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Texas Judge Rules Affordable Care Act Unconstitutional, But Supporters Vow To Appeal and On to the New Year!

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Now I am not a big fan of the Affordable Care Act, that is the way it was originally written but it was a step in the right direction if only the “idiots” in our Congress had considered the idea of financial sustainability and forcing our young struggling healthy people to sign on and pay for everyone else. So, then the Republicans decided to remove the Individual Mandate, a good first step to modifying and improving choice and the future of the ACA.

So, now another fly in the ointment as Julie Rovner points out as now a federal district court judge in Texas has threatened the future of the Affordable Care Act.

Judge Reed C. O’Connor struck down the law, siding with a group of 18 Republican state attorneys general and two GOP governors who brought the case. O’Connor said the tax bill passed by Congress in December 2017 effectively rendered the entire health law unconstitutional.

So, What’s At Stake In The Latest Affordable Care Act Court Battle

That tax measure eliminated the penalty for not having insurance. An earlier Supreme Court decision upheld the ACA based on the view that the penalty was a tax and thus the law was valid because it relied on appropriate power allowed Congress under the Constitution. O’Connor’s decision said that without that penalty, the law no longer met that Constitutional test.

“In some ways, the question before the Court involves the intent of both the 2010 and 2017 Congresses,” O’Connor wrote in his 55-page decision. “The former enacted the ACA. The latter sawed off the last leg it stood on.”

The decision came just hours before the end of open enrollment for ACA plans in most states that use the federal HealthCare.gov insurance exchange. It is not expected that the ruling will affect the coverage for those people. The final decision isn’t likely to be made until the case reaches the Supreme Court again.

The 16 Democratic state attorneys general who intervened in the case to defend the health law immediately vowed to appeal.

“The ACA has already survived more than 70 unsuccessful repeal attempts and withstood scrutiny in the Supreme Court,” said a statement from Xavier Becerra of California. “Today’s misguided ruling will not deter us: our coalition will continue to fight in court for the health and wellbeing of all Americans.”

It is all but certain the case will become the third time the Supreme Court decides a constitutional question related to the ACA. In addition to upholding the law in 2012, the court rejected another challenge to the law in 2015.

It is hard to overstate what would happen to the nation’s health care system if the decision is ultimately upheld. The Affordable Care Act touched almost every aspect of health care, including Medicare and Medicaid, generic biologic drugs, the Indian Health Service, and public health changes like calorie counts on menus.

The case, Texas v United States, was filed in February. The plaintiffs argued that because the Supreme Court upheld the ACA in 2012 as a constitutional use of its taxing power, the elimination of the tax makes the rest of the law unconstitutional.

In June, the Justice Department announced it would not fully defend the law in court. While the Trump administration said it did not agree with the plaintiffs that the tax law meant the entire ACA was unconstitutional, it said that the provisions of the law guaranteeing that people with preexisting health conditions could purchase coverage at the same price as everyone else were so inextricably linked to the tax penalty that they should be struck.

The administration urged the court to declare those provisions invalid beginning Jan. 1, 2019. That is the day the tax penalty for not having insurance disappears.

The protections for people with preexisting conditions were one of the top health issues in the midterm elections earlier in November. While the issue mostly played to the advantage of Democrats, one of the Republican plaintiffs, Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley, defeated Democratic incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill. Another plaintiff, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, lost to Democratic incumbent Sen. Joe Manchin.

President Donald Trump was quick to take a victory lap, and pressed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and the presumed incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to fix the problem. The president tweeted Friday night: “As I predicted all along, Obamacare has been struck down as an UNCONSTITUTIONAL disaster! Now Congress must pass a STRONG law that provides GREAT healthcare and protects pre-existing conditions. Mitch and Nancy, get it done!”

But congressional leaders were quick to point out that the suit is far from over. Of course it is as the Democratic dominated House takes on the subject of healthcare.

“The ruling seems to be based on faulty legal reasoning and hopefully it will be overturned,” said a statement from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

Many legal experts agreed with that assessment. “This is insanity in print, and it will not stand up on appeal,” tweeted University of Michigan Law School Professor Nicholas Bagley, an expert in health law.

Even some conservatives were left scratching their heads. “Congress acted last year to repeal the mandate, but leave everything else in place and the courts should have deferred to that,” tweeted former congressional GOP aide Chris Jacobs.

Obama pushes for ObamaCare enrollments after Texas judge deems law unconstitutional

Barack Obama took to social media Saturday to urge people to sign up for health care on the final day of Affordable Care Act enrollment. His appeal came a day after a Texas judge struck down the former president’s signature legislation as unconstitutional.

Aside from reminding people that Saturday would be the final day to enroll for affordable health care for 2019, Obama appeared to play down the significance of the ruling.

“You might have heard about a federal court decision on a Republican lawsuit trying to strike down the Affordable Care Act in its entirety,” he said in Facebook post. “As this decision makes its way through the courts, which will take months, if not years, the law remains in place and will likely stay that way.”

The ruling, he said, “changes nothing for now.”

Saturday was the last day of open enrollment. U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor dealt a blow to Obama’s 2012 health care initiative on Friday after 20 states, including Texas, argued that they had been hurt by a jump in the numbers of people utilizing state-backed insurance.

“The remainder of the ACA is non-severable from the individual mandate, meaning that the Act must be invalidated in whole,” O’Connor, whose District Court is based in Texas, wrote in a 55-page opinion, according to Bloomberg.

But Past President Obama still encourages people to sign up for the ACA.

“OBAMACARE RULED UNCONSTITUTIONAL BY TEXAS JUDGE.”

President Trump immediately tweeted following the ruling, urging Congress to pass a “strong” health care bill that would cover pre-existing conditions — a component that Democrats have long criticized Republicans for ignoring.

“A lot of good people are fighting to ensure that nothing about your care will change. The ACA protects your pre-existing conditions, no matter how you get your insurance,” Obama said Saturday.

“But all of this should also be a reminder that Republicans will never stop trying to undo all that. If they can’t get it done in Congress, they’ll keep trying in the courts, even when it puts people’s pre-existing conditions coverage at risk.”

California and other several other stated with opposing views on ObamaCare are likely to challenge the new ruling through an appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

Health Costs Bear Down On Families Who Don’t Qualify For ACA Subsidies

Steve Findlay pointed out that like millions of Americans in this final week of open enrollment for the Affordable Care Act marketplaces, Diane McCabe is shopping for health insurance.

“At my age, I can’t go without it, even though I’m healthy now,” says McCabe. She’s 62 and a self-employed real estate agent in Luzerne County, Pa. “But the process is frustrating, and the expense significant.”

That’s because McCabe is one of the 5 million people who buy their own coverage (either on or off the ACA marketplace) and pay the full cost. Her income is too high to qualify for a government subsidy that would help defray the cost of the premium.

McCabe this week settled on a $773-a-month policy that has a $4,000 deductible — the amount she’ll have to pay out of pocket before insurance kicks in. She estimates that will account for at least 15 percent of her income in 2019.

Under the ACA, people who earn up to 400 percent of the poverty level (about $48,500 for an individual and $100,400 for a family of four in 2019) are eligible for premium subsidies. Eighty-seven percent of the 10.6 million people with ACA plans this year received a subsidy.

The financial challenge for people like McCabe has come into much sharper focus during the past year, as insurance premiums have spiked.

These increasing costs plus rising deductibles and copayments have driven millions who don’t get a subsidy to drop their coverage or turn to cheaper, less comprehensive — and sometimes inadequate — insurance.

The Trump administration has highlighted the plight of the unsubsidized and said that its regulatory revamp of the health law will give consumers new, more affordable options.

Buyer Beware: New Cheaper Insurance Policies May Have Big Coverage Gaps

One of the key administration efforts is extending the use of short-term insurance plans that have lower premiums but don’t provide the full benefits that the ACA requires, such as continuous coverage of preexisting conditions or maternity care.

Those plans are not eligible for subsidies now, but, under regulations the administration proposed in October, subsidies could be available starting in 2020.

Critics counter that the administration’s approach runs a high risk of undermining core features of the ACA. And a legal battle over the administration’s proposed new rules is likely.

“The subsidy structure is unquestionably a problem,” says Chris Sloan, a director at Avalere Health, a policy and research think tank in Washington, D.C. “It’s a cruel reality for those above the income cutoffs. But it’s not clear that the administration’s actions are the best solution.”

Opponents of the Trump administration’s proposals contend they could lead young, healthy people to abandon ACA coverage and choose less comprehensive and expensive coverage — leaving more people who are older and sicker in the exchanges. That would result in steadily increasing costs for those plans, and could eventually destabilize the ACA marketplaces, policy analysts say.

Overall, about 4.4 million fewer people who buy coverage on their own were insured in 2018 compared to 2015, a decline from 18.8 to 14.4 million. Most of the decline occurred among people who don’t get subsidies.

On and off insurance

Cameron and Lori Llewellyn, of Dover, Del., say they have found insurance just too expensive.

In June 2017, Lori left a job that provided the family with good health coverage. She wanted to start her own business — a clothing boutique. Cameron is a self-employed construction contractor.

The Llewellyns tried to enroll in a plan through the ACA exchange in the summer of 2017. But Cameron’s income was too high to qualify for a subsidy. On the open market, they were quoted rates as high as $2,000 a month, with deductibles of $4,000 or more, for themselves and their 8-year-old daughter, Bryce.

They opted instead to go without coverage until the end of 2017. Then again, for this year, they ended up not qualifying for subsidies and decided to go without insurance.

“We just couldn’t justify the expense, especially with that high of a deductible,” Lori said. “But it wasn’t a comfortable situation. We wanted coverage for all the reasons people know they need it.”

For 2019, the Llewellyns are trying again. They have enrolled through the state ACA exchange in a policy with a premium of $1,286 and a $7,900 deductible, but with a subsidy that will cover the entire premium.

Spencer Ricks, 36, a self-employed attorney in Salt Lake City, is choosing a different path. He, his wife and their 3-year-old daughter bought ACA-compliant coverage in 2016. Their premium rose from around $600 in 2016 to $970 in 2017 with a $10,000 deductible.

Ricks was told his premium for 2018 for the same plan would be $1,200 with a $13,500 deductible. He pulled the plug on the family coverage and instead enrolled his wife — who was pregnant — in a plan costing $570 a month with a $5,000 deductible.

Health Insurers Are Still Skimping On Mental Health Coverage

Ricks and his daughter then joined a Christian Healthcare Ministry plan costing $157 a month, with a $10,000 deductible. For 2019, Ricks is enrolling the whole family is another religious-affiliated plan that’s skimpier in coverage than those sold on the ACA exchange; it costs $529 a month and has a $2,250 deductible.

The Religious Alternative To Obamacare’s Individual Mandate

But for 2019, the most prevalent alternative to an ACA plan for people who don’t get subsidies is likely to be a short-term plan.

Previously available for only 90 days — primarily to bridge gaps in coverage — the Trump administration expanded that time frame to 364 days.

The plans can be bought at any time, but sales are up now because more people are shopping during the ACA’s open enrollment, says Sean Malia, a senior director at eHealth, an online brokerage.

Melanie and Pete Howell, of Austin, Texas, are among eHealth’s newest customers. They had an ACA plan this year costing $1,100 a month with a $7,000 deductible. It covered the couple and their two children, ages 22 and 17.

The Howells’ income is too high to qualify for a subsidy. When their insurer notified them that the premium was going to be $1,400 a month in 2019, they opted for a short-term plan that will cost $380 a month with a deductible of $12,500.

The plan does not cover prescription drugs, and the Howells will pay 30 percent of the costs for doctor, emergency room visits and any surgical procedures.

“This buys us some time at a much more affordable price to figure out what to do for the longer term,” said Melanie Howell.

No easy solutions

Although both ACA critics and advocates say that addressing the high cost of coverage for non-subsidized families should be a priority, there are no easy bipartisan fixes in sight.

Many ACA supporters urge legislation that raises the threshold for subsides above 400 percent of poverty — to, say, 600 percent. But that stokes concerns of added federal spending.

Medicaid Expansion Takes A Bite Out Of Medical Debt

A more realistic approach, for now, could be to permit states to experiment with ways to help those over the 400 percent threshold, says Sabrina Corlette, a research professor at the Georgetown University’s Health Policy Institute.

For example, with federal government permission, eight states have already launched, or will in 2019, “reinsurance” programs that redeploy federal dollars to help insurers cover the costs of families with high medical expenses. The programs have kept premium costs down for both people who get subsidies and those who don’t.

Another proposal would permit states more leeway to restructure the ACA subsidies to provide less help to people with high-cost health care needs and more help to those not currently eligible for subsidies.

“Letting states try things out has bipartisan support,” says Corlette, “and there are mechanisms for that already in place. It would seem to have the best chance of yielding something useful to help this population [the unsubsidized] for now.”

ACA Sign-Ups Have Lagged For 2019. But What Does That Mean?

Alison Kodjak reported that Former President Barack Obama released a video earlier this week urging people to hurry up and shop for health insurance on the Affordable Care Act exchange.

“This year I’m giving it to you straight,” Obama says in the video. “It’s important to have health insurance in case, God forbid, you get really sick, or hurt yourself next year.”

As I have already stated the open enrollment ended in most states on yesterday and Obama made the case that people can find a good deal on coverage if they shop around.

“Most folks can find coverage for $50 to $100 per month. That’s probably less than your cell phone bill,” he says.

After the video was released, there was a bump in sign-ups. But overall this year, enrollment in the individual market is moving more slowly than in previous years.

At the end of last week, just over 4.1 million people had chosen a health plan on Healthcare.gov, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which runs the website. That’s about half a million fewer than at this time last year, an analysis by the advocacy group Protect Our Care shows.

“I hate to panic but I do think we’re going to come in low on the federal exchange, says Rosemarie Day, CEO of Day Health Strategies. Day was the founding COO of Massachusetts’ state exchange, which launched in 2006, long before the Affordable Care Act became law.

She blames the lower enrollment on the Trump Administration’s decision to slash the advertising budget for open enrollment. Outreach, she says, is crucial to making sure that people who need insurance know where and when to get it.

Suicide Kills 47,000 Men, Women and Children a Year. Society shrugs, the Discussion We Need to have and Those Who Suffer the Most; an Association to Screen Time and Social Media?

47430587_1812958915500426_7411626721117470720_nLet us first remember Pearl Harbor Day and the men and women who lost their lives and the battles that followed. Now, let’s continue with the second edition of the suicide post. I am interested in the discussion of the epidemic and those who are left behind to suffer who someone commits suicide. The Editorial Board at USA TODAY noted that though suicide is the 10th leading cause of death, efforts to understand and prevent it falls short. But this could be changing.

If a killer roaming America left 47,000 men, women and children die each year, you can bet society would be demanding something be done to end the scourge.

