Thursday, February 28, 2013

Kentucky's well-being ranks next to last, just above West Virginia

Kentucky ranks next to last in the annual Gallup-Healthways Well-Being index, just ahead of West Virginia. The Bluegrass State ranked last in the index's Healthy Behaviors category, which measures the percentage of residents who smoke, exercise frequently and eat healthy daily.

The chart on the left shows Kentucky's score in each of the six categories. The state's rankings haven't changed much since last year, with the exception of the Work Environment index, which fell from 8th to 31st.  The colored chart on the right shows the state's overall and category rankings for 2011 and 2012 (1 is the highest rank and 50 is the lowest). Click here for the detailed report on Kentucky.

Left: Kentucky Well-Being Indexes     Right: Well-Being rankings of Kentucky among the states
West Virginia, with an index score of 61.3, had the lowest well-being for the fourth year in a row. The report shows West Virginians were the least likely to be thriving and also had the nation's worst emotional health. They had the lowest score in the Physical Health category, which reflects having the highest percentage of obese residents in the nation.

There were few changes from 2011 to 2012 among states with the highest and lowest well-being scores. Hawaii residents had the highest well-being for the fourth straight year, followed by Colorado, Minnesota, Utah, and Vermont.

The report shows a consistent regional pattern in well-being over the past five years. Western and Midwestern states earned seven of the 10 highest overall scores, while New England states held the other three spots. Southern states had the six lowest scores, and Southern states had eight of the 10 lowest well-being scores.

Health departments in N. Ky. and Franklin County are among the first 11 in the nation to be accredited, a milestone in public health

Three Kentucky departments are among the first 11 in the nation to receive accreditation from the national Public Health Accreditation Board, which announced the achievements Thursday.

The Franklin County Health Department, the Three Rivers District Health Department in Carroll, Gallatin, Owen and Pendleton counties, and the Northern Kentucky Independent District Health Department, in Boone, Grant, Kenton and Campbell counties received five-year accreditation.

"I am proud of the departments achieving this public health milestone of national accreditation," said board Chair Dr. Douglas Scutchfield, professor of health services research and policy at the University of Kentucky College of Public Health. "Before now, there has not been a national system for health departments to demonstrate accountability and quality to their community."

Scutchfield said accreditation means a department is providing a "high quality of public health service, leadership and accountability to its constituents," and is a clear indication of the departments' "passion and dedication to improving and protecting the health" of the community.

The board, funded by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, has received 128 total applications for accreditation: 112 from local health departments, 15 from state departments; and one tribal department.

In addition to the three Kentucky departments that have received accreditation, other Kentucky departments have applied and are awaiting site visits. Those are the Lexington-Fayette County, Barren River District, Madison County and Christian County health departments, said Jill Midkiff, chief spokesperson for the Cabinet for Health and Family Services.

Although accreditation is completely voluntary, it is being encouraged for local health departments by the state Department for Public Health, which is in the process of applying for its own accreditation in 2014. Midkiff said the department just completed its state health assessment, which is now being reviewed, and is beginning to assemble partners to write a state health improvement plan, which should take about a year. (Click here to learn more about accreditation)

House sends Senate pill-mill and Medicaid managed-care fixes

The state House yesterday approved without dissent two bills aimed at improving Kentucky's health care.

House Bill 217 addresses some "unintended consequences" of last year's "pill mill bill" by easing some of the bills regualtions. The bill also tightens restricitions on prescription drugs, reports Ryan Alessi of cn|2.

The other measure, House Bill 5, deals with payment problems of the Medicaid managed care system. Itl would apply the prompt-payment laws to managed-care organizations and would move Medicaid late-payment complaints and disputes to the insurance department; those are now handled by the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, which administers Medicaid.

Both bills are expected to see action in the Senate.

Lack of statewide smoking ban represents one part of Kentucky's struggle to deal with tobacco use and the health issues it creates

By Molly Burchett
Kentucky Health News

As the bill for a statewide smoking ban lies on its deathbed in the General Assembly, new federal data show Kentucky still has the highest percentage of smokers (29 percent) of any state, leads the nation in the share of smoking high school students (24 percent) and spends only a minuscule portion of their tobacco revenues to fight tobacco use. Those figures come from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Tobacco Control State Highlights 2012 report. (For county-by-county figures, click here.)

The lack of a statewide smoking ban, which nevertheless has become popular among Kentuckians, represents only a small part of the struggle to address Kentuckians' tobacco use and resulting health problems. Kentucky's program to discourage tobacco use has been severely underfunded for years, contributing to the state's lack of or slow progress in reducing its smoking and tobacco use rates and subsequent health problems, said Dr. Ellen Hahn, director of the Kentucky Center for Smoke-Free Policy at the University of Kentucky.

State tobacco revenue (left bar) and spending (right bar)
The CDC says Kentucky should spend $57.2 million a year to have an effective, comprehensive tobacco-prevention program, but the state allocates only $2.1 million a year to such programs -- 3.7 percent of the recommended amount.

By another measure, the amount is only 0.6 percent of the estimated $381 million the state gets from tobacco taxes and the 1998 national settlement with cigarette manufacturers, according to a tobacco settlement report.

Meanwhile, Kentucky's health-care costs attributable to smoking add up to about $1.5 billion a year, and smoking-caused productivity losses total $2.3 billion a year. These amounts do not include health costs caused by exposure to secondhand smoke, smoking-caused fires, smokeless tobacco use or cigar and pipe smoking.

Despite the known health risks that tobacco use poses, smoking in Kentucky remains a part of everyday life in most places. But that is increasingly less so around the country, so there is an increasing gap between heavy-smoking and low-smoking states; smoking in Kentucky is about twice as prevalent as in Utah and California, reports Steven Reinberg of HealthDay. Click here for an interactive map of states' tobacco prevention efforts.
There are proven, multi-pronged strategies to curb smoking. They include combinations of higher tobacco taxes, smoke-free laws, media campaigns, and restricted access to tobacco products. However, Kentucky continues to lag behind other states due to "stagnant policies" and a lack of funding, said Hahn.

Many other factors contribute to Kentucky's lack of tobacco-prevention progress. By failing to substantially reduce adult smoking, the state misses opportunities to encourage younger adults and children not to smoke, Hahn said. Kentucky needs to employ strategies that communicate the success and affordability of tobacco cessation programs, she said; people often lack the encouragement to quit smoking because they don't know how or they don't believe it is possible.

The latest tobacco report is a timely reminder that tobacco use remains a huge public health problem for Kentucky and there are proven strategies that, if implemented, could help Kentuckians live a healthier, tobacco-free life.

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

'Incredible Colon' to march across the state in Colon Cancer Awareness Month; more than a dozen stops scheduled

A special tour throughout the state of the Incredible Colon — an inflatable model of a human colon, large enough for visitors to walk through it — will promote education about risks and preventive measures of colon cancer during March, National Colon Cancer Awareness Month.

Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer mortality in Kentucky and nationwide, and it affects men and women of all ethnicities. Kentuckians have a higher than average risk of colon cancer due to higher rates of obesity, diets high in fat, and lack of regular exercise.

As many as 60 percent of deaths from colorectal cancer could be prevented if everyone age 50 and older were screened regularly, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Screenings detect any abnormalities or early signs of cancer, like polyps in the colon, and when detected early, polyps can be easily removed during a colonoscopy before they develop into cancer. When colon cancer is found early and treated, the five-year relative survival rate is 90 percent, underscoring the need for preventive health exams.

However, only 63 percent of Kentuckians who should have screening tests have had them, according to Kentucky data from the federal Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, an ongoing national survey.

The colon tour is a coordinated promotion by the Kentucky Cancer Program, local cancer councils and the Kentucky Colon Cancer Prevention Project. It is free and open to the public and will take place in 13 Kentucky communities March 4-28:

• March 4: Fleming County Hospital, Flemingsburg (10:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.)
• March 5: Walmart, Manchester (Noon - 4 p.m.)
• March 6: Hazard ARH Medical Mall, Hazard (10 a.m. - 3 p.m.)
• March 7: Rowan County Chamber of Commerce, Morehead (members
  only, 9:30 a.m. - 3 p.m.)
• March 8: Frankfort Regional Hospital, Frankfort (9 a.m. - 4 p.m.)
• March 19: Lexmark, Lexington, (Employees only, 8:30 a.m. - 2 p.m.)
• March 20: Lawrence County High School, Louisa (8 a.m. - 5 p.m.)
• March 21: Lady of Bellefonte Health Center, Grayson (10 a.m. - 2 p.m.)
• March 23: Phillip Sharp Middle School, Butler (8-11 a.m. )
• March 25: Town Center Mall, Ashland (10 a.m. - 3 p.m.)
• March 26: Walmart, Georgetown (3-6 p.m.)
• March 27: Adron Doran University Center, Morehead (9:30 a.m. - 3 p.m.)
• March 28: Walmart, Somerset (10 a.m. - 2 p.m.)

Attendees are invited to dress in blue, the color of colon cancer awareness, and there will be door prizes, giveaways (while supplies last), refreshments and educational information about colon cancer screening, prevention and early detection. (Read more)

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Take care with a big cold-weather killer, the space heater

Warm weather isn't far away, but winter remains, and precautions should be taken to steer clear of a big cold-weather killer -- the space heater -- for the season's remaining cold days.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that each year, space heaters cause more than 25,000 residential fires and more than 300 deaths, and more than 6,000 Americans get emergency-room care for burn injuries associated with room heaters.

An Eastern Kentucky fire started by a space heater claimed the lives of one adult and four children last month. This blaze destroyed a rural house and family and was considered by authorites to be the worst the region has seen in a long time.

Using a space heater makes sense, and many people, particularly those in rural areas, use them to stay warm; but they must be used with caution. The Burn Center at Loyola University Medical Center is warning the public about the dangers of space heaters because many of the injuries they cause are preventable if the appropriate measures are taken. Here are some general safety tips from Loyola:

• Keep space heaters at least three feet away from furniture or other combustible material
• Don't place heaters on carpets or rugs.
• Locate heaters on a hard, level surface where a child or family pet can't brush against them.
• Never leave a heater on when an adult is not present in the room.
• Never keep flammable liquids near a heater.
• Mobile homes should use only electric heaters or vented, fuel-fired heaters.

Loyola also advises to use combustion space heaters only outside your home because they release carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide. If the heater is not properly vented, high levels of these gases are deadly. Also, when using electric space heaters, be sure to plug the heater directly into a wall outlet and use a heavy duty cord. Click here for more tips.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Bill for statewide smoking ban appears to have been extinguished

The bill to enact a statewide smoking ban in Kentucky appears to be dead for this session of the General Assembly.

The House sent House Bill 190 back to committee today, and "House Speaker Greg Stumbo said he doesn't expect the bill to make it back to the full House," Sam Dick reported for WKYT-TV.

Rep. Bob Damron, D-Nicholasville, an opponent of the bill, told Kentucky Health News on Feb. 21 that he did not think it had more than 41 votes in the 100-member House.

House panel approves bill easing rules of 2012's pill-mill bill

They could call it the pill they're taking to fix the pill-mill bill.

A state House committee approved a bill Tuesday that would tweak last year's legislation aimed at cracking down on prescription drug abuse through doctor shopping and "pill mills" where painkiller prescriptions are easily available for a fee.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo told the House Judiciary Committee that House Bill 217 would fix “unintended consequences” of 2012's House Bill 1 while still requiring that health-care providers use the Kentucky All Schedule Prescription Electronic Reporting system to track painkiller prescriptions.

The bill "would exempt hospitals and long-term care facilities from HB 1’s per-unit patient dosing restrictions and ensure that physicians decide when physicals are needed," the Kentucky Press News Service reported. "It would limit restricted access to narcotic pain medication for surgery patients, end-of-life patients, cancer patients and a few other categories of patients who may need increased pain management, Stumbo said." (Read more)

Bill to make Medicaid managed-care firms pay up, and more promptly, nears final form in House and will get attention in Senate

By Molly Burchett and Al Cross
Kentucky Health News

The complaints by many health-care providers about Medicare managed-care firms' delay or denial of payment claims appears to be generating a bipartisan solution in the General Assembly. A bill on the House floor that would transfer late-payment complaints to the state Department of Insurance, which enforces Kentucky's prompt-payment laws, appears to have support in the Senate.

House Bill 5 would apply the prompt-payment laws to managed-care organizations and would move Medicaid late-payment complaints to the insurance department; those are now handled by the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, which administers Medicaid.

Hospitals, doctors and other health care providers have complained that the cabinet is not resolving their payment disputes with managed-care firms. The bill cleared the House Health and Welfare Committee Feb. 21 and is awaiting a vote on the House floor. The bill is sponsored by House Speaker Greg Stumbo.

Sen. Julie Denton, chair of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, told Kenny Colston of Kentucky Public Radio that she plans to give the bill a hearing and supports its intent to make managed care organizations pay providers. "I think anything we can do to have more oversight and more assistance in keeping them in compliance with their contracts is a welcome breath of fresh air," she said.

Senate President Robert Stivers said he has concerns about the bill affecting the MCOs contracts with the state. But he said his chamber will take a look at the bill, Colston reports. The cabinet has had the same concerns, and some other objections that are to be addressed by House floor amendments.

Kentucky providers report being burdened by a lack of or delayed payments from the new managed-care system. Kentuckians have called for immediate action by state government to help fix these issues on behalf of providers and patients, which has prompted this bipartisan legislative response.

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

Survey suggests Great Recession has harmed the health of Kentuckians

A recent poll shows continuation of a trend threatening Kentucky's overall health: as the number of Kentuckians living in poverty goes up, the percentage of adults who report their health as excellent or very good goes down.

