its prescription drugs at no cost to unemployed, uninsured Americans,
regardless of their prior income, who lost jobs since Jan. 1 and have been on
the Pfizer drug for three months or more.
The announcement comes amid massive job losses caused by
the recession and a campaign in Washington
to rein in health care costs and extend coverage. The move could earn Pfizer
some goodwill in that debate after long being a target of critics of drug
industry prices and sales practices.
The program also likely will help keep those patients
loyal to Pfizer brands.
"Everybody knows now a neighbor, a relative who has
lost their job and is losing their insurance. People are definitely hurting
out there," Dr. Jorge Puente, Pfizer's head of pharmaceuticals outside
the U.S. and Europe and a champion of the project, told The
Associated Press in an exclusive interview Wednesday. "Our aim is to
help people bridge this point."
Officials for New York-based Pfizer said they don't know
how much the program will cost and haven't put a cap on spending for it.
Applicants will have to sign a statement that they are
suffering financial hardship and provide a "pink slip" or similar
employer notice. Applications will be accepted through Dec. 31, with
medication provided for up to 12 months after approval -- or until the person
becomes insured again.
Starting Thursday, patients can call a toll-free number,
866-706-2400, to sign up, and those whose drugs are not included in the
program will be referred to other company aid programs. Starting July 1,
patients can also apply through the Web site, www.PfizerHelpfulAnswers.com,
which has information about the other Pfizer aid programs.
Pfizer and the rest of the drug industry is trying to have
a voice in the debate over how to overhaul the U.S. health care system,
partly by joining in a pledge this week to help hold down inflation of health
"There's a long-term benefit there, beyond the
goodwill and the publicity," said David Heupel, health care portfolio
manager at Thrivent Large Cap Growth Fund. "Pfizer is trying to maintain
their (market) share, if not grow their share" by keeping people from
switching to generic versions of its drugs to save money.
"If you're already taking medication that's working,
typically doctors don't push to change it," Heupel said.
Pfizer's program comes at a time when many drugmakers,
including Pfizer, have been raising prices on their drugs, partly to offset
declines in revenue as the global recession reduces the number of
prescriptions people can afford to fill.
The idea for the program came just five weeks ago, at a
leadership training meeting, as the workers discussed how many patients are
struggling, Puente said.
"It was my idea," he said. "I floated it,
and the reception it got was so dramatic that it very quickly became our
Colleagues suggested employees could donate to a fund to
help support the effort, Puente said. He said some employees had tears in
their eyes when discussing how they could help people who had lost jobs.
He said he urged top management to approve the program,
presenting a recent Associated Press article about how newly uninsured
diabetics are suffering serious complications because they can no longer
afford the medicines and testing supplies. Approval came quickly.
The 70-plus drugs covered include several diabetes drugs
and some of Pfizer's top money makers, from cholesterol fighter Lipitor and
painkiller Celebrex to fibromyalgia treatment Lyrica and Viagra for
impotence. The list includes drugs from several other popular classes,
including antibiotics, antidepressants, antifungal treatments, several heart
drugs, contraceptives and smoking cessation products. Cheaper generic
versions are available for quite a few of the drugs.
Pfizer said that from 2004 through 2008, its patient
assistance programs helped 5.1 million people get 51 million Pfizer
prescriptions for free or at reduced cost, with a total value of $4.8
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The New York Times | 05.14.09
By DONALD G. McNEIL Jr.
The swine flu virus did not result from a laboratory
accident, the World Health Organization said Thursday, working to debunk rumors
started by an Australian virologist and circulated by news outlets all over
“We took this very seriously,” Dr. Keiji Fukuda, the
agency’s deputy director general, said of the virologist’s assertion. “But
the evidence suggests that this is a naturally occurring virus, not a
In a telephone news conference, Dr. Fukuda also expressed
support for drug companies’ making a generic version of the antiviral drug
Tamiflu. Many poor countries have no stockpiles of the drug.
