Health care wait times vary greatly across the US

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Sign for an emergency room.Whether you get in to see a doctor on the same day you call for an appointment or have to wait months depends in large part on where you live, according to a new report by the Institute of Medicine.

“Everyone would like to hear the words, ‘How can we help you today?’ when reaching out for health care assistance,” said Gary Kaplan, chair of the study committee that wrote the report, and chairman and chief executive officer of Virginia Mason Health System in Washington state Care with this commitment is feasible and found in practice today, but it is not common. Our report lays out a road map to improve that.” Continue reading

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Same-sex marriage ruling expect to boost coverage among gay couples

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U.S. Supreme CourtBy Jay Hancock
KHN

The right to marry in any state won’t be the only gain for gay couples from last week’s Supreme Court ruling.

The decision will probably boost health insurance among gay couples as same-sex spouses get access to employer plans, say analysts and benefits consultants.

How much is unclear, but “it’s going to increase coverage” in a community that has often had trouble getting access to medical services, said Jennifer Kates, a vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation. (Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the foundation.)

The logic is simple. Fewer than half of employers that offer health benefits make the insurance available to same-sex partners who aren’t married. Virtually all of them offer coverage to spouses.

By marrying partners with employer health plans, people in same-sex relationships are likely to get coverage in states that banned gay marriage until now.

By marrying partners with employer health plans, people in same-sex relationships are likely to get coverage in states that banned gay marriage until now, as well as in those that welcomed it. Thanks to rapidly shifting legal ground, 37 states recognized gay marriage before last week’s ruling, up from nine in 2012.

New York legalized gay marriage in 2011. The next year, there was a big increase in same-sex couples covered by employer-sponsored health insurance, according to a study published Friday by the Journal of the American Medical Association.

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Cancer quackery fuels concern among doctors, FDA

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Photo Credit:  Bo Jungmayer / Fred Hutch News Service

Be wary of possible side effects, drug interactions when using alternative health supplements, physicians caution

By By Bill Briggs
Fred Hutch News Service

One potentially fake cancer drug sold online can actually cause malignancies. One enema machine, purported to treat ovarian cancer under the FDA banner, was never cleared for sale in the U.S., federal health officials assert.

Those products and more were targeted last week in a global crackdown on more than 1,000 websites that sell possibly dangerous and bogus medicines and medical devices. The bust, conducted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Interpol, coincides with the surge of unproven cancer “cures” hawked by Internet sellers, the FDA warns.

For curious consumers, the FDA posts a running list of “fake cancer cures” that currently spans 187 oils, drinks, plants and animals parts sold by web merchants from North Carolina to Oregon.

Cancer-treatment fraud is “particularly heartless,” FDA officials say, because it preys on the desperation of patients who are tempted “to jump at anything that appears to offer a chance for a cure.” At Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, some doctors are equally leery when patients ask to add claimed “natural” remedies to their treatment regimens.

“We’re quite clear: No over-the-counter herbal treatments – the things people get that are supposed to help their immune system, [or] whatever scams that people come across,” said Dr. George Georges, a hematopoietic cell transplant doctor at Fred Hutch. Continue reading

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Top five stories of the week

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Credit: Dan Shirly

Credit: Dan Shirly

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One in 8 with HIV do not know they are infected

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hiv testing graphic

From the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

National HIV Testing Day is a reminder to get the facts, get tested, and get involved to take care of yourself and your partners.

An estimated 1.2 million people in the United States are living with HIV, and that number grows by almost 50,000 every year. One in eight people who have HIV don’t know it. That means they aren’t getting the medical care they need to stay healthy and avoid passing HIV to others.

CDC has found that more than 90 percent of new HIV infections in the United States could be prevented by testing and diagnosing people who have HIV and ensuring they receive prompt, ongoing care and treatment. Early linkage to and retention in HIV care is central to managing HIV and promoting health among all people living with HIV. HIV medicines can keep people with HIV healthy for many years, and greatly reduce the chance of transmitting HIV to their sex partners.

Get the Facts

Protecting yourself and others against HIV starts with knowledge. Knowing the facts about HIV will help you make informed decisions about sex, drug use, and other activities that may put you and your partners at risk for HIV.

  • Learn the basics about HIV, how to prevent HIV transmission, and the steps you can take to protect yourself and others.
  • Talk about what you learn with your friends and other people who are important to you.
  • Empower even more people via social media. Share your new knowledge with your friends online.
Find more information about HIV testing, and who should be tested, on CDC’s HIV Testing Basics web page.

Get Tested

The only way to know if you are infected with HIV is to get tested. Continue reading

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Avoid contact with toxic algae found in north Lake Washington

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From Public Health – Seattle & King County

OhioEPA_HAB_BloomToxic blue-green algae are accumulating in patches along the shores of Arrowhead Point in the northern part of Lake Washington.

These patches (also called “scums”) are easily blown around by the wind. Therefore, Public Health-Seattle & King County recommends avoiding any Lake Washington water that appears to have patches of blue-green algae floating in it.

Tests show that the algae are producing toxins, which are accumulating and drifting in some places along the lakeshore.

King County Department of Natural Resources conducts weekly tests of water collected at swim beaches of Lake Washington and other King County lakes.

They also collect samples from areas of concern submitted through the State Department of Ecology’s Freshwater Algae Control Program. Public Health – Seattle & King County reviews results to assure safety for people and pets.

Tests show that the algae are producing toxins, which are accumulating and drifting in some places along the lakeshore.