Just over four in 10 Kentucky adults in the latest Kentucky Health Issues Poll described their health as excellent or good. In 2008, almost half used those descriptions.

People with higher incomes have consistently reported better health since the poll began tracking the health status of Kentucky adults 2008. Since research has shown a strong link between higher income and better health, the Great Recession and the resulting increases in unemployment, underemployment and poverty appear to be harming the overall health of Kentucky’s population.

In the accompanying graph, showing responses by income categories, FPL stands for federal poverty level, which in 2011 was a yearly household income of $22,350. Among the categories, 58 percent in the highest category said their health is excellent or good, but only 25 percent of those living in poverty used those descriptions.

Although the health status for each income category has remained fairly constant, the poll reflects federal data that show more people living in poverty. More than 33 percent in the latest poll were earning less than the federal poverty level; in 2008, that was only 19 percent. The polls, which used self-reporting of income and survey methods that differ from federal methods, showed much higher poverty rates than federal data.

“We know there is a direct relationship between income and good health, and these data reflect that,” said Dr. Susan Zepeda, president and CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, a sponsor of the poll. “While changes in our health-care delivery system may provide more health-care opportunities for low-income Kentuckians, these results show how vital a strong economy, and jobs that pay well, are to our population’s health.”

The poll, co-sponsored by the Health Foundation of Greater Cincinnati, was taken 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.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Essential-benefits rule expands mental-health and substance-abuse coverage; Ky. needs more facilities to treat newly eligible

The Department of Health and Human Services has defined the 10 "essential health benefits" insurance plans must provide, and it included benefits for mental health and treatment of substance-abuse disorders..

Nearly 20 percent of Americans don't have access to mental-health services and over 30 percent have no coverage for substance-abuse treatment. This rule will expand mental health and substance-abuse treatment benefits to 62 million Americans, according to HHS.

Expanded coverage for mental health and substance abuse treatment programs in Kentucky could bring about a dramatic shift in the delivery of these services. There is already a shortage of treatment options and centers for Kentuckians, and those suffering from addiction have not had coverage for such treatment; the proposed rule will change that.

Recovery Kentucky, a public-private partnership with residential facilities, was created to help Kentuckians recover from substance abuse. It has 10 centers, in Campbellsville, Erlanger, Florence, Harlan, Henderson, Hopkinsville, Morehead, Owensboro, Paducah, and Richmond, according to the 2012 Justice & Public Safety Cabinet report, which included the map below. 

Health-insurance plans must cover the 10 essential benefits beginning in 2014, so the state must prepare for the newly insured in addition to newly covered services. The rule defines what must be covered in insurance plans and bans discrimination based on age or pre-existing conditions. Among the core package of items and services, known as “essential health benefits" are items and services in the following categories:
  1. Ambulatory patient services
  2. Emergency services
  3. Hospitalization
  4. Maternity and newborn care
  5. Mental health and substance use disorder services, including behavioral health treatment
  6. Prescription drugs
  7. Rehabilitative and habilitative services and devices
  8. Laboratory services
  9. Preventive and wellness services and chronic disease management
  10. Pediatric services, including oral and vision care
States are given flexibility in implementing the federal health-care reform law with a benchmark approach. The Kentucky Department of Insurance has recommended that the Anthem Preferred Provider Organization plan serve as the “benchmark” plan for the Kentucky Health Benefit Exchange. HHS will review the recommendation and accept public comments prior to making a final decision. (Read more)

Medicaid expansion brings primary care access to the forefront

The federal health reform law will usher at least seven million more Americans into Medicaid, and as states like Kentucky debate Medicaid expansion, policymakers are struggling with the question of whether there will even be enough primary care doctors to provide care, reports Michael Ollove of Stateline.

The country is already short of primary-care doctors. Although many primary-care physicians would take on new Medicare or privately-insured patients, only two out of three primary-care physicians surveyed in 2011 were willing to accept new Medicaid patients.

Why? Poor compensation is one reason; on average, Medicaid pays physicians 59 percent of the amount Medicare pays for primary care services, reports Ollove. Many Kentucky primary-care providers are also deterred by existing Medciaid problems. Providers report being burdened by a lack of or delayed payments from the new managed-care system.

Congress hopes to lure practitioners to primary care with a provision that raises primary-care providers' Medicaid fees to Medicare levels. This is only a temporary fix, which went into effect at the beginning of the year and will remain in effect for two years, reports Ollove.

The impact in Kentucky remains uncertain. Lawrence Kissner, Kentucky's commissioner for health and family services, says the state’s Medicaid pay raise in 2005 resulted in a 36 percent increase in the number of primary care doctors accepting Medicaid patients, reports Ollove. This is precisely what the health-law authors hope will happen now.

Kentucky is addressing the health coverage issue in other ways.  The General Assembly is considering a bill that would repeal a burdensome supervision requirement and encourage more independent physician assistants to remain in Kentucky to serve medically underserved areas.

Although Kentucky already allows nurse practitioners to practice independently, the Medicaid rate increase applies only to physicians who provide primary care services. It does not apply to nurse practitioners, who have been touted as a potential solution to the primary care problem and often provide care in underserved areas of the state. (Read more)

Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky gives UK $1 million for endowed co-chairs in rural health policy

Tyrone "Ty" Borders in the University of Kentucky College of Public Health's Department of Health Services Management, and Brady Reynolds in the UK College of Medicine's Department of Behavioral Science, have been named the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky endowed co-chairs in rural health policy.

A $1 million gift from the foundation to the College of Medicine was matched by the state Research Challenge Trust Fund, better known as "Bucks for Brains." The gift has the goal of enriching Kentucky's research capabilities in regards to rural health issues and rural health policy.

Reynolds earned doctoral and master's degrees in life-span developmental psychology from West Virginia University. He also holds a master's degree in general/experimental psychology and a bachelor's degree (magna cum laude and with distinction) from James Madison University. His research has focused on nicotine use by adolescents, drug use, gambling and other addictive behaviors. In recent years Reynolds has begun research to promote smoking cessation among pregnant smokers in rural Appalachia.

Borders earned doctoral and master's degrees in health administration, as well as a master's degree in epidemiology from the University of Iowa, and a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of Kansas. His research focuses on the conduct and analysis of population-based studies to identify subgroups of persons at risk for poor health and problems obtaining health services, with an emphasis on rural populations.

“Drs. Reynolds and Borders have skills in intervention research and rural health policy expertise that can help the University remain at the forefront of rural health policy work in today’s rapidly changing healthcare environment,” said Susan Zepeda, president and CEO of the foundation.

The mission of the foundation is to addresses the unmet health care needs of Kentuckians. Mission objectives are advanced through two initiative areas: promoting responsive health policy and a new children’s initiative named “Investing in Kentucky’s Future.” Foundation work aims to improve access to health care, reduce risks and disparities, promote health equity and healthy lifestyles. Since 2001, over $22 million has been invested in health policy research and demonstration grant projects across Kentucky

Friday, February 22, 2013

If Republican governors are agreeing to expand Medicaid after lobbying by hospitals, can Beshear be far behind?

