VA distance requirement will no longer be “as the crow flies”

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A black crowWashington – In order to expand eligibility for the Veterans Choice Program, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) today announced that it will change the calculation used to determine the distance between a Veteran’s residence and the nearest VA medical facility from a straight line distance to driving distance.

The policy change will be made through regulatory action in the coming weeks.

The method of determining driving distance will be through distance as calculated by using a commercial product. The change is expected to roughly double the number of eligible Veterans.

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VA makes it easier for you to get your benefits

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See the changes to VA benefits
Its now faster, easier and more efficient to file claims
See the changes to VA benefits

Today, claims become faster, easier and more accurate

Starting today, March 25th, VA is streamlining claims processes; to deliver benefits faster and more accurately.

See the changes to VA benefits

Three important changes are now in affect.

Informal claims have migrated to a new intent to fileprocess.

Use of standardized forms is now required when filing for benefits.

Initiating an appeal requires a standardized notice of disagreement form.

To learn how the new standardized forms and intent to fileprocess affects you:

See the changes to VA benefits
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Shellfish harvest in Portage Bay will be limited due to pollution

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Portage Bay Bellingham LumiThe state Department of Health has placed restrictions on shellfish harvesting for part of Portage Bay in Whatcom County due to high levels of bacteria.

Water tests show that at certain times, the shellfish area is affected by polluted runoff from the Nooksack River.

Portage Bay usually has good water quality, but during specific times of the year the Nooksack River carries higher levels of bacteria into the shellfish harvesting area.

As a result, state health officials have changed the classification of nearly 500 of the 1,300 commercial shellfish harvesting acres in the bay from “approved” to “conditionally approved.”

Harvesting in the conditionally approved area will be closed each year from April through June and again from October through December. Continue reading

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Even in nursing, men earn more than women

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woman_doctor_surgeon_bigBy Julie Rovner
KHN

Women outnumber men in the nursing profession by more than 10 to 1. But men still earn more, a new study finds.

The report in this week’s Journal of the American Medical Association found that even after controlling for age, race, marital status and children in the home, males in nursing out-earned females by nearly $7,700 per year in outpatient settings and nearly $3,900 in hospitals.

Even as men flowed into nursing over the past decades, the pay gap did not narrow over the years studied: 1988 to 2013.

According to the Census Bureau, men made up about 9 percent of registered nurses in 2011, roughly a three-fold increase from 1970. And even though men were not permitted in nursing programs at some schools until the 1980s, they have overall earned more, just as in society at large.

The biggest disparity was for nurse anesthetists, with men earning $17, 290 more. Continue reading

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Kreidler announces examination of Premera data breach

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MKreidlerPhotoFrom the Office of the Insurance Commissioner

Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler announced Tuesday the launch of a multi-state “market conduct” examination of the Washington-based health insurer Premera Blue Cross in response the news that computer hackers were able to penetrate the company’s customer records.

“We take the recent cyberattack at Premera very seriously,” said Kreidler. “Insurance regulators across the country are on high alert given the recent breaches both at Premera and Anthem and we will use every resource within our authority to ensure that consumers are protected and to see that insurers are responding appropriately.”

 

“I remain seriously concerned at the amount of time it took Premera to notify its policyholders of the breach,” said Kreidler.

Market conduct exams on-site reviews of an insurer’s financial books, records, transactions and how they relate to a company’s activities in the marketplace.

The hackers gained access the records of 11 million customers – 6 million in Washington – including access to customers’: Continue reading

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Special enrollment period ends April 30

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Special Enrollment Period ends April 30

Don’t miss the chance to enroll in health coverage for 2015 if you owe the fee.

The Health Insurance Marketplace is providing individuals and families who owe the fee when they file their 2014 taxes with one last chance to get covered for 2015.

This is too important to put off. If you don’t have coverage for the remainder of 2015 you’ll risk having to pay the fee again next year for the portion of the year you don’t have coverage. The fee for people who don’t have coverage increases in 2015. If you don’t have health coverage for 2015, the fee is $325 per person or 2% of your household income – whichever is higher.

hcgov get coverage with arrow


Millions of people have already signed up for 2015 coverage, and . . .

. . . 8 out of 10 who enroll are getting financial help.

