Administration proposal for workplace wellness programs earns business praise, consumer concerns

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431px-Lewis_Hine_Power_house_mechanic_working_on_steam_pumpBy Michelle AndrewS
KHN

Business groups praised a proposed new rule from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission clarifying how employers can construct wellness programs, but consumers advocates said the new policy could harm workers.

The EEOC published the long-awaited rule Thursday.

“This is a big step forward, primarily because the EEOC has defined what it means for a wellness program to be voluntary,” says Steve Wojcik, vice president for public policy at the National Business Group on Health, which represents large employers.

The Americans With Disabilities Act prohibits employers from discriminating against workers based on their health. But they can ask workers for details about their health and conduct medical exams as part of a voluntary wellness program.

Before this proposal was unveiled, employers and consumer advocates alike had been uncertain how the commission defined voluntary. Continue reading

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Some states pay doctors more to treat Medicaid patients

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Blue doctorBy Michael Ollove
Stateline

Fifteen states are betting they can convince more doctors to accept the growing number of patients covered by Medicaid with a simple incentive: more money.

The Affordable Care Act gave states federal dollars to raise Medicaid reimbursement rates for primary care services—but only temporarily. The federal spigot ran dry on Jan. 1.

Fearing that lowering the rates would exacerbate the shortage of primary care doctors willing to accept patients on Medicaid, the 15 states are dipping into their own coffers to continue to pay the doctors more.

It seems to be working. Continue reading

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Whooping cough outbreak growing in Washington

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Department of Health urges everyone, especially pregnant women, to get Tdap vaccine

From the Washington State Department of Health

Alert IconWhooping cough is on the rise in Washington and state health officials are urging people to get vaccinated against the disease, especially pregnant women.

So far in 2015 there have been 319 cases of whooping cough reported compared to 49 reported cases during the same time in 2014.

Whooping cough (pertussis) is a serious disease that affects the respiratory system and is spread by coughing and sneezing.

Rates of whooping cough are continuing to rise in several areas around the state, which is a concern to health officials.

While everyone is encouraged to get vaccinated against the disease, newborn babies who are too young to be vaccinated are at high risk for severe disease.

That’s why it’s especially important that pregnant women get vaccinated during each pregnancy, toward the end of their pregnancy, to best protect their newborn.

“Women who are pregnant should be sure to talk to their health care provider, doctor, or midwife about getting their Tdap vaccine before they give birth,” said Dr. Scott Lindquist, communicable disease epidemiologist for the state Department of Health “It’s also important that everyone else in the family is vaccinated to keep babies safe.” Continue reading

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Only 251 hospitals score five stars in Medicare’s new ratings

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StarBy Jordan Rau
KHN

In an effort to make comparing hospitals more like shopping for refrigerators and restaurants, the federal government has awarded its first star ratings to hospitals based on patients’ appraisals.

Many of the nation’s leading hospitals received middling ratings, while comparatively obscure local hospitals and others that specialized in lucrative surgeries frequently received the most stars.

Evaluating hospitals is becoming increasingly important as more insurance plans offer patients limited choices. Medicare already uses stars to rate nursing homes, dialysis centers and private Medicare Advantage insurance plans.

While Medicare publishes more than 100 quality measures about hospitals on its Hospital Compare website, many are hard to decipher, and there is little evidence consumers use the site very much.

Many in the hospital industry fear Medicare’s five-star scale won’t accurately reflect quality and may place too much weight on patient reviews, which are just one measurement of hospital quality. Medicare also reports the results of hospital care, such as how many died or got infections during their stay, but those are not yet assigned stars.

Screen Shot 2015-04-16 at 11.54.35 AM Continue reading

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Getting warmer: let’s talk water safety

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infant-swimming

By James Apa
Public Health – Seattle & King County

With summer approaching in the Northwest, layers of clothing slowly peel away, and thoughts turn to the water. Soon, local rivers, lakes and pools will start to fill with kids and families.

I talked with Tony Gomez, our Violence and Injury Prevention Manager (and local water safety guru), to understand potential hazards on the water, and how to keep these experiences fun and safe. 

Q: Every year, we hear local reports of tragic drownings in the news. How common are they, and where do most happen?