By Al Cross
Kentucky Health News

Florida Gov. Rick Scott's surprising announcement that he would use federal health-care reform money to expand the Medicaid program to households earning up to 138 percent of the poverty level "means the dominoes are falling," says Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, a consumer group that lobbied for the law. And another domino seems likely to be Democratic Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, without involvement by the state legislature.

Beshear has said he will expand Medicaid if Kentucky can afford it, and has mentioned that the state can reserve the right to pull out of the deal in 2017, when it must start paying a small but increasing share of the cost, reaching 10 percent in 2020. Scott used the same qualification.

Pollack told The New York Times that the message sent by seven Republican governors' acceptance of the deal is  “Even though I may not have supported and even strongly opposed the Affordable Care Act, it would be harmful to the citizens of my state if I didn’t opt into taking these very substantial federal dollars to help people who truly need it.” The GOP governors (of states outlined in Times map below) have said they will expand the program partly to protect rural hospitals and the poor.

"The change of heart for some Republican governors has come after vigorous lobbying by health industry players, particularly hospitals," the Times notes. "Hospital associations around the country signed off on Medicaid cuts under the health care law on the assumption that their losses would be more than offset by new paying customers, including many insured by Medicaid. . . . Every few days, state hospital associations and advocates for poor people issue reports asserting that the economic benefits of expanding Medicaid would outweigh the costs." (Read more)

Kentucky Hospital Association President Michael Rust said the trade group is for "universal coverage" by whatever means but is not lobbying Beshear for Medicaid expansion. "We assume he is" going to expand it, Rust said in an interview today. He said the association has not taken a position on bills that would require legislative approval of expansion and the health-insurance exchange being set up under the reform law. The legislation, Senate Bill 39 and SB40, passed the Republican-controlled Senate on party-line votes today, and are expected to die in the Democratic-majority House.

Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer said the bills were aimed at reining in "big daddy government." Here's a video from cn|2:

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

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Deaths by overdose, mainly of prescription drugs, hit a new record in U.S. in 2011; a huge problem in Kentucky

Drug overdose deaths in the U.S. rose for the 11th straight year and accidental deaths involving addictive prescription drugs overshadow deaths from illicit narcotics, new federal data show.

In 2010, there were 38,329 drug overdose deaths nationwide, and prescription drugs were the cause of nearly 60 percent of them.  As in recent years, opioid drugs such as OxyContin and Vicodin were the biggest problem, contributing to three-fourths of medication-overdose deaths, report Lindsey Tanner and Mike Stoppe of The Associated Press.

Anti-anxiety drugs including Valium were involved in almost 30 percent of medication-related deaths.  Most were unintentional overdoses; 17 percent were rules suicides. The data were reported Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

In Kentucky, drug abuse is epidemic and more than 1,000 Kentuckians a year die from prescription-drug overdoses, more than the number who die in car accidents, according to a 2012 Kentucky Justice & Public Safety Cabinet report. About 85 percent of Kentucky's drug-related deaths were accidental and approximately 2 percent were suicides, according to federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.

The number of drug-overdose deaths in Kentucky rose a staggering 296 percent from 2000 to 2010. In 2010, the record number of deaths reflected the national trend and also involved opioid painkillers, according to a study by the Kentucky Injury Prevention and Research Center. The highest rates of overdose deaths during the study period were concentrated in Eastern Kentucky and among men, reports Bill Estep of the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Many doctors and patients don't realize how addictive these prescription drugs can be, and that they're too often prescribed for pain that can be managed with less risky drugs, said Dr. Thomas Frieden, head of the CDC. He said the data show a need for more prescription drug monitoring programs at the state level, and more laws shutting down "pill mills" -- doctor offices and pharmacies that over-prescribe addictive medicines, AP reports.

That was the aim of House Bill 1, passed in last year's legislative session. The Kentucky All-Schedule Prescription Electronic Reporting  (KASPER) system has undergone several changes since the bill's passage to help crack down on so-called pill mills.

Last month, a federal panel of drug safety specialists recommended that Vicodin and dozens of other medicines be placed in a more restrictive drug category, which would make 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 handwritten prescription from a doctor would be allowed.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Three Kentucky health departments in first group up for national accreditation; requires local health assessment, improvement plan

By Molly Burchett
Kentucky Health News

Three Kentucky health departments are among the first in the nation to be considered for national accreditation, a process that could help improve patient care and put the agencies in closer touch with their communities' needs.

The national Public Health Accreditation Board will make its first accreditation decisions next week. Among the first group being considered are the Franklin County Health Department, the Three Rivers District Health Department in Carroll, Gallatin, Owen and Pendleton counties, and the Northern Kentucky Independent District Health Department, in Boone, Grant, Kenton and Campbell counties.

The decision will be a historic one, and this is an exciting time for the board and Kentucky, said board Chair Dr. Douglas Scutchfield, professor of health services research and policy at the University of Kentucky College of Public Health.

The accreditation program was launched in September 2011 after a seven-year development process aimed at advancing quality and performance and value in the departments, and their accountability to stakeholders, Scutchfield said.

Departments are assessed by rigorous standards tested in 30 diverse health departments across the country to ensure essential public health services are provided in the community, according to the board's website. Two of the 12 "domains" of the standards deal with administration and governance. In Kentucky, state law makes county health boards responsible for the health of the county. Counties served by district health departments still have county boards.

Accreditation can help a board and department identify opportunities to improve performance and management, and to improve relationships with the community, since the process requires a community health assessment, a community improvement plan and a strategic plan to address the need of the community, said Scutchfield.

The process, often called "Mobilizing for Action through Planning and Partnerships," can help boards and departments be better prepared to proactively respond to emerging and re-emerging health challenges. For a PDF of Franklin County's MAPP document, click here.

The accrediting board has received 108 applications from health departments around the nation: 13 state health departments, 94 local health departments and one tribal agency. In addition to the three Kentucky agencies being considered in the first group, the other Kentucky departments that have applied for accreditation and are awaiting site visits are Lexington-Fayette County, Barren River District, Madison County and Christian County, Jill Midkiff, chief spokesperson for the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, said in an email.

The accreditation process encourages departments to move away from the "silo" model to collaborate with community programs. In Christian County, it has changed the way department employees view their jobs, because they have to continuously reflect on their methods and brainstorm for ways to improve, Health Department Director Mark Pyle told Nick Tabor of the Kentucky New Era.

"Accreditation will likely open new revenue streams," Tabor writes. "But in a way, the process matters more than the status designation."

Midkiff said, "In addition to benefiting from the process itself, our federal and state resources in public health are increasingly shrinking, we are being asked to do more with less. And there is a need for transparency within agencies."

Midkiff said accreditation "may make the agency more competitive for grants in the future. We are actually seeing quality improvement and performance management requirements being written in many federal grants now, so it is being expected at the national level."

