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Top 10 Health Care Stories Of The Year

Here, in no particular order, is our completely subjective list of the Top 10 Health Care Stories Of 2010. Let us know if we missed your pick! And feel free to add to the list.1. National Health Care Reform

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Later in the year, the NY-based private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management buys the underperforming, Catholic nonprofit Caritas Christi hospitals for nearly $900 million. WBUR reports: "The actual purchase price is about $496 million; more than half of that is the pension liability that Cerberus will pay off over many years if it holds on to Caritas. The big influx of cash, the remaining $400, is not a lump sum for service, but it’s money that Cerberus was committed to spend out of what it expects will be increasing revenue at Caritas." The new owners recently acquired two more hospitals in the region and observers wonder how far, and deep, the buying spree will go.

4. Cholera Strikes Haiti
After years in abeyance, cholera hits Haiti hard. More than 2,500 people have already died of the disease, which thrives in regions with inadequate supplies of clean drinking water and poor sanitation. Earlier this month, when Paul Farmer, the infectious disease doctor and global health humanitarian, called for more aggressive treatment efforts, he noted that some public health officials were resisting more widespread use of antibiotics and oral vaccines. “We are seeing resistance,” said Farmer, founder of Boston-based Partners In Health, a leading nonprofit working in Haiti. “I’m not going to be arch about it, the resistance is not coming from patients and their families, it never does. There’s great doubt around logistics and cost. In a battlefield situation, what do you do first?”

5. The Insurance Wars
A heated battle pits health insurers against state regulators, who, in an attempt to curb rising costs, impose caps on premiums. Insurers scream bloody murder, and several lawsuits follow. Still, almost all the top insurers settled with the state, which was able to win 137 rate caps on insurance plans, forcing those insurers to hold rates to 2009 levels.

6. Mr. Berwick Goes To Washington
Donald Berwick, the thoughtful, Anglophile pediatrician who previously ran the Cambridge-based Institute for Healthcare Improvement, is tapped by Obama to head the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. But there's a catch: due to a few out of context quotes that went viral (Berwick mentioned "rationing" health care and that he "loved" the British National Health Service) his nomination grew more and more contentious. So the president appointed Berwick to the post during the summer recess. Republicans were not pleased.

7. Lucky AIDS Gene ID'd
Harvard AIDS researcher Bruce Walker and colleagues are able to pinpoint "genetic variations that change amino acid building blocks in key proteins in the immune system. These differences help explain why some patients can be infected with HIV for decades, never get treatment and yet never progress to AIDS," NPR reports. "The exciting part of this finding," Walker tells NPR, "is that it helps us focus on something that clearly is important and hopefully will allow us to manipulate the immune response" of people without the protective trait.

8. Beth Israel Goes Global
Blue Cross signs the largest physician group yet (1,800 doctors from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center) to its new contract that puts physicians on a budget and pays bonuses based on improving the health of patients. Tufts Health Plan and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care reveal they are also expanding the use of global budget contracts.

9. Life Panels Get A Second Look
The year started with misplaced fury over "death panels," a concept so misunderstood and distorted that it was deleted from the health reform law. But perhaps a more nuanced and rational discussion about the difficult topic of how to treat (or not treat) patients nearing the end of their lives is coming soon. A critical study came out showing that terminal lung cancer patients who were given fairly long term palliative care not only felt better, but lived longer too. In the New Yorker, Atul Gawande wrote a remarkable piece on the topic, and in CommonHealth, Carey Goldberg profiled a pilot program that offers patients a menu of choices on how they want to live their final days.

10. Deval Patrick, Round Two
Despite the Democrats' national shellacking in the mid-term elections, Deval Patrick wins a second term as the governor of Massachusetts. He vows that his first priority after inauguration day will be reform of the the state's health care payment system. The day after his electoral win, The Boston Globe reports: "Patrick signaled yesterday that the most ambitious item he wants to pursue in his second term will be reducing health care costs, a goal that is considered the second phase of the state’s universal health care law, which focused initially on extending coverage to the uninsured. If he is successful, Massachusetts would become the first state in the nation to scrap the current health care payment system, in which doctors and hospitals are typically paid a fee for every procedure and visit, and replace it with a system that will essentially put providers on a budget for each patient’s care.”

Gov. Patrick, we're watching!

This program aired on December 23, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.

Rachel Zimmerman Twitter Health Reporter
Rachel Zimmerman previously reported on health and the intersection of health and business for Bostonomix.

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