Dec 23 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: December 23

HHS Will Allow Some to Skip Insurance for 2014 without Penalty
The U.S Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) made some key rule changes to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) late last week. People whose insurance plans were cancelled for 2014 because the plans did not meet the requirements for plans under the ACA — such as covering essential benefits including some preventive care with no copays — will be permitted to buy a “catastrophic” plan which has only minimal coverage or opt for no insurance for the coming year, but pay no penalty. HHS has set up a hotline, 1-866-837-0677, for people whose policies were canceled so they can get advice on coverage for 2014. Read more on the Affordable Care Act.

NIH Study: Drop in Prescription Drug Abuse, Rise in Marijuana Use Among High School Seniors  
The percentage of high-schoolers who think using marijuana regularly poses a major risk to health has fallen dramatically in the past 10 years, according to this year’s Monitoring the Future survey, which measures drug use and attitudes among the nation’s eighth-, 10th-, and 12th-graders. Actual rates of marijuana use have also increased among high school seniors, with 6.5 saying they smoke marijuana daily, up from 6 percent in 2003 and 2.4 percent in 1993.

“This is not just an issue of increased daily use,” said NIDA Director Nora D. Volkow, MD. “It is important to remember that over the past two decades, levels of THC — the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana — have gone up a great deal, from 3.75 percent in 1995 to an average of 15 percent in today’s marijuana cigarettes. Daily use today can have stronger effects on a developing teen brain than it did 10 or 20 years ago.”

Other findings of the survey include:

  • For the first time, the percentage of students in all three grades combined who say they smoked cigarettes in the past month is below 10 percent (9.6 percent) compared to 16.7 percent 10 years ago and 24.7 percent in 1993.
  • Continued abuse of Adderall, commonly used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, with 7.4 percent of seniors reporting taking it for non-medical reasons in the past year.
  • Five percent of seniors report abuse of cough products containing dextromethorphan, down from 6.9 percent in 2006, the first year it was measured by the survey.
  • For cocaine and heroin, while there was no significant change from the 2012 rates, there continues to be a gradual decline in use, with both drugs at historic lows in all three grades.
  • Use of alcohol by teens continues a steady decline. For 12th-graders, alcohol use peaked in 1997, with more than half (52.7 percent) reporting drinking alcohol in the past month. Only 39.2 percent of seniors reported past month use this year.

Read more on Substance Abuse.

Earlier Cataract Surgery for Seniors Could Reduce Car Accidents
Researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham have found that earlier surgery cataract surgery may reduce car accidents among older drivers by about 16 percent.

Currently, most U.S. insurers cover the surgery based on both findings of an eye exam and vision complaints by patients. However, the researchers say that cognitive deficits, age, insurance coverage, income, or simple procrastination, may keep older people from telling their doctor about their vision problems.

The researchers developed a model to simulate a common vehicle collision for people 60 to 89 and implemented control conditions of earlier and later cataract surgery and found that the change to earlier surgeries would increase cataract surgery expenditure for people ages 65 and older by eight percent and for people ages 60-64 by about 47 percent. However, those expenses would be offset by reductions in medical and emergency services costs following car accidents. The study was published in Accident Analysis and Prevention. Read more on aging.

Tags: Health insurance, News roundups, Prescription drugs, Public health