Briefly Noted May 2018

Insurers should provide electronic claims data to customers as a way to help CMS improve health care inter­operability, Healthcare Finance reports. AHIP CEO Marilyn Tavenner says she fully backs CMS Administrator Seema Verma’s goal. “I totally agree patients should have access,” said Tavenner, who is retiring in June…. Emergency department visits for opioid overdoses rose 30% from July 2016 to September 2017, says the CDC. The Midwest saw the largest increase at 69.7%, but all demographic regions saw increases. There were some pockets of improvement, with decreases in emergency department visits noted in Kentucky and West Virginia that “were unanticipated and might foreshadow changes in opioid overdose death trends in 2017. The significant decreases in Kentucky might be explained by fluctuations in drug supply and warrant confirmation.” The study was published in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report…. One way to improve employees’ well being and morale is to allow them to take time off to participate in volunteer projects, reports the Society for Human Resource Management. Workers at Ervin & Smith, a digital marketing company in Omaha, Neb., get a day off per quarter for volunteer or professional development activities. “Some employees spend time working with community projects such as Big Brothers Big Sisters or at food banks. Other employees volunteer time at Omaha’s Children’s Hospital & Medical Center to support families who have infants in the neonatal intensive care unit”…. Providers should regularly screen patients for heavy drinking and try to intervene and treat them when necessary as a way of battling dementia, according to a study in Lancet Public Health. “Alcohol use disorders were a major risk factor for onset of all types of dementia, and especially early-onset dementia,” according to researchers…. More than a third of veterans who haven’t visited veterans health care facilities aren’t aware of VA health benefits, now-former VA Secretary David J. Shulkin pointed out. His remarks came as the VA launched Concierge for Care, a health care enrollment program that reaches out to former service members shortly after they are discharged. According to the VA press release, the goal is to make contact with them within a month of discharge…. The NBA and the National Basketball Players Association have teamed up to develop a mental health wellness program that will help players get treatment and counseling, according to Bleacher Report. As part of that effort, the organizations are looking to hire a director of mental health and wellness to run the program…. Beware of those so-called skinny plans, experts are warning consumers. Such limited benefit packages can be purchased for as little as $93 a month, Kaiser Health News reports. But experts question whether the plans exempt policyholders from the ACA’s tax penalty for not having qualified coverage, defined as a policy from an employer, a government program, or a licensed product purchased on the individual market, says KHN…. Physicians need wellness programs as much as anyone else, and that seems to be the idea behind the launch of such a program by the Central Oregon Medical Society, reports KTVZ in Bend, Ore. It’s difficult for doctors to achieve a work–life balance, but society officials hope that its Oregon Wellness Program will help alleviate physician stress and burnout. Archie Bleyer, MD, an oncologist and director of clinical research at St. Charles Medical Center, in Bend, explained just why such a program is needed. “I’ve been in the practice of medicine for 53 years, and in the first year I lost a fellow medical student to suicide. And every year since then, although I may not have known the individual, I have been in the vicinity of someone else who has either taken their life or quit medicine or become addicted to a substance they couldn’t overcome”…. Apple is seeking physicians, health coaches, and designers to develop a healthy living program that will be part of what’s offered at two primary care clinics it plans to open in Santa Clara County, Calif., reports CNBC. The clinics, to be called AC Wellness, will be open to employees and their families. “Sources said the company will leverage its medical clinics as a way to test its growing range of health services and products, which it is starting to roll out to consumers at large,” according to Christina Farr, who covers tech-meets-health issues for CNBC. This news comes after Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and J.P. Morgan announced a joint effort to improve health care for their employees…. In adults aged 18 to 85, the prevalence of hypertension rose from 34.5% to 36.7% across 10 safety net centers in several states after clinical decision support algorithms associated with hypertension were programmed into EHRs, according to a study in the Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety…. High levels of cardiovascular fitness are associated with better white matter fiber integrity, which is, in turn, associated with better executive