Keeping Patients Safer

About 650,000 patients acquire an infection while in a hospital each year and 75,000 of them die, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The vast majority of these infections are preventable, yet many hospitals continue to report high infection rates.

Consumer Reports' Safe Patient Project has worked for more than a decade to push hospitals to improve and standardize infection-control efforts. In January we filed a petition in California that called for the state to do more to hold hospitals accountable.

Why California? CR found that its Department of Public Health (CDPH) withheld from inspectors infection data it collected until long after that data was reported, preventing inspectors from taking timely action to protect patients.

To make matters worse, many California hospitals with some of the worst infection rates haven't been inspected by the state in the past five years.

In response to our petition, the CDPH announced that it is now sharing infection data with state inspectors so that they can use the information to prioritize those hospitals with the worst rates.

"Now California needs to use its enforcement authority to require poor-performing hospitals to take action," says Lisa McGiffert, director of the Safe Patient Project. "For too long, the state has relied on voluntary efforts by hospitals to lower infection rates, and that clearly hasn’t been working."

Go to SafePatientProject.org for steps you can take to protect yourself and your loved ones when in a hospital. And read our article "Take Charge of Your Heart Health" to learn about the top hospitals for heart surgery.

Driving Up Electric Car Sales

Once a technological novelty, electric vehicles­—or EVs—hit a new sales record in 2016, up 37 percent from 2015. Despite low gas prices, shoppers purchased 70 percent more EVs during January 2017 compared with the previous January.

The increase is impressive, but EVs still account for only 1 percent of the auto market. That's why CR continues to advocate for programs that encourage EV ownership and the lower operating costs and emissions associated with them.

There's fuel for further growth: A survey by CR and the Union of Concerned Scientists conducted in California and several Northeastern states recently found growing demand for EVs. More than half of the California residents said they would consider an EV for their next vehicle purchase, and more than one-third of the Northeastern residents agreed.

Fuel-economy standards and zero-emission vehicle targets in California and other states have helped put automakers on track to produce more electric cars by the end of the decade.

But for EVs to become mainstream, automakers must increase the driving range.

Chevrolet’s new Bolt is a step in the right direction, with an estimated range of 238 miles. Ranges typically vary from about 60 to 100 miles per charge, and the public charging infrastructure remains in its infancy.

Some of the nation's largest utility companies have made a commitment to help facilitate the deployment of new public charging stations so that more drivers have access at home and on the go.

We'll keep pushing to maintain government and industry support. If you're thinking about making the switch to battery power, go to CR.org/evs0517 for answers to all of your questions about electric vehicles. Then head over to CR.org/cars, where you’ll find our latest ratings and first impressions on the newest plug-in rides.

Many of the current crop of EVs carry hefty prices, but remember that federal and state incentives could take as much as $10,000 off the cost of a new one.

Defeating Bad Mergers

In our November 2016 issue, we told you about proposed mergers involving four of the nation's five largest health insurers. Consumer Reports opposed Anthem's $54 billion bid to buy Cigna and Aetna's $37 billion attempt to take over Humana. We were concerned that the corporate marriages would leave consumers with fewer policy options, higher premiums, and less access to quality healthcare. Experience has shown that similar mergers haven't worked out well for consumers.

Our advocates offered forceful testimony against these deals before both Congress and California regulators. We also took our concerns to the Department of Justice. The agency shared our views and sued to block the mergers, arguing that they would seriously harm consumers across the country. The courts ultimately agreed—which was a big win for consumers in a very unsteady insurance market.