Wednesday, April 23, 2014

High turnover not unusual in individual health insurance market

Last October, as enrollment for the Affordable Care Act got underway, I wrote about some Charlotte-area consumers who were surprised to learn their individual health insurance policies were being cancelled because they did not meet the minimum requirements under the new federal law.

A political firestorm erupted as others across the country experienced similar problems and complained that President Barack Obama lied when he had promised Americans could keep their insurance policies if they liked them.

A new study in the journal Health Affairs reviewed that phenomenon and provides more context about patterns in the individual insurance market.

First, the study found this market has been characterized by high turnover before the Affordable Care Act took effect in January 2014. It found that only 42 percent of Americans who have non-group coverage retain that coverage after a year.

Another finding: 80 percent of those who leave non-group coverage end up with different health insurance within 12 months, most commonly through employer-provided coverage. 

The author concluded: "Given estimates from 2012 that 10.8 million people were covered in this market, these results suggest that 6.2 million people leave non-group coverage annually. This suggests that the non-group market was characterized by frequent disruptions in coverage before the ACA and that the effects of the recent cancellations are not necessarily out of the norm."

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Who decides what procedures are unnecessary?

Americans love lists. But we should pay attention to who's making the list.
As Kaiser Health News reported, when America’s joint surgeons were challenged to come up with a list of unnecessary procedures in their field, their selections shared one thing: none significantly affected their incomes.
The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons discouraged patients with joint pain from taking two types of dietary supplements, wearing custom shoe inserts or overusing wrist splints after carpal tunnel surgery. The surgeons also condemned an infrequently performed procedure where doctors wash a pained knee joint with saline. 
Kaiser Health News reported: "They could have chosen many surgical procedures that are commonly done, where evidence has shown over the years that they don't work or where they're being done with no evidence," said Dr. James Rickert, an assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at Indiana University. "They chose stuff of no material consequence that nobody really does."
Read the entire story here.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Charlotte-area doctors named to medical board

Dr. Timothy Lietz, a Charlotte emergency medicine specialist, and Dr. Debra Bolick, a Hickory psychiatrist, have been named to the North Carolina Medical Board, the state agency that licenses doctors and regulates the practice of medicine.


Lietz works at Mid-Atlantic Emergency Medical Associates in Charlotte and is chairman of the Department of Emergency Medicine for Novant Health Matthews Medical Center. He earned his medical degree from Ohio State University and completed internship and residency at Eastern Virginia Medical School.

Bolick is acting section chief of outpatient mental health for the Hickory and Winston-Salem Community-Based Outpatient Clinics and is on the medical staff of the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Salisbury. She earned her medical degree with the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver, and completed internship and residency training in psychiatry at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Two other new board members are Dr. Barbara Walker, a retired family physician from Kure Beach, and Wayne Holloman of Greenville, who owns Holloman Properties and Investments and formerly owned Holloman Apparel. He is one of three non-physician and non-nurse board members.

Each member serves a three-year term.

The other Charlotte-area physician on the 12-member board is President-Elect Dr. Cheryl Walker-McGill of Gastonia. Here's a link to read more.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Charlotte cancer patients can get free and reduced-cost lodging

Charlotte and Durham are among the U.S. cities where cancer patients can now benefit from a partnership between the American Cancer Society and Extended Stay America hotel chain.

Patients can get free or low-cost lodging while they're receiving cancer treatment away from home.

The American Cancer Society launched the program in Atlanta, Boston and Houston last October, and it has now expanded to 10 more, including Charlotte and Durham. The program will soon go nationwide.

Since October, the society has booked nearly 2,900 rooms serving 567 patients. Over two years, Extended Stay America has promised to provide 40,000 hotel stays to cancer patients, including 20,000 free rooms and 20,000 stays for $12 a night.

To request a room, call the American Cancer Society, 800-227-2345.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Open house planned for Wingate University's new physical therapy program

Last month, Wingate University launched a new three-year doctoral degree program in physical therapy with 42 students enrolled. 

The program is having an open house Friday, Feb. 21, from 1 to 3 p.m. on the Wingate campus. 
Applications are now open through May 2014 for the class entering in Jan. 2015. 

Physical therapist ranks number eight in U.S. News and World Report’s list of 100 Best Jobs. Wingate also offers doctorates in pharmacy, physical therapy and education. For more information:

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Researchers on Gulf War illness seek veterans

Researchers at East Carolina University will spend another year studying the causes of Gulf War illness and medicines that might be able to treat it.

Forty veterans from North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia who developed Gulf War illness have participated in the East Carolina study so far. But study leader, Dr. William Meggs, a medical toxicologist and professor of emergency medicine at the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University, hopes to recruit another 20. 

Gulf War illness is the name given to the chronic fatigue, chronic pain and difficulty with mental tasks suffered by some who served in the 1991 Gulf War and its aftermath. It affects almost one-third, or about 250,000, of the veterans who served, according to the National Institute of Medicine.

The $1.1 million study, funded by the Department of Defense, is researching the effectiveness of generic drugs that control inflammation in the brain that may have been triggered by neurotoxin exposures. 

Immediately after the war, Gulf War illness was attributed to post traumatic stress disorder. Others claimed that it was a psychological illness. The Department of Veterans Affairs founded a research advisory committee, including Meggs, to direct research efforts in the disease.

Research has shown that exposure to neurotoxic chemicals is most strongly associated with development of Gulf War illness. Those serving in the Gulf War had exposures to sarin nerve gas from Scud missiles and demolition of ammunition dumps containing sarin. Neurotoxic insecticides related to sarin were used to spray tents to control sand fleas. Troops also received a drug to prevent sarin from binding irreversibly at nerve junctions but that has similar toxicities. Soldiers were also exposed to smoke from oil well fires in Kuwait, depleted uranium, multiple vaccinations and oil sprayed on the sand in camps to reduce sand dust.

Gulf War veterans interested in knowing more about the study may contact Allison Mainhart at 252-744-5568.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Young, unvaccinated adults account for severest flu cases in North Carolina, Duke study shows

A review of the first 55 patients treated for flu at Duke University Hospital in Durham from November through Jan. 8 shows that only two of the 22 patients who required intensive care had been vaccinated prior to getting sick.
The  findings were published online in the American Journal of Respiratory  and Critical Care Medicine.

“Our  observations are important because they reinforce a growing body of evidence that the influenza vaccine provides protection from severe illness requiring  hospitalizations,” said the lead author, Dr. Cameron Wolfe, assistant professor of  medicine at Duke.

“The public health implications are important, because not only could a potentially deadly infection be avoided with a $30 shot, but costly hospitalizations could also be reduced.”

Wolfe  said this year’s flu season was marked by hospitalizations of previously healthy young people with a median age of 28.5 years. Of the 55 patients hospitalized at Duke, 48 were infected with the H1N1 virus, the so-called swine flu virus that caused the 2009 pandemic. That outbreak also hit young adults particularly  hard.

Of  33 patients admitted to regular wards rather than the ICU, only 11 had been vaccinated. Most of those were chronically ill or had weakened immune systems for other reasons, or were taking medicines that weakened the  vaccine’s protection.

The study also highlighted problems with the rapid test for influenza. Wolfe said 22 of the patients treated at Duke had been given a rapid influenza test that came up negative even though other tests showed they did have the flu. As a result, the patients had not received anti-viral medicines that might have eased flu symptoms if taken shortly after the onset of symptoms.

“...Our observations support previous findings that vaccination reduces the severity of disease and should be encouraged as recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and  Prevention,” Wolfe said.

To  read the article in full,