Category Archives: News

Cost of Informal Caregiving for U.S. Elderly Is $522 Billion Annually | RAND

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Young woman holds an older woman's handThe price tag for informal caregiving of elderly people by friends and relatives in the United States comes to $522 billion a year, according to a new RAND Corporation study.

Replacing that care with unskilled paid care at minimum wage would cost $221 billion, while replacing it with skilled nursing care would cost $642 billion annually.

via Cost of Informal Caregiving for U.S. Elderly Is $522 Billion Annually | RAND.

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More Students Going to Medical School Than Ever Before – AAMC

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A doctor standing in a white coat with a stethoscope writing on a chartThe number of students who enrolled in the nation’s medical schools for the first time in 2014 has reached a new high, totaling 20,343, according to data released today by the AAMC (Association of American Medical Colleges).

The total number of applicants to medical school also rose by 3.1 percent, to a record 49,480. First-time applicants—an important indicator of interest in medicine—increased by 2.7 percent to 36,697.

via More Students Going to Medical School Than Ever Before – News Releases – Newsroom – AAMC.

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How Obamacare went south in Mississippi

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In the country’s unhealthiest state, the failure of Obamacare is a group effort.

By Sarah Varney
KHN / October 29, 2014

The lunch rush at Tom’s on Main in Yazoo City, Mississippi, had come to a close, and the waitresses, having cleared away plates of shrimp and cheese grits, seasoned turnip greens and pitchers of sweet tea, were retreating to the counter to cash out and count their tips.

It didn’t take long: The $6.95 lunchtime specials didn’t land them much, and the job certainly didn’t come with benefits like health insurance. For waitress Wylene Gary, 54, being uninsured was unnerving, but she didn’t try to buy coverage on her own until the Affordable Care Act forced her to. She didn’t want to be a lawbreaker.

Months earlier, she had gone online to the federal government’s new website, signed up and paid her first monthly premium of $129. But when her new insurance card arrived in the mail, she was flabbergasted.

“It said, $6,000 deductible and 40 percent co-pay,” Gary told me at the check-out counter, her timid drawl giving way to strident dismay. Confused, she called to speak to a representative for the insurer Magnolia Health. “’You tellin’ me if I get a hospital bill for $100,000, I gotta pay $40,000?’ And she said, ‘Yes, ma’am.’”

Never mind that the Magnolia worker was wrong — her out-of-pocket costs were legally capped at $6,350. Gary figured with a hospital bill that high, she would have to file for bankruptcy anyway. So really, she thought, what was the point?

“This ain’t worth a tooth,” she said.

She canceled her coverage.

The first year of the Affordable Care Act in Mississippi was, by almost every measure, an unmitigated disaster. In a state stricken by diabetes, heart disease, obesity and the highest infant mortality rate in the nation, President Barack Obama’s landmark health care law has barely registered, leaving the country’s poorest and perhaps most segregated state trapped in a severe and intractable health care crisis. Continue reading

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Washington launches small business health exchange

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Ron Wanger, owner of Royal Ridges Retreat in Yacolt, talks about signing up for health insurance through Washington Healthplanfinder Business.

From Washington Healthplandfinder:

The Washington Health Benefit Exchange today announced the statewide launch of Washington Healthplanfinder Business, a customer-friendly, online marketplace that allows employers in Washington with up to 50 employees to compare health plans, decide their contribution level and manage payment – all in one place. 

The marketplace was available through Kaiser Health Plan of the Northwest in Clark and Cowlitz counties in 2014, but will now be available statewide for the first time through Moda Health Inc. Small employers can choose from a total of 23 different health plans.

“We are thrilled to launch our statewide offering for small businesses in Washington this year,” said Richard Onizuka, CEO for the Washington Health Benefit Exchange. “With the addition of Moda Health, we’re confident that employers will be able to find a Qualified Health Plan that’s right for their employees and their budget.”