Although accreditation is completely voluntary, it is being encouraged for local health departments by the state Department for Public Health, which is in the process of applying for its own accreditation in 2014. Midkiff said the department just completed its state health assessment, which is now being reviewed, and is beginning to assemble partners to write a state health improvement plan, which should take about a year.

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.

Poll finds four out of five Kentuckians are comfortable seeing a nurse practitioner or physician assistant for routine care

New poll figures indicate the majority of Kentuckians are comfortable seeing a nurse practitioner, physician assistant or mid-level clinician for their routine care, especially if they have been treated by such clinicians. The findings come as the General Assembly considers a bill that would allow physician assistants to practice more independently.

In the Kentucky Health Issues poll last fall, 79 percent of Kentucky adults said they would be comfortable seeing a nurse practitioner for routine health care, and half of those people said they would be very comfortable. Eighty-one percent said they would be comfortable seeing a physician assistant for routine health care, and 42 percent of those respondents said they would be very comfortable.
Reported comfort was higher among people who had received care from a nurse practitioner or physician assistant in the past year; 86 percent of those people said they would be comfortable seeing an NP again for routine care. Eighty-eight percent of those who had received care from a PA in the past year said they would be comfortable doing that again.
The poll also inquired about a proposed new “mid-level” profession: advanced dental hygiene practitioners. These practitioners would provide routine dental care, including diagnostic and preventive services such as filling cavities. Although advanced dental hygiene practitioners cannot currently be licensed to practice in Kentucky, polling data indicated 73 percent of Kentucky adults would be comfortable with such a practitioner providing routine dental care.

"As providers move to create a system of care that includes a range of skill sets and training in its care teams, new strategies emerge that hold promise to increase access to affordable care – not just in urban centers but also in rural and underserved communities,” said Dr. Susan Zepeda, president and CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, which sponsored the poll. “The data suggest that the public is very receptive to health care services from different types of clinicians.”

The poll, co-sponsored by the Health Foundation of Greater Cincinnati, was taken 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. (Read more)

Bill to shield nursing homes from lawsuits clears Senate along party lines; not looking healthy in House despite TV, radio ads

Last week the state Senate approved on party lines a bill that would make lawsuits against nursing homes go through a review panel first. Republicans supported the bill and Democrats voted against it in a 23-12 vote that marked the clearest partisan split in the Senate in this year's legislative session.

Senate Bill 9 would create medical review panels of three physicians and an attorney moderator to hear complaints against long-term care facilities and vote on whether the suit had enough merit to go to court.  The bill's sponsor, Senate Health and Welfare Chairwoman Julie Denton, R-Louisville, declind to answer an opposign senator's questions about the bill. She said in introducing it that the panel would be advisory but its opinion would be admissible in court and would curb such lawsuits, reports Jack Brammer of the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Bills like this have failed in years past and could have diverse implications for Kentucky communities and nursing homes. At least one Kentucky newspaper looked around and found that lawsuits are one reason Extendicare Health Services Inc. shed management responsibilities last year for all 21 of its facilities in Kentucky, reports Nick Tabor of the Kentucky New Era in Hopkinsville.

Without Extendicare management in Western Kentucky, the volume of nursing-home lawsuits in the region appears to be shrinking, Tabor reports. In recent years, nearly all the Christian County cases that have been closed were dismissed through settlements, not by judges declaring them unfounded. This suggests the bill would minimally affect the county, writes Tabor. Other Kentucky communities may be affected differently; judges differ from circuit to circuit.

Although the bill passed the Senate, it appears to be on its deathbed in the House. Rep. Tom Burch, D-Louisville, who chairs the House Health and Welfare Committee, joked about its prospects to Tabor: “I can’t make any predictions about the bill this time, but I’ve called in three priests to have the last rites ready.” If nursing homes received this new layer of protection, he said, hospitals and day-care centers would want it too.

A similar bill died in Burch's committee last year; this version is being supported by television and radio commercials urging viewers and listeners to call their legislators in support. When Extendicare announced last spring it was transferring management of all its Kentucky facilities to a Texas company, it cited Kentucky’s “worsening litigation environment” and said tort reform seemed unlikely here.

Bernie Vonderheide, director of Kentuckians for Nursing Home Reform, said most so-called “frivolous” lawsuits would cease if the state imposed minimum staffing requirements on nursing homes, his group's main legislative goal. (Read more)

Medically unnecessary procedures are part of culture of disability in Eastern Kentucky, professor writes

St. Joseph London Hospital is taking heat over accusations of performing medically unnecessary cardiac catheterizations and other invasive cardiac procedures, and a look at the health data by a Kentucky physician suggests that the phenomenon is broader and reflects cultural problem in Eastern Kentucky.

An examination of health data by Dr. Peter Hasselbacher, a retired internist and professor emeritus at the University of Louisville, confirmed that St. Joseph London performed a large number of invasive heart procedures for such a relatively small, rural hospital.  Many patients have sued the hospital, alleging unnecessary procedures, notes a story in The Courier-Journal.  And when the hospital came under federal supervision, the frequency of its most commonly performed stent-angioplasty procedure dropped by 37 percent, Hasselbacher reports on his Kentucky Health Policy Institute blog.

As the number of St. Joseph London procedures dropped sharply, there was a more dramatic increase in catheterizations and angioplasties statewide. From 2010 to 2011, the number of the most commonly reported angioplasties in Kentucky increased from 12,803 to 22,688, a 77 percent increase, reports Hasselbracher.

This map showing how many people living in each of Kentucky’s counties underwent a percutaneous transluminal coronary angioplasty (PTCA) in 2010. This is the most common invasive cardiac procedure in Kentucky and is used to prevent and treat heart attacks.

In this map, the darker the shade of blue, the greater percentage of people living in that county had an angioplasty in 2010. The differences among the counties is staggering. It ranges from a low of 42 people per 100,000 in a single year, all the way up to 1,700 per 100,000 – a 40-fold difference. In the counties with the highest rates, between 1 percent  and 2 percent of the county's population underwent the procedure in a single year.

These rates are based on where people live, rather than where they go to the hospital, and the counties with the highest rates are in Appalachia. Hasselbacher calls Eastern Kentucky is "an angioplasty factory" and says the phenomenon can't be be fully explained by the simple fact that people in the region are sicker than those in the rest of the state; he offers another explanation.

"It is my belief that a major, perhaps even the major segment of the economy of Eastern Kentucky revolves around the getting of disability and the keeping of disability" and its government benefits, Hasselbacher writes. "As other industries such as coal and tobacco have faded in importance, the pursuit of disability, medically justified and not, has drained away resources from medical services into an ersatz unemployment and social support program."

Hasselbacher, left, says he doesn't wish to imply that the people of Eastern Kentucky are morally distinguishable from the rest of us, or that their health-care professionals are any less professional. He acknowledges that the region has had an uphill struggle for many years, and it is easy for providers to fall into the trap of wanting to do everything and anything to help patients.

