Saturday, November 28, 2015

Medicaid expansion hasn't produced the jobs that Beshear has claimed; here are the best numbers available

Kentucky's expansion of the federal-state Medciaid program under federal health reform has not produced the jobs outgoing Gov. Steve Beshear says it has, Chris Otts reports for WDRB-TV in Louisville.

Beshear often says the expansion has added 12,000 health-care jobs, but he cites a state-funded study, not actual numbers reported by federal agencies, which are lower. "Monthly government data show Kentucky’s 'health care and social assistance' sector has picked up – gaining nearly 10,000 jobs since the Medicaid expansion started in January 2014 through October 2015," Otts writes. "But that’s still short of the 15,509 jobs predicted by the model in 2015."

The 12,000 number is a projection generated by an economic model that is too simplistic for such a complicated move as Medicaid expansion, a leading University of Kentucky economist told Otts. “Which one would you believe?” Ken Troske asked. “I know which one I’d believe.”

The figures cited by Otts come from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, which reports jobs figures monthly, to the nearest 100. Its data show that when "social assistance" is removed from the health jobs category, the state has gained 6,800 jobs since January 2014. Almost all of that gain had been in ambulatory-care facilities, such as clinics, and residential facilities such as nursing homes.

Hospitals have 1,200 more jobs than they had in January 2014 but 200 less than December 2013, the month before the expansion began. Hospitals have said generally that they have been helped by the expansion, but hurt by another aspect of federal health reform -- cuts in Medicare payments -- and the Medicaid managed-care system that the state began four years ago.

Hospitals' poorer fortunes are illustrates by two charts prepared by University of Louisville economist Paul Coomes, one using BLS data that show hospitals losing jobs while other heath-care providers gained after the expansion, and recent, slight reversal of both trends. The other, using federal Bureau of Economic Analysis data, show how Medicare payments to Kentucky have remained relatively flat while Medicaid payments jumped after the expansion (labeled ACA).

Friday, November 27, 2015

Lisa Cassis, vice president for research at UK and a pharmacist by trade, says she became a researcher to help people

University of Kentucky Vice President for Research Lisa Cassis's motivation to conduct meaningful cardiovascular research comes from having watched her father battle heart disease for nearly 30 years, a UK news release and video say.

“You don’t go into it for the money, you go into it because you want to help people,” Cassis said in the latest edition of "See discovery: The People Behind Our Research," a UK video series that highlights the stories of the university's researchers and what motivates them.

Cassis's father suffered his first heart attack at age 51, went through three open heart surgeries, and was able to live until age 80 by managing his diet. However, Cassis says his lipid problems kept coming back no matter what he did.

“I wanted to know why we aren’t able to help someone like him,” she said.

With more than 26 years at UK, Cassis has made many important discoveries in cardiovascular research, including a link between obesity and health problems like high blood pressure. More recently, she is studying sex chromosomes and their role in aneurysms, which is an enlargement of an artery caused by a weakening of the artery wall.

“Females are less likely to get aneurysms than men, and I’m trying to figure out why that is,” she said.

Thus far, Cassis's findings suggest that the introduction of male sex chromosomes in biological females could raise the risk of aneurysm, which she said may have a broader impact than she initially considered.

“We’ve become more aware in this country of gender and gender identity,” said Cassis. “From my perspective, as a cardiovascular researcher, the process of seeking one’s gender is taking certain types of sex hormones to promote the outcome that you would like for that gender. My concern is how that therapy will influence that person’s cardiovascular health.”

Cassis said she just wants to improve lives by doing what she loves most.

“I love trying to come up with a question and design an approach to tackle the question,” she said.

Cassis earned a bachelor's degree in pharmacy and a Ph.D. in pharmacology from West Virginia University. She joined UK in 1988, and is a faculty member in the Department of Pharmacology and Nutritional Sciences, the Saha Cardiovascular Research Center, the Graduate Center for Toxicology, the Barnstable Brown Diabetes and Obesity Center, and the College of Pharmacy.

Research within the Cassis laboratory has been continuously supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health, contributing to more than 130 scholarly publications. She has mentored many scientists, been the recipient of national and local research awards, and served for 10 years as program director of an NIH Training Grant in Nutritional Sciences.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Consumers complain about high deductibles on Obamacare plans; advocates note mitigating factors and say to keep shopping

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

Many consumers of health insurance under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act are finding that it's not as affordable as the name implies -- not because of the premiums, but due to the "sky-high" deductibles that leave many feeling like they don't have health insurance at all, Robert Pear writes for The New York Times.

