Thursday, January 31, 2013

Improving Kentucky's mental health calls for the action of schools and doctors to identify children's mental health needs early

Many people may think that addressing mental health needs in Kentucky relies mostly on more funding, but its effectiveness hinges more on the ability to identify children who need help and make sure they get it early, two experts said on cn|2's "Pure Politics" Tuesday.

About half of mental illnesses begin to appear before a person turns 14, reports cn|2's Ryan Alessi. Mental-health experts say it’s often more effective and efficient to treat children, and it’s easier for parents to make sure their children get help than it is for someone to convince or coerce an adult exhibiting symptoms that he needs treatment, said Dr. Allen Brenzel, a child psychiatrist.

Encouraging school officials and doctors to identify children with these needs can be a challenge, Brenzel said, because it is difficult for a teacher to have tough conversations with parents about this topic. Also, while doctors may be most important in this process, obstacles exist because our current "system of care doesn't promote the amount of time and effort and importance on these issues," he said.

When a primary-care doctor's offices are jammed with sick patients and a parent comes in to discuss problems their child is having in school, "That’s a challenging environment in primary care,” Brenzel said. “But people trust their primary care providers very often, and that is where they go. So some of what we need to look at is co-location of services.”

Brenzel said we need a system with a single point of access, where a family can be greeted, there is a period of engagement and a reimbursement structure that supports the time and efforts required by behavioral health.

"We need to integrate behavioral health into the overall health care system," he said. "We have a very fragmented and inefficient system that leads to confusion when a family identifies that their child needs help and this isn't going to be fixed by a medical model.  We now know that the kinds of services need to be much more comprehensive and supportive. A system that allows a comprehensive mental and behavioral health assessment of needs will allow us to triage many kids out of the juvenile justice system."

Benzel said this is a societal issue and for every $1 that we spend in supportive services, we can avoid spend $5 later on adult incarcerations and adult prison. On average, it was more than $2,000 cheaper per person to treat a child than an adult. It amounted to $4,328 per child compared to more than $6,500 for each adult treated, Alessi reports.

Families may be fearful of the cost of mental-health services, but there are resources for people without mental-health insurance coverage at the 14 mental health centers in Kentucky, said Steve Shannon, executive director of the Kentucky Association of Mental Health/Mental Retardation Programs.

In terms of resources, Kentucky spent nearly a half billion dollars on mental health for people under 21 in the 2010-11 fiscal year. For adults, the state spent more than $730 million, according to figures from the Cabinet for Health and Family Services. (Read more)

Common beliefs about obesity and weight loss found to be myths

Think going to gym class drives weight loss, or that breastfeeding protects a child from obesity? Think again, because these are among seven popular myths about obesity myths, according to an international team of researchers.

The seven popular but largely inaccurate beliefs, which lead to poor policy decisions, inaccurate public-health recommendations and wasted resources, were identified by the team led by David Allison, associate dean for science in the School of Public Health at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Here are the seven myths:

Myth 1: Small, sustained changes in how many calories we take in or burn will accumulate to produce large weight changes over the long term.
Fact: Small changes in calorie intake or expenditure do not accumulate indefinitely. Changes in body mass eventually cancel out the change in calorie intake or burning.

Myth 2: Setting realistic goals in obesity treatment is important. Otherwise, patients become frustrated and lose less weight.
Fact: Some data suggest that people do better with more ambitious goals.

Myth 3: Gradually losing weight is better than quickly losing pounds. Quick weight losses are more likely to be regained.
Fact: People who lose more weight rapidly are more likely to weigh less, even after several years.

Myth 4: Patients who feel “ready” to lose weight are more likely to make the required lifestyle changes, do health-care professionals need to measure each patient’s diet readiness.
Fact: Among those who seek weight-loss treatment, evidence suggests that assessing readiness neither predicts weight loss nor helps to make it happen.

Myth 5: Physical-education classes, in their current form, play an important role in reducing and preventing childhood obesity.
Fact: Physical education, as typically provided, does not appear to counter obesity.

Myth 6: Breastfeeding protects children against future obesity.
Fact: Breastfeeding has many benefits for mother and child, but the data do not show that it protects against obesity.

Myth 7: One episode of sex can burn up to 300 Kcals per person.
Fact: It may be closer to one-twentieth of that on average, and not much more than sitting on the couch.

The research team also defined six “presumptions" that are generally held to be true even though more studies are needed before conclusions can be drawn, such as the idea that regularly eating versus skipping breakfast contributes to weight loss. Studies show it has no effect.

The same goes for the idea that eating vegetables by itself brings about weight loss, or that snacking packs on the pounds. According to Allison and colleagues, these hypotheses have not been shown to be true, and some data suggest they may be false.

The researchers also identified nine research-proven facts about weight loss. For example, weight-loss programs for overweight children that involve parents and the child’s home achieve better results than programs that take place solely in schools or other settings.

Also, many studies show that while genetic factors play a large role in obesity, “Heritability is not destiny.” Realistic changes to lifestyle and environment can, on average, bring about as much weight loss as treatment with the most effective weight-loss drugs on the market. (Read more)

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Poor, rural mothers-to-be have high levels of stress, and few resources to help them handle it, small-scale study concludes

Low-income pregnant women in rural areas experience high levels of stress, but lack the appropriate means to manage their emotional well-being, according to a small-scale study at the University of Missouri. The authors suggest that rural doctors should link these women with resources to help manage stress, Medical Xpress reports.

"Many people think of rural life as being idyllic and peaceful, but in truth, there are a lot of health disparities for residents of rural communities," Mizzou nursing professor Tina Bloom told Medical Xpress. "Chronic, long-term stress is hard on pregnant women's health and on their babies' health. Stress is associated with increased risks for adverse health outcomes, such as low birth weights or pre-terms deliveries, and those outcomes can kill babies."

Researchers studied about 25 rural pregnant women. Through interviews, researchers discovered that financial problems were one of the biggest stressers for them. Financial stress was exacerbated by the women's lack of employment, reliable transportation and affordable housing. The women also said that small-town gossip, isolation and interdependence of their lives with extended family members also increased stress. Almost two out of three women showed symptoms of depression, and one in four displayed symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. (Read more)

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Feds plan to let states impose co-payments on Medicaid patients above poverty level to encourage them to expand the program

By Molly Burchett and Al Cross
Kentucky Health News

If Kentucky expands its Medicaid program, it will probably be able to reduce the cost by requiring patients whose incomes are above the federal poverty level to help pay for their care. That could make it more feasible for the state to expand the program to people with incomes up to 138 percent of the poverty line.

A proposed federal policy will let states charge co-payments and increased premiums for doctor visits and some prescription drugs and hospital care. Robert Pear of The New York Times reports that the policy is designed to encourage states to expand Medicaid under the federal health-care reform law, with generous federal help. By shifting costs to patients, the state and federal governments would pay less.

That adds a new perspective to the cost consideration in Kentucky's debate over expansion of Medicaid. It could influence the state's decision, Republican state Sen. Julie Denton of Louisville said Friday during a legislative panel at the Kentucky Press Association convention.

Denton cautioned that the state needs to fix its problems with Medicaid managed care before it expands the program. Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear has said he wants to expand Medicaid if the state can afford it, and since there is no deadline for deciding whether to participate in the expansion, the debate may carry over into 2014.

Some Republicans have said Kentucky can't afford the expansion. If the state expands Medicaid eligibility to 138 percent of poverty from its current threshold of 70 percent, the federal government would pay all the cost of the expansion until 2017, when the state would begin helping out, with its share reaching 10 percent in 2020. The federal share of the state's current program is 72 percent.

