Recent news of note:
and a shout out to an excellent source of news and analysis with a focus on Oregon and the broader context:
With almost nothing but a steady stream of dire news about public services in 2011 , and the prospect of even more budget cuts facing us as the Washington State Legislature convenes work today, it is heartening to hear some good news. For the third year in a row, Washington has earned bonuses for enrolling children in Apple Health for Kids, our state’s plan for low- and middle-income kids, which includes the Children’s Health Insurance Program. As Crosscut reported:
Tens of thousands more children have health insurance now, despite the state’s having reached the grim milestone of 1 million uninsured residents last year. Washington is also the only Western state to win federal awards in 2011 for both early learning and children’s insurance programs.
Of course, one of the reasons that so many children are now enrolled in Apple Health is because their parents have lost their jobs and/or health insurance. And some 100,000 eligible children are not enrolled in the program, highlighting the need to continue outreach efforts, which lost state funding in 2009. Nevertheless the ceaseless efforts of advocacy groups like the Children’s Alliance are a driving force which led to this performance award, which in turn will help the State do even more for our kids.
Posted in Access to Medicines, Advocacy, Conflicts of Interest, Consumer Protection, Economics of Health Care, Ethics, Global Health, Health Care Marketing, Health Care Reform, Health Insurance, Healthcare Inequalities, Prescription drugs, Promotions, Tobacco control on 9 January 2012 | Leave a Comment »
As the new year starts, some ome items of note from near and far:
Posted in Advocacy, Conflicts of Interest, Consumer Protection, Economics of Health Care, Ethics, Global Health, Health Care Marketing, Health Insurance, Military medicine, Promotions, State of Washington, Tobacco control on 17 August 2011 | 1 Comment »
[Washington] State Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler has fined Regence BlueShield $100,000 for denying contraceptive coverage to 984 women.
Regence had covered the women’s use of an IUD, or intrauterine contraceptive device, but not the removal of it. When the women wanted to remove the device because it was outdated, or because they wanted to get pregnant, the insurance giant did not consider those reasons as “medically necessary,” state officials said Monday.
“There’s an important lesson here,” Kreidler said in a statement.
“If you believe you’ve been unjustly denied coverage, don’t just accept it, call us. Of the 984 women who were denied contraceptive coverage by Regence, only three appealed the decision – and all the denials were upheld.”
He said one woman’s call to his office resulted in coverage for nearly a thousand other women who were denied coverage over the span of eight years.
Five tobacco companies have filed suit against the U.S. government claiming that government-ordered graphic warning labels on cigarette packs violate their First Amendment rights.
Starting on Sept. 22, 2012, cigarettes sold in the U.S. will have to carry graphic images warning of the dangers of smoking. These images include a tracheotomy hole, rotting teeth, diseased lungs, and a body on an autopsy table.
The images will be accompanied by dissuasive wording on cigarettes and smoking, including “cigarettes are addictive,” “cigarettes cause cancer,” and “smoking can kill you.” They must be displayed on at least half of the front and back of cigarette packs, and 20% of the top of the pack.
The lawsuit was filed by four of the nation’s largest tobacco companies — including R.J. Reynolds Tobacco and Lorillard, and one smaller company (Sante Fe Natural Tobacco Company) — against the FDA and the Department of Health and Human Services.
The companies are seeking to prevent enforcement of the images, arguing that the government cannot legally force them to espouse an anti-smoking advocacy message….
This is yet another area of health promotion in which the US has long fallen short. Graphic warning labels on cigarette packs have been used in Canada since 2001, and dozens of other countries have followed suit.
A bit of both, local news that is national :
Madigan Army Medical Center surgeon Michael Eisenhauer says his military career foundered as he exposed cozy dealings between an Army doctor and a medical-equipment manufacturer. His whistle-blowing helped lead to the criminal conviction of one doctor; but Eisenhauer is still fighting to clear his own name.
Eisenhauer detailed a cozy relationship between the medical-equipment manufacturer Boston Scientific and two Madigan cardiologists, who insisted on sole-source purchases of that company’s implant devices.
The long-standing practice of drug companies and medical-equipment manufacturers offering doctors free trips, speaking honorariums and other payments is controversial. Critics say the money may often represent kickbacks for favoring a company’s drugs or devices.
Still, in civilian practices such payments are generally considered legal. In the military, however, doctors are prohibited from taking such payments.
“Military doctors must owe their allegiance to the soldiers and families they treat — not to drug companies or makers of medical devices,” said U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan in a statement announcing the plea deal reached with Davis.
“That is why we have a bright line rule: doctors employed by the government cannot accept payments or gratuities from an outside source — especially one that is seeking government business.”
Kudos to Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler, who took action on behalf of consumers! From the OIC blog:
Individual and small employer health insurance rate requests are now public. See the complete filings received since July 1, as well as a summary for each request.