Almost 6,500 confirmed cases of the new H1N1 flu have been
reported from 33 countries, and 65 people have died, the W.H.O. said. About
4,300 confirmed and probable cases, with 3 deaths, were reported in the United States.
A woman in Arizona
who was suffering from lung disease died last week from complications of
swine flu, the Maricopa County Department of Public Health said late
Thursday, Reuters reported.
The virus rumor was started by Adrian J. Gibbs, a retired
plant virologist from the Australian
who previously published work in the journal Science questioning the idea,
now accepted, that the 1918 pandemic started as a bird flu.
Dr. Gibbs, who had studied the gene sequences of the swine
flu virus posted on public data banks, argued that it must have been grown in
eggs, the medium used in vaccine laboratories. He reached that conclusion, he
said, because the new virus was not closely related to known ones and because
it had more of the amino acid lysine and more mutations than typical strains
of swine flu.
His theory was reported by Bloomberg News on Tuesday. Even
though scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were
skeptical and some prominent virologists openly derisive, news outlets have
repeated and magnified the theory, adding speculation about bioterrorism that
even Dr. Gibbs repudiated. He was also interviewed Thursday on the ABC News
program “Good Morning America.”
Dr. Fukuda said a W.H.O. panel of experts had concluded
that “the hypothesis does not really stand up to scrutiny.” The lysine
residues and mutation rates were typical, he said, and many swine flus seem
unrelated because not enough pigs are tested each year.
But he added that he doubted that the rumor would prove
damaging, and he said he would not want genetic sequences kept off public
“This is healthy,” he said. “This is much better than
dealing with rumors where you don’t know where the mistake comes from and
can’t correct it.”
Persistent false rumors, like those that AIDS is not
caused by a virus or that polio vaccine sterilizes Muslim girls, have
devastated efforts to control other diseases.
Scientists have yet to pinpoint the origin of the swine
flu virus, the earliest cases of which were found in Veracruz, Mexico.
It contains genes from flu viruses that normally circulate in pigs in Europe
and Asia, as well as avian and human genes.
Late Thursday, Smithfield Foods reported that the Mexican
health authorities had not found the new virus in herds at its huge
hog-fattening operations in Veracruz,
which some have blamed for the outbreak. But it was not clear what test was
used; only blood tests for antibodies would show whether pigs had the virus
in February, when the human outbreak is thought to have begun.
As for the use of oseltamivir, the generic form of
Tamiflu, the W.H.O. has certified only one drug — Antiflu, made by the Indian
company Cipla in both pill and liquid forms — as equivalent to brand-name
Dr. Yusuf K. Hamied, Cipla’s chairman, said he would sell
large amounts to Mexico
and was in discussion with countries in Africa, Latin America and the Middle East.
The move could prompt patent lawsuits by Gilead Sciences
and Roche, which developed and sell Tamiflu, so Cipla will sell only to
countries indemnifying them against such suits, the company said.
Roche has offered 6.5 million doses of Tamiflu to the
World Health Organization and 1 million doses to Mexico.
Dr. Hamied, reluctant to buy supplies for orders that
might not materialize, said that poor countries should stockpile shikimic
acid, the oseltamivir precursor, then pay Cipla or other generic companies to
make the drug as needed.
The swine flu may cause the W.H.O. to cut short its
nine-day annual conference of world health ministers so they can get home to
fight the disease, Reuters reported.
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The New York Times | 05.14.09
By ROBERT PEAR
— Hospitals and insurance companies said Thursday that President Obama had
substantially overstated their promise earlier this week to reduce the growth
of health spending.
Mr. Obama invited health industry leaders to the White
House on Monday to trumpet their cost-control commitments. But three days
later, confusion swirled in Washington
as the companies’ trade associations raced to tamp down angst among members
around the country.
After meeting with six major health care organizations,
Mr. Obama hailed their cost-cutting promise as historic.