Well, such a killer exists. It’s called suicide, and the rate of it has steadily risen.

Yet the national response has been little more than a shrug, apart from raised awareness whenever celebrities — fashion designer Kate Spade and renowned chef Anthony Bourdain, to name two this year — are tragically found dead by their own hand.

USA TODAY’s comprehensive look at this public health crisis and its ripple effect, published Wednesday, includes a daughter’s heart-wrenching narrative of losing a mother to suicide, as told by former Cincinnati Enquirer Managing Editor Laura Trujillo.

Although suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in America, efforts to understand and prevent it fall dismally short. The National Institutes of Health, by far the world’s largest underwriter of biomedical study, spent $68 million last year on suicide — a relatively small amount compared with NIH funds devoted to other leading killers.

NIH and NIMH: We’re deeply committed to reducing suicide

Kidney disease leaves about as many dead, yet it receives nine times the research funding. Indeed, the NIH spent more than twice the suicide research sum to better understand inflammatory bowel syndrome and even more on dietary supplements.

Suicide rates across the U.S. (Photo: USA TODAY)

Screen Shot 2018-12-09 at 11.02.10 PM

The NIH says that it spends billions on mental health research and that this indirectly prevents suicide, but that’s misleading: Millions of Americans suffer emotional problems and relatively few resorts to suicide. Society needs to know why this is, and only further study can answer the question.

Federal government priorities often mirror what matters to politicians and, ultimately, the general public, which for too long has seemed mired in complacency about suicide. There have been no concerted campaigns similar to those targeting leading killers such as HIV or breast and prostate cancers.

This could be changing.

A new survey funded by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention shows that 94 percent of Americans believe that suicide is preventable, and the foundation is advocating an increase in NIH suicide funding, to $150 million.

“The public is starting to get it,” says foundation CEO Robert Gebbia.

Even limited investments have borne fruit:

►The military and the Department of Veterans Affairs invested hundreds of millions of dollars after suicide rates tripled in the Army during recent wars, then kept climbing among a generation of young veterans. The VA has developed an algorithm to identify the most at-risk patients as a way to focus more intensive care. Preliminary results have been encouraging, with lower mortality rates.

►Studies show that reducing access to lethal means saves lives, and states with stronger gun control laws now see reduced rates of suicide. Construction began this year on a massive, stainless steel net slung under the Golden Gate Bridge to end that San Francisco landmark’s dark history as a prime site for suicide.

►With proven benefits of intervention, President Donald Trump this year signed a bill to examine the feasibility of creating a 911-style, three-digit emergency number for more easy access to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255).

Scientists have established that the self-destructive urge is often fleeting. Where counseling, better coping skills and reduced access to a lethal means help the distraught to endure this moment, people can survive. It’s one of the reasons why nine out of 10 people who attempt suicide, studies show, do not ultimately kill themselves.

Where there is life, there is hope.

We need to talk about suicide more

USA TODAY has published an extensive story by Laura Trujillo on her mother’s suicide. Editor Nicole Carroll explains why and the precautions are taken.

I called Laura the minute I heard.

We had worked together in Phoenix for more than a decade, and she had recently moved to Cincinnati.

She answered, sobbing.

“Oh, Laura, I’m so sorry.”

My heart was broken for Laura, her mom, her family. And over the following years, I watched as Laura tried to absorb, understand and even explain her mother’s suicide. She began writing about it in spurts on Facebook.

“It can feel impossible to understand,” she once posted. “And you can’t until you can. Until you, too, have felt alone in a way so overwhelmingly strong that you would do anything to escape it. It can be gone and return, consuming you. But sometimes there is luck. Good doctors and medicine. Time, people and faith.”

Laura and I talked about how someday when she was ready, she should share her story more widely.

Because every time Laura told her story, others would tell theirs.

And we need to talk about suicide.

On average, there are 129 suicides each day, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And for every person who dies, about 29 more attempt it. It’s the 10th leading cause of death in the United States.

We all know someone touched by suicide. Myself included.

I lived with my grandparents until I was 2. I stayed close to my grandfather; he never stopped looking out for me, even as I started college, work, a family. Then, in 2001, he killed himself. It wasn’t a secret, but no one ever talked about it.

That was 17 years ago. And still today, we just don’t talk about suicide.

The media rarely share stories of suicide, in part because we don’t want to make things worse. The practice in newspapers for decades was not to write about suicide at all unless it was done in public or was a public figure.

When the media cover high-profile suicides, especially when they include specific details of the death, the exposure can lead to suicide contagion. In the months after Robin Williams’ death in 2014, suicides rose 10 percent higher than expected, according to a Columbia University study.

But the answer can’t be to ignore suicide and the effect it has on so many. In addition to Laura’s personal essay, we felt it important to explore suicide as a broader public health problem. In our reporting, we learned that while suicide rates are up 33 percent over the past 18 years in the USA, funding for it lags behind that of all other top causes of death, leaving suicide research well behind the nation’s other top killers.

There is much about suicide we don’t know. And in an effort to protect people, news organizations have allowed misconceptions to persist, including the belief that there’s nothing you can do to help someone who is contemplating suicide.

So we know we need to report on suicide, but we must do it carefully. Because when we write about suicide responsibly, we can help save lives.

We’ve talked about this – constantly – in the writing and editing of Laura’s story.

We shared the story with two psychologists who study suicide. They advised us on language to avoid, details to omit and ways to offer support. Stories of survival help, they said. Make sure to include the suicide lifeline number with every story. Talk about warning signs.plans.

Not all psychologists agree on exactly how we should or shouldn’t write about suicide. And we didn’t do everything those experts suggested. We felt it was unrealistic to avoid talking about how Laura’s mother killed herself and to avoid every detail of where it took place. We did, however, avoid descriptions of the method in our other reported stories on suicide. Our intent is to inform, not to sensationalize, and we felt these stories were compelling without them.

We discussed language to use on social media if vulnerable readers reached out to us and how to keep the conversation going after this story published.

We then shared the story with Kelly McBride, senior vice president at the Poynter Institute and an expert on responsible media coverage of suicide. She reviewed the story, headlines, and photos, giving further advice on sensitive phrasing, and suggestions for more details of Laura’s personal journey that could help.

Because the goal of Laura’s story is to help.

Help those who’ve been touched by suicide.

Those who’ve considered suicide.

And those who are worried – right now – that someone they love is thinking about suicide.

So let’s not be afraid. Let’s find ways to share our stories.

Let’s talk.

After a suicide, here’s what happens to the people left behind

To me, this is the most important part of this post. I consider suicide a loser’s way to solve their problems and I have been through it with fellow physicians and friends who have lost family members. The people who suffer are those left behind to wonder what they did wrong or what they could have done to prevent the suicide.

Loss survivors – the close family and friends left behind after a suicide – number six to 32 for each death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, meaning that in 2017 alone, as many as 1.5 million people unwillingly became part of this group.

They are forced to cope with the loss of a loved one and navigate uncertain futures, often caring for confused children as they struggle to accept they may never know “why.”

Suicide can affect a wider community of individuals, including members of a person’s church or school. One study estimates roughly 425 people are exposed to each suicide in this way.

After a loved one’s death, those left behind face an increased risk of suicide themselves. According to a report in 2015 from the Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention:

  • Losing any first-degree relative to suicide increased the mourner’s chance of suicide by about threefold.
  • Young people appear to be particularly vulnerable after the suicide of a peer, which can lead to a phenomenon sometimes referred to as suicide clusters or contagion.
  • Men who have a spouse die by suicide have a 46-fold increase in their chances of dying by suicide. Women have a 16-fold increase.

Kim Ruocco, whose husband, Marine Corps Maj. John Ruocco, died by suicide in 2005, said she never seriously considered killing herself, but she often wondered how she would make it through each day.

“After his death, I cannot say that I was suicidal, but I can remember being in so much emotional pain that I would think, ‘I really don’t want to wake up,'” Ruocco said. “Because you can’t figure out how to live your life with this kind of grief.”

‘My whole world turned upside down’

When Ruocco’s husband died, she said, she lost her sense of reality.

“My whole world was turned upside down,” she said. “What I thought I knew to be true may not have been true. … It made me question everything in my life, from my spirituality to my instincts, to my decision-making, to my marriage, to my family relationships.”

Grief, she learned, was not linear. Some days were terrible. Some were OK, even good. She had to learn, she said, to embrace it all.

“It’s not one feeling, it’s a whole bunch of feelings, and I think the advice for anybody who’s experiencing grief is that whatever you are feeling, it’s OK, it’s normal, and it’s going to come,” she said. “I let it come, I look at it, I feel it, I express it, and then I try to let it go.”

Stories of hope:

  • Stepping back from the ledge
  • Suicide never entered his mind. Then 9/11 happened.
  • Young, transgender and fighting a years-long battle against suicidal thoughts
  • She worked in suicide prevention. Then one day she had to save herself.

When Debbie Baird lost her 29-year-old son, Matthew, to suicide in 2009, she didn’t think she would ever let go of her grief.

Debbie Baird said she didn’t think she would ever recover from the grief over her son Matthew’s suicide. (Photo: Debbie Baird)

“If you had told me in the early days that I would feel better again, I would never have believed you,” she said.

She went to counseling, found a support group and journaled for years, which the Suicide Prevention Lifeline recommends as a way to process things you weren’t able to say before your loved one’s death. Slowly, Baird said, she began to heal. She could see it in the pages.

“I kept thinking if I could write a letter to him, maybe he’d write back to me. Maybe he’d let me know the reason why this happened. I felt like I needed to find a way to connect with him,” she said. “It went from wanting to know why, and how hurt and sad I felt and how my heart was broken and all the physical pain that I was going through and my depression and how I was feeling too, ‘Hey, Jen’s going to have another baby.’ I could see my life changing.”

Baird is now a community educator and support specialist for loss survivors at the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

The American Psychological Association said that after a suicide, it’s important for survivors to:

  • Accept your emotions.
  • Not worry about what you “should” feel or do. There’s no standard timeline for grieving and no single right way to cope.
  • Care for yourself. Do your best to get enough sleep and eat regular, healthy meals. Taking care of your physical self can improve your mood and give you the strength to cope.
  • Draw on support systems.
  • Talk to someone. There is often stigma around suicide, and many loss survivors suffer in silence. Speaking about your feelings can help.
  • Join a group.
  • Talk to a professional.

How to help

The bereaved can heal, suicide prevention experts said, but their pain is often underestimated. The stigma around suicide creates an additional burden. Loss survivors commonly experience a range of emotions as they grieve, including shock, fear, shame, and anger. As they work to cope with these feelings, many simultaneously deal with the pressure to keep their loved one’s suicide a secret or with the mistaken belief that they did something to cause their loved one’s death.

Thomas Joiner, who lost his father to suicide and went on to become a leading suicide researcher, wrote in his book “Why People Die by Suicide” that some people’s inability to intellectually make sense of suicide kept them from showing sympathy after his dad’s death.

“To some people … understanding didn’t matter and wasn’t a barrier to acting with a real generosity of spirit,” he wrote. “To others, the lack of understanding seemed an insurmountable barrier, so that instincts toward compassion were short-circuited.”

According to the American Association of Suicidology and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, people can help loss survivors by:

  • Listening without judgment
  • Using the lost loved one’s name to show that person is not forgotten
  • Accepting the loss survivor’s feelings, which can include shock, shame, and abandonment
  • Avoiding phrases such as “I know how you feel,” unless you, too, are a loss survivor
  • Avoiding telling them how they should act or feel
  • Being sensitive during holidays and anniversaries

“People need the education to understand that it is OK to talk about their loved one,” Baird said. “It is OK to mention their name. It is OK to say, ‘I’m sorry.’ ”

Loss survivors should be encouraged to get help for themselves. Grief counselors, faith leaders, social workers, and doctors may be trained in how to respond to suicide.

Ruocco became vice president of suicide prevention and postvention at the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) after her husband’s death. “Postvention” describes efforts to prevent suicide among loss survivors and help them heal. Ruocco said postvention doesn’t just decrease risk, it can help survivors find a new purpose.

“They can really have post-traumatic growth and make meaning out of this kind of loss,” Ruocco said.

It’s impossible for survivors to return to the way things were before their loved one’s death. Ruocco said she misses her husband every day, but she’s managed to build a life for herself that, although not what she imagined is full of joy.

“You look at the world in a different way,” she said. “Not only did I have meaning in my life because of his death, but I also cherished the world in a different way. My relationships with my children were more intense, more purposeful. I was more present and connected to the outside world, whether that’s nature or other people. I found joy in little things and appreciated little things and moments with people that I may not have discovered prior to my husband’s death, and I was able to honor his life lived by telling other people about him and preventing suicide in honor of him.”

Suicide Lifeline: If you or someone you know may be struggling with suicidal thoughts, you can call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) any time of day or night or chat online.

If you have lost a loved one to suicide, visit Alliance of Hope to find support resources.

If you are grieving the death of a loved one who served, you can contact the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) at 800-959-8277.

‘Screen time’ causing, exacerbating childhood psychiatric disorders

U.S. teens now spend 6 hours, 40 minutes per day using screens for entertainment. Fifty percent report they feel “addicted” to their devices.

Working in the world of child and adolescent psychiatry as an advanced practice nurse, I frequently hear about symptoms of irritability, anger, isolation and poor sleep from my patients. These symptoms are common to many childhood psychiatric disorders. These disruptive symptoms baffle parents, teachers and clinicians alike, and can lead to incorrect diagnoses for these children with dysregulated moods.

I have been a steadfast believer in the importance of good diet, exercise and adequate sleep as being elementary steps one can take to improve moods. I now also consider the fourth tenet for youth mood regulation to be limited electronic screen exposure.

Excessive screen time stresses the brain, and electronic devices of all types have taken over our modern everyday life by storm in an insidious manner. The typical U.S. teen now spends 6 hours, 40 minutes per day using screens for entertainment. Fifty percent of U.S. teens say they feel “addicted” to their devices.

Recently, I saw a 12-year-old male in my office who presented with symptoms of isolation, nightmares, anxiety, anger, academic decline and poor sleep. What followed my evaluation was a discussion about how electronic devices tend to produce mood disturbances. Excessive screen time can disrupt the production of melatonin, which helps to regulate sleep-wake cycles. Light at night has been linked to depression and/or suicide in numerous studies.

Typical gaming and social media interfaces induce stress reactions with hyperarousal, provoking a “wired and tired” state. Gaming interfaces desensitize the brain’s reward system and release the “feel-good” chemical dopamine. Dopamine is critical in regulating focus and moods. Brain scans have shown that those playing video games are similar to those using cocaine.

Screen time overloads the senses

Screen time overloads the senses, fractures attention and depletes mental reserves. Emotional meltdowns can then become a coping mechanism. And lastly, excessive screen time reduces a time for “green time” — physical activity outdoors in a natural setting, which can reduce stress and restore attention.