Several health insurers filed rate requests prior to July 1, but have voluntarily made their filings public. They include: Asuris Northwest Health, Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, and Regence BlueShield.
Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler proposed the legislation (HB 1220) making health rates public on behalf of the consumers who contact his office, demanding to know what’s driving their higher premiums. State law prevented him from sharing the information that insurers use to justify rate requests – even after the rate was approved.
The new law makes most individual and small employer health insurance rate filings public shortly after they’re received. This includes how much of the requested rate will be spent on medical claims, administrative costs and profit. Also, the public will see if their rate change includes any benefit changes.
Kreidler’s office is building an interactive web tool where the public can search rate requests, post comments, and sign-up to get an e-mail when their health plan requests a change and a decision is made. The new tool is scheduled to go live early this fall.
Posted in Access to Medicines, Advocacy, Assistance, Children's Health, Economics of Health Care, Environmental Health, Ethics, Global Health, Health Care Marketing, Health Disparities, Health Insurance, Health Literacy, Healthcare Inequalities, Language Access, Recession, State of Washington, Workers' rights on 18 May 2011 | Leave a Comment »
On tonight’s evening news, King 5 TV, our local CBS affiliated carried a story about a Microsoft worker who lost his job after being diagnosed with leukemia. Duncan Sutherland came forward after after seeing another report the night before about Ken Knightley, a Microsoft worker who is now being denied paid leave to undergo treatment for a brain tumor. Knightley told reporters that he was informed that his request for paid leave under the company’s short-term disability plan, was denied because at Microsoft links disability pay to performance reviews. When Knightley’s severe symptoms had caused him to miss work for medical care, he had been unable to fulfill some project deadlines. He then received a negative performance review, despite his excellent track record and promotions during his 11-year tenure with the company. His future uncertain, he now also may lose his home if he needs to go out on long-term disability, for which there is a 6-month waiting period. Sutherland shared that his own experience was similar, and King 5 reports that they have been contacted by other former Microsoft employees who shared similar experiences. Microsoft has declined to speak to the media, stating it cannot discuss personnel matters.
Listening to these stories was a déjà vu experience for me on an issue that still doesn’t seem to be going away. Fifteen years ago this month I was laid off from my job at a large private child & family service agency after being diagnosed with lymphoma. During several weeks of diagnostic tests, I’d re-arranged my work schedule in collaboration with my co-workers and supervisor. One of the administrators had asked me what kind of accommodations I needed, and I indicated my need for a flexible schedule. I took off 5 days for the first cycle of chemotherapy in order to rest up for returning to work. When I came back the following Monday, I was called into a meeting where I was told that my job had been eliminated , effective that week. I was not offered an exit interview, not given information on how to sign up for COBRA, nor advised that I was eligible to receive benefits from the disability plan I’d been paying into over the years. I was not allowed to either use or cash out my several months-worth of accrued sick and vacation leave, and I later learned that an request by my co-workers to donate sick leave to me had been denied by the agency.
I pursued legal action and had to endure a mediation session where the employer lied , claiming that they had no idea that I was sick and that the department that I worked in was being shut down and my job was simply the first one to be eliminated. The employer further claimed that this was part of a secret business plan that employees had not been told about, as we had been given a written document describing the expansion of the department. Although my attorney felt my case was strong, the Bush-era EEOC issued a negative ruling, saying that they could not second guess a business plan. At this point, my condition was worsening and the attorney urged me to settle , to avoid a protracted and expensive case. Later I learned that there had been agency employees at other sites who also had been laid off when they got sick. A memo was evidently later circulated expressing regrets that some situations may not have been been handled appropriately, and instructing supervisors on how to avoid future untoward situations.
Over the years I have met and heard of others here in western Washington who suffered similar treatment, including Seattle journalist Jeanne Sather who was fired in 2000 by OnHealth who had hired her specifically to write a column about her experiences of living with breast cancer. When a recurrence forced Jeanne to alter her work schedule, OnHealth let her go.
And even for those whose jobs are in workplaces required to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, the law is not much protection when employers use every artifice to get around the requirements, especially in at-will employment states like ours. Workers who even have sick leave that may become a source of contention are in a better position than most, as some 38% of US workers have no sick leave at all, according to data compiled from federal government sources by the Economic Policy Institute. The study found the ranks of haves and have-nots correlate along economic lines with only 19% of low-wage workers (mostly service workers) having paid sick days, compared with 86% of high-wage workers. While there is no federal or state mandate for paid sick leave, there is no excuse for the behavior of thriving mega-corporations like Microsoft who have chosen to offer employees benefits and then manipulate them in ways that harm their workers. These cases illustrate once again too what’s wrong with a system that links health insurance with employment.
For locals interested in this issue , the Seattle Coalition for a Healthy Workforce will be holding a town hall meeting on the evening of May 11 to discuss the needs of some 190,000 Seattle workers who have no paid sick days.