Health news headlines – June 18th

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“My Medicines” … This brochure can be a lifesaver

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Three red and white capsules

A Consumer Update from the US Food and Drug Administration

Can carrying around a brochure help save your life?Yes, if it’s the “My Medicines” brochure offered by FDA’s Office of Women’s Health (OWH). It’s designed to help consumers track the medications they use.

My Medicines features a chart that allows you to list information about your prescription medicines, including the names of the medicines, how much you take, when you take them, what condition they are treating, and the number of refills. Continue reading

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State on the lookout for West Nile virus

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The virus is now well-established in some areas of the state.

A black crow

The Washington State Department of Health is again monitoring for West Nile virus through mosquito testing and collecting reports of certain types of dead birds.

West Nile virus typically becomes active in the spring and summer during mosquito season when the insects feed on infected birds.

Mosquitoes that tested positive for the virus were found in six counties last year:

  • Benton,
  • Franklin,
  • Grant,
  • Skagit,
  • Yakima, and
  • Spokane.

The virus has been common in Central and South Central Washington during the past several years. Continue reading

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Insurers push back against growing cost of cancer treatments

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 This KHN story also ran in .

Some cancer patients and their insurers are seeing their bills for chemotherapy jump sharply, reflecting increased drug prices and hospitals’ push to buy oncologists’ practices and then bill at higher rates.

Patients say, “‘I’ve been treated with Herceptin for breast cancer for several years and it was always $5,000 for the drug and suddenly it’s $16,000 — and I was in the same room with the same doctor same nurse and the same length of time’,” said Dr. Donald Fischer, chief medical officer for Highmark, the largest health plan in Pennsylvania. Continue reading

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Can state databases figure out the health care price riddle?

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By Christine Vestal
Stateline Staff Writer

Where to go to get the best price for health care? States are trying to use databases to find the answer.

surgeons performing surgery in operating roomNearly a decade before the Affordable Care Act, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and a few other states began creating all-payer claims databases (APCDs).

Acting as trusted third parties, they required all commercial insurance carriers within their borders to hand over their claims data, including the prices paid.

In the last three years, the number of states investing in these painstaking data collection projects has accelerated. Continue reading

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Health news headlines – June 17th

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Glucometer showing a blood sugar of 105

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US health system ranks last in 11 country comparison

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Commonwealth reportFrom the Commonwealth Fund:

Despite having the most expensive health care system, the United States ranks last overall among 11 industrialized countries on measures of health system quality, efficiency, access to care, equity, and healthy lives, according to a new Commonwealth Fund report.

The other countries included in the study were Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand Norway, Sweden Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.

While there is room for improvement in every country, the U.S. stands out for having the highest costs and lowest performance—the U.S. spent $8,508 per person on health care in 2011, compared with $3,406 in the United Kingdom, which ranked first overall.

Key findings related to the U.S. from the report include: Continue reading

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Say what? Many patients struggle to learn the foreign language of health insurance

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Jessie Yuan, physician at the Eisner Pediatric & Family Health Center in Los Angeles, treats diabetic patient Oscar Gonzales. Gonzalez was unaware he had been switched to Medi-Cal until Yuan informed him about the change (Photo by Anna Gorman/KHN).

This KHN story also ran in .

As soon as Deb Emerson, a former high school teacher from Oroville, Calif., bought a health plan in January through the state’s insurance exchange, she felt overwhelmed.

She couldn’t figure out what was covered and what wasn’t.

Why weren’t her anti-depressant medications included?

Why did she have to pay $60 to see a doctor?

The insurance jargon – deductible, co-pay, premium, co-insurance – was like a foreign language. What did it mean?

“I have an education and I am not understanding this,” said Emerson, 50. “ I wonder about people who don’t have an education — how baffling this must be for them.” Continue reading

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Myth vs. Fact: Violence and Mental Health

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A Q&A with an expert who studies the relationship between mental illness and violence.

ht_jeffrey_swanson_300x200_140610By Lois Beckett
ProPublica

After mass shootings, like the ones these past weeks in Las Vegas, Seattle and Santa Barbara, the national conversation often focuses on mental illness. So what do we actually know about the connections between mental illness, mass shootings and gun violence overall?

To separate the facts from the media hype, we talked to Dr. Jeffrey Swanson, a professor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Duke University School of Medicine, and one of the leading researchers on mental health and violence. Swanson talked about the dangers of passing laws in the wake of tragedy ― and which new violence-prevention strategies might actually work.

Here is a condensed version of our conversation, edited for length and clarity.

Mass shootings are relatively rare events that account for only a tiny fraction of American gun deaths each year. But when you look specifically at mass shootings ― how big a factor is mental illness? Continue reading

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Bionic pancreas outperforms insulin pump in adults, youth – NIH

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Diabetes pump

From right, researcher Dr. Steven Russell of Massachusetts General Hospital stands with Frank Spesia and Colby Clarizia, two participants in a type 1 diabetes trial testing an electronic device called a bionic pancreas – the cellphone-sized device shown – which replaces their traditional fingerstick tests and manual insulin pumps. Photo courtesy of Adam Brown,

From the National Institutes of Health

People with type 1 diabetes who used a bionic pancreas instead of manually monitoring glucose using fingerstick tests and delivering insulin using a pump were more likely to have blood glucose levels consistently within the normal range, with fewer dangerous lows or highs.

The report was published online by the New England Journal of Medicine

TThe researchers — at Boston University and Massachusetts General Hospital — say the process of blood glucose control could improve dramatically with the bionic pancreas. Currently, people with type 1 diabetes walk an endless tightrope.

Because their pancreas doesn’t make the hormone insulin, their blood glucose levels can veer dangerously high and low.

Several times a day they must use fingerstick tests to monitor their blood glucose levels and manually take insulin by injection or from a pump.

In two scenarios, the researchers tested a bihormonal bionic pancreas, which uses a removable tiny sensor located in a thin needle inserted under the skin that automatically monitors real time glucose levels in tissue fluid and provides insulin and its counteracting hormone, glucagon, via two automatic pumps. Continue reading

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Health news headlines – June 16th

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Women’s Health – Week 41: Quitting Smoking

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tacuin womenFrom the Office of Research on Women’s Health

Quitting smoking If you stop using tobacco, you could greatly improve your health. Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of disease, disability, and death in the United States.

Smoking causes most cancers of the larynx (voice box), oral cavity (mouth) and pharynxesophagusbladderkidney, stomach, and cervix.

Tobacco smoke contains chemicals that are harmful. Health care providers know that at least 250 of the 4,000 chemicals in tobacco smoke are harmful.

If you smoke, your risk of developing smoking-related diseases, such as lung and other cancers, heart disease, stroke, and respiratory illnesses, increase with each additional year you smoke. Continue reading

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This week’s top five

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Credit: Dan Shirly

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