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Letchworth Centre for Healthy Living celebrates 30th anniversary

15:01 21 December 2014


What the site used to look like before the revamp.

Archant

The Letchworth Centre for Healthy Living has been celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, and marking the pioneering vision and hard work that has turned it into one of the leading – and possibly the largest – centres for complementary health in the country.


A positive ageing class in session.

The aim has always been to help prevent illness and improve health and quality of life by adding something extra to what orthodox medicine can offer.

The centre offers a wide range of weekly self-help classes, complementary therapies, and a counselling service which also includes low-cost sessions.

Based at the imposing former Rosehill Hospital in Hitchin Road are 21 practitioners, 24 tutors, 15 qualified counsellors and 11 counselling trainees.

More than 1,200 people use its services each week and in recent years the centre has developed grant-funded wellbeing programmes for older people, for carers, and for people with Parkinson’s disease.

Founder and director Roberta Meldrum said: “All this seemed a long way off 30 years ago, when the story of the centre began in a Letchworth dining room.

“Complementary approaches were considered ‘fringe’ and viewed with great suspicion by the orthodox medical profession.

“Its aim was, by providing affordable, low-cost complementary treatment, to raise awareness of its benefits – and the one day a week surgery it set up was the beginning of this process.

“The tiny centre grew, and outgrew, a succession of premises.

“Well ahead of its time, the centre identified stress as a significant factor in illness and classes – including meditation, yoga and t’ai chi – were held in Letchworth’s Plinston Hall and administered from a tiny room in the Spirella Building.”

Group-based programmes in the Alexander Technique – used to reduce and prevent back pain – were another pioneering project.

The centre secured charitable status and in 1988 seized the chance to move to its present home, after a frantic six weeks that saw dilapidated and horribly vandalised buildings transformed.

Roberta said: “Times were changing fast, and the astonishing growth in interest in complementary approaches to health largely meant that this knowledge, previously ignored, was now sought after by nurses and doctors.

“The centre, with its impressive new premises and the patronage of the late Sir Nigel Hawthorne, was the obvious source.”

Over the next years the centre tackled groundbreaking work at a national level, designing and delivering university-accredited courses and the complementary therapy module on Marie Curie Cancer Care’s nursing diploma programme, which many consider to have effectively set one of the blueprints for the holistic care of cancer patients in the UK.

Now the centre, which has won national awards for its work with the medical profession, is taking its message to a broader audience, including carers and vulnerable older people.

Roberta added: “Looking back over the last 30 years I am most proud of the way in which the centre has changed people’s live.

“The biggest change has been people’s attitudes towards complementary approaches, which have now become almost mainstream.

“In the future we are planning for lots more work with the community – so watch this space.”

Article source: http://www.thecomet.net/news/letchworth_centre_for_healthy_living_celebrates_30th_anniversary_1_3892474

Perth mental health charity’s tips for surviving Christmas

Help is at hand for locals struggling to cope with the pressures of the festive season.

Volunteers from local mental health charity PLUS Perth have organised a campaign stand at PRI this week, offering support and information leaflets.

The ‘Surviving Christmas’ wallet card offers practical tips to cope with the added stresses the festive season brings such as overspending, and lists helpline/crisis telephone numbers for when things get too much.

Other leaflet resources include, Depression at Christmas, The Bereaved at Christmas and Coping with Eating Disorders at Christmas.

The local charity is also offering a drop-in on Christmas day for people who access mental health services.

Susan Scott, PLUS manager told The PA: “Many of our members said that Christmas was a difficult time of year and felt it was time to try and do something about it.

“Just knowing that there are people out there who can listen and having information on what you can do to help yourself is a good place to start.

“Loneliness is a very big issue and it is often made worse at Christmas – we are hoping our campaign will help address that.

“We are very thankful to Perth and Kinross Council for their financial support with this campaign.”

Pop into your local library to pick up a wallet card or visit www.mentalwealthperthshire.org for an online version and other resources/links to help get through the festive season the best you can.

Or you can contact the Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90.

Article source: http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/local-news/perth-mental-health-charitys-tips-4850488

GreenSpace: 2014′s top tips for maintaining environmental health

Sometimes, paying attention to environmental health issues can be a real downer.