This proposed rule could have important implications not just for state finances, but for Medicaid patients. It means that a family of three with an annual income of $30,000 could be required to pay $1,500 in premiums and co-payments, Pear reports in the Times.

As published in the Federal Register last week, the rule proposes to "update and simplify Medicaid premium and cost sharing requirements, to promote the most effective use of services and to assist states in identifying cost-sharing flexibilities." It proposes "new options for states to establish higher cost sharing for nonpreferred drugs and to propose higher cost sharing for non-emergency use" of emergency rooms.

Barbara K. Tomar, director of federal affairs at the American College of Emergency Physicians, told Pear that the administration had not adequately defined the “nonemergency services” for which the poor might have to pay. "In many cases, she said, patients legitimately believe they need emergency care, but the final diagnosis does not bear that out," Pear writes.

The proposed rule has no limit on emergency department charges for "non-emergency use." It says the hospital will have responsibility to assess the individual clinically and ensure access to other sources of care before requiring payment, which could pose problems for hospitals.

The public has until Feb. 13 to comment on the proposed rule, which can be submitted at

Monday, January 28, 2013

Prescription-painkiller epidemic is spurred by societal shift, experts say: People think every problem has a pill for an answer

By Molly Burchett
Kentucky Health News

The prescription-painkiller epidemic stems partly from an evolution of society's views toward pain and how to deal with it, said experts at "The Different Faces of Substance Abuse" conference in Lexington Jan. 23-24.

"The entire society's viewpoint of pain and the management of pain has completed shifted," said Dr. Ryan Stanton, an emergency physician and conference panelist.

Pain is considered the fifth vital sign, after temperature, pulse, blood pressure and respiratory rate, but it is the only sign that is subjective, which complicates the problem, said Stanton, because patient satisfaction is associated with the amount of drugs the provider prescribes. If an emergency-room doctor suggests exercise to combat back pain, he said the patient's reaction might be, "You might as well ask a man to deliver a baby."

The substance-abuse problem shouldn't be laid at the feet of prescribers because patients think there is a pill out there for every problem when sometimes the answer is non-prescription ibubrofen and an ice pack, said Van Ingram, executive director of the state Office of Drug Control Policy.

"This is a complicated issue," Ingram said. "It's easy to be against heroin, and it's easy to be against cocaine. But prescription opioids are things that many people need to live and need to improve their quality of life at the end of life."

Patients need to understand how much a doctor can or should do, said Dr. Helen Davis, conference panelist and chair of the Gov. Steve Beshear's KASPER Advisory Council. "Patients come in to the doctor's office expecting a silver bullet . . . but when looking at pain, the goal isn't to make the patient pain-free," she said. "The goal is to reduce the pain enough that they can have systematic and functional relief to go about their daily living."

Davis said doctors and nurses must change their culture to become more collaborative with the patient to address the non-pharmacological management of pain. There are some things that are the responsibility of the provider and there are some things that are the patients', families' and communities' responsibility, she said, adding that all professionals must look at their interdisciplinary responsibility to the people of the state.

Kentucky Health News is an independent service of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues in the School of Journalism and Telecommunications at the University of Kentucky, with support from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.

Experts explain changes to state prescription-tracking system

By Molly Burchett
Kentucky Health News

The Kentucky All-Schedule Prescription Electronic Reporting system, the key to fighting doctor-shopping for painkillers in the state, has undergone several changes since the legislature passed House Bill 1 last year to crack down on so-called pill mills. An expert panel at "The Different Faces of Substance Abuse"conference last week in Lexington addressed the more recent changes to KASPER.

“The new legislation has brought prescription drug use into the medical arena when it had not been before,” said Dr. Michelle Lofwall, member of the KASPER Advisory Council, created last year by Gov. Steve Beshear.

Very soon Kentucky will be sharing KASPER data with all seven border states, which will be provided automatically in reports, and all agreements to enable this exchange have already been signed, said Van Ingram, executive director of the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy.

One important but little-reported change is that KASPER reports can now be included in patients’ medical records. Prior to the passage of HB1, this was a felony and created workflow problems for physicians.

Attorney General Jack Conway has steered money from a mortgage settlement to enable the necessary system upgrades to KASPER that will bring about additional changes, said Ingram. Starting in July, dispensers of drugs will be required to report data every 24 hours instead of the current weekly timeframe, improving the timeliness of the data.

Changes are also coming to the regulations associated with HB1, since medical licensure boards have “gotten an earful” and have revisited the regulations to make them more straightforward and common sense, KASPER program manager Dave Hopkins said.

Ingram said, “With any big policy change, there are going to be unintended consequences. . . . The legislature will take a look at the unintended consequences. If you want to make drastic changes, it’s going to be chaos for a while.”

“In a lot of things with government, great ideas are complicated by reality,” said Dr. Ryan Stanton, UK Good Samaritan Hospital emergency-room physician and medical director, as he painted a more realistic picture of KASPER from when he first created an account with the system in 2005.

Stanton said recent changes have included timelier and more accurate reports that make the system easier to use. He said more such improvements are critical to catch those who "abuse in spurts," and are also important because physicians have minimal time and need to spend more time with patients instead of in front of a computer.

The use of KASPER has increased significantly since the passage of HB 1, with the number of reports requested increasing from 811,000 in 2011 to 2.69 million in 2012.

Medications containing the painkiller hydrocodone, including Lortab, Lorcet and Vicodin, remain the most-prescribed type of controlled substance in Kentucky, 41.5 percent of the total.

Click here for more information about KASPER.

Kentucky Health News is an independent service of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues in the School of Journalism and Telecommunications at the University of Kentucky, with support from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.

Ky. parents strongly favor increasing school dropout age, a step that could make future high-school students healthier

A statewide poll has found that Kentucky parents overwhelmingly favor increasing the state’s school dropout age, and doing so might help future high-school students' health, according to the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, which sponsored the poll.   

After being told the legislature may raise the dropout age to 18 from 16, 85 percent of Kentucky parents said they favor the move, and 77 percent of parents said they strongly favored it.

Besides their homes, school is where children spend most of their time, and the overall health and well-being of students affect their ability to learn.  Healthy kids learn better and students’ academic achievement in turn affects their ability to be healthy and stay well in the future.

“People may not realize that education is a health issue, but research tells us that completing high school is directly related to our health status in later life,” said Dr. Susan Zepeda, President and CEO of the foundation. “Increasing the dropout age is one strategy aimed at improving the graduation rate in the state. We hope this polling data will encourage a deeper conversation among parents, education experts and policy makers to explore this and other strategies to help our children succeed at school and lead a more healthy life.”

The dropout-age question was part of the Kentucky Parent Survey, which provided a snapshot of parental views on a number of issues involving health care, school and home life. It surveyed parents, step-parents, grandparents, foster parents or other legal guardians of children in Kentucky.

The poll was conducted in July and August 2012 by the Center for Survey Research at the University of Virginia.  More than 1,000 parents and guardians of children under 18 from throughout the state were interviewed by telephone, including landlines and cell phones.  The survey's margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points. 

Kentucky Health News is an independent service of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky, with support from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.

FDA likely to make hydrocodone painkillers harder to prescribe

Prescription painkillers containing hydrocodone should be placed in a more restrictive federal category, a Food and Drug Administration advisory panel of experts voted on Friday. The changes would be an effort to stem the tide of prescription painkiller abuse and addiction in the U.S., much of it in rural areas, beginning in Central Appalachia. Painkillers containing hydrocodone are the most widely prescribed drugs in the country.

