Pharmaceutical company has hiked price on aid-in-dying drug


By April Dembosky, KQED
Kaiser Health News

When California’s aid-in-dying law takes effect this June, terminally ill patients who decide to end their lives could be faced with a hefty bill for the lethal medication. It retails for more than $3,000.

Valeant Pharmaceuticals, the company that makes the drug most commonly prescribed by physicians to aid patients who want to end their lives, doubled the drug’s price last year, one month after California lawmakers proposed legalizing the practice.

“It’s just pharmaceutical company greed,” said David Grube, a retired a family doctor in Oregon, where physician-assisted death has been legal for 20 years. Continue reading


Driving to work linked to a fatter middle age | Reuters


Studying tens of thousands of commuters over age 40, researchers found that people who drove to work weighed more and had a higher percentage of body fat than those who got to work by walking, biking or public transportation.

Those who commuted by bicycle were the leanest of all, but even taking the train was linked to lower body weight and body fat.

Source: Driving to work linked to a fatter middle age | Reuters


Primary care doctors often don’t help patients manage depression, study


Doctor simpleBy Michelle Andrews
Kaiser Health News

Although primary care doctors frequently see patients with depression, they typically do less to help those patients manage it than they do for patients with other chronic conditions such as diabetes, asthma or congestive heart failure, a recent study found.

That is important because research has found that it can be good for patients’ health when physician practices have procedures in place to identify and provide targeted services to patients with chronic conditions and to encourage patients to get involved in actively managing their own care.

But physicians were less likely to use those “care-management processes” with patients who have depression than with those who had other chronic conditions, according to the study in the March edition of the journal Health Affairs. Continue reading


Demand surges for addiction treatment during pregnancy



BOSTON — As soon as the home pregnancy test strip turned blue, Susan Bellone packed a few things and headed straight for Boston Medical Center’s emergency room. She’d been using heroin and knew she needed medical help to protect her baby.

“I felt so guilty. I still do,” said Bellone, a petite, energetic woman. At 32, and six years into her heroin addiction, having a baby was the last thing on her mind. “I was not in the right place to start a family,” she said. “But once it was happening, it was happening, so I couldn’t turn back.”

Nationwide, the number of pregnant women using heroin, prescription opioids or medications used to treat opioid addiction has increased more than five-fold and it’s expected to keep rising. With increased opioid and heroin use, the number of babies born with severe opioid withdrawal symptoms has also spiraled, leaving hospitals scrambling to find better ways to care for the burgeoning population of mothers and newborns.

Among the most important principles is that expectant mothers who are addicts should not try to quit cold turkey because doing so could cause a miscarriage. Trying to quit opioids without the help of medications also presents a high risk of relapse and fatal overdose.


Until the opioid epidemic took hold about eight years ago, most hospitals saw only one or two cases a year of what is known as neonatal abstinence syndrome. Now, a baby is born suffering from opioid withdrawal every 25 minutes in the U.S., according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Continue reading


Women still expected to live longer than men – but men have been closing the gap, slowly


From the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Females born in 2014 can expect to live 4.8 years longer than males born in the same year.

This difference in life expectancy between females and males has not changed since 2010, but decreased from 5.4 years in 2000 and 7.0 years in 1990.

The difference in life expectancy between females and males who were aged 65 years in 2014 was 2.5 years, a decrease from 2.6 years in 2010, 2.9 years in 2000, and 3.8 years in 1990.

Source: CDC. National Vital Statistics System.


Medicare proposes expansion of counseling program for people at risk of diabetes


GlucometerBy Mary Agnes Carey
Kaiser Health News

As the health law turned six Wednesday, federal officials proposed the expansion of a Medicare diabetes prevention program funded by the landmark measure.

The pilot program, developed and administered by the YMCA, helped Medicare enrollees at high risk of developing the disease improve their diets, increase their exercise and lose about 5 percent of their body weight.

Beneficiaries in the program, funded by an $11.8 million grant provided by the health law, attended weekly meetings with a lifestyle coach to develop long-term changes to their diet, discussed ways to get more physical activity and made behavior changes that would help control their weight and decrease their risk of Type 2 diabetes. Participants could also attend monthly follow-up meetings to help keep their new habits in place.

