Category Archives: Affordable Care Act

Jul 18 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: July 18

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Ukraine Crash Kills Scores of AIDS Researchers
Malaysian Flight 17, believed to have been shot down by a missile over Ukraine yesterday, included dozens of AIDs researchers headed to Melbourne for AIDS 2014, the annual international gathering of AIDS researchers. Global Health Now, a daily newsletter produced by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, interviewed Prof. Richard Boyd, director of the Monash Immunology and Stem Cell Laboratories in Melbourne, who said, "There were some serious HIV leaders on that plane. This will have ramifications globally because whenever you lose a leader in any field, it has an impact. That knowledge is irreplaceable.” Read more on HIV.

First Chikungunya Case Acquired in the United States reported in Florida
The first locally acquired case of Chikungunya was reported in Florida this week in a man who had not recently traveled outside the United States. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is working with the Florida Department of Health to investigate how the patient contracted the virus and will also monitor for additional locally acquired U.S. cases of the virus.

“The arrival of chikungunya virus, first in the tropical Americas and now in the United States, underscores the risks posed by this and other exotic pathogens,” said Roger Nasci, PhD, chief of CDC’s Arboviral Diseases Branch. Chikungunya virus is transmitted to people by two species of mosquitoes, Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus. Both species are found in the southeastern United States and limited parts of the southwest; Aedes albopictus is also found further north up the East Coast, through the Mid-Atlantic States and is also found in the lower Midwest.

The CDC has asked state health departments to report cases of chikungunya to help track the virus in the United States. Local transmission occurs when a mosquito bites someone who is infected with the virus and then bites another person. People infected with chikungunya virus typically develop fever and joint pain. Other symptoms can include muscle aches, headaches, joint swelling or rash. Read more on infectious diseases.

HHS Releases Health Insurance Information for Immigrant Families
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently released information clarifying health insurance coverage options for immigrant families, including:

  • In order to buy private health insurance through the Marketplace, individuals must be U.S. citizens or be lawfully present in the United States.
  • People who recently gained U.S. citizenship or had a change in their immigration status may qualify for a Special Enrollment Period.
  • Many immigrant families are of “mixed status,” with members having different immigration and citizenship statuses. Mixed status families can apply for a tax credit or lower out-of-pocket costs for private insurance for their dependent family members who are eligible for coverage in the Marketplace or for Medicaid and CHIP coverage. Family members who aren't applying for health coverage for themselves won't be asked if they have eligible immigration status.
  • Federal and state Marketplaces and state Medicaid and CHIP agencies can’t require people to provide information about the citizenship or immigration status of any family or household members who aren’t applying for coverage.
  • States can’t deny benefits because a family or household member who isn't applying hasn’t provided his or her citizenship or immigration status.
  • Information provided to the Marketplace won’t be used for immigration enforcement purposes.
  • If a person is not eligible for Marketplace coverage or can't afford a health plan, they can get low-cost health care at a nearby community health center. Community health centers provide primary health care services to all residents, including immigrant families, in the health center’s service area.

Read more on the Affordable Care Act.

Jul 15 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: July 15

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RWJF Analysis of ACA Effects Finds No Increase in New Patient Visits
A new report, ACAView, from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and athenahealth, finds that in the first five months of 2014 there was no increase in new patient visits, when compared to the same time last year. The ACAView initiative was created to measure the impact of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) on providers, patients and physicians from 2014 through 2016. The report focuses on the provider perspective, showcasing how the ACA affects the practice patterns and economics of physicians and other care team members around the country. Potential reasons for the lack of an increase in visits include the newly insured being unfamiliar with the health care system, or even the winter weather. Read more on the Affordable Care Act.

Study: Nickel in an iPad Linked to Boy’s Allergic Skin Reaction
An ever-increasing reliance on consumer electronics may also mean rarer allergies are becoming more common, according to researchers who linked an 11-year-old boy’s allergic skin reaction to the nickel found in a first-generation Apple iPad. The study was published in the journal Pediatrics. Previous studies have linked the nickel in computers, smartphones and other electronics to allergic reactions; other common sources of nickel include ear piercings, clothing fasteners and dental work. “With the increasing prevalence of nickel allergy in the pediatric population, it is important for clinicians to continue to consider metallic-appearing electronics and personal effects as potential sources of nickel exposure,” according to the study. Read more on pediatrics.

Study: Changing Generic Pill Color, Shape Can Decrease Prescription Adherence
In addition to known considerations such as side effects and cost, the change in the appearance of prescription medications may also lead some people to stop taking their prescriptions, according to a new study in the Annals of Internal Medicine. In a study of more than 11,000 patients, researchers determined that a change in pill color would increase the odds that a patient would stop taking their heart medication by 34 percent, while a change in pill shape would increase the chances by 66 percent. This adds another wrinkle to the series problem of medication adherence; the American Heart Association estimates that three out of four Americans do not take their medication as directed. Read more on prescription drugs.

