Ending subsidies, water sector graft key for global development – UN – TRFN | Energy & Oil | Reuters

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rain-dropsA crackdown on corruption in the water sector and increasing investment in infrastructure are essential to avoid conflicts over water, “life’s most vital resource”, a United Nations University report said on Tuesday.

Population growth, economic insecurity, corruption and climate change threaten the stability and the very existence of some nations, the report said.

via Ending subsidies, water sector graft key for global development – UN – TRFN | Energy & Oil | Reuters.

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Trying to quit smoking? There’s an app for that.

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smartquitThe state Department of Health is offering a smartphone app to help Washingtonians kick their tobacco habits, and the first 1,900 app downloads are free.

SmartQuit follows a unique program created at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center to help people become tobacco-free.

A study conducted by the Seattle cancer research center found that SmartQuit users were two-to-three times more likely to kick their nicotine addiction than those who tried to quit on their own.

The first 1,900 app downloads are free.

The program’s strategy is to teach participants to accept and master their cravings, rather than ignore or replace those urges.

“Quitting tobacco is one of the best things a person can do for their health,” said Joella Pyatt, cessation coordinator at the Department of Health, “and we want to give people the tools they need to succeed. Tobacco related illnesses are still one of the top killers in our state.”

The agency is offering 1,900 free downloads through funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

People must complete an online survey before receiving a code that provides access to a version of the app that is unique to the state health department.

The app can be purchased for $49.99 after the free codes are given out, and will be available in the iTunes and Android app stores.

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Attention, shoppers: Prices for 70 health care procedures now online!

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By Jay Hancock
KNH

Buying health care in America is like shopping blindfolded at Macy’s and getting the bill months after you leave the store, economist Uwe Reinhardt likes to say.

A tool that went online Wednesday is supposed to give patients a small peek at the products and prices before they open their wallets.

Got a sore knee? Having a baby? Need a primary-care doctor? Shopping for an MRI scan?

Guroo.com shows the average local cost for 70 common diagnoses and medical tests in most states. That’s the real cost — not “charges” that often get marked down — based on a giant database of what insurance companies actually pay.

OK, this isn’t like Priceline.com for knee replacements. What Guroo hopes to do for consumers is limited so far.

Guroo.com Demo from Health Care Cost Institute on Vimeo.

It won’t reflect costs for particular hospitals or doctors, although officials say that’s coming for some. And it doesn’t have much to say initially about the quality of care.

Still, Guroo should shed new light on the country’s opaque, complex and maddening medical bazaar, say consumer advocates.

“This has the potential to be a game-changer,” said Katherine Hempstead, who analyzes health insurance for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “It’s good for uninsured people. It’s good for people with high deductibles. It’s good for any person that’s kind of wondering: If I go to see the doctor for such-and-such, what might happen next?” Continue reading

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Health news headlines – February 26, 2015

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Global health news – February 26, 2015

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New Mexico’s nurse hotline touted as a model for other states

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red-telephoneBy Christine Vestal
Stateline

If your infant has a high fever or you’re experiencing an unusual pain in your abdomen and you live in New Mexico, you may want to call the NurseAdvice line before you do anything else.

New Mexico is the only state with a 24/7 registered nurse call center that is free to all residents, whether insured or not. In operation since 2006, it has kept tens of thousands of New Mexicans out of emergency rooms and saved the state more than $68 million in health care expenses.

It has provided a basic form of health care to thousands of uninsured people who have no other access to care. It also has relieved demand on doctors and hospitals in a sparsely populated state where all but a few counties have a severe shortage of health care providers.

On top of that, the statewide call center has generated real-time public health data that has served as an early warning system during epidemics and natural disasters.

In April, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will recommend New Mexico’s advice line as a national model that other states adopt during an emergency preparedness summit in Atlanta. Continue reading

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Your insurance questions answered

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Share your story flat illustrationBy Michelle Andrews
KHN

May I Move My Son From My Insurance Plan To A Better Option On The Marketplace?

Some readers want to figure out how to become eligible for coverage on the health insurance marketplaces, while others want to figure out how to avoid it.

This week I answered questions from both.

I am covered by my employer’s health plan, but I’m not happy with it. My son is 21 and currently covered under my plan. While I realize that I am not eligible for Obamacare, I am curious if I can terminate my son’s policy so that he might be eligible.   Continue reading

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How much does it cost?

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A new website, www.guroo.com, allows you to find out how much care for common conditions will cost. The site provides local, state and national average charges for these conditions. The site was created by the Health Care Cost Institute (HCCI), an independent, non-partisan, non-profit organization that promotes research and analysis on the causes of rising US health spending.

Guroo.com Demo from Health Care Cost Institute on Vimeo.

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Fancy hospital flourishes don’t impress patients, study

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(Photo courtesy of Johns Hopkins Medicine)

By Jordan Rau
KHN

The sleek hospital tower that Johns Hopkins Medicine built in 2012 has the frills of a luxury hotel, including a meditation garden, 500 works of art, free wi-fi and a library of books, games and audio.