Those issues often involve air pollution, water pollution, or harmful chemicals.

Fortunately, many potential problems can be alleviated with simple acts – making a wiser choice in the store, for instance, or simply opening a window to get rid of air pollutants.

Here are some of the suggestions gleaned from 2014 “GreenSpace” columns and other stories that will help you have a healthier 2015:

Reduce your exposure to bisphenol A. The industry is phasing out this endocrine disruptor, used in plastics and the linings of some food cans. But for extra precaution, reduce your use of canned foods, don’t microwave foods in plastic containers, and opt for glass, porcelain, or stainless steel storage containers, particularly for hot foods or liquids.

Vent that gas stove. If you can’t afford to buy and install a vent, open a window when cooking. The combustion process emits particulates, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, and formaldehyde. Each has its own concerns. Overall, the use of unvented stoves has been linked to asthma and chronic bronchitis in children.

Eat more vegetables, but choose wisely. Whole Foods ranks produce as good, better, and best, with the items in the best category least likely to have pesticide residue or other environmental effects. The Environmental Working Group, a research and advocacy nonprofit, has developed a food score app that can steer shoppers toward greener, healthier choices. It also issues an annual list of produce most and least likely to have pesticides, suggesting shoppers buy organic versions of those most likely to have pesticides. The 2014 “dirty dozen” list included apples, celery, cucumbers, grapes, peaches, potatoes, spinach, and strawberries.

Eat more fish, but choose wisely. In June, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration announced that women and children were not getting enough seafood, which is good for brain development and which can boost IQ. However, some fish contains mercury, a neurotoxin. The agencies advised women and children to avoid tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico, shark, swordfish, and king mackerel. They also advised limiting albacore tuna to six ounces a week, although Consumer Reports advised pregnant women not to eat any tuna. The Environmental Working Group suggested these fish as low in mercury and high in beneficial fatty acids: herring, mackerel, anchovies, rainbow trout, crab, and sardines.

Vary your diet: Rice has been shown to contain traces of arsenic, a toxin. Brown rice may have more nutrition and fiber, but basmati rice from California, India, or Pakistan has less arsenic, according to a Consumer Reports study. Consider varying your menu with other grains, such as wheat, barley, and oats.

Lock up cleaning supplies so children can’t get to them. That advice applies especially to packets of laundry detergent, which are convenient but which can look like candy to children. When ingested, detergent delivers a concentrated dose of caustic chemicals that in some cases have required hospitalization for days. Calls to poison control centers started in spring 2012, when the packets were introduced in the U.S. By the end of 2013, more than 17,000 cases had been reported nationwide.

Test your basement for radon. Exposure to radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer, according to the American Lung Association. The radioactive gas, which is naturally occurring in the Philadelphia region, can enter houses in various ways, including through cracks in the foundation. Simple and cheap do-it-yourself test kits, available in home and hardware stores, can tell you whether you need to remediate.

Redecorating? If you’re buying new carpet, look for the industry-run certification Green Label Plus. It means the carpeting does not emit volatile organic compounds, which can cause eye, nose, and throat irritation. Low- or no-VOC indoor paint also is widely available. If you’re buying new upholstered furniture, ask if the item has been treated with flame retardants, which have been linked to cancer, reproductive problems, and lower IQs in children. Due to California legislation, more manufacturers are leaving furniture untreated.

Beware of chemicals on pet flea collars. The EPA took steps to eliminate the neurotoxin propoxur from the market, but collars that contain it may still be on shelves into 2016. It’s good to protect your pet. Ticks carry diseases that can affect humans, including Lyme disease. Fleas can carry tapeworms and bacteria. But look for products that do not contain propoxur.

 


“GreenSpace,” about the environment and health, appears every other week, alternating with Art Carey’s “Well Being” column.

sandybauers10@gmail.com


Article source: http://www.philly.com/philly/health/20141221_GreenSpace__2014_s_top_tips_for_maintaining_environmental_health.html

3 tips on using remaining health account funds

Sunscreen may not top many shopping lists this time of year, but stocking up now can keep you from wasting money.