“Pervasive design” is the practice of combining psychology and technology to change behavior. The pervasive design is increasingly employed by social media and video gaming companies to pull users onto their sites and keep them there for as long as possible. Several Google and Facebook executives have voiced their concerns about social media sites negatively affecting human psychology.

Utilizing an “electronic fast” for children in my practice has shown drastic improvement in psychiatric symptoms. I suspect those without underlying psychiatric disorders may show an even more marked improvement. As parents/guardians of children, please consider the negative impact screen time may be impacting your child.

And it is my impression after reviewing all the data that this increased screen time and social media may be the reason for this increase in suicide rates. Whether you believe President’s Trump’s tweets and outlandish suggestions that the media lies, kids and adults are measuring themselves to impossible comparisons in behavior, aesthetics, levels of social measures etc.

 

Suicide Rate Up 33% in Less than 20 years, Yet Funding Lags Behind Other Top Killers!

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First let us all take a minute to remember Past President 41, George H.W. Bush, probably one of the most respected past presidents. is experience, knowledge, and experience was amazing and so welcomed and useful to run a country. This former president has inspired us all with his toughness mixed with judiciousness and kindness. We could all learn much from 41! Now a moment of silence…………………..

Suicide rates are up 33% in the U.S., yet funding lags behind that of all other top causes of death — leaving suicide research in its “infancy.”

More than 47,000 Americans killed themselves in 2017, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Thursday, contributing to an overall decline in U.S. life expectancy. Since 1999, the suicide rate has climbed 33 percent.

Americans are more than twice as likely to die by their own hands, of their own will, than by someone else’s. But while homicides spark vigils and protests, entering into headlines, presidential speeches, and police budgets, suicides don’t. Still shrouded in stigma, many suicides go unacknowledged save for the celebrities – Robin Williams, Kate Spade, Anthony Bourdain – punctuating the unrelenting rise in suicide deaths with a brief public outcry.

And research suggests our ways of living may be partly to blame, in ways that don’t bode well for the future.

Alcohol and substance abuse are risk factors, and both are increasing. Isolationraises the risk, and nearly half of Americans say they sometimes or always feel alone. Increasing smartphone use has been linked to suicidal thoughts in teens. Even climate change has been found to have roughly the same effect on increasing suicides as an economic recession.

The leading causes of death have declined since 1999

The Suicide rate has increased more the 33%

Screen Shot 2018-12-01 at 10.16.49 PM“We’re trying to reduce suicide death rates in the face of a culture that’s ever more fascinated with violence, that has a bunch of opiates around left and right, where family structure isn’t getting more cohesive and neither is community structure,” said Thomas Joiner, a leading suicide researcher. “That’s a lot to fight against.”

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. and is often called a public health emergency.

But money to research and combat suicide continues to lag behind other leading killers and even non-fatal conditions. The National Institutes of Health, the largest public funder of biomedical research in the world, spent $68 million on suicide last year. It spent nearly five times that studying sleep and 10 times more on breast cancer, which killed fewer people in 2016.

“What I’m just painfully aware of is that all of the areas where the top 10 causes of death in the United States have gone down have received significantly more attention,” said John Draper, director of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. “There’s been so much more put into every one of those causes of death than suicide. … If you didn’t do anything for heart disease and you didn’t do anything for cancer, then you’d see those rates rise, too.”

NIH officials say they do not expressly budget by disease, and research funding in other categories could affect suicide without being suicide-specific. The NIH spent $2.7 billion on mental health, for example.

“A large portion of the research is not disease-oriented but based on human biology. For instance, if we’re studying brain function, it might be pertinent to suicide, but we might not necessarily categorize it as suicide,” said Michael Lauer, NIH deputy director for extramural research. “Same with depression, which obviously is linked to suicide.”

Still, many in the field wish for dedicated spending. Jill Harkavy-Friedman, vice president of research for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, advocates for $150 million a year for suicide research, still far less than the $592 million the NIH allocated to fight kidney disease, the nation’s No. 9 killer.

“We are happy that other health conditions are getting the money. … It’s not an either/or,” Harkavy-Friedman said. But “the cost of suicide is enormous, and people don’t realize it.”

The cost — in dollars, in suffering, in science

Suicides and suicide attempts cost $93.5 billion a year, most of it in lost productivity, a 2016 study estimated. And that’s nothing compared with the cost in human lives and suffering.

Joiner recognized the human toll 30 years ago – even before his own father died by suicide.

As a graduate student in psychology in 1990, Joiner had begun focusing on depression. That summer, his father, a former Marine sergeant turned software pioneer, took his own life.

“He was a successful, visionary, ambitious, intelligent man,” Joiner said. “And he had an illness that ended up being fatal. That’s how I see him.”

Joiner, now a psychology professor and clinician at Florida State University, said his father’s death helped persuade him to make studying suicide his life’s work.

“I’d already inclined toward that decision, and this only made it starker. I already knew this was a problem,” he said. “It was a misery for the bereaved, and that’s not to mention the even more acute suffering suicidal people go through in the hours, days, months before their death – just a lot of suffering all around. And it wasn’t being studied then.”

It’s studied now, but given the size of the problem, we still know surprisingly little about it.

“I think that we’ve told the public that we know more about suicide than we know,” said April Foreman, a clinician on the American Association of Suicidology board of directors.

When someone dies by suicide, people and the media trot out a series of “maybes,” she said: Maybe it was mental illness. Maybe it was losing a job or getting divorced.

“Maybe it was not getting a phone call at just the right moment. Maybe. But maybe something was happening in their brains that in 20 years we’ll understand,” she said. “We tell stories about bullying or sadness like it’s a fairy tale. There’s probably real science there, and we just haven’t decided to treat it like that. … We’re telling stories about why people kill themselves that isn’t scientifically based, that are very inaccurate, and are just the easier stories to tell because it’s much harder to say we don’t know.”

Joiner compares suicide research today to “cancer research about 100 years ago.”

“People were so scared of the topic they wouldn’t even say the word,” but cancer research has since made great strides, he said. “I think the same thing will happen with suicide research, but that’s decades in the future. Right now we’re in our infancy.”

Suicide studies reflect the broad sweep of the current science. Some focus on genetic factors involved in maintaining brain circuits and neurotransmitters, biomarkers of at-risk populations, brain PET imaging and medications; others focus on psychotherapies, preventing substance abuse and school nurse interventions.

The effectiveness of prevention efforts has been difficult to determine as suicide rates increase, said Andrew Sperling, director of legislative affairs for the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

“The challenge is there are various suicide prevention programs, and we’re still learning a lot about what works and doesn’t work,” Sperling said. “There’s not a lot of evidence we’ve been very effective at it.”

Scientific knowledge is limited. Public knowledge is wrong.

Even key discoveries that enjoy broad support among researchers have yet to percolate into the public consciousness. 

Public health experts say: Suicide is preventable.

People think: Suicide is inevitable.

Consciously or unconsciously, many Americans write off those who seriously consider killing themselves as hopeless causes, unreachable. A study in 2017 showed that people are skeptical of a suicidal person’s ability to recover – the idea that even if we stop the person today, we won’t tomorrow.

“If you think once someone’s suicidal that they’re just going to die, then it doesn’t make sense to invest money in that,” Joiner said of a common point of “ignorance.”

Science tells us that isn’t true. So does common sense. Survivors of suicide attempts themselves are walking proof.

In 2016, nearly 45,000 died by suicide, but the number who attempted is almost 29 times that — meaning more than one and a quarter-million survived. Though a previous suicide attempt makes the risk of dying by suicide higher, it is just one of many risk factors. Nine out of 10 people who survive a suicide attempt will not go on to die by suicide later, according to studies that have tracked survivors over decades.

Cliff Bauman, a National Guardsman who struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder, attempted suicide once, but when he faced a crisis again he was able to get through it by using learned coping skills, including being aware of his triggers and having people he can trust.

“I made the conscious decision (after my attempt) to go back into counseling,” he said. “(I) was opening up about why I did what I did and how it got to that point, and I felt suddenly … the darkness doesn’t seem so dark.”

Another misconception is that suicidal ideation is rare. But one in 33 American adults seriously thought about suicide in 2016, the commonness of the thoughts belied by how rarely they’re discussed.

“Suicide is reflective of other issues that we don’t want to talk about,” said Adam Swanson, a senior prevention specialist at the Suicide Prevention Resource Center. “We don’t want to talk about the fact that people can’t afford to pay electric bills. … We don’t want to talk about the … pain people carry.”

Survivors are often the first to distinguish that it’s not a desire to die that drove their attempt but a desire to escape the pain. It’s something Shelby Rowe, a PTSD and suicide attempt survivor who works in suicide prevention knows firsthand.

“If I could go back to talk to myself that night when all I could hear in my head was ‘You can’t live like this anymore, you can’t live like this anymore’ … I would have said: ‘It’s OK, you’re right. It is really awful right now, and you can’t live like this anymore, but please live, because there is another way. There is another beautiful life waiting for you.'”

Mental and emotional pain is less acknowledged – both by doctors and the public – than physical pain, Foreman noted.

“It is OK for someone to suffer from wanting to kill themselves and to suffer from trying to kill themselves or even die that way, but it’s not OK to feel sick with the flu for a few days,” she said.

Stymied by stigma

The lack of compassion people feel for those who die by suicide is reflected in the lack of funding. Stigma goes beyond misconceptions.

“Stigma is about fear, and suicide is associated with our most primal fears – fear of death … fears of traumatic loss and our fears of mental illness,” Draper said.

Fear and discomfort also can be expressed as anger.

Retired California Highway Patrol officer Kevin Briggs said he has heard drivers shout “Go ahead and jump!” to people contemplating suicide on the Golden Gate Bridge.

The taunts reflect a disdain some people feel toward those who attempt suicide, whom they see as “weak” or “crazy,” a 2017 study found. Though mental illness is a risk factor for suicide, not everyone who is mentally ill has suicidal thoughts, and not everyone who attempts suicide is mentally ill.

But even statistics on the relationship between mental illness and suicide are incomplete “because we’re not funding it,” Harkavy-Friedman said.

“Every year we go to (Capitol) Hill and we advocate at the state level for fully funding the National Violent Death Reporting System,” she said.

The tracking system, now in place in just 40 states, helps health experts and law enforcement officials identify common circumstances associated with specific types of death, including suicide. Suicide can be especially hard to track without a strong system in place because family members may try to cover it up or pressure officials not to enter “suicide” into records.

In the past, even in clear cases of suicide, families were “not telling anybody for years because they thought they would be blamed or stigmatized,” Harkavy-Friedman said.

Stigma is not only an obstacle to accurate reporting, but it also has made politicians shy away. It’s part of why suicide wasn’t seriously studied or even discussed until the past few decades.

“Twenty years ago when I worked on (Capitol) Hill, you wouldn’t find suicide prevention on federal documents. It wasn’t talked about in the Department of Defense or in the general public. There were no researchers. There was no national strategy for suicide prevention,” said Jerry Reed, a doctor on the executive committee for the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention.

That changed in 1998 when Congress declared suicide a national problem, Reed said.

“Since then, the country has caught up to the significance of this issue, but it still has a long way to go.”

Congressional support is key because it affects the overall NIH budget. Congress also can pass special provisions regarding certain issues, as it has for Alzheimer’s and opioid abuse.

“Congress has made that a clear priority,” Lauer said.

Where’s the hope? A little bit in a lot of places

Despite challenges, experts agree our understanding of suicide is light-years ahead of where it was just a generation ago. And suicide prevention is at “unprecedented” levels, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reports.

Therapy

Through interventions, including medication and therapy, Joiner says he sees suicidal patients at his clinic go from “pretty desperate, pretty intent to die” to “turn(ing) a corner – and usually it’s shockingly quick.”

Joiner theorizes that suicide results from a combination of factors: feeling like a burden, isolation, and having lethal means and a lack of normal fear of death.

Short-circuit one of that – isolation, for instance – and you might stop someone from hurting himself.

“It stands to reason if you reconnect a little bit then risk should abate, so we just arrange within the context of people’s day-to-day lives small increased doses of social connection,” Joiner said. “It’s a very simple behavioral idea, but it seems to work if people do it.”

Asking a friend to lunch would be a great example, Joiner said, but some patients don’t have a friend. They might start simply with “show up to this community event and stay for 10 minutes.”

Of course, some people are chronically suicidal, but Joiner and others note that they can also feel relief through targeted therapy.

Shear Avory, a transgender person who sees a therapist (not associated with Joiner), has lived with daily suicidal ideation and continues to hold on to hope.

“For so long I’ve been stuck in just wanting everything to disappear, from wanting the trauma to go away,” said Avory, whose traumatic childhood included foster homes and conversion therapy. “I’m still alive. I’m still here. That feels like an accomplishment. … Healing is not a linear experience.”

Low-cost changes to health care

With unlimited funding, Joiner said he’d put resources toward practical things proven to work, such as “means safety” – which can include everything from putting pedestrian barriers on bridges to locking up guns and medicine cabinets – and training doctors to identify at-risk patients.

Training primary care doctors and other medical staff is the foundation of the Zero Suicide program.

Zero Suicide founder Mike Hogan said that though suicide is incredibly complex, determining who is at risk can actually be very simple: Once patients are in a health care setting, ask them. Studies have shown that asking people if they’re thinking about suicide does not plant the idea in their heads.

“If people are asked, they often really want to get it off their chest, and they want some help, and it opens the door to help,” Hogan said. “A little bit does a lot: asking, safety planning, reducing lethal means and reaching out … turns out to be quite powerful.”

A 2014 study found that 83% of those who die by suicide saw a health care provider in the year before their death. That’s particularly true for older white men, who account for most suicides.

“We can’t predict when they’ll die, just like we can’t predict when someone might die of a heart attack,” Hogan said. “But we can predict who needs a little help just like someone might need help because their lipid levels are high.”

Hogan said two nonprofit organizations that offer mental health treatments – Centerstone, which spans multiple states, and the Institute for Family Health in upstate New York – saw roughly 60 percent reductions in suicides after adopting Zero Suicide.

Becky Stoll, vice president for crisis and disaster management at Centerstone, said one of the biggest improvements has been the methodical approach to plugging holes in care. For instance, coordination between the suicide prevention committee and their IT department resulted in a program that changed the font color of high-risk patients if they missed appointments, which would then alert them to start calling the patient. If the patient didn’t answer, they’d start calling their friends and family. It was a simple change and it saved lives. In one case, a man’s wife called him after she had received calls from Centerstone. He had been standing on a bridge at the time.