"A culture has evolved in which being sick or just having a diagnosis of being sick is a gateway to economic security for people and professionals alike," Hasselbacher writes. "Some patients, doctors, hospitals, and lawyers wittingly or unwittingly support that process. Doing medially unnecessary diagnostic testing and treatment is part of that culture. It is also good for business." (Read more)   

Monday, February 18, 2013

Herald-Leader says state running out of time to fix Medicaid managed care, with decision on expansion looming

A recent editorial in the Lexington Herald-Leader called for swift legislative action to fix the problems of Medicaid managed care. Timely action is even more necessary since the state is considering expanding the program, some critics have said.

Fifteen months ago the administration of Gov. Steve Beshear made a quick transition to managed care that privatized Medicaid for 550,000 poor, elderly and disabled people and was projected to save Kentucky $375 million in three years.  If the state expands Medicaid, that number of covered individuals could grow to more than 1 million — or roughly a quarter of all Kentuckians.

Although Medicaid is encouraging preventive care, such as more well-child visits and diabetes testing, providers haven't been paid for some of their services. The state recently granted the managed care companies a seven percent rate increase, and the companies have said they're losing money here and one is pulling out in July. But at the end of the first eight months of managed care Medicaid, the state had paid $500 million more to the companies than the companies had paid to providers.

"The delay and denial of payments are creating financial crises for providers and pharmacies and forcing small hospitals to lay off employees, deplete reserves and default on bonds," the editorial said. "This is creating a massive transfer of wealth from Kentucky medical practices and hospitals to for-profit companies based in other states. . . . For patients, the companies are putting up barriers to care that would be illegal in the private sector. The new burdens that have been placed on vulnerable Kentuckians and their medical providers threaten to unravel not just the safety net but, in some places, the whole health care system."

The editorial called on the General Assembly to pass legislation to curb abuses such as "the stiffing of hospitals that provide emergency care as required by federal law. . . . House Bill 299 and Senate Bill 178 would also curb the false economy of severely limiting in-patient mental-health care for children while referring them to nonexistent out-patient care."

The legislation would also require Medicaid managed care companies to:
  • Meet the same provider network standards, including distance to hospitals and obstetrical care, as other insurers operating under Kentucky law.
  • Decide claims based on nationally recognized clinical standards and provide specific reasons for denials so providers would know what's allowable.
  • Participate in an appeals process for denied claims.
Appalachian Regional Healthcare wants to sue the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and others, alleging that the new system is out of compliance with federal law.

"The feds shouldn't have to be dragged in," the editorial says. "The federal government covers roughly 70 percent of Kentucky’s $6 billion Medicaid program. Expanding Medicaid to include more low-income people is a linchpin of federal health care reform," and Beshear has said that he wants to expand Medicaid if the state can afford it. "Kentucky can't wait much longer to get Medicaid right." (Read more)

Friday, February 15, 2013

Beshear endorses statewide smoking ban as bill moves to the House floor; Williamsburg adopts its own ban

Gov. Steve Beshear endorsed a statewide smoking ban yesterday at a Frankfort rally to push the bill that would enact the ban.

"Beshear, who later acknowledged that he smoked in college but quit soon afterwards, said Kentucky ranks No. 1 in the nation in smoking and lung cancer," reports Jack Brammer of the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Noting that Kentucky leads the nation in smoking, Beshear said, "Our addiction hurts productivity, jacks up health care costs and literally kills our people. Yet we've never instituted a statewide law to protect Kentuckians from secondhand smoke." Noting that over one-third of Kentuckians live in jurisdictions with smoking bans, he said, "It's time that we extend that protection to all Kentuckians. . . . Years from now, people will wonder why we waited so long."

Republican Rep. Julie Raque Adams  of Louisville, a co-sponsor of the bill, noted at the rally that Williamsburg this week became the 23rd Kentucky locality to adopt a smoking ban.

The statewide measure, House Bill 190, was posted for passage in the House today but is not expected to be called for a vote unless supporters show Speaker Greg Stumbo that they have the votes to pass it.

Read more here:

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Frontier Nursing University in Hyden helps bring better family health care to rural America with distance learning

Midwives and nurse practitioners who recently graduated from Frontier Nursing University in Hyden address the unique challenges of rural areas, including shortages of health care providers, by bringing local health care to rural communities across the country. FNU was featured in a recent report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

FNU, a graduate program that offers distance education to nurses with an interest in nurse-midwifery and family nurse practitioner and women’s health specialties, aims to build a pipeline of highly educated nurses serving in rural or underserved areas, reports RWJF, one of its funders.  Many scholars and grantees sponsored by RWJF go on to spearhead projects to improve access to high quality nursing care in remote areas, the foundation says.

“We’re trying to introduce primary care providers into rural areas in such a way that they can provide high quality care and preventive services too,” says Suzan Ulrich, associate dean of midwifery and women’s health at FNU and an RWJF executive nurse fellow.

Demand for health care is rising nationwide because of an aging population that is living longer, but sicker, with multiple chronic conditions. The need for health care providers will intensify next year, when millions of new patients will become eligible for health insurance under the health-reform law.

Rural parts of the country face unique challenges and shortages of health providers, including nurses, can be particularly acute in rural areas, said Alan Morgan, CEO of the National Rural Health Association. These nurses and other providers have less access to education programs, which tend to be located in more densely populated areas. Programs that offer advanced degrees, from the baccalaureate to the doctorate, can be especially difficult to access for students living in rural areas, according to RWJF.

Identifying and educating nurses from rural areas is a key goal of FNU, which offers distance education programs that enable students to remain in their home communities and a “bridge” program that allows nurses with associate’s degrees to move more easily into master’s and doctorate programs. “These students really love where they live,” Ulrich said. “If we can educate them to stay within their communities, then those communities are going to have a provider who’s going to be there a long time." (Read more)

Senate advances bill to allow Christian heath coverage cooperative back into Kentucky

Without dissent, the state Senate approved a bill Wednesday, Feb. 13, that would grant Christian health cost-sharing organization Medi-Share an exemption from the state's insurance laws and enable it to resume operation in Kentucky.

The Florida-based health care ministry was forced out of Kentucky last year by Franklin Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate, who ordered Medi-Share to stop operating in Kentucky. He acted at the request of the state Department of Insurance, which said the organization didn't comply with insurance regulations.

Sen. Tom Buford, R-Nicholasville, chairman of the 
Banking and Insurance Committee and sponsor of the bill, said the legislation would allow about 800 Kentuckians to rejoin Medi-Share. It would remove Medi-Share and two similar ministries operating in Kentucky out from oversight of the insurance department.

"The Department of Insurance regulates insurance companies. This is not an insurance company," Buford told the committee. Medi-Share does not include any contractual agreement to pay medical bills, but users are matched with each other to help pay for medical expenses through community giving, according to its website.

Medi-Share's plans resembles secular insurance in some ways but only allows participation by people who pledge to live Christian lives with no smoking, drinking, using drugs or engaging in sex outside of marriage, reports Beth Musgrave of the Lexington Herald-Leader.

