Category Archives: Affordable Care Act

Apr 15 2014
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Recommended Reading: Where Teens Spend Their Time

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A new article from The Atlantic Cities reports on a recent study that finds that restaurants are shifting to become the predominant teen hang-out spot, rather than the malls of the past. According to a recent report on teen behavior, teenagers now spend more money on food and events than on clothes. And while an increase in mall closings may be driving younger people to eateries, the report finds that a greater interest in hanging out at restaurants also drove some of the drop in mall traffic—along with competition from the Internet.

The report doesn’t say what the teens are eating while they mingle, but the trend comes at a good time for them to access information on healthier diets, as under the Affordable Care Act many restaurants must now post nutrition information. Though studies have been mixed about the results of menu labeling, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that, overall, public health studies may be beginning to show that menu labeling may influence consumers to choose healthier options. And while many food outlets have chosen to share that information online rather than on walls, digital-savvy teens may already have the tools to find it—though they may need a push from social media or other educational outreach channels to do so.

Read the article from The Atlantic Cities.

Apr 1 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: April 1

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NHTSA: Rear Cameras for All New Cars by May 2018
All new vehicles under 10,000 pounds will be required to have rear visibility technology—or rear cameras—by May 2018, according to a new rule issued by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). According to NHTSA, the technology significantly reduces injuries and fatalities due to backover incidents; there are an average of 210 deaths and 15,000 injuries each year caused by such incidents, with children under age 5 accounting for 31 percent and adults ages 70 and older accounting for 26 percent. "Safety is our highest priority, and we are committed to protecting the most vulnerable victims of backover accidents — our children and seniors," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. "As a father, I can only imagine how heart wrenching these types of accidents can be for families, but we hope that today's rule will serve as a significant step toward reducing these tragic accidents." Read more on injury prevention.

Study: Diet of Fruit, Vegetables Linked to Reduced Risk of Death
Diets heavy on fruits and vegetables can reduce the risk of death at any age by as much as 42 percent, according to a new study in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. Using data on the eating habits of more than 65,000 people in England from 2011 to 2013, researchers determined that the risk of death was reduced by 36 percent with five to seven portions, 29 percent with three to five portions and 14 percent with one to three portions. More specifically, they also determined that eating seven or more portions of fruits and vegetables reduced the risk of death from heart disease by 31 percent and the risk of death from cancer by 25 percent. "We all know that eating fruit and vegetables is healthy, but the size of the effect is staggering," study author Oyinlola Oyebode, at the department of epidemiology and public health of University College London, in a release. "Vegetables have a larger effect than fruit, but fruit still makes a real difference. If you're happy to snack on carrots or other vegetables, then that is a great choice but if you fancy something sweeter, a banana or any fruit will also do you good.” Read more on nutrition.

Affordable Care Act Expected to Hit Goal of Coverage for 7 Million
Despite a glitch-filled rollout of HealthCare.gov that allowed few people to enroll over the first month, the Affordable Care Act and its online portals appear to be on track to meet the original goal of enrolling 7 million people by its deadline of yesterday, March 31, according to Obama administration officials. More than 6 million had signed up for health care coverage as of last week and the run up to the deadline saw a surge that should put the total over 7 million. The administration also recently announced an extension of the enrollment deadline for Americans who had attempted to sign up for coverage but were impeded by technological problems. Read more on the Affordable Care Act.

Mar 24 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: March 24

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Some Will Be Able to Enroll After March 31 Affordable Care Act Deadline
Some people will be able to enroll for coverage under the Affordable Care Act after the official enrollment deadline of March 31, according to new guidelines expected to be issued by the Obama administration. The new guidelines would allow people had previously tried to enroll by were prevented by systems problems such as technical difficulties, according to Reuters. "Open enrollment ends March 31. We are preparing for a surge in enrollment, and if consumers are in line on the 31st and can't finish, we won't shut the door on them. To be clear, if you don't have health insurance and do not start to sign up by the deadline, you can't get coverage again until next year," said U.S. Department of Health and Human Services spokeswoman Joanne Peters in a statement. Read more on the Affordable Care Act.