“I’ve been in the field since the late ’80s, and I’ve not seen the enthusiasm the results that we’re seeing now,” Stoll said. “We don’t win every time, but we win a lot. When we know better, we have to do better. And embedding these frameworks into systems of care … it really does seem like we can have an impact. It seems like that’s catching wildfire across the U.S. … (We need to) make people feel they have lives worth living.”

Colorado has embraced Zero Suicide as one tool in its fight. But advocates are more closely watching the newly formed Colorado-National Collaborative, a partnership aimed at reducing suicides thereby 20percent by 2024.

Through a combination of funding from state and federal sources and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Colorado’s Office of Suicide Prevention went from an annual budget of $536,000 about 18 months ago to $2.6 million as of Sept. 30. If the partnership between scientists and public health professionals proves effective in the state with the eighth-worst suicide rate in the country, it could be adopted nationwide.

Removing the means

Colorado and other states also have joined the Gun Shop Project, in which gun store owners and firing range instructors distribute suicide prevention materials as part of an effort to reach people who might be looking for a tool to commit suicide.

Guns were used in 23,000 of the 45,000 suicide deaths in 2016.

These interventions focus on the “means,” or how suicides are completed.

“We may not understand suicidality very well … (but) we know people don’t die of feeling suicidal – they die from a gunshot wound, they die from a medication overdose. Just like you don’t die by (a driver) having poor depth perception, you die from them striking the car and your head hitting the windshield,” Foreman said.

‘On the cusp’?

Many in the suicide research and prevention field describe it as being on a precipice – the science is not where it needs to be, but it shows promise; the funding is not where it needs to be, but it has increased. On the other side, they hope, are the results: a nation in which fewer lives are lost to suicide or tormented by suicidal thoughts.

“With suicide, I hope that we’re on a cusp of a movement,” Foreman said. “Where the people who have survived suicide attempts, the people who live with chronic suicidality, the families, the loved ones, the people who are left, that they get up and say: This suffering is the same as someone who has died by HIV … or cancer. It deserves the same quality science.”

Suicide, at a 50-year peak, pushes down US life expectancy

Mike Stobbe wrote that Suicides and drug overdoses pushed up U.S. deaths last year, and drove a continuing decline in how long Americans are expected to live.

Overall, there were more than 2.8 million U.S. deaths in 2017, or nearly 70,000 more than the previous year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday. It was the most deaths in a single year since the government began counting more than a century ago.

The increase partly reflects the nation’s growing and aging population. But it’s deaths in younger age groups—particularly middle-aged people—that have had the largest impact on calculations of life expectancy, experts said.

“These sobering statistics are a wake-up call that we are losing too many Americans, too early and too often, to conditions that are preventable,” Dr. Robert Redfield, the CDC’s director, said in a statement.

The suicide death rate last year was the highest it’s been in at least 50 years, according to U.S. government records. There were more than 47,000 suicides, up from a little under 45,000 the year before.

A GENERAL DECLINE

For decades, U.S. life expectancy was on the upswing, rising a few months nearly every year. Now it’s trending the other way: It fell in 2015, stayed level in 2016, and declined again last year, the CDC said.

The nation is in the longest period of a generally declining life expectancy since the late 1910s, when World War I and the worst flu pandemic in modern history combined to kill nearly 1 million Americans. Life expectancy in 1918 was 39.

Aside from that, “we’ve never really seen anything like this,” said Robert Anderson, who oversees CDC death statistics.

In the nation’s 10 leading causes of death, only the cancer death rate fell in 2017. Meanwhile, there were increases in seven others—suicide, stroke, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, flu/pneumonia, chronic lower respiratory diseases, and unintentional injuries.

An underlying factor is that the death rate for heart disease—the nation’s No. 1 killer—has stopped falling. In years past, declines in heart disease deaths were enough to offset increases in some other kinds of death, but no longer, Anderson said.

(The CDC’s numbers do sometimes change. This week, CDC officials said they had revised their life expectancy estimate for 2016 after some additional data came in.)

WHAT’S DRIVING IT?

CDC officials did not speculate about what’s behind declining life expectancy, but Dr. William Dietz, a disease prevention expert at George Washington University, sees a sense of hopelessness.

Financial struggles, a widening income gap, and divisive politics are all casting a pall over many Americans, he suggested. “I really do believe that people are increasingly hopeless and that that leads to drug use, it leads potentially to suicide,” he said.

VoteCast, a wide-ranging survey of the electorate conducted by The Associated Press, found voters expressing pessimistic views about the future: About half of voters nationwide said they expect life in America for the next generation to be worse than it is today. Nearly a quarter said life would be better and about as many said it would be the same. VoteCast surveyed more than 115,000 voters nationwide as Americans cast ballots in this year’s midterm elections.

Drug overdose deaths also continued to climb, surpassing 70,000 last year, in the midst of the deadliest drug overdose epidemic in U.S. history. The death rate rose 10 percent from the previous year, smaller than the 21 percent jump seen between 2016 and 2017.

That’s not quite cause for celebration, said Dr. John Rowe, a professor of health policy and aging at Columbia University.

“Maybe it’s starting to slow down, but it hasn’t turned around yet,” Rowe said. “I think it will take several years.”

Accidental drug overdoses account for more than a third of the unintentional injury deaths, and intentional drug overdoses account for about a tenth of the suicides, said Dr. Holly Hedegaard, a CDC injury researcher.

OTHER FINDINGS

The CDC figures are based mainly on a review of 2017 death certificates. The life expectancy figure is based on current death trends and other factors.

The agency also said:

—A baby born last year in the U.S. is expected to live about 78 years and 7 months, on average. An American born in 2015 or 2016 was expected to live about a month longer, and one born in 2014 about two months longer than that.

—The suicide rate was 14 deaths per 100,000 people. That’s the highest since at least 1975.

—Montana had the highest suicide rate, and New York the lowest. Suicide rates were nearly twice as high in rural counties than in urban ones.

—The percentage of suicides due to drug overdose has been inching downward.

—Deaths from flu and pneumonia rose by about 6 percent. The 2017-2018 flu season was one of the worst in more than a decade, and some of the deaths from early in that season appeared in the new death dates.

—West Virginia was once again the state with the highest rate of drug overdose deaths. The CDC did not release state rates for suicides.

—Death rates for heroin, methadone, and prescription opioid painkillers were flat. But deaths from the powerful painkiller fentanyl and its close opioid cousins continued to soar in 2017.

—Gun deaths rose for the third year in a row, to nearly 40,000. That’s about 1,000 more than in 2016. They had been hovering around 33,500 deaths until a few years ago.

Like in other years, most gun deaths were suicides. Earlier CDC reports have noted increasing rates of suicide by gun. In 2017, it about 60 percent of them were by gun.

More next week as I discuss the discussion that we need to have and those who are left behind and suffer the most.

Suicide Lifeline: If you or someone you know may be struggling with suicidal thoughts, you can call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) any time of day or night or chat online.

 

 

 

California Fire: What is the Impact on Health in the Long Run and the Relationship to Climate Change? Also, Consider What Happens When We are Outspoken on Gun Violence.

 

39500554_1676963889099930_3922787849857925120_nThis next interesting report struck a nerve when my daughter in northern California called me because she was having difficulty finishing her daily 7 miles run without getting short of breath. The administrators at her graduate school were advising students to exercise at the inside facilities.

“There is simply no president for this”Salynn Boyles at the International ACAAI Annual Scientific Meeting wrote that the short- and long-term health impact of environmental events, such as the Camp Fire in California, on large populations are not well understood, according to experts at the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (ACAAI) annual scientific meeting.

The Camp Fire, which was still burning across more than 200 miles of Northern California on Sunday, ranked among one of the worst natural disasters in the U.S. this century, with the death toll continuing the climb and close to 1,300 people still counted among the missing.

After burning for more than a week, the fire elevated air pollution levels in San Francisco and the surrounding areas to the point where the region reportedly has the poorest air quality on the planet.

Most outdoor events in San Francisco (about 180 miles from the fire zone) on Saturday were canceled or postponed, including the game between football rivals Stanford University and the University of California Berkeley. San Francisco officials also took the city’s iconic open-air cable cars out of commission due to the poor air quality.

David Peden, MD, of the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health in Chapel Hill, spoke about the Camp Fire at an ACAAI session on the impact of the environment on allergic disease.

“At these levels, any outdoor activity is dangerous for people with chronic diseases like COPD [chronic obstructive pulmonary disease] or heart disease,” Peden said. “Everyone understands the allergy risk and the risk for other airway diseases. But there is a clear signal of inflammation in cardiac disease and breathing pollution triggers inflammation.”

Peden, who studies the role of air pollution in the airway and cardiovascular disease, noted that while California has seen wildfires of increasing frequency and intensity, other regions of the country are also increasingly vulnerable as drought conditions intensify. These areas include eastern Montana, western portions of the Dakotas, and large parts of the Mexican border.

Peden, along with ACAAI attendee Katherine Gundling, MD, of the University of California San Francisco, told MedPage Today that current air quality in San Francisco — reported to be in the very unhealthy PM2.5 range of 201-300 on Saturday — compared unfavorably to some of the most polluted areas of China and India, which have average air quality PM2.5 in the range of 100-150.

Peden stated that during the 2013 California Rim Fire, daily air pollution exposure levels among people in urban areas affected by the fire were up to 35 times greater than the 24-hour PM2.5 standard (35μg/m3) considered safe by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Gundling agreed that it will take time to understand the short- and long-term health impact of events like the Camp Fire.

“There is simply no precedent for this,” she told MedPage Today. “We are used to wildfires, but not fires that kill large numbers of people who have no chance of escape. That is the new and horrible reality we are living.”

She added that the increasing frequency and intensity of the California fires should serve as a wake-up call for the country.

“These fires are different,” she said. “It’s not just that there are more of them and that they are more severe. It’s a number of factors. It’s climate change. It’s forest management. All of this has to be addressed.”

Forecasts were for air quality to remain in the unhealthy 100-200 range through Tuesday in San Francisco, the East Bay, and other parts of the Bay area. Rain bringing wind is expected in the area on Tuesday.

Public health officials advised residents to stay indoors whenever possible and wear N95 masks when outdoors. Some city governments and independent organizations are distributing face masks.

Now consider a research study, which looked at air pollution and intellectual disabilities in children.

Climate Change Is Already Hurting U.S. Communities, Federal Report Says

Rebecca Hersher discussed on All Things Considered that climate change is already causing more frequent and severe weather across the U.S., and the country is poised to suffer massive damage to infrastructure, ecosystems, health and the economy if global warming is allowed to continue, according to the most comprehensive federal climate report to date.

The fourth National Climate Assessment is the culmination of years of research and analysis by hundreds of top climate scientists in the country. The massive report details the many ways in which global climate change is already affecting American communities, from hurricanes to wildfires to floods to drought.

“Climate change is already affecting every part of the United States, almost every sector of the United States, be it agriculture or forestry or energy, tourism,” says George Mason University professor Andrew Light, who is one of the report’s editors. “It’s going to hurt cities, it’s going to hurt people in the countryside, and, as the world continues to warm, things are going to get worse.”

President Trump, numerous Cabinet members and some members of Congress have questioned whether humans cause climate change or whether it is happening at all.

“I don’t think there’s a hoax. I do think there’s probably a difference. But I don’t know that it’s man-made,” the president said on CBS’ 60 Minutes in October.

In an August interview about deadly wildfires in California, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke told television station KCRA Sacramento: “This has nothing to do with climate change. This has to do with active forest management.”

The new report, mandated by Congress and published by the U.S. Global Change Research Program, is the latest and most detailed confirmation that humans are driving climate change and that Americans are already adapting to and suffering from its effects. Climate change is “an immediate threat, not a far-off possibility,” it says.

For example, large wildfires are getting more frequent because of climate change. The report notes that the area burned in wildfires nationwide each year has increased over the past 20 years, and “although projections vary by state and or region, on average, the annual area burned by lightning-ignited wildfire is expected to increase by at least 30 percent by 2060.”

Millions Of Acres Burned By Wildfires In The U.S. From 1985 To 2017

Screen Shot 2018-11-25 at 11.36.57 PMAlthough California and other Western states have made headlines for deadly fires, the report says the southeastern U.S. is also projected to suffer more wildfires.

Many regions are also experiencing more extreme rain — and ensuing floods — including the Midwest, Northeast, Southeast and Southern Great Plains, which includes Texas and Oklahoma. The most extreme example is Hurricane Harvey, which dumped 60 inches of rain on parts of southeast Texas in 2017 and flooded an enormous region from Houston up to the Louisiana border.

And the authors make clear that more extreme rainfall and flooding is widespread, going beyond major hurricanes. In the Midwest, runoff from heavy rains has depleted some cropland of nutrients. In the Northeast, towns are dealing with catastrophic flooding from summer thunderstorms.

“If you look at the whole U.S., the amount of precipitation overall may be less, but it’s delivered in these very intense precipitation events,” explains Brenda Ekwurzel, an author of the report and senior climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “That’s how you get a lot of flash flooding, especially after a wildfire.”

In the Southwest, climate change is driving a particularly devious phenomenon: climate change is contributing to drought and flooding in the same place. Drought takes hold for months. When rain does fall, it’s increasingly likely to come as an extreme rainstorm, which causes flash flooding and landslides. Scientists predict that dynamic will only get worse as climate change progresses.

The report’s authors also focus multiple chapters on the health effects of climate change. In a section on air pollution, they write:

“Unless counteracting efforts to improve air quality are implemented, climate change will worsen existing air pollution levels. This worsened air pollution would increase the incidence of adverse respiratory and cardiovascular health effects, including premature death.”

And as the climate warms, disease-carrying insects such as mosquitoes and ticks are also expected to expand their territory.

The authors warn that those who are most economically and physically vulnerable will continue to be most severely impacted by climate change, whether it’s air pollution, disease, floods or fire disasters.

Climate adaptation is already taking place at the local, state and regional level, the report says. It gives examples including water conservation, forest management, infrastructure updates and agricultural advances.

“The real leading edge of action in the United States, now, to deal with climate change is at the non-federal level,” says Light, who also serves as a senior fellow at the World Resources Institute think tank. “It states, it’s cities, it’s businesses.”

But far more involvement is needed on all levels to change human behavior.

“Successful adaptation has been hindered by the assumption that climate conditions are and will be similar to those in the past,” the authors write, arguing that acknowledging climate change, adapting to its effects and working to limit global warming, while expensive, will save money and lives in the long term.

Those findings are in stark contrast to policies put forward by the Trump administration, which include announcing that the U.S. intends to withdraw from the 2015 Paris climate agreement, which set international targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

While the new report does not make policy recommendations, it is designed to be a scientific resource for leaders at all levels of government.

“We’re putting a cost on inaction,” explains Ekwurzel, referring to future global inaction to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to the effects of climate change. “There’s some really heavy duty news in here. I mean, we’re talking billions of dollars as the cost of inaction each year. I think a lot of people in the U.S. will be surprised by that.”