As Dr. Zishan Siddiqui watched patients and some fellow physicians in Baltimore move from their decades-old building into the Sheikh Zayed Tower, the internist saw a rare opportunity to test a widespread assumption in the hospital industry: that patients rate their care more highly when it is given in a nicer place.

For decades, hospital executives across the country have justified expensive renovation and expansion projects by saying they will lead to better patient reviews and recommendations. One study estimated $200 billion might have been spent over a decade on new building.

Hopkins’ construction of the tower and a new children’s hospital cost $1.1 billion. Patient judgments have become even more important to hospitals since Medicare started publishing ratings and basing some of its pay on surveys patients fill out after they have left the hospital.

Siddiqui’s study, published this month by the Journal of Hospital Medicine, contradicts the presumption that better facilities translate into better patient reviews. Siddiqui examined how patient satisfaction scores changed when doctors started practicing in the new tower, which has 355 beds and units for neurology, cardiology, radiology, labor and delivery and other specialties.

Siddiqui discovered that for the most part, patients’ assessments of the quality of the clinical care they received did not improve any more than they did for patients treated in the older Hopkins building, which had remained open. Units there were constructed as early as 1913 and as late as 1980, Hopkins officials said. They functioned as the control group in the study, since a hospital’s satisfaction scores often change over time even when a hospital’s physical environment remains constant. Continue reading

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States strive to keep Medicaid patients out of ERs

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Sign for an emergency room.By Michael Ollove
Stateline

Nearly half the states use higher copayments to dissuade Medicaid recipients from unnecessary visits to emergency rooms, where care is more costly.

These states require patients to make the payments, which are as high as $30 per visit in Oklahoma, when it is later determined that they did not experience a true medical emergency.

But at least one multistate study has found that charging higher copayments does not reduce emergency department (ED) use by Medicaid recipients.

One reason might be that copays are hard to enforce, since EDs are legally obligated to examine anyone who walks through the doors, whether or not they can pay.

ED doctors and others in health policy also criticize copays as potentially dangerous, since they may lead people to think twice about seeking emergency care when they really need it.

Washington state and some Medicaid managed care plans around the country are trying a different approach. Instead of using financial disincentives, they are trying to keep frequent users out of the emergency department (practitioners prefer the name “emergency department” to “emergency room”) by enrolling them in primary care practices, scheduling appointments for them and, in some cases, making sure they get to the doctor’s office on time. The hope is that giving people comprehensive health care will make many ED trips unnecessary.

Reliable data are still sparse, but the early signs are encouraging: Washington state reported that a year after implementing its program, emergency room visits by Medicaid beneficiaries had declined by nearly 10 percent. Among frequent ED users, the drop was slightly greater. Continue reading

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Health news headlines – February 24, 2015

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Boy gets shot vaccine injection

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Global health news – February 24, 2015

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Seattle Children’s and Mayo Clinic team to slash genetic testing costs – Puget Sound Business Journal

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Seattle Children's Whale LogoSeattle Children’s hospital and Mayo Medical Laboratories are creating a partnership to develop ways for children’s hospitals around the country to decrease costs and errors that come from unnecessary lab testing.

via Seattle Children’s and Mayo Clinic team to slash genetic testing costs – Puget Sound Business Journal.

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Few seniors benefiting from Medicare obesity counseling

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ScaleBy Sarah Varney
KHN

VISALIA, Calif. — In the farming town of Exeter, deep in California’s Central Valley, Anne Roberson walks a quarter mile down the road each day to her mailbox. Her walk and housekeeping chores are the 68-year-old’s only exercise, and her weight has remained stubbornly over 200 pounds for some time now.

“You get to a certain point in your life and you say, ‘What’s the use?’”

For older adults, being mildly overweight causes little harm, physicians say. But too much weight is especially hazardous for an aging body: Obesity increases inflammation, exacerbates bone and muscle loss and significantly raises the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.

Dr. Mylene Middleton Rucker, a primary care physician in Visalia, Calif., is using the new obesity counseling benefit with her patients, but many doctors aren’t aware of it yet. (Sarah Varney/KHN)

Dr. Mylene Middleton Rucker, a primary care physician in Visalia, Calif., is using the new obesity counseling benefit with her patients, but many doctors aren’t aware of it yet. (Sarah Varney/KHN)

To help the 13 million obese seniors in the U.S., the Affordable Care Act included a new Medicare benefit offering face-to-face weight-loss counseling in primary care doctors’ offices.

Doctors are paid to provide the service, which is free to obese patients , with no co-pay. But only 50,000 seniors participated in 2013, the latest year for which data is available.

“We think it’s the perfect storm of several factors,” says Dr. Scott Kahan, an obesity medicine specialist at George Washington University.

Kahan says obese patients and doctors aren’t aware of the benefit, and doctors who want to intervene are often reluctant to do so. It’s a touchy subject to bring up, and some hold outmoded beliefs about weight problems and the elderly. Continue reading

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Health news headlines – February 23, 2015

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