Health

Kentucky House Speaker Greg Stumbo says that mustering legislative support for a bill that would ban smoking in private businesses and public areas is “an uphill battle.”

Stumbo says that the bill, sponsored by Rep. Susan Westrom, has only a handful of Republican  votes and about 30 Democratic votes.

He says despite his support, some lawmakers are apprehensive about the ban.

“The people in Prestonsburg already have it, for example. If I vote for it, the people out in the county, who might object to it, didn’t get that same local option treatment that the city people, that the folks in the city did. And we’re running into a lot of that.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Steve Beshear confirmed that he is working to persuade lawmakers individually to drum up support for the bill, which has languished in the House for nearly three weeks without a vote.

Over 30 localities across the state currently prohibit smoking in public areas and in some private businesses.

Gov. Steve Beshear has announced a new initiative aimed at improving Kentucky’s health outcomes over the next five years.

‘KyHealthNow’ (Kentucky Health Now) will seek to improve Kentuckians’ health in the areas of smoking, obesity, cancer, heart disease and more by 10 percent.

Beshear says the initiative will piggyback off of the success of the state’s implementation of the federal Affordable Care Act, which has enrolled over 240,000 people across the commonwealth.

“We want to reduce Kentucky’s rate of uninsured individuals to less than five percent," the Governor said Thursday. "The link between access to affordable health care and good health is clear, it’s direct, it’s indisputable.”

Beshear says  the initiative will  coordinate executive and legislative actions, as well as public private partnerships.

Kentucky ranks among the worst states for rates of smoking, cancer deaths and heart attacks.

A new Bluegrass Poll shows a majority of Kentuckians are in favor of legalizing medical marijuana.

According to the poll, 52 percent of those surveyed favor legalizing medical marijuana in the commonwealth, while 37 percent are opposed.

It’s the second year in a row a Bluegrass Poll has shown strong support for legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes. Last year’s poll asked Kentuckians if they supported “prescribed” medical marijuana, and 60 percent responded favorably. This year’s poll dropped the word “prescribed.”

Medical marijuana proponents in Kentucky say the poll shows the effort is gaining momentum, though changes to state law seem unlikely during this year’s General Assembly.

The Bluegrass Poll was conducted January 30 through February 3 by SurveyUSA, and included the responses of 1,082 Kentuckians. It has a margin of error of plus-or-minus 3 percentage points.

The drug company Merck, maker of the NuvaRing contraceptive, says it will pay out $100 million to settle thousands of liability lawsuits from women who say they were harmed by using the product.

These women say that the birth control method put them at greater risk of life-threatening blood clots, and that they were not adequately warned of that risk.

Kentucky LRC

A bill that would permit Kentucky universities to study and develop treatments using cannabis oil has been filed in the state Senate.

Senate Bill 124 is an effort by Republican Sen. Julie Denton to one day permit doctors to prescribe the oil to treat certain neurological disorders, including epilepsy.

Denton says the anecdotal evidence of the drug’s positive effects on children suffering from chronic seizures are too great to ignore.

“So these are children who will either die because of their seizure disorder, or they will be so developmentally disabled that they will have no quality of life," the Louisville Republican said. "So this will allow our two research hospitals, U of L and UK, to use this as a treatment for patients of those two institutions, or through an FDA clinical trial.”

The primary ingredient in the oil is a compound called cannabidiol, and contains extremely low amounts of THC, the psychoactive ingredient of marijuana.

Denton says that by avoiding broader language to include medical marijuana, the proposal has a better chance of passing in her chamber.

Kentucky Hospital Settles Multi-Million Dollar Fraud Case

Jan 28, 2014

A southern Kentucky hospital will pay $16.5 million to the federal government to settle claims that it submitted false or fraudulent Medicare and Kentucky Medicaid claims for a variety of unnecessary heart procedures.

The agreement covers a period from Jan. 1, 2008 through Aug. 31, 2011 at St. Joseph Health System, which runs St. Joseph London Hospital.

Federal prosecutors say several doctors at the Laurel County facility placed unneeded coronary stents and pacemakers in patients and performed unnecessary  diagnostic catheterizations, then billed the federal programs.

Hospitals generally receive between $10,000 and $15,000 for medical procedures such as heart stents.

A spokesman for the University of Louisville Hospital, which runs St. Joseph, said a statement on the matter would be released later Tuesday.

U.S. Attorney Kerry Harvey said a related whistleblower lawsuit and a criminal investigation are continuing.

Jacinda Jones

At 170 pounds, Jacinda Jones is half the woman she used to be.

“I’d managed to get up to 350, actually I don’t know the exact weight because my scale would not measure my weight," said Jones.

Two years ago, this Bowling Green wife and mother was a size 28.  She lived on fast food and was an admitted couch potato.

“I ate out a lot and it would be a salad, bread, the entrée, and dessert.  It would be all of it," Jones confessed.  "When I got fast food, it would be chicken fingers and fries.  It was just a free for all.  There was no exercise.”

Jacinda had experienced weight problems since her youth, but her life changing moment came on an airplane in 2010.

“I had went to Vegas, and the seat belt buckle wouldn’t and I was too embarrassed to ask for the extender," she said.

Following the trip, she began thinking about gastric bypass surgery.

“My mom told me I needed to have the surgery, and I was so scared of surgery, I told her to give me one more shot to do this, and I told her if it fails this time, I will have the surgery," remarked Jones.