Study uncovers the link between air pollution and intellectual disabilities in children

The journal Wiley reported that British children with intellectual disabilities are more likely than their peers to live in areas with high outdoor air pollution, according to a new Journal of Intellectual Disability Research study funded by Public Health England.

The findings come from an analysis of data extracted from the UK’s Millennium Cohort Study, a nationally representative sample of more than 18,000 UK children born from 2000 to 2002.

Averaging across ages, children with intellectual disabilities were 33 percent more likely to live in areas with high levels of diesel particulate matter, 30 percent more likely to live in areas with high levels of nitrogen dioxide, 30 percent more likely to live in areas with high levels of carbon monoxide, and 17 percent more likely to live in areas with high levels of sulphur dioxide.

The authors note that intellectual disability is more common among children living in more socioeconomically deprived areas, which tend to have higher levels of air pollution; however, exposure to outdoor air pollution may impede cognitive development, thereby increasing the risk of intellectual disability.

“We know that people with intellectual disabilities in the UK have poorer health and die earlier than they should. This research adds another piece to the jigsaw of understanding why that is the case and what needs to be done about it,” said lead author Dr. Eric Emerson, of The University of Sydney, in Australia.

So, whether you believe in climate change and its relationship to the wildfires in California the extent of the fires, what we are seeing now with the physical damage is just the beginning.

Finally, after my post on gun control look at this news report: Milwaukee Girl Who Condemned Gun Violence Is Killed By Bullet

Jessica Reedy wrote that two years ago when sixth-grader Sandra Parks was at Milwaukee’s Keefe Avenue School, she wrote an essay about gun violence:

“We are in a state of chaos. In the city in which I live, I hear and see examples of chaos almost every day. Little children are victims of senseless gun violence. There is too much black on black crime. As an African-American, that makes me feel depressed. Many people have lost faith in America and its ability to be a living example of Dr. King’s dream!”

The essay titled “Our Truth” took third place in Milwaukee Public School’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. essay contest. In January 2017, Sandra told Wisconsin Public Radio, “All you hear about is somebody dying and somebody getting shot. People do not just think about whose father or son or granddaughter or grandson was just killed.”

She also said she looked forward to doing big things in her life. “I would like to stop all the violence and… negativity that’s going on in the world,” she said. “And stop all the black on black crimes, and all the rumors and stereotypes that’s been spread around.”

How horrible an outcome for this sixth-grade girl and just for her condemnation of gun violence!

Where are we going as a society?

 

Thousand Oaks and Our Peculiarly American Affliction. And will the Dems get Gun Control?

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Be shocked by the massacre at a bar. It’s not normal.

Tim Dominguez sits under the freeway after escaping the Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks, Calif., where a gunman killed 12 other people Wednesday night.

According to statistics from the Gun Violence Archive, there have been 307 mass shootings in the 312 days of 2018. They are a commonplace occurrence. This is a horrifying thing to say, but it is the truth. We need to say this truth over and over. We need to face this horror without looking away. We live in a country where there are relatively few restrictions on gun ownership and where our cultural tolerance for mass murder appears to be infinite.

Less than a month ago an author visited California State University Channel Islands, not far from where the shooting on Wednesday night took place. A deeply engaged audience greeted her. They had a thoughtful discussion about sexual violence, justice, trauma, and healing. Some of those students might have been at the Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks, Calif., Wednesday night, doing what college students are supposed to be doing — dancing and hanging out with friends, having fun. As she read the news Thursday morning, her chest tightened. She read quotes from students from that campus describing the sparks and the smoke they saw. She felt resignation creeping in.

Over the past two years, there has been increased security at his events, armed guards. Sometimes they are there because he had received a threat. Sometimes they are there because she is a black woman with opinions and the threat is already implied. Every time she goes on stage, she looks out into the audience and wonders if there is a man with a gun in the sea of faces. She is not scared of him. She is resigned to the inevitability of him pointing that gun at me, at the crowd, and pulling the trigger. She doesn’t want to be this resigned. She doesn’t want you to be, either.

In an interview, the father of one of the young women who escaped the carnage at the Borderline Bar said his daughter did what he has taught her to do in the event of a mass shooting. It took me a moment to realize what he was saying. We are raising generations of children who are prepared for this kind of crime.

It is a peculiarly American affliction that this epidemic of gun violence doesn’t move us to take any real steps toward curbing gun violence and access to guns.

It is painfully obvious that there is no shooting appalling enough to make American politicians stand up to the National Rifle Association and gun makers. A congressman was shot and critically wounded. Children at Sandy Hook Elementary were murdered. Revelers at the Pulse nightclub were murdered. Concertgoers in Las Vegas were murdered.

Our leaders think and pray their way through the horror. The politicians who rely on N.R.A. donations feign concern and continue taking that money. American voters keep these people in office, perhaps, because it isn’t their loved ones being murdered. Yet. And even if it were, I don’t know that their votes would change. Instead, people treat the Constitution like a fast-food value menu, choosing which amendments are sacrosanct (the First and Second) and which are disposable (any of those giving civil rights to anyone but white men).

The script following these shootings is too familiar — flags at half-staff, hollow words of sympathy — but what chills me is the relatively calm eloquence of the survivors speaking to reporters. How they don’t seem particularly surprised to have survived a mass shooting. That they are able, in the immediate aftermath of trauma, to articulate their experiences. They can do this because they have seen it done.

How do we change this script? How do we convince enough people that we are well past the time for radical action?

We must elect politicians who will ban assault weapons and at the very least enact legislation requiring federal, rigorous background checks for gun owners. But really, that’s not radical. It’s the bare minimum, and by the grace of that kind of legislation in California, the shooter was able to use only a handgun. This massacre where 13 people died could have been much worse.

In late September, I went to a gun range with my brother, who is a gun enthusiast. We spent about an hour shooting guns as he explained the merits of the various weapons. We wore safety goggles, and though it wasn’t my first time shooting a gun, he went over the safety protocols. Before we could even enter the range we watched a safety video. From the moment we entered the facility until the time we left, we were reminded of the danger of these weapons. Each gun was heavy in my hand, hot. Before long, the space around us was thick with the stench of oil and gunpowder. We were shooting at targets, metal, and paper. There was a certain satisfaction when I shot well. I understood the appeal of holding that kind of power in the palm of my hand. I also understood the responsibility of holding a gun. I was awed by it. I was not so enamored that I want to own a gun myself. Yet.

Today I held a 4-month-old baby. He is cute and strong and wide-eyed. He still smells sweet and new. I held him and for a few minutes, I forgot about everything terrible. I forgot about the man with a gun and the 12 other people he killed and the people he injured. I forgot about the man with a gun who walked into a yoga studio and started shooting. I forgot about the man with a gun who walked into a grocery store and started shooting. I forgot about the man with a gun who walked into a synagogue and started shooting. And then I looked at this baby’s tiny face and his wide, gummy smile. I remembered everything terrible. I understood the responsibility of holding a child. I was awed by it. I realized that as horrifying and commonplace and inevitable as mass shootings are, we cannot do nothing. Stare into the horror. Feel it. Feel it so much that you are moved to act.

Deaths From Gun Violence: How The U.S. Compares With The Rest Of The World

Nurith Aizenman reported these statistics about a year ago but I thought that the story and the comparisons were relevant regarding gun violence rates. The timing of that report couldn’t be more apt — or grimmer even today. The statistics were released just as Americans were waking up to the news that a gunman had opened fire the night before at the Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks, Calif. He killed 12 people and was found dead at the scene.

The attack came just 11 days after the fatal shooting that claimed 11 lives at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue. Eight months before that, a gunman shot 17 people dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. And just over a year ago a gunman massacred 58 people at a music festival in Las Vegas.

As in previous years, the University of Washington’s latest data indicates that this level of gun violence in a well-off country is a particularly American phenomenon.

When you consider countries with the top indicators of socioeconomic success — income per person and average education level, for instance — the United States is bested by just 18 nations, including Denmark, the Netherlands, Canada, and Japan.

Those countries all also enjoy low rates of gun violence. But the U.S. has the 28th-highest rate in the world: 4.43 deaths due to gun violence per 100,000 people in 2017. That was nine times as high as the rate in Canada, which had 0.47 deaths per 100,000 people — and 29 times as high as in Denmark, which had 0.15 deaths per 100,000.

The numbers come from a massive database maintained by the University’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, which tracks lives lost in every country, every year, by every possible cause of death. The 2017 figures paint a fairly rosy picture for much of the world, with deaths due to gun violence rare even in many countries that are extremely poor — such as Bangladesh, which saw 0.07 deaths per 100,000 people.

Prosperous Asian countries such as Singapore and Japan boast the absolute lowest rates, though the United Kingdom and Germany are in almost as good shape.

“It is a little surprising that a country like ours should have this level of gun violence,” Ali Mokdad, a professor of global health and epidemiology at the IHME, told NPR in an interview last year. “If you compare us to other well-off countries, we really stand out.”

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To be sure, there are quite a few countries where gun violence is a substantially larger problem than in the United States — particularly in Central America and the Caribbean. Mokdad said a major driver is the large presence of gangs and drug trafficking. “The gangs and drug traffickers fight among themselves to get more territory, and they fight the police,” said Mokdad. And citizens who are not involved are often caught in the crossfire. Another country with widespread gun violence is Venezuela, which has been grappling with political unrest and an economic meltdown.

Screen Shot 2018-11-11 at 12.30.59 PMMokdad said drug trafficking may also be a driving factor in two Asian countries that have unusually high rates of violent gun deaths for their region, the Philippines and Thailand.

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With the casualties due to armed conflicts factored out, even in conflict-ridden regions such as the Middle East, the U.S. rate is worse.

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The U.S. gun violence death rate is also higher than in nearly all countries in sub-Saharan Africa, including many that are among the world’s poorest.

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One more way to consider these data: The institute also estimates what it would expect a country’s rate of gun violence deaths to be based solely on its socioeconomic status. By that measure, the U.S. should be seeing only 0.46 deaths per 100,000 people. Instead, its actual rate of 4.43 deaths per 100,000 is almost 10 times as high.

Dems vow swift action on gun reform next year

Mike Lillis and Scott Wong wrote that the nation’s latest mass shooting has rekindled the fire under Democrats to use their newly won majority to strengthen federal gun laws in the next Congress.

The issue was off the table for eight years of Republican rule, as GOP leaders have sided with the powerful gun lobby against any new gun restrictions.

But House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi(D-Calif.), who’s seeking to regain the Speaker’s gavel, vowed to move quickly on gun reform next year, citing Wednesday night’s shooting massacre at a California country music bar as the latest reason Congress should step in with new restrictions on the sale and ownership of firearms.

Universal background checks, Pelosi suggested, would be the likely first step.

“It doesn’t cover everything, but it will save many lives,” Pelosi said Thursday night on CNN’s “Cuomo Prime Time” program.

“This will be a priority for us going into the next Congress.”

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), likely the incoming chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said this week that he’ll “immediately get to work” on that legislation next year.

That position marks a shift from almost a decade ago when Democrats last controlled the House and party leaders declined to consider tougher gun laws despite entreaties from some rank-and-file members.

Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.), a gun reformer from Chicago and member of the Judiciary Committee, had requested hearings on background checks in 2010, only to be refused.

The reasons were largely political: House Democrats, at the time, had a more conservative-leaning caucus, boasting more than 50 Blue Dogs in battleground districts the party was fighting to preserve.

After a 10-year ban on assault weapons signed by former President Clinton was widely viewed as a “third rail” that helped secure George W. Bush’s White House victory in 2000, Democrats didn’t want to repeat history.

Since then, the country has seen a long string of prominent mass shootings, including violence targeting a congresswoman in Tucson, Ariz., elementary school students in Newtown, Conn., nightclubbers in Orlando, churchgoers in Charleston, S.C., country music fans in Las Vegas, high schoolers in Parkland, Fla. and Jews praying at a synagogue in Pittsburgh last month.

The most recent tragedy occurred Wednesday night at a bar in Thousand Oaks, Calif., where authorities say a Marine combat veteran killed 12 people before fatally shooting himself.

One of the victims, 27-year-old Telemachus Orfanos, survived last year’s Las Vegas massacre but was killed in the Thousand Oaks shooting.

“I don’t want prayers. I don’t want thoughts. I want gun control, and I hope to God nobody else sends me any more prayers,” Orfanos’s mother, Susan Orfanos, said in an emotional interview with KABC that has been viewed millions of times on social media. “I want gun control. No more guns.”

The rash of devastating episodes shifted public sentiment in strong favor of gun reform, and polls show overwhelming support for measures like expanded background checks among voters of all political stripes.

Three Parts Brands Have Come Together

The Ford Motor Company reported that among the host of Democrats elected to the House on Tuesday in conservative districts, many embraced new restrictions on gun purchases without facing the previously feared backlash at the polls.

“The public has evolved on their belief about this, given the magnitude and disparity of gun violence and mass shootings,” Quigley said Friday by phone.

The Democrats’ plans for gun-reform legislation remain unclear.

Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.), the head of the party’s task force to prevent gun violence, has taken the lead on the background check bill, and will likely do so again next year. There are also dozens of related proposals other lawmakers will surely promote, including bills to ban bump stocks, eliminate assault weapons, spike taxes on guns and ammunition and prohibit high-capacity magazines like the one allegedly used by the shooter in Thousand Oaks.

Quigley is all for pushing bold reforms, including a ban on assault weapons, but is promoting the idea of securing early victories on more popular measures.

“Let’s start where we have some commonality,” he said. “The vast majority of Americans, the majority of gun owners, the majority of NRA [National Rifle Association] members support universal background checks.

“That’s a good place to start.”

That the House will pass some kind of background-checks legislation is clear. But any new gun restrictions face tall odds in the GOP-controlled Senate, where Republicans are near unanimous in their opposition to such reforms.

In 2013, in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Sens. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) authored legislation to expand background checks for firearms purchased online and at gun shows. It fell six votes short of overcoming a GOP-led filibuster, with only four Republicans — Toomey, and Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), John McCain (Ariz.) and Mark Kirk(Ill.) — supporting the measure.

Kirk lost his reelection bid in 2016 and McCain died this year, leaving just two Senate Republicans who back strengthening background checks. Manchin just won re-election this week and Toomey isn’t up for reelection until 2022.

“Senator Toomey is continuing to work with his colleagues in the Senate to find a path forward to 60 votes for his background check legislation,” said Toomey spokesman Sam Fischer.

Complicating the math for gun reform supporters, Tuesday’s midterms added to the GOP Senate majority, and the incoming Republicans are all gun-rights promoters supported heavily by the firearms lobby.

Asked about the appropriate response to the Thousand Oaks shooting, Sen.-elect Marsha Blackburn(R-Tenn.) was terse.