Sabrina Tavernise of The New York Times reports the FDA is likely to adopt the panel's recommendations, which include limiting access to hydrocodone drugs such as Vicodin by making them harder to prescribe. Refills wouldn't be allowed without a new prescription, and faxed or called-in prescriptions wouldn't be accepted. Only a hanwritten prescription from a doctor would be allowed, and pharmacists would be required to keep the drugs in special vaults.

Many said these changes would be a key step in reducing painkiller addiction. However, dissenters in the vote were concerned that this move wouldn't make a difference. Oxycodone, the main ingredient in the highly-abused painkiller OxyContin, has been classified in a restrictive category since it was first introduced on the market but it is still widely abused, dissenters said. They also said the change could create unfair obstacles for legitimate patients. (Read more)

Friday, January 25, 2013

Health reform will let insurers charge smokers up to 50 percent higher premiums, which is likely to have a big impact in Kentucky

"Millions of smokers could be priced out of health insurance" because the health-care reform law will let health-insurance companies charge smokers as much as 50 percent more starting next year on individual policies, according to experts who are just now teasing out the potential impact of a little-noted provision in the massive legislation," The Associated Press reports.

The provision is likely to have a major impact in Kentucky, where 29 percent of adults are smokers, a figure exceeded by no other state, and where 25 to 30 percent of people under 65 are estimated to have no health insurance.

"For a 55-year-old smoker, the penalty could reach nearly $4,250 a year" AP reports. "A 60-year-old could wind up paying nearly $5,100 on top of premiums. Younger smokers could be charged lower penalties under rules proposed last fall by the Obama administration."

A state health insurance exchange, now being created under the law, will be a place to buy insurance with tax credits depending on income. Gov. Steve Beshear has said he wants to expand the state Medicaid program to cover people in households with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, but many Republicans in the legislature are opposed to that because the state would ultimately have to pay 10 percent of the expansion's cost.

The provisions to discourage smoking would allow employees covered by employer plans to avoid penalties by joining smoking-cessation programs,"but experts say that option is not guaranteed to smokers trying to purchase coverage individually," AP reports.

There is concern about the provision's effect on older smokers who "could face a heavy hit on their household budgets at a time in life when smoking-related illnesses tend to emerge. . . . Several provisions in the federal health care law work together to leave older smokers with a bleak set of financial options," AP reports, citing Karen Pollitz, a health-insurance expert with the Kaiser Family Foundation and former deputy director of the Office of Consumer Support in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Pollitz notes that the reform law lets insurers charge older customers up to three times as much as their youngest customers; charge the full 50 percent penalty on older smokers while charging less to younger ones; and does not allow smokers to use tax credits to offset the cost of the penalty.

And there's a good argument to charge the full penalty, insurance consultant Robert Laszewski told AP: "If you don’t charge the 50 percent, your competitor is going to do it, and you are going to get a disproportionate share of the less-healthy older smokers,” said Laszewski. “They are going to have to play defense." (Read more)

Health departments prepare for challenges posed by health-care reform law

No one really has a clue what changes from the health-care reform law will mean to Kentuckians and public health departments are preparing for the uncertainty, reports Kristy Cox of Business Lexington.

"The Affordable Care Act will have an impact on health departments.  It is going to put a whole lot more people out there on the street on health insurance" of one kind or another, Dr. Rice Leach, head of the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department, told Cox.

"I think how health departments are impacted is going to look a little different depending on what part of the state they're in," Rice said. "The United States has passed a law that creates an entitlement for 30 or 40 million people, and here in Lexington, for 10,000 or 20,000 more people to have health insurance. Now, who is going to take care of them?"

If the private sector can't handle the increased patient load, Leach said, the stress goes onto the health departments, meaning they may be expected to provide a broad "continuum" of care for acute medical needs, including doctors and laboratory services. Leach said he hopes other systems will step up to provide care so health departments can continue to focus on preventative services.

Many factors determine what health departments can and can't do as well as their ability to generate dollars. Leach called  the services mandates by state and federal governments as "mission critical activities," which include preventive health, communicable disease control, public health education, emergency response, sanitary code and restaurant inspection and public health policy, writes Cox. 

Despite the challenging economic environment created by budget cuts and managed-care non-payment issues, Kentucky health departments are trying to stay focused on their big-picture mission.  Some departments are writing grants and others, like the Lincoln Trail District Health Department, has sent nurses into school systems in attempt to increase revenue through expanded clinical services, Cox reports.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Poll shows registered voters in Ky. favor expanding Medicaid

By Molly Burchett and Al Cross
Kentucky Health News

A statewide poll last month found that most registered voters in Kentucky, when presented with specific facts and options, generally favored expansion of Medicaid under federal health-care reform. Similar results were found in six other states surveyed by a bipartisan pair of pollsters working for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.

"Respondents in the seven states polled were informed that federal funds are available to pay 100 percent of the costs to cover more uninsured people through Medicaid beginning in 2014, with the federal share gradually decreasing to 90 percent," the network said in a news release. "Respondents in each state were two to three times more likely to support accepting federal dollars to cover more people than they were to prefer turning down federal funds and leaving vulnerable populations uninsured." The poll asked:

Next I’d like to ask you about an issue being talked about by the governor and the state legislature. Under the new federal health care law, [number of] people in [state] who are uninsured right now could get health care coverage through Medicaid starting in 2014. The governor and state elected officials can choose to accept federal dollars that have been allocated to cover these people in [state], or to turn the money down and not cover these people. The federal dollars cover 100% of the costs in the first few years, and 90% of the costs after that.

The release said the result in Kentucky was 63 percent for expansion and 23 percent opposed. The results were not quite as strong, 60-30, when voters were presented with arguments from both sides of the debate:

Side A says we can cover more people in [state] and save taxpayer dollars that are currently spent on treating uninsured people in emergency rooms. Covering more people gives hard-working families the security of knowing they can get preventive care and see a doctor when they need to. The alternative is people showing up in the emergency room when they are sicker. By accepting the money, we could cover more people and save taxpayer dollars.

Side B says Kentucky will eventually have to pay 10% of the costs of covering these people, and even more if the federal government fails to follow through on its promises. We cannot afford to spend even more on health care coverage, which is already a big part of the state budget. We have too many other priorities in the state that need attention, like education and roads. By turning down the money, we could avoid future increases in state health care spending.

Which side do you agree with more?

The results in other states were Florida, 62-28; Iowa, 55-34; Michigan, 62-29; New Jersey, 65-29; New Mexico, 61-29; and Texas, 55-35. The Kentucky poll found that 49 percent of registered voters in Kentucky have close friends or family members who are uninsured, and 43 percent of voters who are not currently receiving coverage through Medicaid say they or someone close to them has been covered by it.

The poll did not mention the key standard for expansion, that a state must cover people in households with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty threshold. Kentucky now covers people with incomes below approximately 70 percent of poverty, and the federal government pays a little more than 70 percent of the cost. It would pay all the cost of expansion in 2014-16, then the state would have to start paying an increasing share, reaching 10 percent by 2020. Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear has said he wants to expand Medicaid if the state can afford it.

The telephone poll surveyed 812 registered voters, giving it an error margin of plus or minus 3.44 percentage points. It was conducted by Lake Research Partners, a Democratic firm, and GS Strategy Group, a Republican firm, between Dec. 13 and 22. For more details, click here.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Kentuckians think their children's generation will be less healthy and worse off economically than current working-age generation

Forty percent of Kentucky adults think their children's generation will be less healthy than the current generation of working-age Kentuckians, and 61 percent think the newer generation will be worse off economically, according to a statewide poll conducted last fall.

The Kentucky Health Issues Poll also found that 54 percent think their parents' generation was better off economically, and 42 percent thought that generation was healthier than the current generation of Kentuckians.