“The deductible, $3,000 a year, makes it impossible to actually go to the doctor,” David Reines, a former New Jersey hardware salesman with chronic knee pain, told Pear. “We have insurance, but can’t afford to use it.”

Pear reports, "In many states, more than half the plans offered for sale through, the federal online marketplace, have a deductible of $3,000 or more, a New York Times review has found." The lower the premiums, the higher the deductibles.

Kentuckians also struggle with high deductibles, based on a look at plans offered on Kynect, Kentucky's health insurance marketplace. Kentucky Health News examined what it would cost a one-parent, one-child family in Scott County.

The least expensive premium for this family on Kynect is the CareSource "bronze" plan at $254 per month, but this plan also has the highest deductibles at $6,650 per person and $13,300 per group.

The lowest deductible for this family is the Humana "platinum" plan at $500 per person and $1,000 per group, but this plan's premium was also one of the most expensive at $532.98 per month.

Two steps below the platinum plan are the "silver" plans, which are the most popular by far on the Obamacare exchanges. Deductibles for the silver plans available to our sample family ranged from $2,000 to $3,700 per person and $4,000 to $7,500 per group.

Deductibles for the bronze plans, which have the lowest premiums, ranged from $4,400 to $6,650 per person and $8.800 to $13,300 per group.

Other costs to consider when looking at the affordability of a plan are its co-payments, co-insurance and out-of-pocket maximums.

"Those deductibles are causing concern among Democrats — and some Republican detractors of the health law, who once pushed high-deductible health plans in the belief that consumers would be more cost-conscious if they had more of a financial stake or skin in the game," Pear writes.

While the shift to cost-sharing through higher deductibles has become the norm, an analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that fewer than half of all households above the poverty level have enough assets to cover an out-of-pocket maximum of $3,000 to $6,000, which is considered mid-range. The highest out-of-pocket maximum for 2016, as set by the health-reform law, is $6,850, according to Kaiser Health News.

While the report from HHS said, "Eight out of 10 returning consumers will be able to buy a plan with premiums less than $100 a month after tax credits, and about seven out of 10 will have a plan available for less than $75 a month," several consumers complained to Pear that the high deductibles make the plans unaffordable.

“Our deductible is so high, we practically pay for all of our medical expenses out of pocket,” said Wendy Kaplan, 50, of Evanston, Ill., whose family of four pays premiums of $1,200 a month, with an annual deductible of $12,700, “So our policy is really there for emergencies only, and basic wellness appointments.”

There are mitigating factors, Pear reports, health officials and insurance counselors cite several. All plans must cover preventive services without a deductible or co-payment; some plans help pay for some items before patients meet their deductible; there is an overall limit on out-of-pocket costs; and there are discounts available for those with particularly low incomes.

And for those who say their deductibles are too high, Dave Chandra, a policy analyst at the liberal-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, told Pear, “Everyone should come back to the marketplace and shop. You may get a better deal.”

But Pear writes that the deductibles are so high they may be scaring away some consumers, especially the young, healthy consumers that would help bring the premiums down for everyone.

Alexis C. Phillips, 29, of Houston, is one of those who told Pear, “The deductibles are ridiculously high. I will never be able to go over the deductible unless something catastrophic happened to me. I’m better off not purchasing that insurance and saving the money in case something bad happens.”

The penalty for not having health insurance in 2016 is $695 or 2.5 percent of household income, whichever is greater.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Kentucky's rate of workplace injuries and illnesses in 2014 was the lowest in history, but still above the national average

Safety is part of health, broadly defined, and Kentucky's 2014 workplace injury and illness rate is the lowest it has ever been since the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics began recording the data in 1996, according to a Kentucky Labor Cabinet news release. However, it remains well above the national average.

Kentucky had 3.8 injuries or illnesses per 100 equivalent full-time workers, down from 4.2 percent in 2012. The national average is 3.2 percent In 2014, Kentucky reported 15,650 non-fatal workplace injuries and illnesses involving days away from work, job transfer or restricted duty. This was down from 16,660 in 2013 and 16,620 in 2012.