“These groups are voluntarily coming together to make an
unprecedented commitment,” Mr. Obama said. “Over the next 10 years, from 2010
to 2019, they are pledging to cut the rate of growth of national health care
spending by 1.5 percentage points each year — an amount that’s equal to over
Health care leaders who attended the meeting have a
different interpretation. They say they agreed to slow health spending in a
more gradual way and did not pledge specific year-by-year cuts.
“There’s been a lot of misunderstanding that has caused a
lot of consternation among our members,” said Richard J. Umbdenstock, the
president of the American Hospital Association. “I’ve spent the better part
of the last three days trying to deal with it.”
Nancy-Ann DeParle, director of the White House Office of
Health Reform, said “the president misspoke” on Monday and again on Wednesday
when he described the industry’s commitment in similar terms. After providing
that account, Ms. DeParle called back about an hour later on Thursday and said:
“I don’t think the president misspoke. His remarks correctly and accurately
described the industry’s commitment.”
office of the American Hospital Association sent a bulletin to its state and
local affiliates to “clarify several points” about the White House meeting.
In the bulletin, Richard J. Pollack, the executive vice
president of the hospital association, said: “The A.H.A. did not commit to
support the ‘Obama health plan’ or budget. No such reform plan exists at this
Moreover, Mr. Pollack wrote, “The groups did not support
reducing the rate of health spending by 1.5 percentage points annually.”
He and other health care executives said they had agreed
to squeeze health spending so the annual rate of growth would eventually be
1.5 percentage points lower.
Under existing law, the Department of Health and Human
Services estimates that health spending will grow an average of 6.2 percent a
year in the coming decade, to $4.4 trillion in 2018.
Two other lobbyists who attended the White House meeting
confirmed Mr. Pollack’s account.
One of the lobbyists, Karen M. Ignagni, president of America’s
Health Insurance Plans, said the savings would “ramp up” gradually as the
growth of health spending slowed.
David H. Nexon, senior executive vice president of the
Advanced Medical Technology Association, a trade group for makers of medical
devices, said “there was no specific understanding” of when the lower growth
rate would be achieved.
“It’s a target over a 10-year period,” Mr. Nexon said.
Democrats in Congress are looking for savings that could
be certified by the Congressional Budget Office, the official scorekeeper, so
the money could be used to pay for coverage of the uninsured.
But health care executives are leery of enforceable cost
controls. Mr. Pollack assured hospital executives that the promised savings
“are not subject to rigid ‘scoring’ rules used by the Congressional Budget
John A. Matessino, president of the Louisiana Hospital
Association, said his members were already struggling because the state cut
their Medicaid payments 3.5 percent in February and planned deeper cuts in
the fiscal year that starts July 1.
“We are very concerned about what they are doing in Washington and the
speed at which it’s happening,” Mr. Matessino said. “We have hospitals in Louisiana that have put major construction projects on
hold until they see what happens in Washington
over the next 6 or 12 months.”
Daniel Sisto, president of the Healthcare Association of
New York State, which represents hospitals and nursing homes, said, “There is
a high level of anxiety about the overall goal of $2 trillion in savings,
especially in a state like New York, which has had severe cost constraints
for three decades.”
House Democrats on Thursday circulated the outline of a
bill that would require all Americans to carry health insurance and would
subsidize premiums for many people with incomes up to four times the poverty
level ($88,200 for a family of four).
Under the proposal, employers would have to offer coverage
to employees or help finance it by paying a percentage of their payroll. The
Democrats are proposing creation of a “public health insurance plan,” which
would compete with private insurers.
The public plan would probably be run by the Health and
Human Services Department, according to the outline.
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The New York Times | 05.14.09
By ANDREW POLLACK
Grandma was right when she recommended ginger for an upset
stomach — at least for cancer patients.