A: Last year, we had 15 unintentional drowning deaths in King County, and we see about 100 statewide per year. From when I started this work 30 years ago, drownings have dropped significantly, in large part because of good prevention work. But it’s still too many. Continue reading

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You may still have time to get coverage . . .

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HCGOV medium seal

The tax filing deadline is today

Today is the last day to file your taxes!

If you owe a fee on your taxes for not having health coverage in 2014 and don’t yet have health coverage for 2015, you may still be able to get covered for 2015.

The Health Insurance Marketplace is providing individuals and families who need to pay the fee when they file their 2014 taxes with one last chance to get covered for 2015.

In order to take advantage of this Special Enrollment Period to get health coverage, you must meet all of the following requirements:

  • You didn’t know that the health care law required you and your household to have health coverage until after February 15, 2015, or you didn’t understand how that requirement would affect you or your family.
  • You owe the fee for not having coverage in 2014.
  • You aren’t already enrolled in 2015 qualifying health coverage.

Good news: If you qualify, you don’t need to restart your application. Simply log in to your account and select your application. Then navigate to the question about Special Enrollment Periods and update your information.

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Important: If you don’t have coverage for the remainder of 2015 you’ll risk having to pay the fee again next year. The fee for people who don’t have coverage increases in 2015 to $325 per person or 2% of your household income – whichever is greater.

Don’t miss out on potential savings: 8 out of 10 people can find coverage for $100 or less a month with tax credits through the Marketplace.

We hope you take advantage of this extended opportunity to get quality coverage this year.

The HealthCare.gov Team

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Boston bombing survivors struggle with medical and emotional recovery

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Map of BostonBy Martha Bebinger, WBUR

It’s just the crumb of a muffin but Martha Galvis must pick it up. Lips clenched, eyes narrowed, she goes after the morsel, pushing it back and forth, then in circles, across a slick table top.

“I struggle and struggle until,” Galvis pauses, concentrating all her attention on the thumb and middle finger of her left hand. She can’t get them to close. “I try as much as I can. And if I do it I’m so happy, so happy,” she says, giggling.

Martha Galvis has undergone 16 surgeries for her hand, which was injured in the Boston Marathon bombing. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Martha Galvis has undergone 16 surgeries for her hand, which was injured in the Boston Marathon bombing. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Galvis, 62, has just finished a session of physical therapy at Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital where she goes twice a week.She’s learning to use a hand doctors are still reconstructing.

It’s been two years since she almost lost it.

On April 15th, 2013 Martha and her husband Alvaro Galvis headed for three spots from which they’d enjoy the race and boisterous crowd. Their last stop would be at or near the finish line.

Watching the marathon was a ritual that began in the mid 1970s when the Galvises, who are both from Columbia, met in Boston. Their three children grew up with the marathon as family holiday. The Galvises planned to continue the annual event after retirement.

“But not anymore,” says Martha Galvis, waving both hands in front of her face. “I don’t feel secure to do this.” Continue reading

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Lead-warning for children’s herbal cold and flu remedy from China

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From the Washington Department of Health

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has sent out an alert regarding Bo-Ying Compound after traces of lead were found in the product. Bo-Ying Compound is used to treat a wide variety of conditions in infants and children.

boying (1)

The Washington State Department of Health received an alert regarding lead found in Bo-Ying Compound manufactured by Eu Yan Sang (Hong Kong).

This product is also manufactured by other companies and may also contain lead so people are urged not to use any Bo-Ying Compound products. Continue reading

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Heart on a chip

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University of California, Berkeley researchers, led by bioengineering professor Kevin Healy, have been able to test heart drugs on human cardiac muscle cells housed in an inch-long silicone device.

The video shows cardiac muscle cells before and after exposure to isoproterenol, a drug used to treat certain heart ailments, including bradycardia (slow heart rate). It’s clear that the cells beat faster after 30 minutes of exposure to isoproterenol.The study’s lead author is Anurag Mathur.

The project is funded through the Tissue Chip for Drug Screening initiative, an interagency collaboration launched by the National Institutes of Health to develop 3-D human tissue chips that model the structure and function of human organs.

“Ultimately, these chips could replace the use of animals to screen drugs for safety,” said Healy.

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One day left. Avoid the tax penalty and get covered!