Study: Alcohol-Related Vehicle Crashes Greatly Underreported
Alcohol is a far greater factor in U.S. motor vehicle deaths than has been reported, according to a new study in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs. Using  Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) data from the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, researchers determined that in the decade from 1999 to 2009 while only a little more than 3 percent of the death certificates for traffic deaths included alcohol as a contributing cause, about 21 percent of the deaths were legally drunk. Approximately 450,000 Americans were killed in traffic crashes during the period. The time that it takes coroners to take and process blood alcohol tests could be a reason for the underreported figures. Ralph Hingson, Sc.D., of the U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, said the vast discrepancy demonstrates the need for more reliable data. "We need to have a handle on what's contributing to the leading cause of death among young people," he said in a release. "You want to know how big the problem is, and if we can track it. Is it going up, or going down? And what policy measures are working?" Read more on alcohol.

NIH Identifies Genetic Markers Tied to Stroke, Cardiovascular Disease
Researchers and the National Institutes of Health have identified a genetic variant linked to increased risk for stroke, as well as a metabolic pathway tied to several common diseases, which taken together could improve how doctors identify and treat major diseases. “Our findings have the potential to identify new targets in the prevention and treatment of stroke, cardiovascular disease and many other common diseases,” said Stephen R. Williams, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Virginia Cardiovascular Research Center and the University of Virginia Center for Public Health Genomics, Charlottesville. The genetic markers were found through the analysis of nearly 5,000 genomes. The results were published in the journal PLoS Genetics. About 600,000 Americans die of heart disease each year—one in every four deaths—and stroke is the fourth-leading cause of death in the United States. Read more on heart health.

Mar 12 2014
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Webinar: Aligning Hospital Investments and Public Health Outcomes

The Network for Public Health Law and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Public Health Law Program will host a webinar on Wednesday, March 26, 2:00-3:30 p.m. (ET), on cooperation between hospitals and local health departments on community health assessments, a new requirement for non-profit hospitals under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

The ACA creates several new requirements for nonprofit hospitals to maintain tax-exempt status. One is that each hospital must conduct a community health needs assessment every three years, report on the needs identified and develop a strategy for responding to them.

In conducting the community health assessments, the law requires hospitals to get input from individuals with special knowledge of, or expertise in, public health. The goal of the assessment and follow up is to “reorient hospitals away from a primary focus on providing charity care and toward greater attention to community and population health issues,” says Mary Crossley, Professor of Law and former Dean at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, who served as a scholar in residence at the San Francisco Department of Health and worked on the community health assessment issue there.

Crossley will be a presenter during the upcoming webinar, together with Corey Davis, JD, MSPH, Staff Attorney at the National Health Law Program and the Network for Public Health Law Southeastern Region, and Molly Berkery, JD, MPH a Senior Attorney with the CDC Public Health Law Program.

The webinar topics include:

  • The new community health needs assessment (CHNA) requirements for charitable 501(c)(3) hospitals
  • CDC resources for implementing the CHNA process
  • Strategies for moving from the assessment stage to broader population health initiatives, with an emphasis on health department and hospital collaboration
  • CHNA case studies

Register for the webinar.

>>Bonus Link: Read a NewPublicHealth interview with Mary Crossley.

>>Bonus Links: Read a selection of previous NewPublicHealth posts on community benefit:

Mar 12 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: March 12

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Robert Wood Johnson and CDC Foundations Launch New Project on Using Law and Policies to Help People Make Healthier Choices
The Robert Wood Johnson and CDC Foundations have announced the launch of a new project to advance discussion about how laws and policies can assist people in making healthier choices. Subject matter experts will work with federal partners to develop 10 to 15 evidence-based reports during the next three years to highlight laws and policies related to specific topic areas within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Healthy People 2020 initiative. Healthy People 2020 is a set of goals and objectives with 10-year targets designed to guide national health promotion and disease prevention efforts aimed at improving the health of all people in the United States.

The new project, which will be led by the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP) at HHS, will provide practical information to public health officials and associations; health-related industries; legal practitioners; non-profit organizations; policymakers; and individuals about the use of law and policy to address health factors:

  • ODPHP will provide leadership and support for the development of the reports.
  • CDC will provide technical guidance on the development of specific reports and collaborate with public health partners and communities to promote knowledge and understanding of the reports.
  • RWJF will provide public health law and policy expertise.
  • The CDC Foundation will manage administration and implementation of the project and amplify the results to stakeholders through communications efforts.

“The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation believes that law and policy are important levers for building a culture of health in our nation,” said Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “We’re pleased to collaborate with leaders in public health and government to focus attention on policies based on the best science to help achieve the national health goals set out in Healthy People 2020—strategies that all states and communities can use to help people live healthier lives.” Read more on prevention.