We hope you take advantage of this extended opportunity to get quality coverage this year.

The HealthCare.gov Team

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Cities turn to social media to police restaurants

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yelp-logoBy Jenni Bergal
Stateline

Many diners regularly click onto the Yelp website to read reviews posted by other patrons before visiting a restaurant.

Now prospective customers also can use Yelp to check health inspection scores for eateries in San Francisco, Louisville and several other communities.

Local governments increasingly are turning to social media to alert the public to health violations and to nudge establishments into cleaning up their acts. A few cities are even mining users’ comments to track foodborne illnesses or predict which establishments are likely t­­o have sanitation problems.

Customers also can use Yelp to check health inspection scores for eateries in San Francisco, Louisville and several other communities.

“For consumers, posting inspection information on Yelp is a good thing because they’re able to make better, informed decisions about where to eat,” said Michael Luca, an assistant professor at Harvard Business School who specializes in the economics of online businesses. “It also holds restaurants more accountable about cleanliness.” Continue reading

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Depression take its toll in the workplace, study

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RED # 18355 64-NA-193By Lisa Gillespie
KHN

For every dollar spent on treating depression, almost five dollars is spent on the treatment and workplace costs of related medical conditions like back and chest pain, sleep disorders and migraines – placing a greater financial burden on businesses and the health care system, according to new research measuring the economic impact of depression.

“The fact that they’re finding such greater costs with all these different [related conditions] underscores how the fragmented system is not helpful for our economy because people with mental illness are not getting the rounded health care they need,” said Lynn Bufka, assistant executive director of practice research and policy at the American Psychological Association, who was not affiliated with the study.

The average worker who had major depression disorder lost the productivity of about 32 workdays a year due to what’s known as “presenteeism.” That is a term for when an employee is at work but not completing daily tasks and responsibilities.

Among the study’s findings was that the total cost to the U.S. economy of major depressive disorder – a condition that results in having persistent depressive episodes – rose from $173.2 billion in 2005 to $210 billion in 2010, a 21.5 percent increase.

About half of that is for direct treatment and suicide-related services, but the rest is workplace costs. The rise is partially accounted for by the increase in population, but also because depression is being diagnosed and treated more often.

The incidence of major depressive disorder rose during this time period from 6.4 percent of the population to 6.8 percent.

In addition, some of this growth might have been caused by the nation’s 2008 economic downturn and tight job market, factors that combined to make it harder for those suffering from depression to retain their jobs and even more difficult for those with this condition who are job seekers to find work, according to Paul Greenberg, a study author and director of health economics at the Analysis Group, a consulting firm in Boston.

Meanwhile, the study also examined how depression plays out in the workplace.

Mental health experts and economists have long known that someone’s depression can have a significant cost on the workplace, Greenberg said.

For example, the study found that the average worker who had major depression disorder lost the productivity of about 32 workdays a year due to what’s known as “presenteeism.” That is a term for when an employee is at work but not completing daily tasks and responsibilities.

Experts say that, though this loss in productivity highlights the economic toll mental health issues have on the work place, small and medium-sized employers may not have the knowledge or tools to improve the situation. Continue reading

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Another chance to enroll for coverage for 2015

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HCGOV Thin Marketplace header

HCGOV HHS Seal

Special Enrollment Period: March 15 – April 30

Don’t miss the opportunity to enroll in health coverage for 2015 if you owe the fee.

The Health Insurance Marketplace is providing individuals and families who owe the fee when they file their 2014 taxes with one last chance to get covered for 2015.

hcgov get coverage with arrow


Millions of people have already signed up for 2015 coverage, and 8 out of 10 who enroll are getting financial help.

We hope you take advantage of this extended opportunity to get quality coverage this year.

The HealthCare.gov Team

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The Children’s Health Insurance Program debate

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insure kids now chip schipBy Christine Vestal
Stateline

The federal-state Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) will run out of money on Sept. 30.

Until recently, Congress showed little interest in paying for it. But this week, the House agreed on a bill that would continue the $13 billion program in its current form through 2017.

In late February, Republicans in both houses issued a “discussion draft” outlining modifications they claimed would make the program more flexible for states, even though most governors say they don’t want any changes to what they consider a near-perfect health care program.