A randomized clinical trial has confirmed what many people
suspect — that ginger can decrease nausea caused by chemotherapy. The effect
goes beyond that provided by standard anti-vomiting drugs.
The results will be presented at the annual meeting of the
American Society of Clinical Oncology, which begins May 29 in Orlando, Fla.
Abstracts of most of the studies to be presented at the conference were made
The trial, financed by the National Cancer Institute,
involved 644 patients, mostly women with breast cancer, who were undergoing
chemotherapy at 23 oncology practices in the United States.
All patients took a standard anti-vomiting drug on each
day of chemotherapy. They also took specially made capsules containing either
extracts of ginger root or a placebo for six days, starting three days before
each round of chemotherapy.
They then rated the severity of their nausea four times a
day. Those taking the ginger had a reduction of about 45 percent in severity
compared with a previous round of chemotherapy in which they did not take the
ginger. Those on the placebo had almost no change, said Julie L. Ryan of the University of Rochester, the lead author of the
Previous studies have yielded inconsistent results. Dr.
Ryan said the new study might have succeeded because the ginger was given
The best results corresponded to a quarter to a half
teaspoon of ground ginger, she said. She added that either the ginger that
comes in spice bottles or the ginger capsules sold in health food stores
would probably work.
She was less sure about ginger cookies, ginger tea or
ginger ale, though they might if they contained real ginger in the proper
amount. “It’s a higher dose than you would get in one cookie,” she said.
Another study showed that a new type of treatment that
helps the immune system “see” a tumor helped children with neuroblastoma, a
rare but deadly cancer of the nervous system that strikes mainly toddlers.
After two years, about 66 percent of the children who
received the new treatment were alive without a relapse of their cancer,
compared with 46 percent of those who got only the standard treatment only,
according to Dr. Alice Yu of the University
of California, San Diego, the lead author. And 86 percent
of the children who got the new treatment were alive after two years,
compared with 75 percent of those getting the conventional treatment.
However, side effects like pain and fluid accumulation in
the body were more severe with the new treatment.
The new therapy is an antibody that blocks the functioning
of a molecule called GD2 on the surface of neuroblastoma cells. GD2 is
thought to help conceal the tumor from the patient’s immune system, so
blocking it with the antibody opens the cancer to attack. In the trial, which
was sponsored by the National Cancer Institute and involved 226 children, the
antibody was given along with two proteins that stimulated the immune system.
The antibody is being manufactured by the National Cancer
Institute, which is looking for company to turn it into a commercial product,
Dr. Yu said.
In another study, researchers developed a test that may
allow some patients with early-stage colon cancer to forgo chemotherapy.
Nearly 80 percent of patients with Stage 2 colon cancer do
not suffer a relapse after surgery, said Dr. David J. Kerr of the University of Oxford, the lead investigator. But
doctors cannot identify those patients, so many needlessly undergo
chemotherapy, with its costs and side effects, in hopes of keeping the cancer
from coming back.
The test measures the activity levels of various genes in
the tumor and computes a score showing the risk of recurrence. In the study,
the test was performed on tumor samples from a trial that took place some years
ago, so it was already known which patients suffered relapses.
About 10 percent of the patients with the lowest scores
had a recurrence in three years, Dr. Kerr said, compared with 25 percent for
those with the highest scores. He said those at the low risk might not want
But a separate score aimed at predicting which patients
would actually benefit from chemotherapy did not succeed. That could limit
usefulness of the test, some analysts have said. So could the fact that the
recurrence risk for a high score was not much greater than for a low score.
“Perhaps it is not as good as we might like in predicting
who is at very high risk,” said Dr. Richard L. Schilsky, a professor at the University of Chicago who is president of the
The test was developed by Genomic Health, a California
biotechnology company that sells a similar test called Oncotype Dx for women
with breast cancer. The company said it planned to start selling the colon
cancer test next year. The price has not been set; the breast cancer test
sells for nearly $4,000.
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