en español: El Innovador de Texas
Medicaid Abuses Must Be Addressed
As a momma and a grandmomma, I am concerned with the health and well-being of our foster kids. And as Comptroller, I am also concerned with potential Medicaid prescription drug fraud and abuse in the system because of the high cost of many of these prescriptions.
Under my statutory responsibility for the Texas Health Care Fraud Study, I recently requested additional prescription drug and claims data for foster children from the Health and Human Services Commission. As Chairman of the Medicaid and Public Assistance Fraud Oversight Task Force, I will provide any evidence I find of prescription drug fraud and abuse and make necessary recommendations to the task force and the Legislature.
I am equally concerned about the potential for fraud and abuse of our state’s Medicaid prescription drug program within the state’s foster care system. In my report, Forgotten Children, released April 2004, I looked at one month’s data on the use of psychotropic drugs by children in the foster care system.
Children as young as three years old are receiving powerful, mind-altering drugs. We need to examine a year’s worth of data to determine whether these drugs are being prescribed to make our foster children more submissive, or to line the pockets of unscrupulous and uncaring doctors and pharmaceutical companies, or both.
More than 272,331 state and federal dollars were spent on anti-psychotics for foster children in one month and more than $74,000 on anti-depressants. It is not uncommon for one child to have prescriptions totaling more than $1,000 a month and for some children to have up to 14 different prescriptions. Conservatively, the estimated annual cost of anti-depressants and anti-psychotic drugs for children in the foster system is $4 million.
As I have said before, the tragic truth is that some of these children are no better off in the care of the state than they were in the hands of abusive and negligent parents. The abuses within our state’s foster care system must be addressed now.
Carole Keeton Strayhorn
Beer goes green
A Houston-based beer distributor is doing its part to help improve ozone levels and air quality.
Silver Eagle Distributors, a distributor of Anheuser-Busch beer, is the first company in Texas to run a privately owned fleet of vehicles using “green diesel” technology. The company received about $2 million from the Houston-Galveston Area Council (H-GAC) in 2004 to help convert its fleet to clean diesel technology as part of H-GAC’s Clean Cities/Clean Vehicles program.
The funding will cover 75 percent of the cost of converting 69 trucks. The company already equipped 42 trucks with emission reduction equipment and plans to convert the remaining trucks in its fleet by 2007.
Green diesel technology removes soot and odor from engine exhausts, lowers nitrogen oxide and reduces greenhouse gases.
“We believe these improvements are not just good for business, but critical for the future growth and development of this city,” said John L. Nau III, Silver Eagle’s president and CEO.
H-GAC’s Clean Cities/Clean Vehicles program provides funding and assistance to area businesses and local governments to convert their fleets to more environmentally friendly vehicles.
For more information, contact Emma Colbert,
Silver Eagle Distributors, 713-866-6393
Lessons from space
Remote and rural schoolrooms in India are getting some high-tech help from a satellite. The 4,300-pound EDUSAT was launched into orbit from India’s Satish Dhawan Space Centre on September 20, 2004, to provide educational services to schools and colleges scattered throughout the Indian subcontinent.
India has made substantial investments in public education, but many isolated and rural areas still lack the funding needed to offer sophisticated teaching methods and attract and retain high-quality teachers. According to a 2001 census, more than a third of India’s billion-plus citizens—overwhelmingly those in rural areas—are illiterate.
EDUSAT, which has an expected mission life of seven years, will create an interactive television “distance learning” network for students and educators, providing lessons as well as teacher training. In addition, the network can deliver information about matters of public and professional interest such as health and hygiene.
India is implementing the EDUSAT network in three stages, the first connecting several universities. The second stage should add about 500 school classrooms. Ultimately, EDUSAT is expected to offer up to 74 channels to universities as well as primary and secondary school classrooms throughout the nation, in a network serving some 5,000 locations.
For more information, contact the Indian Space Research Organization,
Receiving tickets for an expired parking meter could be a thing of the past. Instead of hunting for change to feed the meter, the EasyPark electronic parking-payment system allows drivers to use a pre-paid smart card without wasting money, said Oded Bashan, president and CEO of Israel-based On-Track Innovations Ltd.
Drivers put money on the card’s account with cash, debit or credit cards and display the cards in their windshields to allow easy scanning by parking attendants. Drivers then deactivate the card when they return, and the amount due is deducted from the total amount of money put on the card.
“Drivers only pay for the exact time they parked, and they never have to look for coins,” Bashan said.
EasyPark is up and running in more than 24 cities in Israel and is ready for use in the United States and worldwide, Bashan said.
For more information, contact Galit Mendelson,
201-944-5200, ext. 111
In the movies, rats are usually scary creatures frightening all who get in their way. The picture may change, however, if experiments conducted by researchers at the State University of New York in Brooklyn and the University of Florida in Gainesville are successful.
Rats have an acute sense of smell and can fit into tiny crevices. These two attributes make them perfect for locating bombs or finding people trapped by debris.