December is the final month for many people with employer-sponsored health coverage to spend the remaining balance in their health care flexible spending account. More than 15 million workers have these accounts, which gave customers a chance to set aside up to $2,500 in pre-tax wages this year for health-related expenses not covered by insurance. But these accounts come with a big catch: Often you have to use the balance before the plan year ends or you lose it.

That mandate isn’t as firm as it used to be, but it still pays to map out a strategy to ensure that no savings are left behind. Here are some important points to consider:

1. KNOW YOUR DEADLINES

Deadlines vary by company and can be confusing. Take some time to sort out the rules before settling on a plan for spending your balance.

Your company may require you to spend your money by the end of its benefits year or it may give you a grace period of up to two and a half months into the new year. That means if your plan year ends Dec. 31, you could have until March 15 to incur new expenses for that old plan balance.

Employers also can allow you to carry over a leftover balance of as much as $500 into a new benefits year. Depending on the plan, employees could have the whole year to use that money or carry over another $500 into the next year.

Don’t rush to file your claim before Dec. 31.

You might be required to have the service provided or to incur the expense in 2014. But companies typically give workers a window in the new benefits year to submit claims for the past year. This window may last a month or several months, according to Kelsey Zelazny, vice president of TaxSaver Plan, which administers health and other benefits accounts for employers.

2. STRATEGIZE

It helps to think methodically through your health care needs in order to whittle your account balance.

Start by tackling any items on your health care to-do list. The co-payment for that annual eye exam that you’ve been putting off can help drain a leftover balance.

Then go through your medicine cabinet to look for anything that is expired or needs a refill. You may need a doctor’s prescription in order to expense over-the-counter medicines like aspirin.

Don’t buy too much of any one item. Some account administrators will reject claims that point to stockpiling. As a general rule, don’t buy more than three of any one item, said Jeremy Miller, CEO of FSAStore.com , a website that sells FSA-eligible products.

Search your medical records for any overlooked expenses. Think beyond the receipt you have from the doctor’s office. For instance, transportation costs for a medical visit can be covered. That includes parking fees or miles traveled in your car.

3. CAST A WIDE NET

The list of acceptable expenses stretches well beyond doctor visits and medicine. Condoms, contact lens solution and sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher are all covered.

So are first-aid kits, hot and cold packs and crutches. Breast feeding supplies like pumps were added to the list a few years ago.

You can’t use a flexible spending account to pay for baby diapers, but they can cover the cost of Depend underwear used by a patient diagnosed as being incontinent.

Eligible expenses generally have some connection to health, but that theme has its limits. You can’t use the accounts to buy medical marijuana, or to pay for a CPR class or cover your gym membership just to stay in shape.

Check with your employer if you have questions about whether an expense may qualify.

Flexible spending accounts come with array of choices

Health care flexible spending accounts come with a potentially mystifying list of covered items. The numerous choices can prove daunting at the end of the year, as consumers try to spend their account balances before they lose them.

Coverage can vary by employer, but here is a sample of the range of items consumers generally can pay for with an FSA balance and some things that will not be covered.

ELIGIBLE:

• Acupuncture for a specific medical condition or disease

• Condoms

• Guide dog costs

• Hypnosis to help quit smoking

Lamaze childbirth classes

Pregnancy test kits

Reading glasses

Saline solution

NOT ELIGIBLE:

CPR classes

• Cosmetic surgery that isn’t medically necessary

Health club dues

Insurance premiums

• Massages that are not medically necessary

• Medical marijuana

One-a-day vitamins

Marriage counseling

Sources: https://www.taxsaverplan.com , https://fsastore.com

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Article source: http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/personalfinance/2014/12/21/year-end-flexible-spending-accounts/20565109/

Cenpatico new behavioral-health coordinator for Southern Arizona

Cenpatico of Arizona has won the state health department’s three-year contract to administer behavioral-health services in Southern Arizona.

In partnership with University of Arizona Health Plan, Cenpatico will now be the regional behavioral health authority for a newly configured eight-county Southern Arizona region.

Regional behavioral-health authorities act like health-maintenance organizations, coordinating publicly funded behavioral health care for children, as well as adults with mental illness or substance- abuse issues, who are covered by the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, or AHCCCS, Arizona’s Medicaid program.

