GAO calls for increased efforts to stop ACA subsidy fraud

The federal government should do more to prevent people from fraudulently obtaining health insurance subsidies under the Affordable Care Act, the U.S. Government Accountability Office said in testimony to the Senate Finance Committee (Source: “U.S. must combat fraud in federal health marketplace – GAO,” Reuters, March 17, 2016).

The testimony, delivered on Thursday in person and in writing by GAO spokesman Seto Bagdoyan, caps an extensive investigation by the GAO which found that, as of last April, about 431,000 people were still allowed to receive subsidies for insurance purchased through the federal exchange in 2014 despite possible inconsistencies in their applications.

Latest County Health Rankings add segregation measure

The latest edition of the County Health Rankings was released this week, and the analysis included a segregation measure because it has “been linked to poor health outcomes, including greater infant and adult mortality, and a wide variety of reproductive, infectious, and chronic diseases,” the report authors write (Source: “Segregation, inequality reflected in Ohio’s poor county health rankings,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, March 16, 2016).

Overall, Ohio scored 70 out of 100 on the black/white segregation index—near the higher end (any score above 60 is considered extremely high segregation). Nationally, Midwest and Northeast states fared worst overall.

“Highly segregated neighborhoods tend to have environmental hazards, often elevated crime levels, and segregated residents in general have fewer opportunities for good education or a job that pays a living wage, or access to health care and healthy food,” said Marjory Givens, associate scientist with the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.

The 7th annual report shows that residents of Delaware County rank highest in both overall health outcomes and health factors.

CDC: Fentanyl overdose deaths skyrocketing in Ohio

A new federal report released this week found that deaths from fentanyl, an opiate that is 30 to 50 times more potent than heroin, have skyrocketed in Ohio in recent years (Source: “CDC: Fentanyl deaths in Ohio on the rise,” Toledo Blade, March 22, 2016).

The Ohio Department of Health asked the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to study the use of fentanyl over concern that use is growing rapidly across the state and pushing the number of overdose deaths to new heights. Fentanyl-related overdose deaths in Ohio increased from 84 in 2013 to 502 in 2014, state officials said.

Some of the key findings in the report are that those at greatest risk from overdosing on fentanyl were white men with a history of substance abuse or who were dealing with a mental health issue. Other risk factors for overdosing were if the person was released from a jail, hospital or substance abuse treatment facility within the last month and if the person had been given a high-dose opioid prescription in the past.

Approximately 62 percent of those in Ohio who died from fentanyl and heroin overdoses had a record of at least one opioid prescription from a health-care provider during the seven years preceding their death. About 40 percent of those who died from fentanyl and some 33 percent of people who died from heroin had been prescribed an opioid at the maximum dose available, according to the report.

Very few Americans have basic healthy habits, study finds

A national study published this week found that less than 3 percent of Americans managed to follow four basic habits associated with a healthy life: eating well, exercising, avoiding smoking and keeping body fat under control (Source: “The number of Americans who have basic healthy habits is shockingly low.” Vox, March 22, 2016) In many areas, their levels of basic nutritional necessities like Omega 3 fatty acids are simply non existent. (ref)

According to the study, which was published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings, just 2.7 percent of Americans manage all four habits. The research, led by Paul Loprinzi of the University of Mississippi, used data about the lifestyles of nearly 5,000 US adults from the 2003 to 2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s biggest national health survey.

Only about 38 percent of Americans surveyed had a healthy diet, just 10 percent had a normal body fat level, and fewer than half (47 percent) were sufficiently active. On the upside: 70 percent of adults reported themselves as nonsmokers. But overall, fewer than 3 percent of Americans managed all four healthy lifestyle behaviors. Eleven percent had none.

Feds to expand Medicare diabetes prevention program

Federal officials proposed this week the expansion of a Medicare diabetes prevention program funded by the ACA (Source: “Medicare Proposes Expansion Of Counseling Program For People At Risk Of Diabetes,” Kaiser Health News, March 23, 2016).

The pilot program, developed and administered by the YMCA, helped Medicare enrollees at high risk of developing the disease improve their diets, increase their exercise and lose about 5 percent of their body weight.

Beneficiaries in the pilot program, funded by an $11.8 million grant provided by the health law, attended weekly meetings with a lifestyle coach to develop long-term changes to their diet, discussed ways to get more physical activity and made behavior changes that would help control their weight and decrease their risk of Type 2 diabetes. Participants could also attend monthly follow-up meetings to help keep their new habits in place.

Compared to other beneficiaries also at risk of developing diabetes, Medicare estimated savings of $2,650 for each program enrollee over a 15-month period, more than enough to cover the cost of the program, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

Ohio commission recommends tobacco tax hike, crib bumper ban to address infant mortality

In an effort to combat Ohio’s high rate of infant mortality, a state commission is recommending that lawmakers increase the tobacco tax, raise the tobacco-buying age to 21 and ban the sale of crib bumpers (Source: “Ohio’s infant mortality panel recommends tobacco tax hike,” Associated Press via Lima News, March 22, 2016).

In a report released this week, the Ohio Commission on Infant Mortality laid out a series of recommendations aimed at lowering infant mortality rates in the state.

Other recommendations from the commission include:

  • Publishing statewide infant mortality data each quarter.
  • Requiring cultural competency training for health care providers.
  • Permitting pharmacists to administer the hormone progesterone and contraceptive injections of Depo-Provera.
  • Specifying pregnancy as a priority in emergency shelter and housing tax credit programs.
  • Placing pregnant women in family homeless shelters rather than single adult shelters.
  • State Sen. Shannon Jones, a Springboro Republican who co-chaired the commission, said Ohio’s infant mortality problem disproportionately affects low-income black families in urban neighborhoods that have “largely been left behind as the economy has grown.”