“It is a cornerstone of the American Dream that, if we work hard, we will get ahead and be better off than our parents were,” said Dr. Susan Zepeda, President and CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, which co-sponsored the poll. “Our polling suggests that optimism for a better future may be slipping away.”

Zepeda added, “Policymakers in Kentucky and Washington are grappling with economic and health policy issues that have long term impacts. Our polling clearly indicates the concern Kentuckians have, on the need to do better for our kids.”

For details of the poll, go to the foundation's website,

The poll was conducted for the foundation and the Health Foundation of Greater Cincinnati from Sept 20 through Oct. 14 by the Institute for Policy Research at the University of Cincinnati. A random sample of 1,680 adults from throughout Kentucky was interviewed by landline and cell telephones. The margin of error for each figure is plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Avoid virus-linked cancers, including cervical cancer, with shots

With a simple vaccine, you can avoid HPV-linked cancer, including cervical cancer and many cancers of the mouth, throat, anus and genitals, which constitute more than 3 percent of all U.S. cancer diagnoses. Vaccination against the human papilloma virus (HPV) thwarts the virus’s spread, wrecks its ability to jump between people and inhibits a virus that in 2009 led to a cancer diagnosis for 30,000 people in the U.S., according to the National Cancer Insititue

HPV infection is common. More than half of women between 14 and 59 catch a genital HPV. Many of these infections are low-risk, but when the body does not sweep out HPV intruders, high-risk HPV infected cells may lead to the unchecked growth of cancerous cells, according to Newswise, a research-reporting service.

HPV is actually a family of more than 150 viruses that infect human skin and mucosa, the moist membranes lining the nostrils, mouth and genital cavities. Two vaccines, Gardasil and Cervarix, prevent people from getting HPV infections by helping the body stockpile a medley of cellular defenses. Gardasil and Cervarix target HPV types 16 and 18, the two responsible for most cervical, anal, genital, and oropharynx cancer.  Blocking infection by types 16 and 18 also fights off other cancers, and the vaccines’ protection could last a lifetime. Gardasil also targets types 6 and 11.

It is important to complete the three-dose series for the vaccines; series completion rates are low for people in the Southern states, especially those that are poor and without private insurance, according to Newswise. Scientists are working to make a single vaccine that blocks infection by all HPV types, but today’s vaccines can prevent infection by two of the most common high-risk HPVs and may be the first step toward preventing HPV-linked cancers. (Read more)

UK quickens drumbeat of tobacco-free policy through report line

The University of Kentucky promotes compliance and enforcement of its tobacco-free policy through a community report line, among many other measures.  Although the report line was established last spring, its mention in recent campus communications suggests a hightened emphasis on compliance measures. 

The line to report violations of the smoking ban engages the community in developing an environment in which compliance is expected, said Dr. Ellen Hahn, a nursing professor and co-chair of UK's Tobacco-free Taskforce and director of its Kentucky Center for Smoke-free Policy.

"Since these policies are self-enforcing, we need a mechanism by which everyone on campus can easily report violations," Hahn said. "Most people do not feel comfortable approaching a violator, so this is a way to encourage everyone to be involved in promoting compliance." She said the report line was a suggested "best practice" from other campuses with similar policies.

Implementation of the policy, the ultimate goal of the policy is to promote a healthy place to live, work and learn, has been a success, Hahn said: The air is healthier, and exposure to secondhand smoke has decreased. Also, since the policy was established in the fall of 2009, there has been a four-fold increase in the use of nicotine replacement to quit using tobacco, and UK has many low- or no-cost options to help students and employees do so.

Click here to report a violation of the tobacco-free policy, here for a tobacco-free brochure. 

Health-care law addresses the most common chronic health problem in children, tooth decay, by requiring coverage for kids

Tooth decay is children's most common chronic health problem, and the 2010 federal health-care law addresses this problem by requiring insurers to cover pediatric dental services. But some advocates are concerned that the new benefits may not be sufficiently comprehensive or affordable, Michelle Andrews writes for The Washington Post.

She notes that by the time children enter kindergarten, more than a quarter of them have decay in their baby teeth. As they age, the problem gets worse and nearly 68 percent of those age 16 to 19 have decay in their permanent teeth, according the the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Beginning next year, the Affordable Care Act requires individual and small-group health plans cover pediatric dental services, unless a plan has a specific exemption under the law. Those services are already part of the Medicaid benefit package, but most Kentucky dentists don't accept Medicaid.
For the expansion to private insurance, "Coverage requirements will be determined by each state within guidelines set by the federal Department of Health and Human Services," Andrews writes.

Jill Midkiff, chief spokesperson for the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, said Kentucky is awaiting the publication of the final rule from HHS, which will define essential health benefits for each state and provide further guidance relating to coverage of benefits. Although no specific publication date for this rule has been announced, she said its release is expected within the next several weeks to allow insurers to modify existing health plans to be made available to individuals and small businesses for purchase through health exchanges by Oct. 1. (Read more)

Monday, January 21, 2013

McConnell helped Amgen delay price limits on dialysis drug

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, whose public statements usually emphasize the need to cut federal spending on entitlement programs, as they did in Lexington Friday, apparently passed up an opportunity to rein in Medicare spending when he signed off on a big favor for a significant campaign contributor in the fiscal-cliff deal.

The deal delayed for two years price controls on a class of drugs including Sensipar, used by kidney-dialysis patients and manufactured by Amgen, "the world's largest biotechnology firm," Eric Lipton and Kevin Sack of The New York Times reported Jan. 19.

"The news was so welcome that the company’s chief executive quickly relayed it to investment analysts," the Times reported. "But it is projected to cost Medicare up to $500 million over that period. Dennis J. Cotter, who studies the cost and efficacy of dialysis drugs, told the newspaper, “Everybody is carving out their own turf and getting it protected, and we pass the bill on to the taxpayer.”

McConnell spokesman Robert Steurer said the senator did not push for the provision. The Times story did not focus on McConnell, saying "Supporters of the delay, primarily leaders of the Senate Finance Committee who have long benefited from Amgen’s political largess, said it was necessary to allow regulators to prepare properly for the pricing change." And it noted the firm "also has worked hard to build close ties with the Obama administration." It did note that former McConnell chief of staff Hunter Bates is among "a small army of 74 lobbyists for Amgen, which was "the only company to argue aggressively for the delay, according to several Congressional aides of both parties."

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, which analyzes lobbying and campaign contributions, Amgen's political action committee gave McConnell $7,000 during the 2011-12 election cycle, an amount exceeded by only seven other senators, none of them in the Senate leadership. McConnell was the main negotiator on the fiscal-cliff deal with Vice President Biden.

UPDATE, Jan. 25: Writing on and then on Salon, Bill Moyers and Michael Winship report that since 2007, "Amgen employees and its political action committee have contributed $73,000 to Senator McConnell’s campaigns," almost $68,000 to Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., chairman of the Finance Committee, and $59,000 to Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. They also note that Republican Rep. Richard Hanna R-N.Y., and Democratic Reps. Peter Welch of Vermont and Jim Cooper of Tennessee have introduced a bill "to repeal the half billion-dollar giveaway to Amgen. The story includes Moyers' video interview with Welch.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

UK, not questioned mental-health agency, will run Eastern State

Herald-Leader photo by Mark Mahan: Hospital nears completion
The University of Kentucky will manage the new Eastern State Hospital, replacing the Bluegrass Regional Mental Health-Mental Retardation Board, which has operated the current facility since 1995. The new hospital, being built on UK's Coldstream Research Campus off Newtown Pike, will replace an outdated facility along that boulevard in central Lexington.

