Looking back on health care in 2013

With 2013 now having come to a close, it's time to take a look back on some of the highlights from the past year in health care.With 2013 now behind us, it’s worth taking a look back at some of the biggest health care stories of the year and examining how they affected the national narrative. As usual, health care news played an important role in American society in 2013, with some stories, discoveries and developments providing optimism for the coming years, and others proving to be disappointing.

Affordable Care Act continues to make headlines

Some people might have thought the health care reform debate was mostly over by the time 2013 started. Alas, those people would be proven wrong. It started with House Republicans continuing to hold votes to defund the Affordable Care Act. Then they used it as a bargaining tool in the government shutdown that took place in October.1

After weathering those two storms, supporters of the ACA were dealt a major blow when the rollout of the federal insurance exchanges was severely botched due to technical malfunctions on the government’s website, HealthCare.gov. And that was just the tip of the iceberg. There were ongoing problems with enrollment, higher insurance premiums for certain people and the broken promise that anyone who liked their current insurance would be able to keep it.

Just as it appeared the president and his staff had finally moved past the ongoing partisan bickering over the law, these developments proved to kill any positive momentum and put the administration on the defensive. It has had to spend the past several weeks constantly defending the ACA and working to eliminate the bugs that were keeping the website from operating properly.

All of those issues also made the ACA the most important and talked about health care story of 2013.

AMA declares obesity a disease

Americans have long grappled with obesity. Over the past few decades it has emerged as a major public health concern on par with smoking. But it wasn’t until 2013 that the American Medical Association finally declared it an official disease.2 That designation, which was made in June at the AMA’s annual meeting, could help pave the way for more effective obesity treatments and make it easier for physicians to work with government programs and health insurers to cover obese patients.

There was a healthy debate at the June meeting over whether designating obesity as a disease, instead of treating it as a lifestyle choice, would lead to people relying too much on drugs and surgery to treat the issue. Ultimately, though, the disease designation side won out, based primarily on the idea that it would help to standardize preventative measures, treatments and physician reimbursement.

Increased focus on antibiotic resistance

The possible health scourge that could come from growing human and animal resistance to antibiotics finally started to gain widespread public recognition in 2013.3 The U.S. Food and Drug Administration moved to curb the use of antibiotics in livestock, and many medical professionals have started cutting back on issuing prescriptions, using them only when they are absolutely necessary.

Nonetheless, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 23,000 people a year in the United States die from antibiotic resistant infections, a number that has been on the rise in recent years. Fortunately, heightened awareness of the repercussions of such resistance is leading to new steps that would help head off the dangerous possibilities it implies, including pandemic outbreaks.

FDA moves against multivitamins and herbal medications

The rapidly growing market of so-called natural health cures and treatments, often embodied by widely available products like multivitamins and herbal medications, has gone almost entirely unregulated over the years. But that is starting to change, as the FDA has stepped up its oversight of the industry and released several reports indicating that many of these products are ineffective or are outright scams.4

As people have increasingly turned to over-the-counter, self-medicating products in recent years, health experts called on the government to exercise more stringent oversight. That move took several years, but now that the FDA has stepped in, and consumers are privy to more information about the effectiveness of these products.

New discoveries in medicine

There were several advances made in the health care industry in 2013.5 From the improved use of technology and data in hospitals to bariatric surgery to help control diabetes, a lot happened that should provide optimism for 2014 and beyond.

Among the new discoveries and developments were bionic eyes that are used to treat severe eye diseases and genomic-based tests for tumors that can help pinpoint the most effective treatments for patients.

1 Roy, Avik, “The Apothecary’s 2013 Year in Review: Americans Care Most About Obamacare’s Steep Premium Hikes,” Forbes.com, Dec. 31, 2013. http://www.forbes.com/sites/theapothecary/2013/12/31/the-apothecarys-2013-year-in-review-americans-care-most-about-obamacares-steep-premium-hikes/
2 Pollack, Andrew, “A.M.A. Recognizes Obesity as a Disease,” The New York Times, June 18, 2013. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/19/business/ama-recognizes-obesity-as-a-disease.html?_r=0
3 McKenna, Maryn, “FDA Scrutinizes Antibacterial Products for Hormonal Disruption, Bacterial Resistance,” Wired.com, Dec. 16, 2013. http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2013/12/fda-triclosan-rule/
4 Palermo, Dr. James, “Year in Review: 2013 Health Care Highlights,” Space Coast Daily, Dec. 31, 2013. http://spacecoastdaily.com/2013/12/year-in-review-healthcare-highlights-of-2013/
5 Collier Cool, Lisa, “Top 10 Medical Breakthroughs for 2014,” Yahoo Health, Dec. 27, 2013. http://health.yahoo.net/experts/dayinhealth/top-10-medical-innovations-2014