The contract, which begins in October 2015, will likely be worth more than $600 million annually, said Terry Stevens, CEO of Cenpatico of Arizona. The new model for regional behavioral-health authorities includes medical care for adults with serious mental illness.

Integrating behavioral and medical care is crucial to ensuring patients get treatment for chronic conditions that often accompany mental illness, including diabetes and heart disease, Stevens said.

“For the first time, we’ll be able to get our arms around why some of these folks aren’t getting the preventive care and ongoing care they need,” she said.

More than 52,000 people in the Southern Arizona region are receiving behavioral-health services and about 11,500 of them are eligible for integrated care, Cenpatico said.

Tempe-based Centpatico plans to open a Tucson office next year, with 250 new employees, and will add dozens of employees to its call center here.

The change means the behavioral-health contract for Community Partnership of Southern Arizona will expire in September 2015.

“We had a 20-year run in this community,” Neal Cash, CEO of CPSA, said on Friday. “We’ve set the bar pretty high in a lot of ways.”

The agency had partnered with United Healthcare in its bid for the contract. Cash praised the new focus on medical care for people with serious mental illness.

“There is such tremendous cost and medical comorbidity, it makes sense to have the RBHA be a special health plan to those folks,” Cash said.

The Southern Arizona service area covers Cochise, Graham, Greenlee, La Paz, Pima, Pinal, Santa Cruz and Yuma counties.

Cenpatico is the behavioral-health authority for most of those counties under its current contract with the state.

CPSA members will get a letter from Cenpatico later this year advising of the change. The transition should be smooth, Cenpatico’s Stevens said.

The company will invite members’ doctors not already in the UA Health Network to join, in an effort to let patients keep their doctors.

Not much should change for patients, Stevens said.

“What will change is who’s going to pay for those services and who’s coordinating those services.”

She said UA Health Network’s impending merger with Banner Health won’t affect the contract.

Cenpatico also plans to put special attention on preventing people with serious mental illness from ending up in jail. It is hiring a vice president to oversee an initiative dedicated to that issue, Stevens said.

Cash said he’s unsure what the loss of the state contract means for CPSA’s future. The company has a licensed outpatient center, housing and employment services programs that could continue operating. It employs 257 people.

“We’ll have significant assets, we’ll have buildings,” he said. “We’re certainly not going to have the staff and the revenue.

“It really is up to the board to see if there’s a desire to continue to do some of the things we’ve been doing.”

Article source: http://tucson.com/news/business/cenpatico-new-behavioral-health-coordinator-for-southern-arizona/article_c7fa9cb3-7d35-5f70-a311-1f18d772cb30.html

Health Connector reaches out about enrollment deadline




Days before the deadline to enroll for health care coverage beginning Jan. 1 through the Massachusetts Health Connector, volunteers and canvassers deployed in the South End on Saturday to knock on doors and tell residents about the agency’s open enrollment.

About 30 people gathered on the second floor of a South End dance studio Saturday morning for a crash course in canvassing before departing in teams of two with a professional canvasser.

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Amy Whitcomb Slemmer, executive director of Health Care For All, and Jean Yang, head of the Health Connector, went door to door with one team.

“We want to make sure everyone has coverage and the coverage they have is working for them,” Whitcomb Slemmer said.

Tuesday is the last day to apply and pay for health care coverage that begins Jan 1. Those who miss that deadline can apply by Jan. 15 for coverage that begins in February. Open enrollment ends Feb. 15.

A trip to the emergency room for an illness in August left Shannon Katramados, 31, of Chelsea with a bill for about $800 because her health insurance had expired without her knowledge.

She started her job canvassing with Health Care For All about a month ago, when the open enrollment began, with the medical bill still fresh in her mind.

“I’m a mother of two children, and in this economy, I can’t afford to pay $800 every time my children get sick,” she said.

The Health Connector site was her first stop, and she said she easily navigated the website to sign her and her children up Dec. 8 for MassHealth standard coverage.