Most governors say they don’t want any changes to what they consider a near-perfect health care program.

The GOP proposal would have narrowed coverage to the lowest-income families currently served by CHIP and allowed states to cut back enrollment.

If CHIP is not renewed, advocates say more than 2 million of the 8 million kids currently covered by the program could wind up uninsured.  Continue reading

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Five top stories of the week

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Credit: Dan Shirly

Credit: Dan Shirly

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FDA warns consumers of the dangers of using homeopathic products to treat asthma

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FDA warns consumers about the potential health risks of over-the-counter asthma products labeled as homeopathic

From the Food and Drug Administration

Illustration of the lungs in blueThe U.S. Food and Drug Administration is warning consumers not to rely on asthma products  labeled as homeopathic that are sold over-the-counter (OTC). These products have not been evaluated by the FDA for safety and effectiveness.

Asthma is a serious, chronic lung condition. If asthma is not appropriately treated and managed, patients may have wheezing, shortness of breath, and coughing, and could be at risk for life-threatening asthma attacks that may require emergency care or hospitalization.

Although there is no cure for asthma, there are many prescription asthma treatments approved by FDA as safe and effective, as well as some products that are marketed OTC in accordance with an FDA monograph.  Continue reading

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New, easier, online way to apply for VA benefits

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Online Tools, Standardized Forms, and More

veteran-affairs-seal-vaEffective March 24th, 2015, VA is implementing improvements to make it easier for you to apply for benefits.

Online application tools, standardized forms, and a new intent to file process will create faster and more accurate decisions on your claims and appeals.

As part of the VA’s full-scale transformation in 2015, these new changes will:

  • Streamline the benefits process, making it faster and easier
  • Use standardized forms to file disability claims and compensation appeals
  • Establish a new intent to file a claim process

See how the changes affect you:

See the changes to VA benefits
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Tuberculosis cases fall in Washington state, but remains a concern

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Photomicrograph Mycobacterium tuberculosis.There were 193 cases of tuberculosis (TB)  in Washington state last year, an 8 percent decline from the 209 cases reported in 2013.

“Tuberculosis remains a disease of concern internationally and in Washington,” State Communicable Disease Epidemiologist Dr. Scott Lindquist said. “TB can be diagnosed, treated, and cured, yet it takes real commitment and effort to effectively deal with this disease.”

The counties with the most cases in 2014 were King (100), Snohomish (18), Clark (15), Pierce (13), Yakima (11), and Thurston (7).

More than 72 percent of cases in the state were in people born outside the U.S. or its territories. Overall, 43.5 percent of all cases in Washington were among Asians, followed by Hispanics (15.5 percent), blacks (15.5 percent), and whites (11.9 percent).

About a third of the world’s population is infected with TB.

Between 2012 and 2014 the greatest risk of TB in Washington was among Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander communities (27.7 cases per 100,000).

About a third of the world’s population is infected with the bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis, a dangerous microorganism that usually infects the lungs but can attack other parts of the body as well.

TB is spread in the air when someone who’s infected coughs, sneezes, or speaks and others breathe in the bacteria. Continue reading

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Despite predictions, health law brings no drop in job-based insurance, study finds

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431px-Lewis_Hine_Power_house_mechanic_working_on_steam_pumpBy Michelle Andrews
KHN

There has been much hand wringing over the health law requirement that large employers this year offer insurance to workers who put in 30 or more hours a week or face penalties for not doing so.

The new rules would cost employers a bundle, some fretted, as part-timers clamored for company coverage previously unavailable to them. Others worried that employers would cut workers’ hours to get under the cap.

Average enrollment in company plans was essentially unchanged between 2014 and 2015 at 74 percent of all workers.

A new study found that so far there’s little cause for concern: Average enrollment in company plans was essentially unchanged between 2014 and 2015 at 74 percent of all workers.

The survey of nearly 600 employers by benefits consultant Mercer found that in 2015 the average percentage of employees who were eligible for coverage increased 1 point to 88 percent, but it was offset by a drop in the enrollment of eligible workers of 1 point on average, to 83 percent.

Part of the explanation for the stable results stems from the fact that most employers were already in compliance, says Beth Umland, Mercer’s director of research for health and benefits. Continue reading

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