The two areas with the highest injury and illness rates in 2013 were the machine shop industry (12.5 percent) and the wood container and manufacturing industry (11.5). The Labor Cabinet said it worked directly with these industries to eliminate hazards and improve health and their rates have since fallen to 8.5 and 8.8 percent, respectively.

“Simply put, workers are safer now in Kentucky than ever before,” Kentucky Labor Secretary Larry L. Roberts said in the release.“This is a work in progress, however, because safety doesn’t just happen by accident. Programs such as the Labor Cabinet’s free consultation surveys, partnerships with employers and targeted enforcement of certain higher-risk industries are crucial to the continued decline in workplace incidents.”

Lexington dentist will continue volunteering at free clinic, but retires from administrative responsibilities

Dr. Robert Henry (Herald-Leader photo by Matt Goins)
Robert Henry, a Lexington Veterans Affairs Medical Center dentist, is retiring from his administrative duties at the Lexington Mission Dental Clinic on South Martin Luther King Boulevard, but plans to continue there as a volunteer, Cheryl Truman reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Henry, originally from Jefferson County, is a founding board member of the clinic, which opened in 2006. Most of the clinic's services are free to those without dental insurance, but it does charge for partial fixtures and dentures. The clinic stays busy, with volunteers finishing around 9 p.m. most nights, but closer to midnight when they are busy, Ruta Valinskaite, the clinic's manager, told Truman.

“We realized there was a need for such dental care in Lexington and nobody to provide it,” he told Truman.

The clinic was formed by members of Calvary Baptist and Faith Lutheran churches, of which he and his family are members. Good Shepherd Episcopal, Maxwell Street Presbyterian and First Presbyterian churches and other volunteer organizations have since joined the clinic, Truman reports.

Henry, 60, came to the University of Kentucky as an undergraduate hoping to become a basketball walk-on in the era of Adolph Rupp, but was trimmed in the final cut, Truman reports. Instead, his other love, science, led him to dental school. He also has a master's degree in public health.

He served as a colonel in the Army Reserve and came to work at the VA Medical Center in Lexington in 1985. He has also been an associate professor at UK's dental school, where he and another faculty member Judy Skelton, helped to created a Community Based Public Health Dentistry elective for dental students. "The course became the most popular elective and is so in demand that a lottery is held for the right to volunteer," Truman writes.

Henry told Truman that his professional interest led him to UK and the VA, but it was his religious faith that led him to the mission dental clinic. Before volunteering at the current mission clinic, he volunteered at Nathaniel United Methodist Mission.

Kentucky women with heart disease advise others to 'get their numbers' and know the symptoms, which differ from those in men Go Red for Women Luncheon will be held in Lexington Dec. 4

Women who suffer from heart disease often have different symptoms than men and high blood pressure is often called the silent killer because you can have it without any other symptoms; these are the messages two Kentucky women who have suffered from these conditions want to share to help others, Joyce West reports for Kentucky Educational Television.

Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of both men and women in the U.S. While both men and women can experience chest pressure that many say feels like an elephant sitting on the chest, women often have symptoms that they don't connect to heart disease, such as extreme fatigue, irregular back discomfort, pressure or pain in the lower chest or upper abdomen, dizziness, lightheadedness, jaw pain, shortness of breath and nausea, according to the American Heart Association.

“And by the time they get to the physician or the hospital, they are actually sicker than their male counterparts are,” Dr. Melissa Walton-Shirley, a Glasgow cardiologist, told West.

Family history, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes are all risk factors for heart disease. In addition certain lifestyle factors can put people at risk, such as an unhealthy diet, high in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, and sodium; physical inactivity; obesity; too much alcohol (more than one drink a day for women, more than two for men); and tobacco use, West reports.

Missy Norris, a grandmother and longtime employee of Brown-Forman Corp. in Louisville, had a family history of heart disease, but didn't think she was at risk because she was physically active, a nonsmoker and of normal weight, West reports.
“My dad had three heart attacks, a stroke, and also had open heart surgery. My mother had a heart attack and open heart surgery–both in their 60s for the open heart surgery,” she said.

But Norris had symptoms of heart disease that she didn’t recognize: fatigue, occasional pain in her heart and chest, and pain in her upper arms, which she said she "never associated that with (the) heart. Not ever.” These symptoms got worse over time, but she didn't seek medical help until she started having trouble breathing in extreme temperatures.

“There was so much going on in my life with work. ... I self-diagnosed: It was just, I’m tired. It will get better tomorrow, I just need more rest," she told West.