The Pentagon-funded researchers are not only training rats to find explosives and people in danger, but they are also learning how to identify the rats’ brain signals when the rats have completed their tasks. Electrodes placed in the rats’ brains send electronic signals to a radio transmitter fixed to their backs.
The goal is for researchers to be able to track the rats’ signals, which then will tell them where to dig. The research team plans to create a working system within the next year, according to Linda Hermer-Vazquez at the University of Florida.
For more information, contact Linda Hermer-Vazquez,
Two Austin physicists may have finally solved the age-old problem—how to find your car in a crowded parking lot. Slav and Tatiana Ligai have invented a device that fits on a driver’s keychain and points the driver toward his or her car.
The Car Seeker, or C-Car!, uses a built-in compass to locate a driver’s car. A compass uses magnets rather than electronics, so C-Car! does not need batteries and has no distance limitations. However, the presence of other magnetic materials or steel objects, such as a pocketknife, can affect the operation of the compass.
To use C-Car!, a driver parks his car, then points the device toward his destination, such as a mall or a stadium. He lines up a logo on the device to “lock in” the position of the car, relative to where he’s going. When he’s ready to leave the mall, stadium, etc., he points C-Car! in various directions. When the logo lines up, the driver knows that’s the direction in which the car is located.
Austin-based Lancetta Inc. produces and markets the device. C-Car! is available for $4.95 at www.mytithe.com.
For more information, contact Mike Romanies,
O.R. to go
The U.S. Army needed a mobile surgery unit that could be transported to the battlefield and unwrapped from its housing without exposure to the elements. Y-12 National Security Complex, which had won a “Best of What’s New” award for a similar project for the U.S. Marines in 1998, redesigned the unit for the U.S. Army.
“The Marines needed a field unit for surgery that had to be rapidly usable,” said Mike Monnett, public affairs manager for Y-12.
The Army liked the Marines’ idea and came to Y-12 with some additional requirements, including a hard shelter and the ability to maintain a seal on the unit while opening, Monett said.
“We finished the Army’s prototype for them and gave it to them in April 2004,” Monnett said. “It starts out as an 8-by-20 foot box. Two guys can open it up in a couple of minutes into a hard shelter with space for two surgery tables.”
The shelter provides about 400 square feet of surgical space, and Monnett said he envisions future uses for emergency responders and homeland security, among others.
Y-12 delivered the project on schedule and for less than its almost $8 million budget, according to Monnett. Fine-tuning will be needed, but Monnett does not know when or if Y-12 will be involved in future designs.
For more information, contact Mike Monnett,
An IT university
A new college caters directly to the employment needs of technology giants like Microsoft, Oracle, Unysis and IBM. Northface University, with campuses in Salt Lake City, Utah and Reno, Nev., offers a bachelor of science degree in computer science and a master’s of business administration.
“We are different from technical schools like ITT Tech and DeVry in a few important ways,” said Julie Blake, senior vice president of marketing for Northface. “Our programs are accelerated. Our students are in class from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. every weekday, and they graduate in 28 months.”
The school’s first class of 150 students hit the books and keyboards in January 2004 and will graduate in April 2006, Blake said.
“The campus mirrors the workplace environment—70 percent of our curriculum is project-based,” she said. “We give students real world projects so that when they graduate they have a digital portfolio. They have real-world experience they can demonstrate.”
Students also spend an hour a day in certification classes and graduate certified in Microsoft IBM applications, she said.
In November, Northface instructors came to Austin, Texas to host a workshop that trained Texas high school teachers to teach Java programming.
For more information, contact Julie Blake,
Hip replacement surgeries performed with the aid of a surgical table introduced in March 2003 shorten hospital stays and recovery times for patients. The table allows surgeons to position patients so they can reach the hip joint from the front of the body instead of through the back, where they have to cut through muscle, said Mark Lane, vice president of worldwide sales and marketing for Union City, Calif.-based Orthopedic Systems Inc., makers of the ProFX fracture table.
For more information, contact Mark Lane,
Researchers at the University of Canterbury’s Centre for Bio-engineering in New Zealand have created a computer-based technology that can measure patients’ pain and administer pain medication accordingly. The new technology may prevent overmedicating critically ill patients, which interferes with treatment, and save hospitals millions of dollars on unnecessary drugs.
For more information, contact John MacDonald, University of Canterbury,
Researchers in Jabalpur, India, created a polymer gel that may be loaded with suitable drugs for treating diseases that often require injections, such as diabetes, Crohn’s disease and bowel cancer. Drugs taken orally are frequently ineffective because stomach enzymes destroy the drug before it can reach the colon.
The researchers, however, have found a way to protect the drug. In preliminary tests, 56 percent of the drug reached its target.
For more information, contact Dr. Sunil Bajpai,
Editor: Angela Freeman
Contributing to this issue: Magdalena Hamner, Ann Holdsworth, Karen Hudgins, Greg Mt.Joy, Edd Patton, Clint Shields, Suzanne Staton, Pam Wagner and Bruce Wright