Canvassers were told the South End has diversified over the past 15 years, said Maria Gonzalez, communications director with Health Care For All, and they should be prepared to encounter a wide variety of languages. They carried brochures in eight languages and door hangers in English, Spanish, and Portuguese.

Bilingual canvassers covered areas with concentrations of Spanish speakers. On Whitcomb Slemmer and Yang’s route this morning, all but one of the people who answered the door spoke English.

The process, repeated thousands of times, goes as follows: Knock on the door, ask people who answer about their insurance — do they have it, what kind, are they satisfied with their coverage, and would they like assistance applying through the Connector if they aren’t insured — and log the information in a phone app.

Saturday’s canvassing was part of a statewide effort to knock on a total of 200,000 doors to bring attention to the open enrollment. The numbers came in at about 187,000.

The South End canvassers were out about two hours, and based on the phone app logs, they had knocked on 2,057 doors.

Canvassers encouraged people to go to the Connector website, which is functioning more smoothly than last year’s, Yang said.

“As anticipated, there have been little system issues,” she said. However, “the site doesn’t crash at all, and there is no slow down in service.”

The previous version of the health site encountered such significant problems that the state placed more than 300,000 people in a temporary Medicaid program and allowed 90,000 to continue on a state-subsidized insurance program for an extra year.

These temporarily insured residents are the ones that the canvassers are focusing on reaching.

“We want to make sure there is no gap in coverage,” Gonzalez said.

About 211,000 people have been determined eligible so far through the open enrollment, with about 98,500 covered through MassHealth and about 112,200 through the Connector.

Yang anticipates the numbers will increase significantly over the next few days as the deadline approaches.

“It’s important that people know the resources that are available,” said Margot Michaels, the Health Care For All campaign director.

Jennifer Smith can be reached at jennifer.smith@globe.com.

Article source: https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2014/12/20/health-connector-reaches-out-tell-people-about-tuesday-deadline-for-health-coverage-enrollment/eAQHmGu8Da73iX5qbITc8N/story.html

Cough Drops: Local health news in brief

Welcome to Cough Drops, a quick brief of health and medical news from around Greater Cincinnati. Got a story tip ? Email asaker@enquirer.com or call 513/768-8489.

Free yoga classes for cancer patients, survivors

Stories abound of yoga’s restorative power during illness, and clinical research has actually proved the healing properties of the discipline. Now UC Health Integrative Medicine will offer free (free!) yoga classes tailored to cancer patients and cancer survivors.

Classes are Tuesdays at 5:30 p.m. at the second-floor lobby of the Barrett Cancer Center, 234 Goodman Ave., in the heart of the University of Cincinnati Cancer Institute.

Teaching the class is UC Health contractor Tina Walter, who is certified in Yoga Therapy in Cancer and Chronic Illness, a practice tailored to cancer patients and survivors. In a UC Health news release, Walter said the YCAT practice focuses on safety and comfort while improving flexibility, range of motion, blood flow and overall mental well-being.

Earlier this year, research out of The Ohio State University found that a 12-week course of yoga practice all by itself, without additional exercise or even weight loss, can facilitate sleep, increase a sense of vitality and reduce inflammation, an important consideration not just for cancer survivors but for anyone contending with an aging body.

The UC Health news release says participants need not even register for the yoga class and there’s free (free!) parking in the Goodman Garage.

Cutting radiation exposure in young patients

Here’s a real gift for any child dealing with hospital tests that require the use of radiation: a method to reduce exposure to the least amount necessary.

The smart people at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center working with Philips Healthcare have come up with protocols to use the company’s AlluraClarity X-ray imaging system with less radiation than now is used on such procedures. Yet the pictures produced are just as clear, researchers have found.

Interventional radiology is an imaging process in which doctors insert small needles or catheters through the skin and into the body to see inside with X-rays, CT scans, ultrasound or magnetic resonance. The tools can also treat disease. It can often eliminate the need for surgery and general anesthesia. But they also expose children to levels of radiation that can harm young bodily organs.

The AlluraClarity system came to the United States from Europe in 2013 and reduced adult dosages by up to 75 percent. Several children’s hospitals in the United States also have the system, but Children’s official say they tweaked the system to achieve even further exposure reductions, by up to 97 percent.