Gov. Steve Beshear "said the state and UK intend for Bluegrass Regional to remain an 'integral part' of the new hospital, and would help with the transition, but he provided no details," Linda Blackford reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader. The state and UK HealthCare have signed a letter of intent to enter into a contract, but details remain to be worked out, said Audrey Tayse Haynes, secretary of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services. She said the initial contract would be for one year and $43 million.

"Beshear said talks between the state and UK began before the Lexington Herald-Leader reported in June 2012 on questionable spending at Bluegrass," leading to a state audit, Blackford reports. "The audit found lax board oversight and lavish spending on executives while front-line workers went without pay raises."

"Beshear said the new partnership would put Kentucky at the forefront of mental health care because of the clinical expertise that UK brings in neuroscience, psychiatry, pharmacy, nursing and social work," Blackford writes.

Read more here:

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Poll shows depth of prescription drug abuse in Kentucky

By Molly Burchett and Al Cross
Kentucky Health News

One-third of Kentucky adults have friends or relatives who have experienced problems from abusing prescription pain relievers, and 8 percent have used pain medicine when it wasn't prescribed or for the feeling it caused, according to a statewide poll conducted last fall.

The Kentucky Health Issues Poll found that in Eastern Kentucky, 45 percent reported that prescription drug abuse have caused problems for friends or family members. In the 17-county Bluegrass Area Development District, which includes some Appalachian counties, the figure was 37 percent. It was 32 percent in Northern Kentucky, 31 percent in the seven-county Louisville area and 25 percent in Western Kentucky.

The poll found that young adults are more likely to have the problem. Among those 18 to 29 years old, 13 percent said they had used pain medicine when it wasn't prescribed or for the feeling it caused, and 49 percent said they had a friend or relative who had been affected.

The Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, which co-sponsored the poll, noted that drug-overdose deaths in Kentucky correspond to a steep increase in the sales of opioid prescription pain relievers, which include OxyContin, Vicodin, Percocet and codeine. More than half of Kentucky adults in the poll reported being prescribed such drugs.

“While these types of medications are important for controlling pain in patients who need them, opioids also carry the potential for abuse,” said Dr. Susan Zepeda, President and CEO of the foundation. “Our state ranks sixth in the nation for prescription pain reliever overdose deaths, and these data provide a window on how many Kentuckians are impacted – directly or indirectly – by prescription misuse.” (Read more)

The poll was conducted for the foundation and The Health Foundation of Greater Cincinnati from Sept. 20 through Oct. 14 by the Institute for Policy Research at the University of Cincinnati. A random sample of 1,680 adults throughout Kentucky was interviewed by landline and cell telephones. The poll's margin of error is plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.

Kentucky Health News is an independent service of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky, with support from the Foundation for a Health Kentucky.

Williamsburg in line to pass smoking ban next month

An ordinance imposing a smoking ban in Williamsburg is ready for a City Council vote. The council listened Monday to the first reading of the ordinance, required before a vote, which could follow the second reading, planned for Feb. 11. If approved, the ban would take effect immediately, reports Mark White of the Corbin-Whitley News Journal.

The new ordinance says “Smoking shall be prohibited in all enclosed areas within all enclosed buildings open to the public and within places of employment,” reports John Ross of The Times-Tribune of Corbin. “Enclosed buildings” includes libraries, bars, bingo houses, child- and adult-care facilities, public and private educational facilities, gaming facilities, restaurants, pool halls, lobby areas and hallways in all multi-residential buildings, such as apartments and condominiums, and hotels and motels, Ross reports. In December 2011, the Corbin City Commission implemented a ban that prohibits smoking in similar locations and within 25 feet of main entrances and exits.

Ross's account of the meeting included no negative comments. Mayor Roddy Harrison said, “I know both sides of the issue — but our job is to protect everybody.” Harrison said he found extensive research to back up the negative effects of secondhand cigarette smoke while researching the ordinance.

School nurses start getting scarcer, due to Medicaid problems

By Molly Burchett
Kentucky Health News

Students in many Kentucky counties will find it harder to see a school nurse due to changes in the state Medicaid program and lack of payment from managed-care companies.

Takirah Sleet, 7, and school nurse Michelle Marra looked at Takirah's
lunch tray to calculate her insulin dosage at Lansdowne Elementary
in Lexington. (Lexington Herald-Leader photo by Pablo Alcala)
In Crittenden County schools, budget woes have forced the Pennyrile District Health Department to request additional money from the school district to keep its school health clinics fully-staffed and open, reports Jason Travis of The Crittenden Press. Allison Beshear, director of the health department, told Travis one reason from the budget crunch is a lack of payment from Kentucky Spirit, which owes the health department $266,000.

Without additional money from the school district, Beshear says, the health department cannot maintain the current level of service at school clinics through the end of the school year.  Proposals have been made to offer services to the district that entail reducing clerical staff without reducing the number of nurses; but in order to do so, trained school staff would have to handle daily medication distribution and help to answer the phones for the clinic.

"Kentucky Spirit has filed two appeals with the Cabinet of Health Services and the Finance Cabinet in which it claims to not be financially responsible for healthcare given in school clinics," reports Drew Adams of WKMS-FM in Murray reports in a story about similar problems in Hopkins County.

Other school districts facing similar problems include those of Bell, Clark and Pike counties. Eleven school health clinics in Bell County could be shut down by the end of this school year, reports WBIR-TV of Knoxville. In Clark County, a lawsuit between the state and Kentucky Spirit has put a halt to reimbursement for health services provided in county schools, reports Rachel Gilliam of The Winchester Sun.

Last month, the Pike County Board of Health filed a lawsuit against Kentucky Spirit because the managed-care firm has stopped reimbursing the Board of Health for school-nurse programs, reports Jordan Vilines of WYMT-TV in Hazard. The money has to be reimbursed in order to provide school nurses.

“I think having someone in the school to ensure that our children are healthy is imperative for the quality of life of our kids, especially in a very rural area," Pike Judge-Executive Wayne T. Rutherford told Vilines.  He said that without reimbursement, school nurses could lose their jobs, which would leave hundreds of kids without immediate medical care.

Kentucky Health News is an independent service of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky, with support from the Foundation for a Health Kentucky.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Participating in a clinical trial can give patients access to advanced health care

Access to advanced care does not require big bucks or Cadillac insurance; it is offered on a limited basis through trials of new medical procedures at the University of Kentucky.  People in the university's health-service region can access cutting-edge health care through participation in clinical trials, according to a UK press release. The University of Louisville also does clinical trials.

Clinical trials are necessary to evaluate a drug, device or mode of therapy for a disease. UK investigators recruit individuals willing to contribute to science to participate in various types of trials; some may require participants with specific conditions, while others require healthy participants.  These participants are able to reap the benefits of advanced medical treatment while gaining access to top clinicians and the latest medical information.

"I would tell anyone who has a condition and is thinking about becoming part of a clinical trial that it is one of the most empowering things that people can do," said Dr. Leslie Crofford, chief of the UK Division of Rheumatology and director of Center for the Advancement of Women's Health. "It allows you to learn about a condition that may afflict you or a family member. It allows access and contact with investigators that are very knowledgeable about the condition. It allows a sense that you are doing something active to help not only yourself, but other people with the condition."

As a research insititution, UK is careful about the safety, privacy and oversight of clinical trials and it's important that participants understand the trial methodology, purpose and procedures. The UK Center for Clinical and Translational Science has compiled a helpful list of questions for clinical-trial participants. There are several ways to connect with clinical-trial opportunties and anyone can view currently available clinical trials at the university. Participants may also connect with clinical trials through their physician, or through national listings. (Read more)

Among health providers having difficulty with Medicaid managed care, Cumberland Valley District Health Department stands out

The financial struggle that recently led to 14 layoffs and an increase in furlough days for the Cumberland Valley District Health Department continues. Other health departments have reported such difficulties, but it may be one of those hurt most.