Compared to other beneficiaries also at risk of developing diabetes, Medicare estimated savings of $2,650 for each program enrollee over a 15-month period, more than enough to cover the cost of the program, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. Continue reading


How to eat healthy: Start with a plan

SNAP cooking class with Nutrition Educator Golda Simon

SNAP cooking class with Nutrition Educator Golda Simon

By Keith Seinfeld
Public Health – Seattle & King County

People may eat poorly for a variety of reasons, including busy and stressful lives or lack of cooking skills.

Tight budgets may add to the problem, especially if you haven’t learned tricks for stretching food dollars.

For example, what if nobody ever showed you …

  • the value of planning meals ahead for a full week?
  • how to select the healthiest and most affordable option from the shelf?
  • how to cook easy and economical dishes?

To close that skills gap, a team of nutrition educators are bringing a new series of cooking classes to people enrolled in Washington’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as Basic Food or Food Stamps. Continue reading


Despite popularity, bike share programs often need subsidies


Bike ThumbBy Rebecca Beitsch

The first modern U.S. bike share programs rolled out in Denver, Washington, D.C., and the Twin Cities about five years ago as a way to ease congestion, cut pollution and give residents and tourists a fun and healthy way to get around.

With their sturdy bikes and docking stations, the systems have spread quickly since then: More than 32,000 bikes are now in use in sharing programs in about 80 U.S. cities, including smaller cities such as Birmingham, Alabama, and Fargo, North Dakota.

“You are not always going to make money or even break even. These are public transportation systems that cost money.”

Another 100 cities are studying, planning or constructing their own bike share programs, including Baltimore, where a system is set to open in October.

“It’s no longer a novelty. To be a world class city, you need to have a bike share program,” said Bill Dossett, executive director of the Twin Cities’ bike share program, Nice Ride Minnesota.

Bike share advocates and analysts say successful programs balance a desire to reach into new parts of cities with the need to supply enough bikes and stations in dense downtown areas to make service convenient and reliable.

Successful programs also attract both regular riders and occasional users, who often contribute more to a program’s bottom line. Even then, most programs also depend on outside funding to keep the bikes rolling.

“You are not always going to make money or even break even,” said Tim Blumenthal, president of People For Bikes, a bicycle industry and advocacy group. “These are public transportation systems that cost money.” Continue reading


How to use your new Marketplace health coverage



Congratulations on enrolling in 2016 health coverage! Now that you’re covered, here are a few tips to help you stay healthy and get the care you need.



3 ways to use your health insurance to stay healthy

  • Find a doctor and get medical care: If you don’t have a doctor, check your plan to find one in your network. If you get medical services from a provider in your plan’s network, you’ll pay lower prices than you would without insurance. That can save you hundreds of dollars per year, even if you don’t meet your deductible.
  • Learn about your prescription benefits: Health plans help pay the cost of certain prescription medications. Some plans offer reduced prices on generic drugs even before you’ve met your deductible.
  • Stay healthy with preventive benefits: All health plans sold through the Marketplace cover a set of preventive services at no cost to you when delivered by a network provider. These include some screenings, check-ups, patient counseling, and wellness services.

If you’ve never had health insurance or if it’s been a while, you can get more information about using your coverage and improving your health using our Roadmap to Better Care and a Healthier You (PDF).


Study finds mindfulness meditation offers relief for low-back pain – Group Health/UW study finds


SpineFrom the National Institutes of Health

Mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) may prove more effective than usual treatment in alleviating chronic low-back pain, according to a new study funded by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), part of the National Institutes of Health.

Researchers from the Group Health Cooperative, Seattle, and the University of Washington, Seattle, conducted a study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, in which 342 participants aged 20 to 70 used one of the two mind and body approaches or sought usual care for one year.

At 26 and 52 weeks, participants using MBSR and CBT had greater improvement in function and back pain compared to the group that remained in standard care.

Though pain intensity and some mental health measures improved in both groups, those using CBT did not see improvement beyond 26 weeks.