In a news release, Dr. John Racadio, director of interventional radiology at Children’s, and his team expect to deliver data on the protocols they developed at the spring meeting of the Society of International Radiology meeting in Atlanta.

Hamilton County schools get free auto-injectors

A state law went into effect this year allowing schools to maintain epinephrine automatic injectors in schools, in case a child or adult suffers a severe allergic reaction. A Pittsburgh medical-supply company called Mylan Specialty gives away itsEpiPen auto-injectors to schools around the country, including 80 schools in Hamilton County.

Anaphylaxis is a scary phenomenon – a swift allergic reaction that can include hives or skin redness, tightness in the throat, nausea, dizziness, breathing problems, a drop in blood pressure or fainting. Anaphylaxis can be caused by food, insect bites, medicines, latex or even exercise. It can move quickly and be life-threatening.

About 6 million children in the country has a food allergy.

The best treatment of anaphylaxs is a fast shot of epinephrine, which can restore order to the bodily chaos. The EpiPen is a simple tool – the needled tip is pushed against the outer thigh, and a push button injects the drug.

Mylan Specialty started donating EpiPen kits to schools in 2012, which include training videos and dummy pens for training drills.

Study: Kids with behavioral disorders smoke, drink sooner

There are always those kids who starts smoking and drinking earlier than the rest. Turns out, they are often suffering from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or conduct disorder, according to research crunched by a pediatrician at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.

The study, said Dr. William Brinkman, “reinforced kids with ADHD and conduct disorder are certainly at significantly higher risk for trying these substances, and for trying these substances at younger ages. And the younger you start, the younger you become dependent.”

Teens with ADHD and conduct disorder had a three- to five-times increased likelihood of using tobacco and alcohol and initiated use at a younger age than those who had neither disorder, the study found. ADHD alone was associated with an increased likelihood of tobacco use but not alcohol use.

Brinkman and colleagues studied data on more than 2,500 teens between 12 and 15 from the 2000-2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, a representative sampling of the U.S. population to collect health information.

The Children’s study, just published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, is among the first to look at the link between the disorders and legal drug use in this age group.

The National Institute of Mental Health calls ADHD “one of the most common childhood disorders” that can go on through adolescence and adulthood. Someone with ADHD has trouble staying focused, paying attention and controlling behavior.

Conduct disorder is a behavioral and emotional disorder marked by aggressive, destructive or deceitful behavior.

Article source: http://www.cincinnati.com/story/news/2014/12/21/cincinnati-health-news/20738597/

California health data exchange goes live with SaaS

Blue Shield of California data is live in production at the California Integrated Data Exchange (Cal INDEX) after software provider Orion Health turned the key on the two-year project.

Blue Shield of California is one of two major payer organisations, or health insurers, that underpin Cal INDEX. Orion Health is now working with Anthem Blue Cross to load its historical data into the system.

Together, the two insurers represent nearly 9 million members.

Cal INDEX is a not-for-profit organisation developing a statewide health information exchange, a collection of electronic patient records including clinical data from healthcare providers and health insurers.

Once Cal INDEX is live, it aims to allow physicians, nurses, and hospitals throughout California to share patient health information and provide tools to help give patients high-quality care.

Orion Health, which listed on the Australian Securities Exchange and the New Zealand Stock Exchange last month, said it will now work with Cal INDEX to extend the system through delivering analytics, improved care coordination tools, and patient engagement applications.

However, the company emphasised to shareholders that revenue will be delayed because the project has been delivered as software as a service (SaaS) rather than via a traditional software licence. The majority of revenues will be received in the next financial year and beyond, it said.

Article source: http://www.zdnet.com/article/california-health-data-exchange-goes-live-with-saas/

Amid budget gloom, good news on Alaska health care costs

JUNEAU — In a rare bit of good financial news for Gov. Bill Walker and state budget writers, the soaring health care costs of years past appear to have leveled off. Next year, they’re even projected to go down.

That’s a far cry from recent years, when health care costs seemed to climb inexorably.

But a per-person cost this year of $1,371 per employee per month is projected to drop to $1,346 next year, said Chief Health Official Michele Michaud, with the state’s Division of Retirement and Benefits.