Norris's doctor immediately did an EKG, which led to a procedure that determined she had four blockages. “We fixed three of them that day, and we saved the other one because he didn’t think I could handle it all at once," she told West. "He told me ... I was probably about a week away from having a massive heart attack, and I probably wouldn’t have survived,”

Nikki McCubbins, a Louisville mother of three, who told West that her "mother's brothers and sisters generally don't get past the age of about 62 before they have a fatal heart attack and pass away," found out at a postpartum checkup that she had high blood pressure.

“I had no idea I had high blood pressure, no idea,” she said. She now takes medication,exercises, maintains a healthy diet and works to reduce her stress to decrease her blood pressure.

Both Norris and McCubbins have participated in the American Heart Association's Louisville Go Red for Women Luncheon, held to support the fight against heart disease in women, and they want to help others learn about heart disease and women.

“I would tell women to go to the doctor, get your numbers. If your numbers are high, make some changes,” McCubbins told West. “And the changes are simple, you know. Get a little exercise in. Try to minimize stress. Just try to live a healthy life as much as possible.”

Norris's advice: “When your body’s telling you something, take care of it, because I didn’t. And I had no idea that I was that close to disaster."

The 2015 Lexington Red For Women Luncheon will be held Friday, Dec. 4, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Lexington Center's Heritage Hall, 400 W. Vine St. Tickets are $100 each or $1,000 for a table of 10.

The Go Red for Women effort focuses on three areas: heightening awareness of the issue, creating a passionate call-to-action and generating funds to support education and research.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Talking to teens about sex makes them (especially girls) have safer behavior, here's expert advice on how to talk about it

As uncomfortable as it may be to talk about safe sex with a teenager, it can have a positive impact, especially for girls, according to a new study published in the Pediatric Journal of the American Medical Association.

"Sexual communication with parents, particularly mothers, plays a small protective role in safer sex behavior among adolescents; this protective effect is more pronounced for girls than boys," says the study report.

The study examined the link between parent-adolescent communication about sex and safer sex practices among youth. It analyzed 52 studies on the topic from more than 30 years of data and included more than 25,000 adolescents.

"Our results confirm that, across more than 50 studies, parent-adolescent sexual communication is positively associated with adolescents' use of contraceptives and condoms regardless of communication topic or format," says the report.

It is a message many Kentucky teens need to hear.

According to the 2013 High School Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 44.7 percent of Kentucky's students have had sex at least once, and almost one-third (31.7 percent) of them are sexually active. Almost half of them (46.9 percent) did not use a condom during their last sexual intercourse and 15.1 percent of them did not use any method to prevent pregnancy. And while Kentucky's teen pregnancy rate is at an all time low of 39.5 per 1,000 girls between 15 and 19, it's still much higher than the national rate of 26.6 per 1,000, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In addition, young people between the ages of 15 and 24 account for about half of all new cases of sexually transmitted diseases in the U.S. each year, says the CDC.

Despite the risk of disease and pregnancy, nearly one-fourth of youth report that they have not discussed sexual topics with their parents, and even fewer report they have meaningful, open conversations with them about this subject, the study found.

The study attributes this poor communication to parental embarrassment, parents' lack of accurate knowledge of the subject, and poor self-efficacy. It suggest physicians and other health care professionals should encourage these discussions and encourages parents to seek formal instruction on how to discuss safe sex practices with their children.

CBS News asked several experts for some do's and dont's to help parents talk about sex with their teens.

Dr. Anna-Barbara Moscicki, chief of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine and professor of pediatrics at Mattel Children's Hospital UCLA, told CBS that parents should start talking about sex early "so it's never awkward." She said parents should answer all their children's questions about sex, but "keep it age-appropriate." She reassured parents that "talking about sex does not make your kid want to have sex."

Moscicki also advised that you should never confront a teen with questions such as, "Are you having sex? Are you using condoms?" Instead, she says you should be a resource and ask, "Do you know where to get condoms or get birth control?"

Dr. Leslie Walker, division chief of adolescent medicine at Seattle Children's Hospital, told CBS that "parents need to be informed before they talk with their kids about sex," including accurate information about modern and efficient methods of birth control than weren't available when they were younger.

She said parents should not be afraid to share their family values and that talking about safe sex should not be a "one time chat," but instead an ongoing conversation.