Jun 4 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: June 5

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Application Problems Mean 2.2M People Risk Losing ACA Coverage
Inconsistencies in their application data means that approximately 2.2 million people who enrolled for coverage under the Affordable Care Act could risk losing their coverage in isolated cases. A report from the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) found that 1.2 million people filed health insurance enrollment applications with questionable income data, 461,000 had issues with citizenship and another 505,000 had issues with immigration. However, CMS also noted that 59 percent of the applications were within a 90-day window allowing them to resolve the problems. “Consumers experience regular changes in income and various life circumstances and the law accounts for these kinds of situations," said CMS, according to Reuters. "It is not surprising that there are income discrepancies given that this is a brand new process." As of mid-April more than 8 million people had enrolled for health coverage. Read more on the Affordable Care Act.

Study: Skipping Breakfast Doesn’t Hurt Efforts to Lose Weight
Common wisdom holds that people who skip breakfast actually increase their risk of obesity. However, a new study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that passing up on the first meal of the day neither helps nor hurts a person’s efforts to lose weight. The study involved 309 overweight and obese adults between the ages of 20 and 65—who were told to either eat or skip breakfast—and a control group provided with health nutrition information. Researchers found no difference when it came to efforts to lose weight. "The field of obesity and weight loss is full of commonly held beliefs that have not been subjected to rigorous testing; we have now found that one such belief does not seem to hold up when tested," senior investigator David Allison, director of the UAB Nutrition Obesity Research Center, said in a university news release. "This should be a wake-up call for all of us to always ask for evidence about the recommendations we hear so widely offered." Read more on obesity.

HHS: $300M Available to Expand Services at Community Health Centers
An additional $300 million in funding is available to community health centers as part of the Affordable Care Act, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced this week. The funds will go toward expanding service hours and the hiring of more medical providers, as well as the expansion or addition of oral health, behavioral health, pharmacy and vision services. There are approximately 1,300 health centers operating more than 9,000 service delivery sites and providing care for more than 21 million U.S. patients. Read more on community health.

May 6 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: May 6

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GlaxoSmithKline, Local Organizations to Give Nearly $1M in Grants to Nonprofits that Improve Community Health
In partnership with local community organizations, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) is offering non-profit organizations 20 grants totaling $40,000 each in the Durham, N.C. and Philadelphia, Penn. regions through its GSK IMPACT Awards. The annual grants will be awarded to nonprofits in recognition of their exceptional achievements in contributing to a health in their regions. “Where we live matters to our health,” said Katie Loovis, Director, U.S. Community Partnerships and Stakeholder Engagement, GSK. “Through the GSK IMPACT Awards, we will find and honor some of the most outstanding local nonprofit organizations that are leading the difficult and often thankless work of making our community a healthier place to live.” Read more on community health.

Study: Climate Change Will Make it Harder to Keep Ozone Pollution in Check
Rising temperatures due to climate change will make it more difficult to monitor and keep in check ozone pollution in the continental United States, according to a new report from the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). The study, to be published in the Journal of Geophysical Research-Atmospheres, estimates there to be a risk for a 70 percent increase in unhealthy summertime ozone levels by 2050.  “It doesn’t matter where you are in the United States—climate change has the potential to make your air worse,” said NCAR scientist Gabriele Pfister, the lead author of the new study, in a release. “A warming planet doesn’t just mean rising temperatures, it also means risking more summertime pollution and the health impacts that come with it.” The American Public Health Association (APHA) expressed strong support for the report’s findings. “As public health workers we can act to protect people from climate change’s long reach by working in concert across sectors,” said Georges Benjamin, MD, executive director of APHA. “Life-saving prevention is within reach, but must include collaboration between health practitioners and our energy, agriculture and transportation leaders.” Read more on air quality.

New Rule Requires Employers to Notify Laid-off Workers of Option to Enroll for Coverage Under ACA
In addition to paying for the full cost of laid-off employees’ work-based health coverage under COBRA, employers must now also notify laid-off workers of their option to purchase health care coverage through the Affordable Care Act’s online marketplaces, according to The Wall Street Journal. The rule was issued late last week by the Obama administration. COBRA—short for the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985—allows laid-off workers to maintain their work-based coverage as long as they keep paying their share of the premium. The cost can be “a shock to people,” according to the newspaper, and ACA coverage can provide an alternative. Read more on the 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.