FDA Approves Marketing of First Migraine Prevention Device
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has authorized the marketing of the first device designed to stop migraine headaches before they happen. The preventative treatment is a small, portable prescription device that uses an electrical current to stimulate branches of the trigeminal nerve, which has been associated with migraine headaches. An estimated 10 percent of people suffer from migraines, which if untreated can last from four to 72 hours and lead to nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light and sound. In a release, Christy Foreman, director of the Office of Device Evaluation at the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health, said Cefaly “may help patients who cannot tolerate current migraine medications for preventing migraines or treating attacks.” Read more on technology.

HHS: 4.2 Million Have Signed Up for Coverage Under the Affordable Care Act
Just a few weeks before the final deadline of March 31, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has announced that more than 4.2 million people have enrolled in the Health Insurance Marketplace under the Affordable Care Act. Approximately 943,000 enrolled in February. Of the 4,242,300 who have enrolled:

  • 55 percent are female and 45 percent are male;
  • 31 percent are age 34 and under;
  • 25 percent are between the ages of 18 and 34;
  • 63 percent selected a Silver plan (up one percentage point over the prior reporting period), while 18 percent selected a Bronze plan (down one point)
  • 83 percent selected a plan and are eligible to receive Financial Assistance (up one point)

Read more on the Affordable Care Act.

Feb 26 2014
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Senate Hearing: Why are Psychotropic Drugs Overprescribed in the U.S.?

With the passage of the Mental Health Parity Act and the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), behavioral health experts are pushing to improve the quality of that care so that people seeking help—some for the first time—receive evidence-based care that best suits their individual needs. As part of that conversation, the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension committee held a hearing this week on mental health treatment trends in the United States.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) the committee chair opened the hearing by “pointing to disturbing new trends [including]...significant increases in the prescribing of psychotropic medications, while the use of behavioral and psychological treatments among children and youth has increased only slightly, and has actually decreased among adults.”

According to committee research on recent use of psychotropic drugs, use of antipsychotic medications has increased eight-fold among children and five-fold among adolescents, and has doubled among adults between 1993 and 2009.

The key witness at the hearing was William Cooper, MD, MPH, a professor of pediatrics and health policy at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine who conducts population-based studies of medication use in children. Cooper told the committee about a nine-year-old boy he treated for weight gain—which turned out to be a side effect of a psychotropic drug the child had been prescribed by a primary care provider given for disturbing the classroom. No mental illness diagnosis had been made for the child, and no mental illness was detected after evaluation at Vanderbilt.

Cooper said that in recent years the United States has seen a tremendous increase in the numbers of children diagnosed with mental health disorders.

“Whether this is a result of increased awareness, improved diagnosis, or other factors is not clearly understood,” said Cooper, who added that “while we must acknowledge that a part of the increase could be due to over-diagnosis, there is no disputing the fact that a large number of children and their families suffer significantly because of mental illness.”

Furthermore, added Cooper, given the fact that suicide is the second leading cause of death for children ages 12-17, “tragic consequences of childhood mental health disorders highlight our sense of urgency in addressing this important problem.”

Cooper added that treating mental health disorders can be challenging and that 50-75 percent of the care for children with mental health disorders occurs in primary care settings “making it critical that consultation and communication between primary care professionals and experts in mental health be enhanced.”

Significantly, Cooper told the panel that despite guidelines, much of the mental health care for children occurs in a manner “inconsistent with optimal practice,” including:

  • Use of medications for diagnoses for which there is little evidence of benefit.
  • Use of multiple medications at the same time, especially among particularly vulnerable children such as children in foster care, where a recent study found multiple psychiatric medications in up to 75 percent of children being treated.
  • Use of medications alone without proven psychotherapies.

Cooper attributed the problems to several factors, among them:

  • Many general practice doctors are unaware of current mental health treatment guidelines.
  • Inadequate mental health resources to provide best treatments.
  • Too few professionals with training in providing mental health care to children.
  • Barriers to treatment, including cost or the need to travel long distances.
  • Stigma associated with mental illness, which may reduce families’ willingness to acknowledge a mental health disorder and seek treatment.

The HELP committee plans to hold additional hearings to address mental health issues. Other attention to the issues addressed at the hearing include a recent meeting in Washington, D.C. among professionals who conduct psychiatric clinical trials. They stressed the need to involve patients and families more in trial design and access, as well as to work with trial designers on mental health needs not currently being met.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, a federal agency, recently announced several new funding grants to help individual groups facing mental health concerns including:

  • A grant program for residential treatment of pregnant and postpartum women.
  • A grant program to expand and sustain comprehensive community mental health services for children and their families, in order to improve behavioral health outcomes for children and youth with serious emotional disturbances, as well as improve the health and well-being of their families.
  • A grant program to provide tribal and urban American Indian and Alaskan Native communities with tools and resources to plan and design a holistic, community-based coordinated system of care approach to support mental health and wellness for children, youth and families.