Walker also said that parents need to push through the awkwardness of the conversation and not be judgmental or punitive, which she said will allow teens to know they can rely on their parents for help if something were to happen, like an unplanned pregnancy or a sexual assault.

"Don't shut kids down," Walker told CBS. "Don't shut down the lines of communication, like saying, 'If you ever do this, then you're out of the house.'"

Both experts agreed that parents shouldn't overshare. Walker said, "Kids don't want to know about their parents' sex life, or what happened to you when you were a teen." But they might if you lecture them about their behavior and make them defensive.

Medical radio show, based in Morehead but co-hosted by UK folks, recently aired its 600th edition

"Health Matters," a medical radio show on WMKY in Morehead, recently aired its 600th edition, according to a University of Kentucky news release.

Dr. Anthony Weaver and Rick Phillips, manager of communications infrastructure at UK, co-host the show, which debuted in 2003.

"It's my golf," said Weaver, a general internist and associate dean of the Rural Physician Leadership Program at UK's College of Medicine, which is based at a satellite campus in Morehead. "I have a passion for teaching and felt like I had lost opportunities to teach in my practice. This and my love for medical research led to the radio show."

Weaver and Phillips restructured the program in 2003 to be educational, engaging and entertaining, breaking away from the typical physician call-in show of that time, the release reports.

"One of Weaver's favorite shows, "A Musical Journey to Your Anus," won the 2013 National Media Award from the American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons for excellence in communicating a better understanding of colon and rectal disease. It featured such catchy tunes as "Oops the Colon's Fragile; It gets Diverticulosis" and "Under the Cecum," the release says.

"Guests have included Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher, former UK President Lee Todd, MSU President Wayne Andrews and 'Kentucky Joe' from the reality show 'Survivor.' Also featured have been UK's vice president for health affairs and the deans of the University Louisville School of Medicine and the University of Pikeville's Kentucky College of Osteopathic Medicine," the release reports.

"The show could not have reached our 600th milestone without the generous support of the Northeast Kentucky Area Health Education Center and the guidance of Morehead State Public Radio Station manager Paul Hitchcock and news and information director Chuck Mraz," Weaver said.

Health Matters airs on 90.3 FM Saturdays at 10 a.m. and Sundays at 6 a.m. You can also listen to the podcast anytime by visiting

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Fate of Obamacare could depend on the financial patience of leading insurers Anthem and Aetna, which is buying Humana

The fate of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act may depend on how long two major insurance companies "are willing to wait before starting to make money off it," Zachary Tracer reports for Bloomberg News.

Anthem Inc. and Aetna Inc. "are on the hot seat now that UnitedHealth Group Inc. appears likely to linger as a seller on the Affordable Care Act's government-run markets," Tracer writes. "UnitedHealth, the U.S.'s leading health-care insurer, said Thursday that if it can't turn a profit, in 2017 it may quit the health-plan marketplaces," such as Kentucky's Kynect.

United and Aetna recently started offering policies on Kynect for the first time, United statewide and Aetna in only 10 counties. Anthem has been on the two-year-old exchange from the start. Across the nation, "Aetna has said it's losing money while Anthem has said it's making less than it would like," Tracer reports.

"It looks like it's more of a United issue," Decision Resources Group analyst Bill Melville told Tracer. "It's a wake-up call that there's been some pretty tough headwinds." Wells Fargo analyst Peter Costa "said he expects Anthem and Aetna to lose money on the exchanges next year, potentially leading them to reconsider their posture."

Aetna, which is in the process of buying Louisville-based Humana Inc., has said it's willing to wait a few years for improvement in the exchange business.

Most Kentuckians covered by Medicaid expansion have jobs

"More than half of about 400,000 Kentuckians who gained Medicaid coverage under the federal law also known as Obamacare have jobs but did not have health insurance," Deborah Yetter reports for The Courier-Journal, calling that "a lesser-known fact of the Medicaid expansion implemented by outgoing Gov. Steve Beshear."

"The reality is that lots of workers can't get health insurance through their employers," Jason Bailey, executive director of the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, a nonprofit research and policy organization in Berea, told Yetter. "They have a job but they're not getting health insurance through their job." The center says only 54 percent of Kentucky workers got employer-based health insurance in 2013.