  • Avoid swallowing lake water with blue-green algae in it.
  • People and pets should not wade or play in the lake where the scum has accumulated.
  • Dog owners should be especially cautious not to allow animals to drink from the lake in these areas.
  • If there is water contact for a pet, rinse their fur well to remove all algae and wash hands after.

The lake remains open to fishing, boating, stand-up paddle boarding and other recreational activities, though areas with blue-green algae should be avoided. People who wade and swim are recommended to stay away from scum patches. Continue reading

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States struggle with ‘hidden’ rural homelessness

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Stella Dempsey lives in a tent in Fredericksburg, Virginia. She says she’s been homeless for years because of physical and mental health issues. States struggle to help people like Dempsey. (Rollie Hudson)

Stella Dempsey lives in a tent in Fredericksburg, Virginia. She says she’s been homeless for years because of physical and mental health issues. States struggle to help people like Dempsey. (Rollie Hudson)

By Teresa Wiltz
Stateline

FREDERICKSBURG, Virginia—At the Micah Ecumenical Ministries, in the center of this quaint colonial town, Stella Dempsey sits in the waiting room, looking dejected. Ministry staffers offered her a bed at a shelter, but she says she can’t bear to go back. Still, she’s feeling desperate.

She is homeless and jobless and sleeps in a tent in the woods. She’s got cirrhosis of the liver, high blood pressure, diabetes and a bad back. Two months ago, she said, she almost died. Now, she’s run out of all her medications, from her bipolar meds to her insulin. She is not eligible for Medicaid under Virginia law.

“I have nothing until they give me disability,” the former waitress said, her eyes welling. “I’m hoping for help. I need food stamps, a clinic for my meds. … People look down on people who are homeless. They think we’re nasty and no good. But some of us can’t help it. If I could help it, trust me, I would.”

At first blush, Dempsey, 43, doesn’t fit the stereotype of the chronically homeless. She’s neatly dressed in flowered capris, her hazel eyes rimmed with eyeliner. But in Fredericksburg, as in other small towns, suburbs and rural corners of the country, the homeless are often hidden, out of sight and mind, hard to reach and hard to help, say people who work with the homeless. Continue reading

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Tips on how to stay cool

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Blue sky and white clouds (Panorama)

City and County open cooling centers

From the City of Seattle

The National Weather Service has issued an Excessive Heat Watch for Seattle and surrounding areas from Friday afternoon through late Saturday night.

The City of Seattle is providing information and public spaces that may be used by residents to stay cool in the high temperatures.   Continue reading

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Half of health law plans offer narrow networks – study

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narrow-networks-570By Michelle Andrews
KHN

If the physician networks for plans sold on the health law’s online insurance exchanges were T-shirts, more than 40 percent would be size X-small or small.

That’s the takeaway from a new study that analyzed nearly 400 physician networks in silver-level plans sold around the country  in 2014.

  • The study labeled 11 percent of plans “extra small” because they covered fewer than 10 percent of physicians in a plan’s region.
  • Another 30 percent were “small,” meaning they covered between 10 and 25 percent of physicians
  • . Just 11 percent of plans were classified as “extra large” because they covered at least 60 percent of physicians in the area.

As consumers shop for coverage on the exchanges, knowing the trade-off between premium price and network size could be important to some, says Kathy Hempstead, director of the coverage team at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which funded the study. Continue reading

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West Nile virus found in Yakima County mosquitoes

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West nile virus wnvFrom the Washington State Department of Health

The first mosquitos to be found to be infected with the West Nile virus this season have been found in Yakima County, state health officials reported Thursday.

Avoiding mosquito bites is the best way to prevent infection.

It’s the first sign that the virus is active in our state this summer. The warmer spring and early summer weather is ideal for high mosquito numbers.

Preventing mosquito bites is the most effective way to avoid West Nile virus disease, officials said.  Continue reading

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High Court Upholds Health Law Subsidies

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Top row (left to right): Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Associate Justice Stephen G. Breyer, Associate Justice Samuel A. Alito, and Associate Justice Elena Kagan. Bottom row (left to right): Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy, and Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Top row (left to right): Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Associate Justice Stephen G. Breyer, Associate Justice Samuel A. Alito, and Associate Justice Elena Kagan. Bottom row (left to right): Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy, and Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

By Jay Hancock
KHN

The Affordable Care Act survived its second Supreme Court test in three years, raising odds for its survival but by no means ending the legal and political assaults on it five years after it became law.

The 6-3 ruling stopped a challenge that would have erased subsidies in at least 34 states for individuals and families buying insurance through the federal government’s online marketplace.

Such a result would have made coverage unaffordable for millions and created price spirals for those who kept their policies, many experts predicted.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the opinion for the court, joined by frequent swing vote Anthony Kennedy and the liberal justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonya Sotomayor and Elana Kagen.

“The combination of no tax credits and an ineffective coverage requirement could well push a State’s individual insurance market into a death spiral. It is implausible that Congress meant the Act to operate in this manner,” said Roberts. Continue reading

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Fraud still plagues Medicare drug program, watchdog finds

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red-and-white-capsules

by Charles Ornstein ProPublica,

This article has been corrected.

Fraud and abuse continue to dog Medicare’s popular prescription drug program despite a bevy of initiatives launched to prevent them, according to two new reports by the inspector general of Health and Human Services.

The release follows the arrests of 44 pharmacy owners, doctors and others, who last week were accused of bilking the program, known as Part D.

The reports issued Tuesday provide more insight into the extent of the fraud, as well as steps federal regulators should take to stop it. The first, which covers data from last year, found: Continue reading

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