“What we do is say, how do we make certain that we protect the Second Amendment and protect our citizens?” Blackburn told Fox News on Thursday.

President Trump could be a wild card in the coming gun debate. The president has a long and conflicting history on the topic, from the promotion of an assault-weapons ban years ago to a more recent embrace of the Second Amendment protectionism advocated by the NRA.

Gun-reform advocates, long accustomed to congressional inaction on the issue, say they’ve been encouraged by what they’ve heard from Pelosi and other Democratic leaders so far.

“While so many other factors have not been settled, we believe that House Democrats will move universal background checks in early 2019,” said Robin Lloyd, government affairs director for the Courage to Fight Gun Violence, the gun-reform group led by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), the congresswoman shot in the head in Tucson in 2011.

Medical professionals to NRA: Guns are our lane. Help us reduce deaths or move over.

 Megan L. Ranney, Heather Sher, and Dara Kass, Opinion contributors, reported that after the American College of Physicians released a paper last week about reducing firearm injuries and deaths in America, the NRA tweeted the statement: “Someone should tell self-important anti-gun doctors to stay in their lane.”

A couple of days later, the Centers for Disease Control published new data indicating that the death toll from gun violence in our nation continues to rise. As the NRA demanded that we doctors stay in our lane, we awoke to learn of the 307th mass shooting in 2018 with another 12 innocent lives lost to an entirely preventable cause of death — gun violence.

Every medical professional practicing in the United States has seen enough gun violence firsthand to deeply understand the toll that this public health epidemic is taking on our children, families, and entire communities.

It is long past time for us to acknowledge the epidemic is real, devastating, and has root causes that can be addressed to assuage the damage. We must all come together to find meaningful solutions to this very American problem.

We bear witness to every gun-related trauma

The physicians, nurses, therapists, medical professionals, and other concerned community members signing this letter are absolutely “in our lane” when we propose solutions to prevent death and disability from gun violence.

As the professionals who manage this epidemic, we bear witness to every trauma and attempt to resuscitate, successful or not.

►We cut open chests and hold hearts in our hands in the hopes of bringing them back to life.

►We do our best to repair the damage from bullets to pulverized organs and splintered bones.

►We care for the survivors of firearm injury for decades after they’ve been paralyzed, lost a limb, or been disabled.

►We deliver mental health care to the siblings and parents of the children who have been shot as well as to the survivors of gun violence.

►We treat the anxiety of teachers and students who are already traumatized by the news of mass shootings who are then are asked to participate in active shooter drills in their own schools.

►We prepare for mass casualty shootings with drills ourselves and practice sorting victims by how life-threatening their injuries are while fervently hoping that a mass shooting never touches our own communities.

►We are asked by families, schools, employers and law enforcement to conduct mental health evaluations and threat assessments of individuals who demonstrate dangerous behaviors with legally-owned firearms — yet we have no protocols to decrease firearm risk when they present to us.

►We support our own medical colleagues as they themselves must recover from the psychological trauma of being first responders to mass shootings.

►We design trauma protocols to reduce the loss of life from even the most horrific gunshot wounds.

►We train civilians to carry and use tourniquets to #StopTheBleed, something that should be necessary on battlefields but not in American grade school classrooms.

►We try our best to conduct research to stop the epidemic of gun violence.

►We hold the hands of gunshot victims taking their final breaths.

►We cry, ourselves, as we tell parents that their child has been shot and that we did our best.

►We escort parents into our treatment rooms to take one last look at their dead child before they have been able to process the news.

►We see firsthand how a single moment ends a life and forever changes the lives of survivors, families, and entire communities.

NRA should help us reduce gun death toll

Our research efforts have been curtailed by NRA lobbying efforts in Congress. We ask that the NRA join forces with us to find solutions.

We invite the NRA to collaborate with us to find workable, effective strategies to diminish the death toll from suicide, homicide, domestic violence and unintentional shootings for the thousands of Americans who will one day find themselves on the wrong side of a barrel of a gun.

We are not anti-gun. We are anti-bullet hole. Let’s work together.

Join us, or move over! This is our lane. We as a society must do something about gun violence NOW!

Also, I live in a region where about 70% of the population owns guns. But the homicide and suicide rate is very, very low. Why? I’m not sure at this time but I along with the majority of our country are tired and scared of the gun-related violence.

The holiday of Thanksgiving reminds us that we ought to be thankful for the blessings and the people in our lives. But what do we do when it seems that everything is going haywire? Maybe somebody recently wronged you. An unexpected expense has thrown off your budget. That new role at your job isn’t as shiny as you thought it would be. Or maybe you’ve been trying to do the right things, live the right way, but situations STILL aren’t working out in your favor.

How do you cope? How do you resist the urge to give up? How do you continue to do good even when you’re not seeing any immediate benefits from “living the right way? And HOW IN THE WORLD can you be thankful for all of this? Sometimes we have to be thankful for what we have and enjoy the day and family and friends.

 

What the New Democratic House majority might actually pass on health care; and It Looks Like VA Healthcare Maybe Improving!

 

 

18670832_1206383419491315_6469395384583311089_nI had prepared two posts for tonight and wanted to hold off on the recent shootings until next week as we digest what the effect really is in our country and the future strategies. Now let’s discuss the effect of the election and in looking at the House Democrats, who have a lot to figure out on their signature issue.

Healthcare carried House Democrats to victory on Election Day. But what now?

Remember my past post reminding the Republicans the importance of healthcare in the midterm elections? We, it looks like it was an important factor in the outcomes of the “wave”. Dylan Scott spent some time looking at his prediction of what the new majority will bring to our health care system. In interviews this fall with half a dozen senior House Democratic aides, health care lobbyists, and progressive wonks, it became clear the party is only in the nascent stages of figuring out its next steps on health care.

The new House Democratic majority knows what it opposes. They want to stop any further efforts by Republicans or the Trump administration to roll back and undermine the Affordable Care Act or overhaul Medicaid and Medicare.

But Democrats are less certain about an affirmative health care agenda. Most Democrats campaigned on protecting preexisting conditions, but the ACA has already done that. Medicare-for-all is energizing the party’s left wing, but nobody expects a single-payer bill to start moving through the House. Drug prices offer the rare opportunity for bipartisan work with Senate Republicans and the Trump White House, but it is also a difficult problem with few easy policy solutions — certainly not any silver bullet that Democrats could pull out of the box and pass on day one, or even month one, of the next Congress.

Winning a House majority to ensure Obamacare’s safety is an important turning point after so many years in which health care hurt Democrats much more than it helped.

But the path forward for the party on their signature issue is surprisingly undefined.

The likely first item on the Democratic agenda: Obamacare stabilization

Democrats do have some ideas, of course. Democratic aides emphasized the various investigations they could launch into Trump’s health department, not only looking into any efforts by the White House to sabotage Obamacare but also focusing on more obscure issues like Medicare payment rates.

But wonky oversight inquiries probably aren’t the big-ticket item that new Democratic members and their voters are looking for, especially heading into the 2020 presidential election.

After campaigning in defense of Obamacare, warning about Republicans rolling back preexisting conditions protections and the Trump administration’s sabotage of the health care law, a bill to stabilize the Obamacare insurance markets would be the obvious first item for the new Democratic majority’s agenda.

Several sources pointed to a bill by Democratic Reps. Richard Neal (MA), Frank Pallone (NJ), and Bobby Scott (VA) — who have been serving as the top Democrats on leading health care-related committees — as the likely starting point. The plan is designed to build off Obamacare’s infrastructure to expand federal assistance while reversing the recent Republican efforts to undermine the law.

That bill would expand Obamacare’s premium subsidies, both by extending federal assistance to more people in lifting the current eligibility cutoff and by increasing the size of the tax credits people receive. It would also bolster the cost-sharing reduction subsidies that people with lower incomes receive to reduce their out-of-pocket costs while extending eligibility for those subsidies to people with higher incomes.

The Pallone-Neal-Scott bill would reverse the Trump administration’s recent regulations intended to funnel more people to insurance plans that are not required to meet all of Obamacare’s rules for preexisting conditions. It would also pump more money back into enrollment outreach, cut by the Trump administration, and establish a new program to compensate insurers for high-cost patients, with the hope of keeping premiums down.

Two things stick out about this bill: It would be the most robust expansion of Obamacare since the law first passed, and it is just narrow enough that, with a few sweeteners for Senate Republicans, it could conceivably have a chance to pass. Democrats are waiting to see how the GOP majority in the upper chamber reacts to losing the House.

“Undoing sabotage and bringing stabilization to the ACA markets, that’s something we should really be thinking about,” one House Democratic aide told me. “It depends on what kind of mood the Republicans are in. Maybe they’ll say that actually now that the tables are turned, we should probably sit down.”

Senate Republicans and Democrats did come very close to a narrow, bipartisan deal — it wasn’t even as robust as the Pallone-Neal-Scott bill — to stabilize Obamacare in 2017. It fell apart, ostensibly after a tiff over abortion-related provisions, but that near miss would be the reason for any optimism about a bipartisan deal on the divisive health care law.

Then again Senate Republicans might have no interest in an Obamacare compromise after gaining some seats. Democrats would still likely work on stabilization to send a message to voters on health care ahead of the 2020 campaign.

Shoring up Obamacare is a good start, but what next?

In the case, the Pallone-Neal-Scott bill might be a nice starting point — no Democrat really disagrees about whether they should help the law work better in the short term — but it still lacks any truly ambitious provisions. It is just about as narrowly tailored as an Obamacare stabilization bill offered by Democrats could be, a fact that aides and activists will privately concede.

Missing are any of the bolder policy proposals animating the left. Not even a hint of Medicare-for-all single-payer health care, which is or isn’t a surprise, depending on how you look at it.

Medicare-for-all is quickly becoming orthodoxy among many in the party’s progressive grassroots, and a single-payer bill proposed this Congress in the House (similar to the one offered by Bernie Sanders over in the Senate) has 123 sponsors.

But House Democratic leaders probably don’t want to take up such a potentially explosive issue too soon after finally clawing back a modicum of power in Trump’s Washington.

Still, the current stabilization bill doesn’t even include a Medicare or Medicaid buy-in, the rebranded public option that never made it into Obamacare but would allow Americans to voluntarily join one of the major government insurance programs. It is an idea that even the more moderate Democratic members tend to support, and polls have found three-fourths of Americans think a Medicare buy-in is a good idea.

The plain truth is House Democrats haven’t reached a consensus yet about what they want to do to cover more Americans. They agree Obamacare was an important first step, and they agree the status quo is unacceptable. But the exact mechanism for achieving those goals — single-payer, a robust public option, or simply a buffed-up version of Obamacare — is still very much up for debate.

“People will want to do something, but any further action is going to be a consensus-building process,” a senior House Democratic aide told me. “Democrats have lots of different ideas on how to continue working to reduce the uninsured.”

That is all well and good, but few issues are exciting the Democratic grassroots right now like Medicare-for-all. During the midterm campaigns, Democratic candidates and even grassroots leaders were happy to let those words mean whatever voters wanted them to mean. For some people, it meant single-payer; for others; it might mean a Medicare buy-in or something more limited.

The unreservedly progressive members who were just elected to Congress will only wait so long before they start pressing Democratic leaders to take more aggressive steps to pick up one of their top campaign issues. That pressure will only intensify as the 2020 presidential campaign heats up and Democrats debate what kind of platform they should run on as they seek to take back the White House.

For now, Democrats have tried to put off a difficult debate and focus on what unites them. But the debate is still coming.

The riddle of high drug prices still needs to be solved too

Even with Obamacare and preexisting conditions mobilizing Democratic voters this year, prescription drug prices remain a top concern for many Americans. That’s another area where Democrats know they want to act but don’t know yet exactly what they can or should do.

The issue could be an opening for serious dealmaking: Trump himself has attacked big pharma since his presidential campaign. His administration has actually launched some interesting initiatives to rein in drug costs — approving a record number of generic drugs, trying to even the playing field between America and foreign countries — that have some policy wonks intrigued, even if the impact is still to be determined.

Democrats have mostly stuck to slamming Trump for feigning to act on drug prices while cozying up to the drug industry. But it’s a top priority for both parties, and there could be some room for compromise. One progressive policy wonk thought a drug prices bill might actually be the first Democratic priority. It helps that drug prices are a populist issue that the new House majority might really be able to pass a bill on.

But first, Democrats have to figure out what exactly they are for — and what would actually make a difference.

The rallying cry for Democrats on drug prices has been letting Medicare directly negotiate prices with drug manufacturers, a proposal that Trump also embraced as a candidate, though he has since softened as president. The problem is the Congressional Budget Office doesn’t think Medicare negotiations would save any money unless the government is willing to deny seniors coverage for certain medications. But adding such a provision would surely invite attacks that Democrats are depriving people’s grandparents of the medications they need.

There are a lot of levers to pull to try to reduce drug prices: the patent protections that pharma companies receive for new drugs, the mandated discounts when the government buys drugs for Medicare and Medicaid, existing hurdles to getting generic drugs approved, the tax treatment of drug research and development. Lawmakers and the public view pharmacy benefits managers, the mysterious middlemen between health insurers and drugmakers, skeptically.

But none of those are silver bullets to lower prices, and they will certainly invite pushback from the politically potent pharmaceutical lobby, focused on the concerns about how much cracking down on drug companies to discourage them from developing new drugs. Democrats also don’t know yet what specific policies could win support from Senate Republicans or the Trump White House.

“How do you take this gargantuan Chinese menu of things and figure out how things fit together in a way that stem some of the abuses?” is how one Democratic aide summarized the dilemma.

It is a problem bedeviling Democrats on more than just drug prices. Health care was a winner on election night this year, and it has always been a priority for Democrats. Now they just need to figure out what to do.

Because tomorrow is Veterans Day I thought that I would include this article.             After A Year Of Turmoil, New VA Secretary Says ‘Waters Are Calmer’ 

Quil Lawrence in his Twitter post reported on a wide-ranging interview with NPR, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie said his department is on the mend after a tumultuous 2018.”I do think it is better because the turmoil of the first half of this year is behind us, the waters are calmer. We’re not where we need to be, but we’re heading in that direction,” he said.

Early in Donald Trump’s presidency, the VA was considered an island of stability in an unpredictable administration.

Secretary David Shulkin was a hold-over from the Obama administration, already familiar with the VA’s massive bureaucracy. Bipartisan reforms moved through Congress with relative speed, and Trump could point to a list of legislative accomplishments.

But the president fired Shulkin last March after weeks of intrigue during which VA political appointees plotted openly to oust him. Trump’s first nominee to replace Shulkin, Rear Adm. Ronny L. Jackson, sank under accusations of misconduct (which are still being investigated by the Pentagon).