Read more about mental health on NewPublicHealth.

Feb 6 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: February 6

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PSA Campaigns Uses Pets to Remind Uninsured People of Deadline to Enroll Under the ACA
With research showing that more than 80 percent of Americans are unaware of the March 31 deadline to sign up for health coverage under the Affordable Care Act, Enroll America has partnered with the Ad Council on the launch of a new national campaign to raise awareness, educate and motivate people to enroll. The “Take Care, People” national multimedia public service advertising (PSA) campaign, which is focuses on women ages 18-34, took a somewhat unusual approach when it came to selecting spokespeople: pets. “We needed a familiar face that would stand out amidst all the noise to communicate to all Americans the benefits of enrolling for health insurance in a way that’s entertaining, relatable and easy to digest,” said Creative Director Rodrigo Butori of La Comunidad, which created the PSAs along with Razorfish. “We thought about pets. Why? Two thirds of American homes have pets. They have been the recipient of people’s love and care for ages. So it’s time for them to return the favor. It’s time for pets to take care of people for a change.” Read more on the Affordable Care Act.

PHLR Online Database Brings Together Experts and Peer-reviewed Publications
Public Health Law Research (PHLR), a program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, has launched the new PHLR SciVal Expert Community to allow users to discover existing and emerging evidence on laws and legal practices that improve health, to identify experts in the area and to pursue new collaborations. The searchable database currently includes 240 expert public health law researchers and more than 16,000 of their peer-reviewed publications covering a range of topics, from alcohol, tobacco and other drugs to occupational safety and health, oral health and preparedness. Read more on research.

Study: Healthy Eating on Weekdays the Key to Losing Weight
The key to losing weight and keeping it off may be healthier eating on weekdays rather than weekends, according to a new study in the journal Obesity Facts. Knowing that most people tend to gradually lose weight during the week and then gain it back on the weekends, researchers tracked the eating habits of 80 people ages 25 to 62, having them weigh themselves before breakfast every day for anywhere from two weeks to nearly a year. The study found that everyone experienced weight fluctuations, but that the people who consistently lost weight tended to compensate more strictly during the week for their weekend weight gain, with their weight decreasing immediately on Monday and continuing downward until Friday. "The ones who are big winners are those who lose a little bit of weight from Monday to Tuesday to Wednesday to Thursday," said study co-author Brian Wansink, a professor of consumer behavior at Cornell University. Read more on obesity.

Feb 5 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: February 5

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NIH, Industry and Non-profits Form Partnership to Speed Drug Development
The National Institutes of Health (NIH), 10 biopharmaceutical companies and several non-profit organizations have launched the Accelerating Medicines Partnership (AMP) to identify and validate the most promising biological for several diseases. The first set of disease targets will be Alzheimer’s disease, type 2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. Through the foundation for the NIH, AMP partners will invest more than $230 million over five years in the first drug projects. Read more on partnerships.

CDC: Child passenger Deaths Decrease 43 Percent from 2002-2011
While car crash deaths among children age 12 and younger dropped by 43 percent from 2002 to 2011, more than 9,000 children died in crashes during that time period, according to a new Vital Signs report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The report found that 45 percent of black children and 46 percent of Hispanic children who died in crashes were not buckled up, compared to 26 percent of white children. Read more on injury prevention.

New Survey Finds Skepticism about Health Law Continues for Many Adults
Analysis of a new Health Reform Monitoring Survey, funded in part by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, finds that more and better outreach is needed to educate uninsured people about free or low-cost health insurance through expanded Medicaid programs or subsidies to help them purchase health insurance in the new marketplaces. Among the survey findings:

  • On seven measures of health care quality, access, and cost, the majority of adults expect to be neither better-off nor worse-off in 2014 than in 2013, but of those expecting a change in 2014; more expect to be worse-off than better-off.
  • Adults are more pessimistic about health-related costs in 2014 than about health care quality and access.
  • Compared with insured adults, a higher share of the uninsured—expects to be better-off in 2014.
  • Younger adults tend to be more optimistic than older adults about overall health care quality, access, and cost.