Washington Healthplanfinder Business benefits small employers by:

  • Simplifying choices: Washington Healthplanfinder Business provides side-by-side comparisons of state-certified health plans, including their benefits, premiums and quality. All plans cover essential health benefits such as visits to the doctor and emergency room, prescriptions, and preventative care. In addition, plans are offered in three “metal tiers” based on the costs covered.
  • Expanding employee options: Business can offer employees a variety of health plans, and their employees can choose the plan that fit their needs and their budget.  Washington Healthplanfinder Business is the only place where employers can provide a “metal level” choice in health plans.
  • Preserving employer control: Washington Healthplanfinder Business gives employers a secure location to determine their own level of contribution toward their employees’ coverage and make a single monthly payment rather than payments to multiple plans. Consolidated billing will also be available so employers can avoid the hassle of contracting with multiple insurers.
  • Lowering Costs: Businesses can save money by spreading insurers’ administrative costs across more employers. In addition, Washington Healthplanfinder Businessprovides exclusive access to a 50 percent tax credit for health premiums for eligible employers.

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Washington state approves first association health plan

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ACA health reform logoFrom the Office of the Insurance Commissioner

The Office of the Insurance Commissioner has approved UnitedHealthcare of Washington, Inc.’s 2014 association health plan for Associated General Contractors of Washington.

This is the first approval for the more than 60 association health plans currently under review for compliance with new federal regulations.

Association health plans are sold by insurers to a large professional or trade group. In the past, small employers within an association had the benefit of buying large group insurance for their employees.

Until recent federal regulation, association health plans were exempt from having to meet key consumer protections and from the rating and underwriting standards of the individual or small-employer market.  Continue reading

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Life from above? First-responder of the future could be a drone

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Developed by Delft TU (Delpht University of Technology, The Netherlands):

Each year nearly a million people in Europe suffer from a cardiac arrest. A mere 8% survives due to slow response times of emergency services. The ambulance-drone is capable of saving lives with an integrated defibrillator.

The goal is to improve existing emergency infrastructure with a network of drones. This new type of drones can go over 100 km/h and reaches its destination within 1 minute, which increases chance of survival from 8% to 80%! T

his drone folds up and becomes a toolbox for all kind of emergency supplies. Future implementations will also serve other use cases such as drowning, diabetes, respiratory issues and traumas. – From Delpht TU

Editors note: In a real case of cardiac arrest, bystanders should have started cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) immediately and looked to see if there was an automated external defibrillator (AED) in the building.

  • To learn more about CPR visit the Red Cross’ CPR pages where you can learn about classes in our area. 
  • To learn more about AEDs go to King County’s “Shockingly Simple” webpage.
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PR over people: The Red Cross’ secret disaster

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Photo courtesy of Dell, Inc.

By Justin Elliott and Jesse Eisingerm ProPublica, and Laura Sullivan, NPR
Oct. 29, 2014, 5:00 a.m.

In 2012, two massive storms pounded the United States, leaving hundreds of thousands of people homeless, hungry or without power for days and weeks.

Americans did what they so often do after disasters. They sent hundreds of millions of dollars to the Red Cross, confident their money would ease the suffering left behind by Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Isaac. They believed the charity was up to the job.

They were wrong.

The Red Cross botched key elements of its mission after Sandy and Isaac, leaving behind a trail of unmet needs and acrimony, according to an investigation by ProPublica and NPR. The charity’s shortcomings were detailed in confidential reports and internal emails, as well as accounts from current and former disaster relief specialists.

Sandy_Oct_25_2012_0320ZWhat’s more, Red Cross officials at national headquarters in Washington, D.C. compounded the charity’s inability to provide relief by “diverting assets for public relations purposes,” as one internal report puts it. Distribution of relief supplies, the report said, was “politically driven.”

During Isaac, Red Cross supervisors ordered dozens of trucks usually deployed to deliver aid to be driven around nearly empty instead, “just to be seen,” one of the drivers, Jim Dunham, recalls.