Numerous high-ranking officials left the department, and records showed that friends of the president outside of government – who weren’t even veterans – had been lobbying Trump at Mar-a-Lago on how to run the VA.

After a stint as acting VA secretary, Robert Wilkie was confirmed by the Senate last July. Since then, Wilkie says he’s been “walking the post,” visiting as many VA facilities as he can. And he’s reached the same conclusion as many of his predecessors.

“I have been incredibly impressed by the caliber of VA employee I’ve encountered everywhere, from Alaska to Massachusetts to Florida,” Wilkie told NPR’s, Steve Inskeep.

“I have no quarrel with the quality of medical care our veterans receive. My biggest problem is actually getting them into the system so that they can receive that care, which means the problems are primarily administrative and bureaucratic,” said Wilkie, himself a veteran of the Navy and a current Air Force reservist, who counts generations of veterans in his family.

“I am the son of a Vietnam soldier. I know what happened when those men and women came home,” Wilkie said. “So that is incredibly important to me.”

Wilkie is navigating an important moment for the VA – while Congress has already passed major reforms, he’s the one who has to implement them. And plenty of political controversy hides in the details.

The VA Mission Act of 2018 was signed into law in June. It’s intended to consolidate about a half-dozen programs The VA uses to buy veterans private healthcare at a cost of billions of dollars, into one streamlined system.

Critics fear that leaning too much on private care will bleed the VA’s own medical centers, and lead to a drop in quality there – and amounts to a starve-the-beast strategy of privatization.

Wilkie says that won’t happen and is not President Trump’s goal, but he has yet to present a budget for expanded private care to the White House and to Congress.

“You’re not going to privatize this institution. I certainly have never talked about that with anyone in this administration,” Wilkie said.

Wilkie also maintains that he has had little contact with the group of outside advisers who meet with the president at Mar-a-Lago, including CEO of Marvel Comics Ike Perlmutter and Florida doctor Bruce Moscowitz. Records show they had extensive communication with the previous VA secretary, sometimes influencing policy decisions.

“I met with them when I was visiting the West Palm Beach VA – my first week as acting (secretary), and have not had any meetings with them ever since that day,” Wilkie said. “I’ll be clear. I make the decisions here at the department, in support of the vision of the president.”

Despite rumors that Wilkie would clear out many of the Trump political appointees who clashed with former secretary Shulkin, he said he didn’t expect more staffing changes.

The one notable departure is Peter O’Rourke, who was acting secretary for two months while Wilkie went through the confirmation process. O’Rourke clashed repeatedly with Congress and the VA’s inspector general. Wilkie himself cited a Wall Street Journal reports that O’Rourke is poised to go and said he’s “on leave.”

“I think there will be an announcement soon about a move to another department in the federal government – I know that he’s looking for something new,” said Wilkie, “He’s on leave.”

Another major new plan that Wilkie must implement is a $10 billion, 10-year plan to make the VA’s medical records compatible with the Pentagon’s.

He once again mentioned his father’s experience as a wounded combat vet.

“He had an 800-page record, and it was the only copy, that he had to carry with him for the rest of his life. He passed away last year,” said Wilkie.

“One of the first decisions I made as the acting secretary was to begin the process of creating a complete electronic healthcare record that begins when that young American enters the military entrance processing station to the time that that soldier, sailor, airman, Marine walks into the VA.”

But that process has actually been underway for a decade – with little to show and about a billion dollars already spent on the effort. The non-partisan Government Accountability Office says it’s in part because neither the Pentagon nor the VA was put in charge of the effort — which is still the case. Wilkie says he has signed an agreement with the Pentagon to jointly run it with clear lines of authority.

“I think we’ll have more announcements later in the year when it comes to one belly-button to push for that office,” he said.

As for staff shortages, another perennial complaint at the VA, Wilkie acknowledged there are 35- to 40,000 vacancies at the agency.

“We suffer from the same shortages that the private sector and other public health services suffer from, particularly in the area of mental health,” he said.

New legislation passed this year gives Wilkie the authority to offer higher pay to medical professionals.

“I’m using it to attract as many people as we can into the system,” said Wilkie

But Wilkie also added that he was shocked, upon taking the post, that it’s not clear how many additional people are needed – because it’s not even clear how many people are working at VA.

“I had two briefings on the same day and two different numbers as to how many people this agency employs.”

Wilkie says he’s in the process of finding out the answer to that question, and many others, as he starts his second 100 days in office.

And to end this post I must include this note. I was raised in the Bronx, New York and are truly embarrassed to acknowledge that the new Congresswoman Cortes-Ortes who was elected, and not sure how when you look at her qualifications and knowledge. But more, she is a socialist and expects everything to be given to all and the government will foot the bill and now listen to this.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, new youngest Congresswoman, says she can’t afford D.C. apartment

Ashley May, a reporter for the USA TODAY noted that the upset primary win in New York by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a huge moment for the Democratic Party because it shows the left-wing base is energized heading into the midterms, according to AP National Politics Reporter Steve Peoples. (June 27) AP

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the youngest woman elected to Congress in the midterm elections, is struggling to pay rent, according to a recent interview.

Ocasio-Cortez, 29, told The New York Times she’s not sure how she will be able to afford an apartment in Washington, D.C., without a salary for three months in an interview published online Wednesday.

She told the Times she has some savings from her job earlier this year as a bartender at a Union Square restaurant, and she’s hoping that will hold her over. Living without a paycheck is something she said her and her partner tried to plan for, but it’s a hardship that’s still “very real.”

“We’re kind of just dealing with the logistics of it day by day, but I’ve really been just kind of squirreling away and then hoping that gets me to January,” she told the Times.

Ocasio-Cortez is a New York activist and Democrat who will represent the 14th Congressional district, which covers the Bronx and Queens.

Thursday, she pointed to her lack of income as a reason why some people are not able to work in politics.

“There are many little ways in which our electoral system isn’t even designed (nor prepared) for working-class people to lead,” she said.

She said she hopes she can change that.

Yes, and now if she plays her cards right she has a job, paying better than any job that she is really qualified for life.

Buck it up Ocasio-Cortez, live outside of DC and take public transportation like most people do!

How did you fund your campaign? I don’t want to hear your sob story and yes I am ashamed that the borough of the Bronx has you for their representative. What a joke! You said that when you got to DC you were going to sign a whole lot of bills and laws to make things better. Do you even know anything about the process and have you ever taken a Civics course. You are in for some big surprises… called reality!

On a better note-Happy Veterans Day and thank you all who have served in our military and those who are still out there helping to make this world a better place to live and protecting our freedoms.

 

State of Health: Boston Doc Sees State Rep Run as a Way to Help Patients. Healthcare and the Mid Terms and a Summary of the Issues

45112654_1770213053108346_4596023887606579200_nNow that the Mid Term elections are upon us I can honestly state that I am somewhat ambivalent regarding the outcome. I’m pretty sure that the Democrats are going to claim the majority in the House and maybe the Republicans will hold onto the Senate. But to what end. The fighting will go on and probably nothing will get done. The Republicans have no one to blame but themselves for losing the House majority. Where was their leadership and don’t point fingers at the President? His leadership roles could be questioned but the big issue is that leader Ryan, although I like him was no leader as well as so many Republican Congressmen and women deciding to retire at such an important time and therefore not supporting their President.

The Democrats have disgusted me with their horrible behavior and attacks and playing the blame game Their leadership just sickens me during these last 2 years and them look who we have to run for the Presidency, again members who truly have made things worse, not better and not even trying to negotiate, be civil and spouting lies and attacks. As I said both parties have sunken to new lows in their behavior. I wish that we did have a significant Third Party for whom I would vote for. Again it holds your nose and vote.

Our friend, Joyce Frieden the News Editor of MedPage reported that Healthcare is expected to be a major issue in the November election — not just in Congress but also in the states. With that in mind, MedPage Today is profiling several candidates for statewide office who are focusing on healthcare issues. In our third and final profile, we speak with Jon Santiago, MD (D), an emergency room physician who is running for the Massachusetts House of Representatives.

Jon Santiago, MD, saw it firsthand every day. “I work in an ER at Boston Medical Center and it’s a great job,” Santiago said in an interview with MedPage Today. “It’s a job I love in a hospital I’ve wanted to work at since I was a kid.”

Naturally, Santiago, a fourth-year emergency medicine resident, tackles difficult problems as an emergency physician — including gunshot wounds, strokes, and heart attacks. “I live for those exciting moments, but you begin to realize that working in an ER, you’re taking care of a lot of social issues — poverty, racism, sexism, and lack of economic opportunity or housing — that ultimately manifest in some kind of medical condition, and that’s when we treat them.”

“We’ll literally or figuratively put a Band-Aid on them … but it’s not until we solve the social determinants of health that we begin to [really] solve their problem,” he continued. “That’s why I decided to run for office.”

Opioid ‘Ground Zero’

As a public hospital, Boston Medical Center is “ground zero” for the opioid epidemic, both in the city and the state, Santiago said. He cited the example of Long Island, an island near Boston that houses a number of homeless shelters and recovery services. “There was a bridge to an island near Boston that overnight had to be shut down because it was dangerous, so in a matter of days, we had to move about 400 people into the [South End] neighborhood, many of whom were homeless and had substance use disorder. It really changed the community.”

In addition, for those people that had to be moved, “their continuity of care stopped, and as a result, people died … My run for office is really for these patients I take care of who need the help, but also for significant quality-of-life issues in the community.”

Santiago noted that with its many world-class healthcare facilities, Boston is considered the “healthcare capital of the state, if not the country and the world.” But the state also has its own healthcare challenges — Massachusetts’ Medicaid program, known as MassHealth, takes up 40% of the state budget. “And Massachusetts likes to pride itself that we were the first to pass health care reform, providing universal coverage, but that doesn’t mean healthcare is affordable or accessible.”

For example, “MassHealth doesn’t cover everything; there is always talk of cutting certain services,” said Santiago. “Just this past year, the governor threatened to knock out about 140,000 people from MassHealth to save money.”

Technically, the coverage rate in the state is 97%, but “the question is, if you look at what people pay for the administration of private healthcare, the costs are significantly more than a public provider would have,” he said, noting that Medicare’s administrative cost is about 10%. “Other developed countries are able to provide more cost-effective healthcare with … better outcomes.”

Santiago supports single-payer universal health care coverage for all state residents through a “Medicare for all” system. The first step toward that goal, he said, would be to study single-payer and compare the current system to what single-payer would look like “and if it would save money, I would pursue that because what we have is not really sustainable.”

An Unlikely Winner

Santiago was an unlikely winner in the Democratic primary race in his district. “I beat a 36-year incumbent who was the majority leader, the fourth highest-ranking person in the state,” he said. “What people were looking for [was] people to provide political leadership on issues that matter, and when it comes to the opioid epidemic, people were looking for solutions.” Santiago attributes his victory to a very grassroots strategy. “I personally knocked on 8,000 doors; we knocked on every door in the district. If you talk to people and listen to them, you’re better able to serve their needs.”

“The person representing this district — the center of the epidemic — should be a leader on this issue,” he continued. “Massachusetts Avenue they call the ‘Methadone Mile’ here; I live close to that. The Boston Medical Center emergency department is located there, and as an emergency department provider, it gives me initial insight into what is going on, on the ground.”

He gave an example of how, 3 years ago, his experience helped him change the law. “In my first year as a doctor, with the prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP), if someone comes in with back pain, you check to see whether they have previously been given an opioid prescription — if they have, it’s a red flag. I tried to look [at the PDMP] during my first year as a doctor, and I couldn’t access the website. I turned to my attending and he said, ‘Only attendings can.'”

But since the residents do much of the work at the hospital, “I said, ‘This doesn’t make sense,'” said Santiago. “I got the doctors together and we started a petition to provide access [to the PDMP] to the residents who do all the work. I got the petition started, met with the Boston Globe, and they covered it; we met with the governor’s staff and they changed the law overnight. Within a week or so, residents across the state were able to access the PDMP.”

Post-Election Plans

If Santiago wins the election, “my plan is to continue working as an ER doctor because I think one job really informs the other,” he said. “One job really keeps you close to the community and the issues neighbors face day in and day out, and working as a state representative addresses those issues in the policy arena.” A total of 14 8-hour shifts per month are considered full-time; Santiago said he planned to work one to two shifts a week during the legislative session, “and I’d be the only physician [legislator] in the capital as well.”

Public service is nothing new to Santiago, who served as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Dominican Republic and is currently a captain in the Army Reserve. “I graduated from college and wanted to join the military, but I was not enthusiastic about the Iraq War,” he explained. “I wanted to serve my country, so I joined the Peace Corps … I told myself that if I became a doctor I would join the Army Reserve so I could serve in that capacity.” The reserves are pretty flexible since they only require one weekend a month and 2 weeks a year, and if you do deploy it’s only for 3 months, he added. “But they’re very flexible with you if you’re a doctor.”

In Trump midterms, one GOP congressman bets re-election on healthcare

Reporter Susannah Luthi noted that Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.), in the final sprint for his congressional life, wants to talk about Medicare red tape. The message is a big deal in his hospital-dominated district that headquarters the state’s largest system, Advocate Health Care. His health subcommittee chairmanship for the powerful House Ways and Means Committee positions him to push measures that resonate when hospitals attribute 25% of their spending, or about $200 billion per year, to paperwork.

But while policy specifics may matter for his committee work and for the business of healthcare, analysts are skeptical they can prevail over the “Trump effect”—widespread rejection of the president by moderate suburban Republicans, which makes elections in places like the Illinois 6th District a national more than a local referendum.

Roskam now lags in the polls behind his Democratic challenger Sean Casten, a clean energy entrepreneur who has harnessed local opposition to President Donald Trump to pull ahead of a six-term congressman of a district that was designed as a GOP stronghold.

Questioning the 80/20 rule for healthcare

The 80/20 rule in health care underlies much of the common thinking about population health. Many value-based strategies about health care costs or utilization use this rule to describe the distribution of health care spending. Is the 80/20 rule accurate today? We analyzed recent data to find out.

He’s also struggling to make another national healthcare message local.

The term “pre-existing conditions” is headlining the cycle. The tagline has become particularly effective in light of the GOP state attorneys general lawsuit to strike down the Affordable Care Act. The Trump administration sided with the lawsuit, specifically asking the courts to overturn the provisions around community rating and other cover requirements that prohibit insurers from charging more for people with expensive, pre-existing conditions.

Roskam voted with most of his party for the GOP effort to repeal and replace the ACA, and Casten has been pounding him for it.

But on a rainy Friday in early October, as he toggled between campaign events and representational duties that involved a deep dive into CMS pay rules for disabled adults in the community, Roskam stuck with his policy line. He said this still matters in what he described as his “solution-oriented” district.

“My observation is that if the ACA were doing what it’s purported to do, the district wouldn’t be restless and they’d be quick to turn the page,” Roskam said. “But they are restless and there is a sense of vulnerability that’s out there and it’s largely financial.”