With its deficit standing at $503,266,  a review of the department’s financial summary from the latter half of last year shows that a large part of the deficit is caused by lack of payments from Kentucky Spirit, a Medicaid managed-care company, according to an article in the Manchester Enterprise.

As recently as September, Kentucky Spirit owed the department over $300,000 for Medicaid services that had been provided. In the December report, Kentucky Spirit had only paid $698 and has since quit cooperating with the state, according to the Enterprise.

Adding to the cash flow problem, another managed-care firm pays a month late, according to department Interim Director Lynett Renner. She said that since 2011, health departments must also pay back to the state a Medicaid match, and are the only health care providers that must do so. 

Those factors, she said, are why the layoffs plus an increase in furlough days are necessary. Beginning Jan. 21, employees will be on a 32-hour workweek. In addition to those two money-saving actions, the department has also eliminated two positions, director of nursing and director of environmental services, the Enterprise reports. 

"What we do touches the lives of everyone in our country,” said Renner and the district will provide its services however it can.

New U of L public-health dean has rural health background

Craig H. Blakely, dean at the School of Rural Public Health at Texas A&M University, has been named dean of the University of Louisville School of Public Health and Information Sciences. U of L has a role in rural health in Western Kentucky, overseeing the Area Health Education Centers in the region.

Blakely, who has a Ph.D. and a master's in public health, has researched and published extensively regarding access to care and rural health. His research has focused on under-served expectant mothers and juvenile delinquents, and includes substance-abuse prevention and community-based change. Blakely has also evaluated major initiatives such as a school-based prevention program targeting at-risk youth.

Blakely’s expertise will be invaluable in tackling issues like obesity, access to care, disease management and much more, said Dr. David L. Dunn, U of L's executive vice president for health affairs. Blakely’s appointment is effective April 1 and is subject to approval by the U of L Board of Trustees. He replaces Richard Clover, who has led the school for 10 years.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Childhood obesity is linked to more immediate health problems than doctors formerly realized

While a plethora of research on childhood obesity has linked it to long-term health problems, a new UCLA study focuses on the condition's more proximate consequences, showing that obese children are at a greater risk for immediate health problems than previously thought. That's important for Kentucky, which ranks poorly in many health measures and is third highest in child obesity. (Photo by Tara Kaprowy)

"This study paints a comprehensive picture of childhood obesity, and we were surprised to see just how many conditions were associated with childhood obesity," said lead author Dr. Neal Halfon, a professor of pediatrics, public health and public policy at UCLA.

Compared to kids who are not overweight, the study found that obese children have nearly twice the risk of having three or more reported medical, mental or developmental conditions. Specific medical conditions included bone, joint and muscle problems; asthma; allergies; headaches; and ear infections. Obese children also reported a greater tendency toward emotional and behavioral problems, higher rates of grade repetition, missed school days and other school problems, ADHD, conduct disorder, depression, learning disabilities, and developmental delays.

The study provides the first comprehensive national profile of associations between weight status and a broad set of associated health conditions, a UCLA release said. Halfon said these findings should serve as a wake-up call to physicians, parents and teachers, who should be better informed of the risk for health conditions associated with childhood obesity. (Read more)

If you're dieting, remember that alcohol has calories too

Alcoholic beverages could throw a wrench into your 2013 diet plan.  The National Center for Health Statistics reported late last year that American adults drink in an average of 100 calories daily from beer, wine and other alcoholic beverages, and almost 20 percent of men and 6 percent of women consume more than 300 calories daily from alcohol.

Men ages 20 to 39 consume the most alcohol, taking in about 175 calories per day on average, while women in the same age group consume about 60 calories daily per person.

"It is certainly not a good health strategy to have alcohol calories constituting a significant percentage of total calorie consumption," health advisers Dian and Tom Griesel say on Newswise, a research-reporting service. "This is especially true for women and those dieting who would be better off avoiding all alcoholic beverages until their weight goals are met or at most limiting alcohol to one drink no more than two days a week."

Griesel also said that current dietary guidelines recommend to consume alcohol in moderation, which means no more than one daily drink for women and two for men.  So, as you reach for the apple instead of candy, remember that there are empty calories in your drink of choice too. (Read more)

Monday, January 14, 2013

It's not too late to get your flu shot, and getting it could not only help yourself and your family but your neighbors

It's not too late to get your flu shot, even though the flu has hit earlier and more broadly than usual, experts say.

It generally takes about two weeks for a flu vaccine to be most effective, said Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Getting the shot in mid-January might seem too late, but it's "better late than never," he said during a teleconference Friday.

The CDC says the flu has been widespread in Kentucky for more than five weeks, far more than last year. "Most of the country is seeing a lot of flu, and this may continue for several weeks," Frieden said. "We don't know if we are over the peak."

Getting a flu shot can protect your neighbors, too. The protection afforded by the current vaccine is an important tool in protecting the health of the general public. The flu can be serious, especially in senior citizens, those with other chronic health problems and children. This season's outbreak has led to the deaths of 20 children as of Friday.

The CDC has found that the current flu vaccine is 62 percent effective, meaning if you get vaccinated, "You are 62 percent less likely to get the flu," writes Mary Meehan of the Lexington Herald-Leader.

It is also important that people with flu symptoms seek treatment. Anti-virals such as Tamiflu can be effective in reducing the most serious symptoms, Frieden said. "If you get flu-like symptoms, it can really help you avoid serious illness, hospitalization or even death," he said.

Meehan's story includes advice for dealing with children and tips about how to avoid getting the flu. To read it, click here.

UPDATE: In response to the flu, the University of Kentucky today limited visitation at its hospitals: None will be under 18 or have any flu-like symptoms, and only two will be allowed in a patient’s room at a time. Visitors may be issued masks or other protective clothing, and other restrictions may be imposed in special care units such as women’s and children’s units, critical care and oncology units. "Compassionate visitation exceptions will be made on a case-by-case basis," a UK release said.

Molly Burchett is new chief writer for Kentucky Health News

Kentucky Health News welcomes a new reporter, writer and blogger: Molly Burchett, a master's student in health communication at the University of Kentucky.

Burchett graduated from Transylvania University in 2009 where she studied business and communication.  She was president of the Student Government Association and a yearbook editor.  Her jobs before UK included development director for a Lexington medical practice. She started her master's program in August 2012 and is focused on raising awareness about community health issues in ways that can encourage positive changes in health behavior.

She is from Prestonsburg, where her father and mother are the lead physician and manager of Prestonsburg Primary Care. She is a graduate of Prestonsburg High School. At KHN she follows Tara Kaprowy and Amy Wilson, who have both returned to freelance journalism.

Kentucky Health News is funded by the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky but is independently reported and edited by UK's Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues.

Get those eyes examined, or a 'sneak thief' might steal your sight

January is Glaucoma Awareness Month, so the Kentucky Optometric Association is emphasizing the need for an annual dilated eye exam.

Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness in the U.S., but awareness surrounding the disease is relatively low, says the American Optometric Association. A poll taken for the AOA "found that 90 percent of Americans incorrectly believe glaucoma is preventable, and 72 percent mistakenly think glaucoma has early warning signs," KOA said in a news release. "Regular eye exams are the first line of defense for early detection of glaucoma."