“We were sent way down on the Gulf with nothing to give,” Dunham says. The Red Cross’ relief effort was “worse than the storm.”

During Sandy, emergency vehicles were taken away from relief work and assigned to serve as backdrops for press conferences, angering disaster responders on the ground.

After both storms, the charity’s problems left some victims in dire circumstances or vulnerable to harm, the organization’s internal assessments acknowledge. Handicapped victims “slept in their wheelchairs for days” because the charity had not secured proper cots. In one shelter, sex offenders were “all over including playing in children’s area” because Red Cross staff “didn’t know/follow procedures.”

ER red cross iconAccording to interviews and documents, the Red Cross lacked basic supplies like food, blankets and batteries to distribute to victims in the days just after the storms. Sometimes, even when supplies were plentiful, they went to waste. In one case, the Red Cross had to throw out tens of thousands of meals because it couldn’t find the people who needed them.

The Red Cross marshalled an army of volunteers, but many were misdirected by the charity’s managers. Some were ordered to stay in Tampa long after it became clear that Isaac would bypass the city. After Sandy, volunteers wandered the streets of New York in search of stricken neighborhoods, lost because they had not been given GPS equipment to guide them.

The problems stand in stark contrast to the Red Cross’ standing in the realm of disaster relief. President Obama, who is the charity’s honorary chairman, vouched for the group after Sandy, telling Americans to donate. “The Red Cross knows what they’re doing,” he said.

Two weeks after Sandy hit, Red Cross Chief Executive Gail McGovern declared that the group’s relief efforts had been “near flawless.”

The group’s self-assessments, drawn together just weeks later, were far less congratulatory. Continue reading

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Atlanta hospital staff trained for years to prepare to patients with highly infections diseases

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Amber Vinson was joined on the stage by Emory University Hospital team members who helped her recover from Ebola virus disease. Photo by Jack Kearse.

Amber Vinson was joined on the stage by Emory University Hospital team members who helped her recover from Ebola virus disease. Photo by Jack Kearse.

By Jim Burress, WABE
October 29, 2014

This story is part of a partnership that includes WABE, NPR and Kaiser Health News.

It was July 30th when Atlanta’s Emory University Hospital got the first call.

An American doctor who’d been treating Ebola in Liberia was now, himself, terribly sick with the virus.

In just 72 hours, Dr. Kent Brantly came through Emory’s doors. Then, almost immediately, the staff learned a second Ebola patient was on the way.

Emory’s plan to treat patients who have diseases like Ebola actually began 12 years ago.

Dr. Jay Varkey’s first thought was, “What do we need today, in order to care for these patients tomorrow?”

In the three months since, Emory has treated four Ebola patients. All survived. Dallas nurse Amber Vinson spent more than a week at a special treatment unit at Emory before being discharged in good health and good spirits Tuesday. Continue reading

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Mixing medications and supplements can be dangerous – FDA

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A Consumer Update from the FDA

supplementsWhen you take prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) medications, do you take also a vitamin, mineral, or other dietary supplements? Have you considered whether there is any danger in mixing medications and dietary supplements?

There could be, says Robert Mozersky, a medical officer at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). “Some dietary supplements may increase the effect of your medication, and other dietary supplements may decrease it,” he says.

“Natural does not always mean safe.”

Certain dietary supplements can change absorption, metabolism, or excretion of a medication and therefore affect its potency.

“You may be getting either too much or too little of a medication you need,” Mozersky warns.

Consequently, combining dietary supplements and medications could have dangerous and even life-threatening effects. For example, drugs for HIV/AIDS, heart disease, depression, treatments for organ transplants, and birth control pills are less effective when taken with St. John’s Wort, an herbal supplement. Depending on the medication involved, the results can be serious. Continue reading

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Hepatitis C patients may not qualify for pricey drugs unless illness is advanced

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Twenty-dollar bill in a pill bottleBy Michelle Andrews
KHN / October 28, 2014

In the past year, new hepatitis C drugs that promise higher cure rates and fewer side effects have given hope to millions who are living with the disease.