In a report just after the Nov. 3 election, the center said that at least 73,800 of the 137,200 Kentuckians who gained Medicaid coverage in 2014, the first year of expansion "were employed but had annual incomes low enough to qualify for Medicaid," Yetter reports. "Restaurant and food service employees accounted for the highest number of such workers, followed by people employed in construction, retail, landscaping, child care, farming, cooking and cleaning, said the report, based on U.S. Census data."

Supporters of the Medicaid expansion "say too many Kentuckians assume people who benefit from the Medicaid expansion aren't willing to work," Yetter writes, quoting Emily Beauregard, executive director of Kentucky Voices for Health, a coalition of lobbying groups: "I think there's a misconception about who is getting covered under Medicaid. A majority of people are hard-working folks whose jobs don't have health care."

Gov.-elect Matt Bevin made such references in his campaign. He says he wants a federal waiver to allow the state to require premiums, co-payments and/or deductibles from at least some Medicaid recipients, giving them "skin in the game." Bailey is concerned that cost-sharing would discourage people from getting the health care they need. "These people do have skin in the game," he said. "They're working. They're just not making enough to buy health insurance."

Dr. Rice Leach, outspoken leader in public health for Kentucky and the nation, is retiring, but will still keep offering advice

Rice Leach, M.D. (Lexington Herald-Leader photo)
Dr. Rice Leach has announced that he will retire as Fayette County health commissioner, ending a remarkable public-health career that has included stints as state health commissioner and chief of staff to the surgeon general of the United States.

"I'm 75; I've been in this since 1964," Rice told Bill Bryant on Sunday's edition of "Newsmakers" on Lexington's WKYT-TV. He said he has been through a third round of chemotherapy for lymphoma, which is "not responding as nicely as I would like it to," so he will leave as soon as his successor is hired or he can't continue to work at the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department.

"Lymphoma is a concern, but hanging it up after 52 or 53 years, that's going to be an adjustment for this guy," he said. "The best job I ever had is the one I have now," because the work involves providing prevention and other health care directly to people.

Leach was state health commissioner from 1992 to 2004, after more than 26 years with the U.S. Public Health Service, mostly with the Indian Health Service. In his current job, he has been an outspoken advocate of voluntary needle-exchange programs authorized by the legislature this year to thwart the spread of disease by heroin addicts.

Leach said he expects to remain active in public health, perhaps through newspaper columns that are likely to reflect his outspoken nature. "It's a congenital asset, sometimes defect," he said with his typical chuckle.

Leach illustrated that in saying that the public-health system could use more money, but health care in general could be more efficient. "There's some slack in that system, if they can get relief from rules" that could reduce clerical work, he said.

And as usual, Leach had some advice for the public: "It's absolutely imperative that people get their flu shots" because so many people in the population are taking chemotherapy or other drugs that lower their resistance to infection.

His most general advice: "Exercise, do things in moderation, and protect yourself from infections. . . . The best thing you can do, if you're over 50, is make sure your cholesterol is under control, make sure your blood pressure is under control, and protect yourself from infection . . . . Wash your hands, for crying out loud!"

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Kentucky College of Optometry at University of Pikeville is set to enroll its first class in fall 2016

The Kentucky College of Optometry, part of the University of Pikeville, has received preliminary accreditation, allowing it to recruit students for its first class next fall.

The Accreditation Council on Optometric Education notified the university of the approval. ACOE will review the school annually during its first three academic years, and a request for full accreditation will be made by the university not less than 12 months prior to graduation of the program’s first class, the university said in a news release.

“We are the first school to receive such recognition under the new, more stringent accreditation standards, and in a record time of one year and three months from the time we initiated our self-study,” Founding Dean Andrew Buzzelli said in the release.

A recent state law allowing optometrists to perform selective laser and peri-ocular surgical procedures will allow the college to bring such treatments to medically under-served areas, the release said. "The approach to clinical care will also be unique," it said. "The college of optometry is partnering with local federally qualified health care centers and hospitals to create a new patient-centered model for the education of eye care providers and creating access to vision care for the citizens of Appalachia."

The college will be the 22nd in the nation and will admit 60 students per class, for a four-year total of 240. "With no other colleges of optometry in Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina or Georgia, KYCO will be the most accessible college of optometry in the Southeastern portion of the country," the release said.

It noted that Central Appalachia "has the highest incidences of severe vision loss from other factors such as diabetes and hypertension," the release said, noting that Owsley County leads the nation with more than 18 percent.

UPike, as the university calls itself, also has a college of osteopathic medicine and a school of nursing.