In an effort to help more people seek out health insurance coverage, Enroll America in partnership with the Ad Council, just launched “Take Care, People,” a national multimedia public service advertising (PSA) campaign to raise awareness, educate and motivate uninsured Americans to get health insurance for themselves and their families under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

The campaign uses pets to tell people it’s time to take care of themselves, with a particular focus on women ages 18 to 34. Research by Enroll America finds that that women are more likely than men to do investigate health insurance options, enroll and encourage others to seek out information. Enroll America research also shows that 81 percent of people who are uninsured are unaware of the March 31 deadline to enroll in coverage for 2014 and 69 percent don’t know that financial assistance is available to help pay for their coverage. The PSAs were produced in both English and Spanish. Read more on the Affordable Care Act.

Feb 4 2014
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AcademyHealth National Policy Conference: Integrating Behavioral and Physical Health

While behavioral and physical health have generally been separate entities in the United States, new rules under the Affordable Care Act are bringing them together—both to reduce costs and to integrate care in millions of people who face behavioral and physical health issues.

Experts at last week’s Healthy Communities Initiative forum, convened by the National Association of Counties (NACo), and this week’s AcademyHealth National Policy Conference, meeting in Washington D.C., presented strategies for combining the two. Some pilot projects are beginning. The pace is picking up largely because many people now covered under the states that have created Medicaid expansion have a range of behavioral and physical health needs. They will benefit from integration because the two are often connected—for example, diabetes has been linked to depression—and because connecting the two can reduce health care costs and reduce the number of provider visits a patient has to make.

“Behavioral health is a driving force in why people don’t get where they want to be,” said Donna Skoda, ​ Assistant Health Commissioner of Summit County, Ohio, who spoke at the NACo forum.

Several public health officers at the forum presented ideas of what works in their communities, including:

  • Hiring nurses to be care providers to assess both behavioral and physical health needs
  • Retraining behavioral health specialists, including psychiatrists, to use blood pressure cuffs and other medical equipment
  • Integrating patient files with information on mental and physical health baselines and changes
  • Opting, when possible, to deliver care in physical health offices rather than counseling offices, since physical practitioner clinics already have devices needed such as scales

Presenters at the AcademyHealth policy conference stressed cost savings. For example, Washington state will participate in a federal demonstration project for beneficiaries dually eligible for Medicare and Medicaid. Under the demonstration, the health plans will be responsible for a full range of services—including mental health; chemical dependency; long-term services and supports; and medical care—under a single capped rate.

“Integrated care needs to be the rule, not the exception,” said Charlene Le Fauve, a deputy director of the National Institute of Mental Health.

Le Fauve said new technologies can be an important factor in delivering care including mobile devices and internet tools, which can be used at provider offices, clinics, and in homes if communities provide those services.

Other ideas being funded include training community workers for brief interventions which may be able to keep many people with mental illness out of both the emergency room and the hospital. Phone intervention is also being studied, said Le Fauve.

Feb 4 2014
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Are You Taking the Right Medicine?

Caring for the millions of people acquiring health coverage under the Affordable Care Act will require many more primary care providers than are currently available. At a session today on New Models and Workforce Innovations for Primary Care Access at the 2014 National Health Policy Conference convened by AcademyHealth, presenters talked about emerging specialists for primary care, including nurses, physician assistants and care coordinators, who are also known as community health workers.

Pharmacists are also included in that provider model. Jeffrey Kang, MD, MPH, senior vice president of health and wellness at Walgreens, presented data on a model program the pharmacy chain has at more than a dozen hospitals which is helping reduce hospital readmissions. Walgreens has pharmacies at dozens of hospitals across the United States and with its pilot program, called WellTransitions, works with hospital discharge staff on medicine instructions and then follows up with phone calls once patients are home.

Kang said a key question is whether someone is taking the right medicine. In the medication orders system there is no procedure, other than patient initiative, for stopping a previously prescribed medication. For example, if a patient had been taking a blood pressure medication before a hospital stay and then is prescribed a new one in the hospital, they may still have vials of the drug at home, and studies show they commonly continue taking the drug, either instead of, or in addition to the drug prescribed during the recent hospital stay.

With the WellTransitions program, drugs are delivered to the patient before discharge, avoiding a trip to the pharmacy, and pharmacists follow up at 9 days and 25 days.

Walgreens launched the program in 2012 and released data late last year that showed that early results indicate that within the first 6 months that WellTransitions was operational in five hospitals, the 30-day readmission rate for patients in the program was 9.4 percent, compared with 14.3 percent for patients not participating in the program.