The optometrists' group says more than half of Americans who have glaucoma remain undiagnosed, mainly because people don'y get regular eye exams. “Glaucoma is often referred to as ‘the sneak thief of sight’ because it can strike without pain or other symptoms,” said Dr. Ben Gaddie, a Louisville-area optometrist who is president of the international Optometric Glaucoma Society. “Vision lost to glaucoma cannot be restored, so early detection and treatment are extremely important.”

Treatment for glaucoma includes eye drops and medicines to lower pressure in the eyeball. In some cases, laser treatment or surgery may reduce pressure. To find a optometrist in your area, through the KPA, go to

Friday, January 11, 2013

Report: Electronic health records haven't cut health costs

The conversion to electronic health records isn't producing savings in health-care costs predicted by a 2005 report, and it's had mixed results in improving efficiency and patient care, according to a RAND Corporation report. The company's 2005 predictions helped drive growth in the EHR industry and encourage billions of dollars in subsidies from the federal government to hospitals and doctors to implement such systems, Reed Abelson and Julie Creswell of The New York Times report.

The 2005 report predicted that widespread use of EHRs could save the U.S. health care system at least $81 billion a year. "But evidence of significant savings is scant, and there is increasing concern that electronic records have actually added to costs by making it easier to bill more for some services," Abelson and Creswell write. Health care costs have risen $800 billion since the 2005 report, according to federal data.

Authors of the new report, published in this month's issue of Health Affairs, said they didn't attach dollar amounts to how much electronic record keeping has helped or hurt efforts to reduce costs. "But the firm's acknowledgement that its earlier analysis was overly optimistic adds to a chorus of concern about the cost of the new systems and the haste with which they have been adopted," Abelson and Creswell report.

There are several factors why the switch has not created significant savings, report authors said. Those factors include use of commercial record systems, slow rates of system adoption, and the fact that electronic records "do not address the fact that doctors and hospitals reap the benefits of high volumes of care," Abelson and Creswell report. (Read more)

Thursday, January 10, 2013

FDA could require tamper-resistant painkillers; without such action, prescription-drug abuse problem would worsen

UPDATE, Jan. 14 : Laura Ungar of The Courier-Journal reports, "Addicts by the scores used to get a quick and easy high from snorting or shooting up the powerful narcotic OxyContin — until manufacturer Purdue Pharma developed a new version that’s harder to abuse. But with the company’s patent on its original drug set to expire in April, activists, lawmakers and doctors are worried that cheaper, easily crushable generic versions will flood Kentucky and worsen the state’s already-devastating prescription drug abuse problem."

The Food and Drug Administration will force generic manufacturers of powerful pain pills to switch to a tamper-resistant composition if it finds evidence the composition curbs prescription drug abuse and addiction, Alan Rappeport of The Financial Times reports. Public-health advocates worry that if generic versions of opiate pills are not made tamper-resistant, the prescription drug abuse epidemic may worsen.

If the agency finds tamper-resistance significantly deter abuse, it has legal authority to require generic drug makers to switch their opiate formulas. Just as manufacturers of some pain pills began switching formulas to make the pills harder to crush, easily crushable, generic forms of OxyContin and Opana were released. Purdue Pharma and Endo Pharmaceuticals, which make Opana, have hoped to extend patent life of their drugs by pushing the FDA to prevent generic makers from using old versions of their drugs. Generic makers argue this will keep patients from buying cheaper drugs.

The FDA said it will take a "flexible" approach to determining the effectiveness of tamper-resistant drugs because abusers are constantly finding new ways to avoid deterrents. (Read more)

Pike court will keep lawsuit county and attorney general filed against Purdue Pharma over damage done by its OxyContin

A state court will hear the Kentucky attorney general's 2007 lawsuit against OxyContin manufacturer Purdue Pharma, against the wishes of the company. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit affirmed a lower court's order returning the suit to Kentucky from New York's Southern District, where Purdue wanted the case heard. The suit was filed in Pike Circuit Court, in Kentucky's easternmost county.

"After years of delay tactics, Purdue will now answer to a Kentucky court and a Kentucky jury," Attorney General Jack Conway said. Purdue Pharma spokeswoman Libby Holman said the company is disappointed by the decision, but now it is "fully prepared to vigorously defend this action on its merits, and we expect to prevail."

Then-AG Greg Stumbo and Pike County sued Purdue Pharma in October 2007, alleging that the company's "aggressive and deceptive marketing campaign saddled taxpayers with millions of dollars in social, health care and other costs," Laura Ungar of The Courier-Journal in Louisville reports. The suit also alleges the company misled health-care providers, consumers and the government about the highly addictive nature of OxyContin. The suit is largely based on admissions of guilt made by the company and several top-ranking company officials in a May 2007 Virginia federal court settlement. Purdue Pharma, its president, chief legal counsel and former medical director pleaded guilty to misleading doctors, regulators and patients about OxyContin during that case.

The nation's prescription-drug epidemic apparently began in the region, largely because of the introduction and high rate of prescription of OxyContin. Kentucky has nearly 1,000 overdose deaths a year. Conway's office said the suit against Purdue Pharma seeks reimbursement for drug-abuse programs, law-enforcement actions and prescription payments through Medicaid and the Kentucky Pharmaceutical Alliance Program. (Read more)

Rep. Westrom, bolstered by increasing public support, thinks third time may be the charm to pass a statewide smoking ban law

A coalition of health groups say they will give state Rep. Susan Westrom, D-Lexington, the most public support ever for a bill to ban smoking in Kentucky restaurants and workplaces, a bill she's tried to get passed twice, Jacqueline Pitts of CN2 reports. The coalition, which includes Smoke-Free Kentucky and the American Lung Association, revealed plans yesterday for a two-week ad campaign about the benefits of a statewide smoking ban law.

So far, 24 states have approved smoking bans, and more than 30 Kentucky cities and counties have passed similar local bans. Westrom said that Gov. Steve Beshear, who once said bans should be left to localities to decide, is more supportive of a statewide ban now. A 2012 Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky poll shows that 59 percent of Kentucky adults are in favor of a statewide ban. Westrom said she wants to work with new legislators to get their support for the bill. (Read more)

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Coalition of health groups launches two-week ad campaign to drum up support for a statewide smoking ban

A geographically targeted newspaper and online advertising campaign calling for "a comprehensive, statewide smoke-free law" is hitting Kentucky media outlets this week, as the legislature convenes, and next week. The campaign was launched by Smoke-Free Kentucky Coalition, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The newspaper ad can viewed here.

Twenty-nine percent of Kentucky adults are smokers, giving the state the highest smoking rate in the U.S., and ranks very high in youth smoking, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Kentucky also has the nation's highest lung cancer death rates, 87 percent of which are caused by smoking, according to the National Cancer Institute. The state also "lags behind other states in enacting a comprehensive, statewide smoke-free law that covers all indoor workplaces, including bars and restaurants," a press release about the ad campaign says. Twenty-four states have smoking bans. A fall poll for the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky showed that 59 percent of Kentucky adults support a smoking ban in workplaces, restaurants and bars. For a story on the poll, click here.

Tobacco-Free Kids communications manager Catherine Butsch said the ad is running in the Lexington Herald-Leader, the Messenger-Inquirer of Owensboro, the Daily Independent of Ashland, the Commonwealth Journal of Somerset, the Kentucky New Era of Hopkinsville, the Glasgow Daily Times, the Paducah Sun, the Paducah-based West Kentucky News, the Sentinel-Echo of London, the Lebanon Enterprise, the Jessamine Journal, the Tompkinsville News, the Carlisle Weekly of Bardwell, the Fulton Leader, the Marshall County Tribune Courier, and the Kentucky Gazette, a government-oriented twice-monthly in Frankfort. The online ad will run on websites of the Herald-Leader, Business Lexington, The Lane Report and CN2, a cable news service. The campaign will cost $93,000, Butsch said.

