Public Health News Roundup: April 24
New York City Moves to Ban Cigarette Sales to People Under 21
A bill introduced to the New York City Council would ban cigarette sales to anyone under the age of 21. The current age limit is 18. "Too many adult smokers begin this deadly habit before age 21," City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said. "By delaying our city's children and young adults access to lethal tobacco products, we're decreasing the likelihood they ever start smoking, and thus, creating a healthier city." Though not introduced by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, he does support the bill. New York City also has the highest taxes on cigarettes of any U.S. city, with a city tax of $1.50 on top of a state tax of $4.35. Read more on tobacco.
Insurance Authorization Delays Trap Psychiatric Patients in ERs
Thousands of hours of physician time is lost each year caring for emergency department patients in need of psychiatric care, but waiting for insurance authorization to be admitted into the hospital, according to a letter to be published in the May issue of Annals of Emergency Medicine. Researchers found that about half of authorizations were completed in less than 20 minutes, but 10 percent took at least an hour. About 2.5 million people are admitted to hospitals for psychiatric care each year. "Psychiatric care is really the poor stepchild in the world of insurance coverage," said lead author Amy Funkenstein, MD, of Brown University in Providence, R.I.. "Insurance carriers reimburse poorly and as a consequence, hospitals often have inadequate resources for patients who urgently need this care. The situation is so dire that ERs are now being designed and configured to house psychiatric patients awaiting placement as inpatients. These patients deserve better." Read more on mental health.
Report Finds Positive, Negative News on U.S. Air Quality
Areas across the country have seen a mix in terms of improvement of air quality over the past decade, according to a new report from the American Lung Association (ALA). "The long-term trend is positive and headed to much cleaner air," said author Janice Nolen, ALA's assistant vice president of national policy and advocacy. "[However], there is an uptick in some areas that are a concern and some areas where the problem remains very, very serious." Approximately half of the 25 most polluted cities in 2000 saw improvements in air quality, with the others seeing declines. And some of the “improved” cities still were highly polluted, such as Los Angeles and Bakersfield, Calif. Houston, Dallas, Oklahoma City, Cincinnati, New York City and Washington, D.C. were the other cities with the highest levels of ozone. Overall, the report found that 132 million people were living in 254 counties with unhealthy levels of ozone or particle pollution. Read more on environment.