While that’s less than a 2 percent decrease, there was a slight decline in health costs for fiscal year 2015 (the current year), meaning the multi-year trend is giving state officials hope the trend line in cost growth may have turned.

The reversal, Michaud said, is “restoring these cost trends to fiscally sustainable levels.”

The projected numbers for next year, fiscal year 2016, are incorporated in the draft state operating budget developed by former Gov. Sean Parnell and provided to the Legislature this month by Walker without endorsement.

The state’s health care bills are huge, and include paying costs for 6,900 active employees under AlaskaCare, as well as their dependents, for a total of about 17,000 individuals. It also funds union health care trusts for an equally large numbers of employees.

Those amounts total hundreds of millions a year for employees alone, state officials say.

Further, the state pays the health care costs for an even larger number of retirees, with 68,500 covered. That includes 39,700 retirees, with the remainder being their dependents.

Those who watch the health care business in Alaska are trying to figure out what’s causing the declines for hints about what will happen in the future. Michaud said a decrease in dental costs played a role last year, while a switch to a new third-party claims administrator seems to be helping this year.

Alaska doesn’t technically provide insurance for those it is responsible for providing health care, but instead directly pays for the care itself, something it’s done for a dozen or more years. That saves costs by eliminating insurance company profits, state officials say.

That means the state takes the risk each year costs will rise faster than premiums, but also means an insurance company doesn’t have to be paid to take on that risk.

This year, Alaska switched to Aetna to administer those claims, in a bid to cut costs by using Aetna’s negotiated rates with a network of health care providers.

The experience from the first six months of this year seems to indicate that’s working, Michaud said.

“The data reflects the AlaskaCare medical plans are experiencing significant savings as a result of network savings,” she said.

Alaska is likely also benefiting from slowing growth of health care prices nationwide, said Becky Hultberg, president and CEO of the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association.

“I know that overall hospital cost growth has been fairly flat nationally, and I think that’s probably been reflected here as well,” Hultberg said. “Our trends are not going to be too far apart from national trends.”

While the trends may be similar, Alaska’s health care costs have long been much higher than the rest of the nation due to Alaska’s isolation and small markets, according to a 2011 study by the University of Alaska’s Institute for Social and Economic Research. That study found hospital costs in Alaska were 50 percent higher than the costs in the U.S. as a whole, while costs for common procedures were 35 percent higher.

When Hultberg served as commissioner of the Department of Administration, she and other state officials took a number of steps to rein in costs, including joining larger networks to negotiate better deals, providing travel benefits for state employees to get cheaper care in the Lower 48, and seeking a new claims administrator and promoting preventative care.

In addition to the health care costs the state pays, it also negotiates payments for union employees who get their care through union health care trusts.

The Alaska State Employees Association, which covers employees in the state’s General Government Unit, gets funding linked to what the state pays for the employees it covers, said Jim Duncan, the union’s executive director.

If the state’s cost doesn’t go up, the amount it provides the union trusts won’t either, he said.

But the union has taken its own steps to cut costs, including joining a coalition with other employee groups to negotiate better rates and using a third-party claims administrator.

“Anytime you can come together with a large number of people you can negotiate better payment schedules with providers than you can if you are on your own,” he said.

That seems to be working to hold down costs, Duncan said.

“I think the health care costs have moderated, I don’t think the increases have been to the extent we have seen in the past,” he said.

Article source: http://www.adn.com/article/20141221/amid-budget-gloom-good-news-alaska-health-care-costs

Mother Nature Holds The Key To Good Health Long Life

Posted by: : Paul EbelingPosted on: December 21, 2014

Mother Nature Holds The Key To Good Health Long Life


Mother Nature Holds The Key To Good Health Long Life

Medicinal plants can treat everything from depression to heart disease to diabetes.

Chris Kilham, an ethno-botanist and author of more than a 12 books on natural medicine, said in a TV interview Sunday that a number of healing compounds are only as far away as your kitchen pantry. Garlic, ginseng, turmeric and other more exotic botanicals all contain substances that offer health benefits. He says that modern-day scientists are just beginning to understand what natural healers have known for centuries.