But many patients whose livers aren’t yet significantly damaged by the viral infection face a vexing reality: They’re not sick enough to qualify for the drugs that could prevent them from getting sicker.

An estimated 3 million people have hepatitis C. Faced with a cost per patient of roughly $95,000 or more for a 12-week course of treatment, many public and private insurers are restricting access to those who already have serious liver damage.

Many baby boomers who have hepatitis C contracted it years ago from blood transfusions at a time when blood was not screened for the virus.

Other strategies that limit access include restricting who can prescribe the drugs or requiring early proof the drug is working before continuing with treatment.

In addition, many state Medicaid programs require that patients be drug and alcohol free for a period of months before they can get the hepatitis C drugs. Continue reading

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Beyond the ‘Private Option’ for Medicaid Expansion

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Screen Shot 2014-10-24 at 9.53.58 AMBy Christine Vestal
Stateline

Less than a year after low-income Arkansans started receiving health coverage under the Affordable Care Act’s controversial Medicaid expansion, the state is declaring its so-called “private option” experiment a success.

Hospitals saw fewer uninsured patients, state coffers were spared millions in health care costs and private insurers reported record-low premium hikes.

Most important, Arkansas’ uninsured rate fell from 23 percent to 12 percent, the sharpest drop in the country.

Arkansas calls its ‘private option’ Medicaid plan a success, and early estimates indicate next year’s insurance rates in the state will be an average of 2 percent lower than this year.

But lawmakers in Arkansas, where Gov. Mike Beebe is a Democrat and the legislature is controlled by Republicans, have already asked the federal government for adjustments to their groundbreaking plan, under which Arkansans used Medicaid dollars to purchase private health insurance on the insurance exchange created under the ACA.

Meanwhile, other states are customizing their own alternative approaches to expanding Medicaid to cover adults with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level ($16,105 for an individual). Continue reading

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Forget Ebola — What you need is a flu shot

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KHN / October 24, 2014

Take a break from worrying about Ebola and get a flu shot this fall.

While the Ebola virus has so far affected just four people in the United States, tens of millions are expected to get influenza this season.

More than 200,000 of them will be hospitalized and up to 49,000 will likely die from it, according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Flu shots are recommended for just about everyone over six months of age, but less than half of people get vaccinated each year.

A new HuffPost/YouGov poll of 1,000 adults found that the flu is perceived as only slightly more threatening than the Ebola virus, however.

Forty-five percent of people polled said that the flu posed a bigger threat to Americans than Ebola, but a substantial 40 percent said it was the other way around. Fifteen percent said they weren’t sure.

“Ebola is new, mysterious, exotic, highly fatal and strange, and people don’t have a sense of control over it,” says William Schaffner, a professor of preventive medicine and infectious disease at Vanderbilt University.

Influenza, on the other hand, is a familiar illness that people often think they can easily control, Schaffner says. “They think, ‘I could get vaccinated, I could wash my hands’ and prevent it.”

Yet that familiarity may lead to complacency. Flu shots are recommended for just about everyone over six months of age, but less than half of people get vaccinated each year.

Now there’s even more reason to get a shot. The health law requires most health plans to cover a range of preventive benefits at no cost to consumers, including recommended vaccines. The flu shot is one of them. (The only exception is for plans that have been grandfathered under the law.)

The provision making the vaccine available with no out-of-pocket expense is limited to services delivered by a health care provider that is part of the insurer’s network.

Depending on the plan, that could include doctors’ offices, pharmacies or other outlets.

Medicare also covers flu shots without patient cost sharing.

Please contact Kaiser Health News to send comments or ideas for future topics for the Insuring Your Health column.

khn_logo_lightKaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan health policy research and communication organization not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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