The bill would require Medi-Share to tell members it's not an insurance company and does not guarantee that all medical bills would be paid, notes Roger Alford of The Associated Press.

The Rev. Dewayne Walker, pastor of Mount Olivet Baptist Church in Lexington, told the committee Medi-Share paid about $250,000 in medical bills for his wife, who had cancer. Medi-Share President Tony Meggs testified in court last year that the group has helped arrange to pay for some $25 million in medical bills for Kentuckians over the past 10 years, Alford reports.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

28% of Ky. adults 18-64 say they lack health coverage; 41% lacked it sometime in last year; employer coverage down since '08

Nearly three in 10 working-age adults in Kentucky are not covered by any form of health insurance, and the number who get health insurance from their employer, or their spouse’s employer, has plummeted since 2008, the first year of the Great Recession, according to the latest Kentucky Health Issues Poll. The decline accelerated in the last year, and was accompanied by a big jump in the percentage on public insurance.

The poll, taken Sept. 20 through Oct. 14, found that 28 percent of adults aged 18 to 64 said they had no health insurance at the time they were interviewed, and 41 percent said they had been uninsured at some point in the previous year.

The survey found that 37 percent get their insurance from an employer or spouse’s employer, well below the 55 percent figure in a similar poll in 2008. Conversely, 27 percent are now covered by some form of public insurance, way up from the 10 percent in 2008.

Medicaid in Kentucky covers households with incomes up to 70 percent of the federal poverty threshold; 43 percent of working-age adults living at or below that level reported being uninsured last fall. Among those with incomes more than double the poverty level for their size household, 15 percent said they were uninsured.

The poll was conducted for the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky and the Health Foundation of Greater Cincinnati by the Institute for Policy Research at the University of Cincinnati. Pollsters contacted a random sample of 1,680 adults throughout Kentucky by telephone, including landlines and cell phones. The poll questioned only working-age adults about insurance because 98 percent of seniors have some form of health coverage. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.

Kentucky ranks 10th in nation for injury-related deaths

Injuries are the third leading cause of death nationally, the leading cause of death for Americans between the ages of 1 and 44. Kentucky is among the nation's most problematic states, and it could take several more steps to prevent injuries, says a new state-by-state report on injury-prevention policy.

Kentucky ranks 10th in the nation for injury-related deaths, with a rate of 76.5 such deaths per 100,000 people, and the state spends about $26.8 million for injury-related medical expenses. New Mexico has the highest rate of injury-related deaths, 97.8 per 100,000 people, and New Jersey has the lowest at 36.1. The national rate is 57.9, so Kentucky's rate is almost a third higher than the nation.

Kentucky scored with only three of a set of 10 key indicators for injury prevention: its primary seat belt law, which most states also have; its prescription drug monitoring program, driven by heavy abuse of painkillers; and a strong law on youth sports concussions. Among the injury-prevention indicators that Kentucky lacks, it does not:

  • Require bicycle helmets for all children.
  • Require that children ride in a car seat or booster seat to at least the age of eight.
  • Require helmets for all motorcycle riders. (It once did, but when the law was repealed, deaths rose 50 percent, the report says.)
  • Does not require mandatory ignition interlocks for convicted drunk drivers.
  • Does not allow people in dating relationships to get protection orders.

The report by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation concludes that millions of injuries could be prevented and billions of dollars could be saved in medical costs each year if more states adopted, implemented and enforced additional research-based injury prevention policies and programs. (Read more).

Tips to help avoid a preventable return trip to the hospital

Patients too often leave the hospital without knowing how to care for themselves, leading to a preventable return. Here are tips to improve your chances of a successful recovery at home:

Be sure you understand your illness, and the care you received in the hospital.

Ask if you will require help at home. Can you bathe yourself? Climb stairs? Will you need bandages changed or shots? If so, do you have a caregiver to help, or will you need to arrange a visiting nurse?

Repeat back your care instructions to those who give them, to be sure you understand them.

Ask for a written discharge plan that lists your medical conditions, your treatments, and the plan for your ongoing care.

Get a list of all medications, how to use them, and what to do if you experience side effects. Be sure to ask whether to continue medications you were taking before this hospitalization.

Ask what symptoms suggest you’re getting worse and what to do if that happens, especially at night or during the weekend.

What follow-up appointments will you need and when? Ask if your hospital will make the appointments for you, and send your records.

Do you have transportation home, to follow-up appointments, and to the drugstore?

If you have a regular physician, make sure the hospital sends a report of your hospital stay.

If you are uninsured or will have difficulty affording prescriptions, a hospital discharge planner or social worker may be able to link you to community resources that can help.

Get a name and number to call if questions about your hospitalization or discharge arise.

Sources: The Associated Press; Dr. Eric Coleman, University of Colorado; Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; Journal of the American Medical Association.

Beshear will expand Medicaid, Democrat and Republican say; D says governor believes the state can opt out if it's not affordable

State legislators in both parties say they expect Gov. Steve Beshear to expand Medicaid to cover several hundred thousand more Kentuckians who earn up to 138 percent of the federal poverty rate.

Rep. Tom Burch, chairman of the House Health and Welfare Committee, told Ryan Alessi of cn|2’s "Pure Politics" that the governor told him exactly that last week. And Sen. Tom Buford, R-Nicholasville, told Kentucky Health News that he expects Beshear to do the deed.

Burch told Alessi that Beshear has decided to move forward with the expansion because he believes the state would be able to opt out if state officials discover that Kentucky can’t afford it after 2017.

Beshear didn’t mention expansion in his State of the Commonwealth Address last week, and the governor’s office said the official decision hadn’t been made yet but didn’t dispute Burch’s statement, Alessi reports. Here is the salient part of his interview with Burch:

Buford said Beshear will be under much political pressure to expand Medicaid because it is President Obama's signature program and expansion will create jobs. However, Republican legislators generally  have opposed the expansion of Medicaid because the state can’t afford it. The federal government will cover the cost of covering the extra people from 2014 through 2016. Kentucky would have to kick in 5 percent of the costs starting in 2017 and 10 percent by 2020.  

The federal government covers roughly 70 percent of Kentucky’s $6 billion Medicaid program. It covers more than 800,000 Kentuckians and with the expansion, that number could grow to more than 1 million — or roughly a quarter of all Kentuckians, reports Alessi.

“I think it’s critical that we take a look at those to see how we achieve that. I’m not sure that this would be the way that would be best-suited to Kentucky and be fiscally responsible for the state of Kentucky,” Sen. Julie Denton, R-Louisville and chairman of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, told Alessi in December (at 4:10 of the interview below)“Frankly, I don’t think we can afford to do it,” she said.