Republicans moving to gain a say over Beshear's decisions about insurance exchange, Medicaid expansion; Democrat dismissive

Kentucky Senate Health and Welfare Committee Chair Julie Denton, R-Louisville, left, said yesterday that she would file legislation that would block Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear from setting up a health-insurance exchange or expanding Medicaid coverage without legislative approval, Joseph Gerth of The Courier-Journal reports. Beshear has already established an exchange under the federal health reform, but hasn't announced whether he will expand Medicaid.

Denton said the exchanges and Medicaid expansion would be too costly for the state and shouldn't be something Beshear can set up unilaterally. But her effort will likely face opposition in the Democrat-controlled House, Gerth writes. Liberal Rep. Tom Burch, D-Louisville, said Denton "should save the ink that it would take to print the bills," and House Democrats would not receive the bill favorably. Burch has been in the legislature longer than any other current member.

State health-insurance exchanges will allow the uninsured to buy insurance from private companies and perhaps get government subsidies to help pay for it. If Medicaid were expanded in Kentucky, hundreds of thousands of more people would be covered, with the fedreal government paying all the extra cost in 2014-16, decreasing to 90 percent by 2020. Gerth reports that Senate Republicans said they will make it a priority "to rein in Beshear on Medicaid," which they fear would be unsustainable if it were expanded. Denton said requiring legislative approval of these parts of "Obamacare" would give Kentucky citizens a greater voice in the process. (Read more)

Monday, January 7, 2013

3 in 5 Kentucky adults favor a statewide smoking ban, according to an independent poll that may have oversampled smokers

By Al Cross
Kentucky Health News

Kentuckians now favor a statewide smoking ban by a margin of 3 to 2, according to the latest Kentucky Health Issues Poll conducted last fall for the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky. Interestingly, 38 percent of the Kentucky adults polled said they were smokers, much more than the 29 percent found by a year-long federal survey. Among those identified as smokers, 37 percent favored such a law, while it was favored by 68 percent of former smokers and 75 percent of those who said they had never smoked.

Overall, 59 percent of those polled said they supported a state law that would prohibit smoking in most public places, including workplaces, public buildings, offices, restaurants and bars, while 38 percent said they opposed it and 4 percent said they had no opinion. The figures showed a 5-point shift toward support since the last poll, in 2011. The gain was among smokers and former smokers.

Support for the law was higher among registered voters than non-voters, perhaps a consideration for legislators considering the proposal. Among voters, 62 percent favored it while 36 percent opposed it. Only 50 percent of nonvoters supported it. Support was slightly higher among Republicans (64 percent) than among Democrats (59 percent; only 44 percent of independents, who comprise about 7 percent of Kentucky voters, said they supported it. The poll also found that support for the law increases as age and income increase.

As for the apparent oversampling of smokers, pollster Eric Rademacher said self-reporting of such habits is known to vary according to time, and the differences in his poll and the federal survey "are likely due to the different time frames in which they were conducted and the different methodology employed by each study." He added, "For example, a person who regularly smokes might openly disclose that information at one point in the year. However, at another point in the year, that same person might be directly exposed to news or advertising that paints smoking in a negative light from a societal perspective. Hearing that information could make the person more reluctant to discuss their smoking behavior with researchers soon after they have seen or heard it.”

Rademacher is co-director of the Institute for Policy Research at the University of Cincinnati, which did the poll for the foundation and the Health Foundation of Greater Cincinnati. A random sample of 1,680 adults from throughout Kentucky was interviewed by telephone from Sept. 20 to Oct. 14. This included 1,360 landline interviews and 320 interviews with cell phone users. In 19 of 20 cases, each statewide figure will be accurate to plus or minus 2.5 percentage points. Smaller samples, such as those of smokers and non-smokers, have larger margins of error. There are other sources of variation inherent in public opinion studies, such as non-response, question wording, or context effects that can introduce error or bias. For a copy of the poll's full questionnaire and guidance to interviewers, click here. For more information, go to

The Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky noted the health implications that a smoke-free law would address: "Secondhand smoke poses serious health risks. Smoke-free environments are the only way to fully protect nonsmokers from these hazards. To reduce these risks, many Kentucky communities have adopted smoke-free policies. On Jan. 1, 2013, Hopkinsville became the 22nd municipality in Kentucky to implement a comprehensive smoke-free ordinance or regulation," bringing to 34 percent the share of Kentuckians who live in jurisdictions covered by comprehensive smoke-free ordinances or health-department regulations. For a list of the communities and percentages, and those with bans that are less than comprehensive, from the Kentucky Center for Smoke-Free Policy, click here.

Kentucky Health News is a service of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky, with support from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.

Legislature likely to tweak, clarify and limit last year's 'pill mill bill'

State lawmakers could narrow the focus of last year's "pill mill bill" during the legislative session that begins tomorrow, to concentrate on adults with long-term prescriptions for frequently abused painkillers, John Cheves of the Lexington Herald-Leader reported yesterday. Doctors, hospitals and patients have complained that HB 1 in its current from "restricts too many drugs in too many clinical settings, needlessly complicating medical care in an effort to shut down storefront pain clinics that recklessly hand out prescriptions," Cheves writes.

Under the law, people with long-term prescriptions for controlled substances must submit to urine drug testing to determine if they are actually taking the drug rather than selling it, and if other unprescribed drugs are in their systems. Some patients complained they were being charges hundreds of dollars for urine tests because their insurance companies denied coverage of such testing. One couple was charged more than $900 for tests to get prescriptions for insomnia and anti-anxiety medication.

The new rules, being drafted by the Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure, would reduce the mandate for drug screening to pain medicine prescriptions of 90 days or more. Other medications would not require testing unless the doctor thinks it's necessary. The new rules will say that other types of testing which would be cheaper, including hair, could be used. The board is also restricting its focus to powerful painkillers, including hydrocodone and oxycodone.

The new regulations are subject to approval by the legislature, which could write its own restrictions into law, but the consensus appears to be that the law needs tweaking, not major changes. for example, House Speaker Greg Stumbo said it should be changed to clarify that hospitals don't have to run a new background check on a patient every time they give another dose of a controlled substance during his stay. (Read more)

Health agencies in Rockcastle, Jackson, Clay, Harlan to lose 14 employees, some environmental and food-safety inspections

In the latest example of Medicaid changes' impact on local health departments, environmental and food-safety inspections will be reduced by layoffs in four counties served by the Cumberland Valley District Health Department, Nola Sizemore of the Harlan Daily Enterprise reports. Health departments in Harlan, Rockcastle, Clay and Jackson counties will lose a total of 14 employees later this month. (Enterprise photo: Harlan County Health Department)

Health Department Interim Director Lynett Renner told Sizemore said the layoffs, along with furlough days, are a result of decreased funding and the "advent of managed care organizations" in November 2011. The agency has almost $1 million in outstanding accounts because payments from those organizations have been slow to come in. "Also, one of the things that affected the health departments tremendously is we’re the only provider in the state required to pay a Medicaid match, which means for every service we provide for a client who has Medicaid, we have to pay the state back 20 percent and that recently increased to 28 percent," Renner said.

Renner told Sizemore that environmental services and restaurant health inspections would be most affected, adding that public health is often taken for granted by the local community. "So much is done behind the scenes to ensure the health and safety of every citizens," she told Sizemore. "My fear is they're reducing the ability of the public health infrastructure to be able to maintain that level of service that provides protection." (Read more)