Then he pivoted to what he has been working on as a congressman: the Medicare Red Tape Relief project that culminated in a report late this summer, which he believes is more relevant for bringing costs down.

“The country feels stuck in a debate [over Obamacare] and it’s ready to get out of the ditch of the debate,” Roskam said. “It’s well litigated where both sides are on the ACA. And these continuous declarations—most people don’t find a level of connection. Which is why the red-tape relief effort resonates. ‘Yes, I get that, my doctor is looking at a screen half the time he’s with me. That’s not the way it used to be.'”

But that’s not the focus in this race. After millions of dollars in advertising from both sides, Roskam is trailing by five points in the latest FiveThirtyEight poll. The nonpartisan Cook Political Report rates the race as “lean Democratic” as Casten pummels Roskam’s record of voting 94% of the time for Trump’s agenda.

The flip is emblematic of what’s happening in moderate suburbs that voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, said David Wasserman, House editor of Cook Political Report. That’s when Roskam cruised to a double-digit victory even though Clinton beat Trump by seven points in his district.

Casten, whose core issue is climate change, wasn’t necessarily the strongest Democratic candidate for the district, Wasserman added. He wasn’t the favorite in his primary and even Democratic strategists complain about his bombastic style. But none of this may matter.

“Roskam has failed to make the race a referendum on Casten, and it’s become about Trump and Roskam,” Wasserman said.

In Roskam’s case, there are also state-based headwinds: a deeply unpopular GOP governor who is motivating Democratic voters in the state, and a GOP president who is unpopular in a prosperous GOP district.

“If Peter wins, it’s because people are willing to look at him as someone who is independent of Trump and has been a good representative of the district,” a longtime GOP Illinois strategist said.

At a Casten sit-down with local members of the Illinois Alliance for Retired Americans as the group endorsed him, the dissatisfaction with healthcare played out in condemnations of Roskam’s 2017 vote to repeal the ACA. They talked about denials of care by insurers through pre-authorizations they didn’t understand, their fears about the future of coverage for pre-existing conditions, and Medicare’s solvency.

Kim Johnson, a retired state worker who is taking care of two of her grandchildren, said that one granddaughter was born with a heart condition and blasted Roskam for his 2017 vote saying that if he “had his way, she’ll have no insurance.”

But the status quo is also not enough, Johnson added, noting that she wants to see “universal healthcare.”

“I just want to see something,” she said. “I want to see something improve. We are a much better country than what our benefits are.”

Casten reiterated his support for the ACA and said he wants to look at a public option through an expansion of Medicare or Medicaid or both.

But he has steered clear of the more progressive Democratic positions. He criticized the Medicare for All proposal of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) as “irresponsible” and said it made him nervous. At the table of retirees, Casten also defended the for-profit nature of the U.S. system, which he said drives the right incentives for efficiency.

He has also drawn a hard line about what he thinks about Republicans, and about working with them. “On almost everything we are arguing about, there are no areas for compromise,” specifically on the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, climate change and voting rights, Casten told a group of nursing home residents in one event.

Roskam recently ranked as the 25th most bipartisan House member out of 435 lawmakers, is banking on his district rejecting that approach. Issues like Medicare fraud and Medicare solvency matter, he said, but big policy pushes need buy-in from both Democrats and Republicans and work needs to be incremental.

Roskam has blasted Casten’s campaign speech—and his active Twitter feed—as Trump-like. But in the last stretch of the race, the rhetoric has intensified, thanks to the millions of dollars raised for ads that are barraging the district and even its surrounding counties. Campaign signs blanket lawns and the roads connecting this leafy, prosperous district.

James, a nursing home resident who had attended Casten’s event there and who declined to give his last name, said that what he will be watching for this election is what it will say about voters’ views of Trump.

“Are people catching on with what Trump is doing?” James said. “Everybody’s got a right to vote—that’s a good thing and a bad thing. Hopefully, people will catch on to what’s going on.”

Healthcare and the midterms: I’ve got you covered

Healthcare is top of mind for many 2018 midterm voters. As they select state and federal representatives, many ballots also include measures for Medicaid expansion, provider pay and other key healthcare issues. Federal policy on the future of the Affordable Care Act, drug prices and immigration reform will also affect the healthcare industry. I thought that I would use this article to summarize the MidTerm issues.

Modern Healthcare has been tracking how policy changes and discussion could affect the midterm elections. A change in House or Senate party control or governors’ races can tilt the scale on many hotly contested healthcare issues. Here we’ve rounded up our coverage on the upcoming midterm election.

Midterm elections 2018 at a glance

2018 elections: The future of healthcare could be purple: In the lead-up to the midterms, Democrats appear poised for gains in Republican-controlled legislatures and governor’s mansions, which could push the states to make the healthcare compromises that Washington can’t.

In Trump midterms, one GOP congressman bets re-election on healthcare: In an intense congressional race in the Chicago suburbs, hospital ally Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) is running on an anti-regulatory healthcare message. But in a referendum election about Trump, how will that play?

The 115th Congress on the State of Healthcare: Modern Healthcare’s 115th Congress on the State of Healthcare is a featured collection of commentaries from lawmakers and healthcare organization leaders. Included in this collection of Congressional commentaries are six editorials from U.S. Senators and eight House Representatives across both party lines.

Data Points: Healthcare tops the polls as midterms loom: The all-important 2018 midterm elections are less than two months away. As special elections and primaries, this summer has proven, healthcare continues to be a hot-button issue.

Editorial: Healthcare PACs voting for incumbent protection: Many Democratic congressional hopefuls are making healthcare their top talking point for the upcoming midterm elections, which is not surprising given the low unemployment rate. The early donations from political action groups lean toward the incumbents.

House Speaker Ryan to retire with a mixed legacy on health policy: House Speaker Paul Ryan’s upcoming retirement from Congress after leading the GOP’s charge to repeal the Affordable Care Act leaves his party in a challenging place on health care messaging ahead of the 2018 midterm elections.

Status of Medicaid expansion states and work requirements

Bullish post-election Medicaid expansion outlook may not match end result: Although a new report predicts 2.7 million people in nine states could soon become eligible for Medicaid, expansion could look very different state by state.

Medicaid expansion on the prairie: Nebraska’s ballot initiative heads to the polls: Four years into Obamacare, the majority of Nebraska voters support Medicaid expansion, a key measure on their midterm ballot. But even pro-expansion hospitals are taking a cautious view of how much it will impact the rural bottom line.

Verma touts Medicaid work requirement successes, despite coverage loss: CMS Administrator Seema Verma insisted that Medicaid work requirements are working as intended to move people out of poverty, despite criticism that they’re doing more harm than good.

Medicaid blues: Hospitals, insurers wage a political battle over managed-care dollars: Medicaid, the 50-year-old federal-state health coverage plan for the poor, has devolved into a political inter-industry feud in the impoverished Mississippi Delta. What does the fight foretell about the Medicaid industry and how it treats the nation’s poorest?

Could deep-red Miss. expand Medicaid? 2019 will tell: A Mississippi state senator has introduced a bill to expand Medicaid every year since Obamacare went into effect, but so far it’s been off the table. The 2019 governor’s race could change the picture.

Close governor races could decide future of Medicaid: Advocates say the single biggest factor in expanding Medicaid in balky states has been the election of a governor who supports it.

Editorial: Want people off Medicaid? Give them more access to it: New research found those who gained coverage through Michigan’s Medicaid expansion faced fewer debt problems, fewer evictions, and bankruptcies, and saw their credit scores rise just years after enrolling for coverage.

Wisconsin can impose Medicaid work requirements, time limits, but not drug testing: The CMS on Wednesday gave Wisconsin permission to impose work requirements on beneficiaries. It’s the first state to receive a green light for the policy without expanding Medicaid. The agency rejected the state’s mandatory drug testing proposal.

Tennessee joins push for Medicaid work requirements: Tennessee is the fourth state this month to introduce a work requirement proposal for its Medicaid enrollees. Officials there believe it has a better chance of CMS approval than other non-expansion states due to its coverage policies for adults.

House Democrats press HHS for Medicaid work requirement records: Two top Democrats on the House Oversight Committee want to subpoena the Trump administration’s documents around its Medicaid work requirement policy. HHS officials haven’t responded to their previous requests for information.

Healthcare reform issues

Senate Dems fail to block Trump’s policy on short-term health insurance: Wisconsin Democrat Sen. Tammy Baldwin’s forced vote to overturn the Trump administration’s plan for short-term health insurance failed in a tie, although the Democrats gained one Republican ally.

Senate Republicans in talks with Verma to expedite states’ 1332 waivers: The Senate’s two top GOP proponents for individual market exchange stabilization measures are in talks with CMS Administrator Seema Verma about making 1332 state innovation waivers easier to obtain.

Affordable Care Act:

Editorial: The midterm elections will decide the fate of the ACA: If the GOP maintains control of the entire government, the nation’s health insurance marketplace would look a lot like the one that existed before passage of the Affordable Care Act.

Judge skeptical of ACA’s standing without effective individual mandate penalty: In a U.S. district court Wednesday, a federal judge had hard questions for Democratic state attorneys general who argued that the ACA can stand even with a zeroed-out tax penalty.

ACA court case causing jitters in D.C. and beyond: A lawsuit aiming to overturn the Affordable Care Act goes before a conservative Texas judge Sept. 5. The health insurance industry and GOP lawmakers are bracing for the potential fallout.

Uncertainty could spook insurance markets as DOJ decides not to defend ACA: The Department of Justice has asked a federal court to invalidate three key Obamacare coverage mandates, siding with a red state lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act and spurring new uncertainty for the 2019 individual market.

Republicans weigh electoral calculus on reviving ACA repeal push: Both Republican and Democratic political observers see a narrow possibility for yet another Obamacare repeal drive this year, given intense pressure from conservatives and the urgent GOP need to fire up right-wing voters to maintain their control of Congress in this fall’s elections.

Pre-existing conditions:

Pre-existing conditions drive state attorney general campaigns: Democratic candidates in state attorney general races have leveraged their party’s national campaign strategy around coverage of pre-existing conditions. They’re trying to beat Republican incumbents who are suing to end Obamacare.

Will Republicans keep their new promises on pre-existing condition protections?: Despite congressional GOP candidates’ promises, health policy analysts doubt whether victorious Republicans would move to replace those ACA protections with equally strong measures to cover people with health conditions as part of repeal legislation.

Tight Iowa congressional races key on pre-existing condition protections: The battle over pre-existing condition protections has become particularly heated in two toss-up House races in Iowa, even as unregulated Farm Bureau health plans that can use medical underwriting will go on sale Nov. 1.

GOP senators propose new protections for challenged ACA provisions: As the country heads toward midterm elections and red states look to overturn Obamacare in the courts, Republican senators have introduced a bill to preserve some of the law’s most popular provisions.

Medicare for all:

Verma argues ‘Medicare for all’ would cause physician shortage: In a speech to insurers, CMS Administrator Seema Verma claimed patients would struggle to find a doctor if the U.S. implements “Medicare for all.”

‘Medicare for all’ proves to be a tricky issue for Democrats: Progressive Democrats want to wrestle “Medicare for all” into their party’s platform. But Democratic strategists and the results of recent primaries say the country isn’t ready for it yet.

Drug prices in America

Editorial: Drug price controls? A good idea, but don’t bet on it: Once the heat of the campaign dissipates, a majority in both parties will remain susceptible to their main argument that high prices are necessary to promote innovation.

The fate of Trump’s Part B drug cost plan may depend on the Dems winning House: Trump’s Medicare Part B drug cost plan could move forward, particularly if Democrats win control of the House.

New CMS pay model targets soaring drug prices: The Trump administration’s first mandatory CMS pay model is projected to save taxpayers and patients $17.2 billion over five years by shifting Medicare Part B drugs to price levels more closely aligned with what other countries pay.

340B showdown: Big pharma, hospitals squaring off in lobbying fight: Hospitals have adopted a take-no-prisoners approach in the fight with Big Pharma over the 340B drug discount program. Can this strategy hold as Congress, oversight agencies, the courts and the Trump administration ratchet up scrutiny of the program?

Midterms 2018 ballot measures

Editorial: Medicaid expansion, dialysis, staffing ratios get grassroots push: Grassroots activism is behind both good and bad trends in policy. Consumer coalitions are behind Medicaid expansion ballot measures in several states, while other coalitions are pinpointing dialysis policy and staffing ratios.

Nurse-to-patient staffing ratios in Massachusetts

Mandated nurse-to-patient ratios spark high costs, few savings: Massachusetts voters in November will determine whether mandated staffing ratios for registered nurses will go into effect Jan. 1. Implementing the ratios could cost providers $676 million to $949 million per year.

Data Points: A state-by-state look at nurse-to-patient staffing ratios: As nurse-to-patient ratios are debated on both coasts, projections show a few states may not be able to meet future demand for registered nurses.

Dialysis ballot measure in California:

Dialysis Cos. dole out more than $100M to beat Calif. ballot measure: With just a few weeks to go until November’s elections, the dialysis industry has raised more than $105 million to defeat a ballot measure that would cap their profits at 15% of direct patient-care costs.

Calif. governor vetoes dialysis reimbursement cap: Dialysis giants DaVita and Fresenius won a major victory in California as Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a bill that would have slashed and capped their reimbursement rates.

Impact of immigration on healthcare

Children’s hospitals bear the largest brunt of Trump immigration crackdown: Children’s hospitals could see their revenue dip if increased anti-immigration sentiment from the Trump administration causes an exodus from Medicaid. Chronically ill children on Medicaid primarily go to these facilities for their hospital stays.

Clinics catering to immigrants take a hit from White House policy: Healthcare providers who care for refugees are faced with the financial strain of having fewer new patients as a result of the Trump administration’s limits on immigration.

Healthcare groups blast proposed rule penalizing immigrants for using public benefits: The Department of Homeland Security published a proposed rule that would allow immigration officials to consider legal immigrants’ use of public health insurance, nutrition and other programs as a strongly negative factor when applying for legal permanent residency.

Immigrant detention crisis could yield a profit for some providers and payers: The influx of immigrant children under HHS’ care translates into big contracts for providers charged with the children’s medical treatment.

Trump’s immigrant healthcare rule could hurt low-income populations: The Trump administration reportedly is nearing completion of a new immigration rule that health care providers and plans fear will harm public health and their ability to serve millions of low-income children and families.

What do U.S. immigration policies mean for the healthcare workforce?:

There’s been a drop in the number of foreign-born medical graduates applying for residencies in the U.S. at the same time that the country struggles with physician staffing shortages. Industry stakeholders worry the decline comes from recent efforts to stem immigration.

So, everybody hold your noses, do your research and VOTE! We’ll see what happens Tuesday!