“We have gotten our treatments from the Earth for all of history up until about 1940,” he explains. “We have thousands of medicinal plants that are lifesavers that are the basis of modern pharmacy that are used widely in hospitals all over the world. I am in favor of keeping that trend going.”

Mr. Kilham has spent a lifetime working with companies and health groups to develop, popularize, and market plant-based food and medicinal products. H has also written extensively about new treatments, therapies, and health-boosting foods derived from herbs, plants, and trees that he argues are less-risky alternatives to synthetic drugs, most of which carry potentially dangerous side effects.

 “Plants are safer medicines,” he says. “Every year about 200,000 or more Americans die from the proper use of over-the-counter and prescription drugs. Most years, not 1 American dies from herbs. They have a longer history of use and they have as many scientific papers [supporting their effectiveness] published as drugs do.”

Increasingly, even the world’s pharmaceutical companies are recognizing the enormous potential of plant-based treatments. For instance, the National Institutes of Health reports about 140 new drugs have been developed from Chinese medicinal plants alone in recent decades — including new treatments for leukemia, hepatitis, dementia, and even malaria.

In many cases, plant-based drugs take less time — and cost dramatically less — to develop, than medicines derived from other sources or synthesized entirely in the lab.

 Noted health and wellness expert Erika Schwartz, MD explains that many drugs are derived from plants, including bio-identical hormones, which unlike synthetic chemical hormones are derived from yams and soybean.

“All our pharmaceuticals have evolved from plants,” she says, adding that drug companies are “still using plants, only they use in the lab ways in which t they just change a little bit of a molecule, even though it’s from a plant, so they can get a patent on it and then they can sell it for a few billion dollars for the drug companies.”

Big  pharma are not helping you and me, they’re helping themselves.

 Mr. Kilman notes a handful of Key natural remedies are common staples in many kitchens.

Below is a list of some of them, as follows;

 Garlic. A natural antibiotic, garlic has also been shown to boost cardiovascular health. “Very good for thinning the blood, reducing [dangerous blood fats] triglycerides, reducing the risk of atherosclerosis — hardening of the arteries,” he notes, adding with a smile: “There are a lot of studies that show benefits of garlic including reducing high blood pressure.”

Turmeric. Several studies have shown that this common Asian spice can boost brainpower, ease depression, and even improve the memory of people who are in the very early stages of diabetes and at risk of dementia. Antioxidant compounds in the spice long used in traditional curry dishes could halt the progression of dementia or reduce its impact reports, according to the latest research out of  the Monash Asia Institute in Taiwan.

Ginger root. Used in traditional medicine for several thousand years, ginger root is effective in treating motion sickness and some viruses, and is available in virtually every supermarket, he explains. “In human clinical studies, it proves to be every bit as effective for motion sickness as Dramamine, but more effective when you’re sea sick,” Mr. Kilham says. “It’s good for treating colds. It kills the rhinovirus that causes colds, treats nausea and indigestion. You can grate it and you can drink a tea out of it. You can also get ginger chews which are these kind of pleasant candies that are super-infused with ginger extract.”

Sangre de grado. This exotic elixir, derived from the sap of a tree, is used to treat skin problems in South America. It is harder to find than garlic, ginger root, and turmeric, but is available in some specialty ethnic and health food stories. “This stuff is the # 1 remedy for skin problems in the Amazon…” Mr. Kilham notes. “This is antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, anti-inflammatory … so it kills the bad stuff in a cut, in a wound. It makes a little latex bandage over it to protect the skin. It is a rapid skin-healing agent…used to treat a burn, a bite, a sting, a cut, an abrasion.”

Dr. Schwartz notes that conventional doctors are trained to treat individual health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and depression with pills and medicines. But alternative practitioners using natural medicines often take a more holistic approach, boosting general health and wellness, while also addressing specific ailments.

 “The problem is that … conventional doctors are trained that you have to give somebody a pill for a particular problem,” she says. “The reality is if you are taking an herb or a supplement, it is going to affect everything…and they probably do it a lot gentler, a lot better, and a lot safer.”

Eat healthy, be healthy.

Have a terrific week.

HeffX-LTN

Paul Ebeling

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