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HCGOV Marketplace Header

The Tax Deadline and Your Coverage

April 15 is the deadline to file your taxes. There is only 1 day left!

If you owe a fee on your taxes for not having health coverage in 2014 and don’t yet have health coverage for 2015, you may still be able to get covered for 2015. The Health Insurance Marketplace is providing individuals and families who need to pay the fee when they file their 2014 taxes with one last chance to get covered for 2015.

This is too important to put off. If you don’t have coverage for the remainder of 2015 you’ll risk having to pay the fee again next year. The fee for people who don’t have coverage increases in 2015 to $325 per person or 2% of your household income – whichever is greater.

hcgov get coverage with arrow


Don’t miss out on potential savings:  Millions of people have already signed up, and 8 out of 10 can find coverage for $100 or less a month with tax credits through the Marketplace.

We hope you take advantage of this extended opportunity to get quality coverage this year.

The HealthCare.gov Team

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Safety advocate sees ‘hope and hype’ In digital revolution

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"Robert Wachter, MD"By Michelle Andrews
KHN

Dr. Robert Wachter is a long-time patient safety advocate who has written extensively about the trends affecting quality and safety in health care.

Wachter, associate chair of the University of California-San Francisco department of medicine, years ago coined the term “hospitalist” and predicted the rise of that profession.

In his new book, “The Digital Doctor: Hope, Hype and Harm at the Dawn of Medicine’s Computer Age,” he turns his attention to technology in health care, and the risks and rewards as we digitize everything from medical records to office visits.

We talked recently about his new book. This is an edited and condensed version of that conversation.’

Q. As I read your book I couldn’t help thinking about the elderly. Many older people aren’t tech savvy. They’re intimidated by looking up information on computers, sending email to their doctors and the like. They’re also bigger health care users than many younger people. What needs to be done to help them get and stay engaged as technology advances?

Photo: Dr. Robert Wachter by Susan Merrell/UCSF)

Continue reading

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Narcotic Painkillers in Pregnancy Common, Harmful to Baby: Study – WebMD

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Blue Pregnant BellyUse of prescription narcotic painkillers is common in pregnancy and increases the likelihood a baby will be born small or early, or go through painful drug withdrawal, a new study finds.

These prescription painkillers, also called opioids, include drugs such as hydrocodone (Vicodin), oxycodone (Oxycontin), codeine and morphine.

Nearly 30 percent of the Tennessee mothers-to-be in the new study used at least one of these drugs while pregnant, and the associated risks went up if they also smoked or took antidepressants.

via Narcotic Painkillers in Pregnancy Common, Harmful to Baby: Study – WebMD.

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Diabetes testing in symptomless adults may not lower risk of death | Reuters

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GlucometerExpanding diabetes screening in adults to catch the disease early does not appear to keep people from dying of cardiovascular causes, according to a report designed to help shape U.S. treatment guidelines.

Earlier detection did seem to slow the progression of so-called prediabetes to full-blown diabetes, but it had no impact on the risk of death from heart or blood vessel disease 10 years later, researchers found when they analyzed studies conducted from 2007 to 2014.

via Diabetes testing in symptomless adults may not lower risk of death | Reuters.

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U.S. prescription drug spending rose 13 percent in 2014: IMS report | Reuters

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Twenty-dollar bill in a pill bottleU.S. spending on prescription medicines jumped 13 percent to $374 billion in 2014, the biggest percentage increase since 2001, as demand surged for expensive new breakthrough hepatitis C treatments, a report released on Tuesday showed.

Demand for newer cancer and multiple sclerosis treatments, price increases on branded medicines, particularly insulin products for diabetes, and the entry of few new generic versions of big-selling drugs also contributed to the double-digit spending rise in 2014, the report by IMS Health Holdings Inc found.

via U.S. prescription drug spending rose 13 percent in 2014: IMS report | Reuters.

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Most Common Drug Ingredient in the US Kills Emotions

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Three red and white capsulesCommonly found in pain relievers, acetaminophen gets rid of more than just physical agony – it also diminishes emotions.

“Rather than just being a pain reliever, acetaminophen can be seen as an all-purpose emotion reliever,” lead researcher said in a news release.

via Most Common Drug Ingredient in the US Kills Emotions.

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