Nursing homes push for lawsuit protection with fast-moving bill and broadcast ads; newspaper editorials excoriate sponsor, industry

A state Senate committee has approved a bill that would require lawsuits against nursing homes to clear a review panel before going to court, a move that has drawn very sharp criticism from the editorial pages of the state's two largest newspapers. Meanwhile, the nursing-home industry is running television and radio ads urging calls to legislators in favor of the measure, which the Senate Health and Welfare Committee approved 7-4 last Wednesday without hearing from its opponents.

"Slimy action on questionable bill" read the headline over Tuesday's Lexington Herald-Leader's editorial, which began, "Good ideas can withstand criticism. So, when lawmakers move a piece of legislation without hearing from any of its opponents, you have to wonder whether they're sneaking through a stinker."

The chairman of the committee and the bill's sponsor, Sen. Julie Denton, R-Louisville, said some members had to leave for other meetings. "But somehow they had time to listen to industry spokesmen before voting," the Herald-Leader noted. "The nursing home industry claims that it is under siege from frivolous lawsuits drummed up by attorneys advertising for clients and that this legal threat pushes up nursing homes' insurance and legal costs, taking money that otherwise could go into patient care." (Read more)

The Courier-Journal editorial, which first reported the committee's action, accused Denton of "a brazen abuse of her power as committee chairman" and said sarcastically that she was "humane" to spare members of he committee "the ugly details of nursing home neglect and abuse. . . . Why should members, before lunch, have to consider graphic testimony about bedsores, near-starvation, dehydration and bowel obstructions suffered by elderly, helpless people? But for members of the General Assembly who are interested in the facts, here are some:

• Kentucky currently has about 23,000, mostly frail, elderly people who are residents in about 280 nursing homes. About half the homes have been cited by federal inspectors for a serious deficiency since 2009.
• 40 percent of the homes are rated at below average by the U.S. Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services when it comes to basic health and safety.
• In 2012, Kentucky ranked first in overall federal fines for violations and one Kentucky nursing home racked up the nation’s highest fines for the year.
• Kentucky ranks first in serious nursing home deficiencies that threaten the safety of residents. (Read more)

Sen. Ray Jones, D-Pikeville, who called Denton's move "blatantly wrong." has filed several floor amendments to the bill, which remained in the Senate Rules Committee Monday.

The Kentucky Association of Health Care Facilities is pushing the bill with TV and radio commercials urging calls to legislators. It placed $9,464 worth of ads on Lexington TV stations through Feb. 14.

Monday, February 11, 2013

First major study of diet and strokes links fried, sugary Southern diet, low on fruits and vegetables, to increased risk

Genuine Kentucky fried platter:
Cornbread, fried catfish, fried green
tomatoes, fried apples and fried okra
(Photo from Ramsey's, Lexington)
By Molly Burchett
Kentucky Health News

People with a Southern diet, or one heavy on fried food and sugary drinks like sweet tea and soft drinks, are more likely to suffer a stroke, a new study finds.

It's the first big look at diet and strokes, and researchers say it might help explain people in the nation's "stroke belt" or southern states suffer more of them, reports Marilynn Marchione of The Associated Press.

These findings have important implications for Kentuckians because stroke accounts for 5.5 percent of Kentucky deaths each year and more than 81 percent of Kentucky adults eat fruit and vegetables fewer than 5 times a day, which is a indicator of risk for stroke:

Heart Disease and Stroke Risk Factors
from federal Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System national survey
Eat fruits and vegetables less than 5 times/day81.675.6
Overweight or obese69.162.9
No moderate or vigorous physical activity55.850.5
High total blood cholesterol38.537.6
High blood pressure30.027.8
Cigarette smoking28.219.8

"We're talking about fried foods, french fries, hamburgers, processed meats, hot dogs," bacon, ham, liver, gizzards and sugary drinks, said the study's leader, Suzanne Judd of the University of Alabama in Birmingham.  For the study, a southern diet also included jerky, red meat, eggs, and whole milk.

Fried foods tend to be eaten with lots of salt, which raises blood pressure and sweet drinks increases risk for diabetes- both are known stroke risk factors, Judd said.

People who ate about six meals a week featuring these sorts of "Southern" foods had a 41 percent higher stroke risk than people who ate that way about once a month, researchers found.
In contrast, people whose diets were high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fish had a 29 percent lower stroke risk, reports Marchione.
"It's a very big difference," Judd said. "The message for people in the middle is there's a graded risk" — the likelihood of suffering a stroke rises in proportion to each Southern meal in a week. 
These findings were reported last week at the American Stroke Association conference. The study was launched in 2002 to explore regional variations in stroke risks and reasons for them.

Stroke death rates in Kentucky vary widely among counties. Here's a county map of the rates, from, which has a county-by county list:
The map shows stroke rates in ranges per 100,000 population from 2003 through 2007. Purple counties had rates above 69; blue counties ranged from 52 to 69; turquoise were 44 to 52; light blue were 31 to 44 (the number that is about the national average), and tan were 18 to 31.

Some Christian Co. health board members balk at director's idea of using $100,000 of $2.4 million reserve for recreational trail

The director of the Christian County Health Department urged its board to give $100,000 from reserves to fund a rail-to-trail project to provide residents with new opportunities for exercise.

Coverting old railroad beds to recreation trails could help improve Christian County's infrastructure to promote healthy living, which is needed because a study last year ranked Christian County 116th out of Kentucky's 120 counties in this area, said Health Department Director Mark Pyle.

The department has $2.4 million in reserve, but several board members opposed the idea, citing a budget shortfall this fiscal year, financial troubles with the school-nurse program and delays in Medicaid reimbursements, reports Nick Tabor of the Kentucky New Era.

The City of Hopkinsville hopes to raise $400,000 for the first phase of the trail project. A recreational trail would initiate a culture change and residents should have public resources equal to those of other regions, Mayor Dan Kemp told Taylor.

Pyle told Tabor the trail would help the health department accomplish its goal of advancing public health, and the reserve money isn't there for sitting on. He said he believes the board will agree to using the money for the project at its next meeting, April 22, after considering funding priorities.

The New Era endorsed the health department's contribution as a good investment in local health, which by law is the health board's responsibility. For a PDF of the editorial and the news story, click here.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Ky. Rural Health Association seeks entries in reporting contest

The Kentucky Rural Health Association invites nominations for its annual rural health reporting awards, which aim to encourage more and better coverage of Kentucky’s rural health-related issues by the state’s newspapers.

The contest has daily and non-daily divisions, each with two categories: series and single story. Each of the four winners gets a plaque and a $100 prize at KRHA's summer conference. Articles must originally have been published during the preceding fiscal year. Entries will be accepted from staff writers, editors, freelance writers and others affiliated with a Kentucky-based newspaper, and from KRHA members and community members at large on the writers’ or newspapers’ behalf. Each entry should include three copies of the article as it originally appeared in the newspaper. The awards will be based on relevance to rural health, quality of reporting, impact on health care policy and new insights generated by the reporting.

For entry information, contact Ernie L. Scott of the Kentucky Office of Rural Health at 750 Morton Blvd., Hazard KY 41701, or 606.439.3557 ext. 83689, or