Those using MBSR, however, continued to see improvement at 52 weeks, leading researchers to conclude MBSR may be an effective treatment for chronic low-back pain. Continue reading


Debate arises over HHS plans for privacy rules on addiction treatment


computer laptop and stethoscopeBy Michelle Andrews
Kaiser Health News

What’s more harmful to patients being treated for drug or alcohol abuse: risking their health by keeping other medical providers in the dark about their substance abuse treatment?

Or risking their jobs, homes and child custody arrangements by allowing potentially damaging treatment details to be electronically shared among an array of medical providers?

Advocates have painted the possible patient outcomes in starkly different terms as they consider the federal government’s recently proposed update to guidelines that govern the release of patient records for alcohol and drug abuse treatment. Continue reading


Tuberculosis in Washington: More cases and getting harder to treat



tb-imageFrom Washington State Department of Health

Washington’s tuberculosis (TB) cases were on the rise last year, putting state and local public health officials on heightened alert. During 2015, the state’s TB rate rose by seven percent from the previous year.

Across the globe, TB now kills more people each year than any other infectious disease, surpassing HIV/AIDS as the leading cause of infectious disease death worldwide.

Each year nearly 10 million people become ill with TB and 1.5 million die from the disease. About one- third of the world’s population has latent TB, which means people have been infected by TB bacteria but are not yet ill with the disease and cannot spread the disease to others.

The counties with the most TB cases in 2015 were King (98), Snohomish (30), Pierce (16), and Yakima (12).

Last year, 208 cases of TB disease were reported in Washington, an increase from the 194 cases reported in 2014. The current rate of TB in our state finds that about 3 of every 100,000 Washingtonians develop TB disease, which is about the same as the national average; however, some communities have rates significantly higher than the national average.

To eliminate the deadly disease in our state, prevention and treatment efforts must be tailored to address the diversity of affected populations.

TB is easily treated when detected in its early stage –called latent TB infection (LTBI).When LTBI develops into TB disease it’s more complex and serious. Continue reading


California insurance marketplace wants to kick out poor-performing hospitals


H for hospitalBy Chad Terhune
Kaiser Health News / NPR

California’s insurance exchange is threatening to cut hospitals from its networks for poor performance or high costs, a novel proposal that is drawing heavy fire from medical providers and insurers.

Providers who don’t measure up stand to lose insured patients and suffer a black eye that could sully their reputations with employers and other big customers.

The goal is to boost the overall quality of patient care and make coverage more affordable, said Peter Lee, executive director of the Covered California exchange.

“The first few years were about getting people in the door for coverage,” said Lee, a key figure in the rollout of the federal health law. “We are now shifting our attention to changing the underlying delivery system to make it more cost effective and higher quality. We don’t want to throw anyone out, but we don’t want to pay for bad quality care either.”

It appears to be the first proposal of its kind in the country. The exchange’s five-member board is slated to vote on it next month. If approved, insurers would need to identify hospital “outliers” on cost and quality starting in 2018. Medical groups and doctors would be rated after that.

Providers who don’t measure up stand to lose insured patients and suffer a black eye that could sully their reputations with employers and other big customers.

By 2019, health plans would be expected to expel poor performers from their exchange networks.

The idea has already sparked fierce opposition. Doctors and hospitals accuse the exchange of overstepping its authority and failing to spell out the specific measures they would be judged on.


Coinsurance trend means seniors likely to face higher out-of-pocket drugs costs, report says



By Michelle Andrews
Kaiser Health News

Medicare beneficiaries may get dinged with higher prescription drug bills this year because more than half of covered drugs in standalone plans require them to pay a percentage of the cost rather than a flat fee, a new analysis found.

Fifty-eight percent of covered drugs in Part D drug plans are subject to “coinsurance” in 2016 rather than flat copayments, the analysis by Avalere Health found. The percentage of drugs requiring coinsurance has climbed steadily, increasing from 35 percent in 2014 to 45 percent last year. That percentage is approaching two-thirds of all covered drugs.

For beneficiaries, drug plans’ increasing use of coinsurance may mean higher out-of-pocket costs, among other things. If a drug costs $200, instead of making a flat $20 copayment, they may owe 20 percent of the cost, or $40. Continue reading