function among patients with mild cognitive impairment, according to a study in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. This finding adds to the small mountain of evidence linking physical activity to mental fitness…. Terminally ill residents in California’s eight veterans homes cannot be given drugs to end their lives even though the state’s voters two years ago passed a law allowing other patients in the same situation to do just that, Kaiser Health News reports. “Proponents of medical aid-in-dying and residents of the Veterans Home of California–Yountville, the largest in the nation, are protesting a regulation passed last year by the California Department of Veterans Affairs, or CalVet, that requires that anyone living in the facilities must be discharged if they intend to use the law”…. CMS says Medicaid can pick up the bill for newborns in West Virginia undergoing drug withdrawal, the Associated Press reports. The state has the highest rate of babies born dependent on drugs and is the first state to be given approval by CMS to use Medicaid to help the infants…. Readmission rates for patients who received home health care were 10 percentage points lower than for those who did not get home health care services, according to Home Health Care News. However, home health care doesn’t seem to get the respect it deserves. “There are several reasons regulators and lawmakers think home health can get by with less, but overcoming stigmas about the industry and thinking like an economist can help boost home health’s reputation,” says the trade news outlet…. Companies that spend at least $1 million a year on on-site employee clinics will be exempt from Maryland’s paid sick leave law in a bill under consideration by the Maryland Legislature. The Herald-Mail of Hagerstown, Md., reported that State Delegate William J. Wivell told a lower house committee that the result will be healthier state employees. “Imagine the positive outcome of such an exemption. Maryland could possibly create one of the healthiest employee workforces in the nation”…. If Amazon has its way, it would be the main supplier of everything from gauze tape to syringes to catheters. The Wall Street Journal reports that the giant online retailer has ambitions to be the major supplier of medical equipment to hospitals. “Amazon recently dispatched employees to a large Midwestern hospital system, where hospital officials are testing whether they can use Amazon Business to order health-care supplies for the hospital system’s roughly 150 outpatient facilities, according to a hospital official overseeing the efforts,” the newspaper reports…. The Medicare Payment Advisory Commission advised Congress to cut reimbursement rates for skilled nursing facilities. According to Skilled Nursing News, MedPAC called on Congress to “scrap the Medicare market basket rate increases for fiscal years 2019 and 2020—which would amount to 2% and 2.1%, respectively—then work toward developing a new prospective payment system for SNFs in 2019.”…. A law designed to make it easier to fire employees of the Department of Veterans Affairs, in part because of recent scandals about service, seems to be affecting lower-level workers—and leaving the higher-ups untouched for the most part, reports ProPublica. The law was passed last June, and firings for the second half of 2017 rose 60%. The VA removed 1,704 of its 370,000 employees. In practice, the new law is overwhelmingly being used against the rank and file. “Since it took effect, the VA has fired four senior leaders. The other 1,700 terminated people were low-level staffers with titles such as housekeeper (133 lost their jobs), nursing assistant (101 ousted) and food-­service workers (59 terminated),” ProPublica reported, citing data released by the VA…. Employers lose almost $200 billion a year because of mental health issues, according to Kevin Fischer, executive director of the Michigan Chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness and as reported by the Detroit Free Press. One of the reasons is that stigma still doggedly adheres to mental health problems. Fischer tells the Free Press: “There are companies I have talked to who simply don’t want to acknowledge mental illness. Some companies hold employee health fairs and refuse to include talk of mental wellness”…. After decades of complaints and lawsuits over subpar health care in jails, the Los Angeles County Department of Health has begun an ambitious effort to improve health care for jail inmates, reports California HealthLine. “The innovative effort at one of the nation’s biggest jail systems is based on a logical premise: Inmates don’t stay in jail for long—the average stay is just 60 days—so it’s a crucial opportunity to diagnose and begin treating their diseases.” The story featured Michael Callahan, a 43-year-old carpenter whose diabetes and blood pressure were better managed after three months in jail: “Callahan’s situation is counterintuitive: He may end up leaving jail healthier than when he arrived.”

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