At 32 years old, Jacinda was obese and pre-diabetic. She had high blood pressure and no energy. 

“I also developed what’s called benign intracranial hypertension.  It’s where my body either doesn’t get rid of or makes too much spinal fluid because of my weight," she explained.  "It would give me headaches because I had too much pressure on my spine, and it also pushed on my optic nerves and I could have gone blind.  I went to an opthamologist and he said you’ve got to lose weight.”

And then she turned to an unexpected place: her job.  Jacinda works as a claims specialist for Progressive Insurance in the company’s Bowling Green office.  She began taking advantage of the company’s employee wellness program called Healthy U. 

Legislation being debated by the Tennessee General Assembly would allow non-medical personnel to give insulin injections to diabetic school children. 

The Tennessean newspaper reports the American Diabetes Association is lobbying state lawmakers for a measure that would allow teachers and coaches to administer the shots because not every school has a nurse. 

In some cases, parents have to leave work and go to their child’s school to give the medicine.  But the Tennessee Association of School Nurses cautions there is little room for error when giving insulin shots, and too much could send a child into a diabetic coma. 

Similar laws, allowing school employees other than nurses, have passed in other states.

Child-safety advocates are asking Kentucky lawmakers to strengthen the state’s booster seat law and bring it in line with national guidelines.

A 2008 law passed by state lawmakers requires that children be in a booster seat until they reach the age of 7 or a height of 50 inches. National standards go further, however, with the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration recommending that children be kept in booster seats until they reach the age of eight or a height of 57 inches.

The Herald-Leader reports that a bill filed in the General Assembly would bring the commonwealth in line with neighboring states. House bill 199 would require boosters  for children younger than nine who are 40 to 57 inches in height.

Advocates say the need for change is supported by research. A study done by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia found that using a booster seat for children ages 4 to 8 reduced the risk of injury during a car wreck by 59 percent.

Hard-to-fight infections are attracting the attention of Kentucky's lawmakers. 

A public health expert recently briefed lawmakers on the growing risk. Dr. Kevin Kavanagh with Kentucky based Health Watch USA says the increasing risk of contagions, such as potentially deadly staph infections and untreatable gastro-intestinal bacteria, justify tougher measures. 

Kavanagh says hospitals need to expand their use of antibiotic ointments and antiseptics.

“All hospitals can be doing it, either with surveillance and testing of individual patients or some hospitals may choose to use the universal decolonization or essentially just treating everybody as if they had MRSA,” said Kavanagh.

An annual statewide poll shows that one-quarter of Kentucky adults are without health insurance.

The Kentucky Health Issues Poll is funded by the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky. That group's President and CEO, Susan Zepeda, says an even higher number of adults in the commonwealth was without coverage for at least part of 2013.

"Three in ten Kentucky adults were uninsured at some point in the last 12 months, which really underscores the need for helping people get access to insurance," Dr. Zepeda told WKU Public Radio.

Zepeda says the recent poll is important because it sets a baseline for how many Kentuckians have health insurance, and from what sources, ahead of the broader impacts of the federal Affordable Care Act.

That baseline, Zepeda says, will help policy analysts determine how much effect the changes related to the ACA are having on individuals and states.

Several Democrats in the Kentucky House have filed a bill that would make it a felony for doctors not to consult with patients seeking abortions a day before the procedure.

The bill is one of many filed this year that would limit abortion access.

Derek Selznick, Reproductive Freedom Project Director of the ACLU of Kentucky, says this bill and others would most severely affect women outside of major cities.

“If a woman is from a rural part of the state, that means she’s gonna have to get a hotel. If she works an hourly job, she’s out two days’ wages. All of these are serious impediments that offer really no higher quality of care. All they do is put a higher burden on a woman seeking abortion.”

Selznick says the bill is cobbled together from Republican proposals in the Senate.

A new federal grant is designed to help Kentucky reduce the major risk factors leading to obesity and chronic disease.  

The goal of the five-year, $1.7 million Centers for Disease Control and Prevention grant is to promote improved physical activity and nutrition, reduce obesity, and prevent and control diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.

Kentucky could use the help. According to the 2012 edition of America’s Health Rankings from United Health Foundation, the commonwealth is at or near the bottom of nearly every major health indicator, ranking the 44th least healthy state overall.

Kentucky has the highest smoking rate in the U.S. and has the most preventable hospitalizations of any state in the country.

Kentucky Department for Public Health Commissioner Stephanie Mayfield says part of the grant focus will be on partnering with schools to help children make better health decisions.

Poll: Majority of Kentuckians Support Smoking Ban

Jan 2, 2014

A recent Kentucky Health Issues Poll shows that a majority of Kentuckians support a statewide smoking ban.  

The poll released Thursday from the non-profit Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky shows 65% of Kentucky adults favor a statewide smoke-free law.  The new numbers are up six points from last year, and 17 points from four years ago.

Opponents of the measure are concerned the law would infringe on the rights of private business owners.  Foundation President Susan Zepeda says the issue isn’t political and that a state ban on smoking in public areas wouldn’t end up hurting business owners.

“That question of a particular business that might not want to make the policy unilaterally, just as their own business, for fear that it would drive customers to the business down the street, but if the entire state had a smoke-free policy, it would level that playing field for all the businesses," suggests Zepeda.

Of  surrounding states, only Missouri and West Virginia have no ban in place, while Illinois, Tennessee, Indiana, Ohio, and Virginia have some form of statewide anti-smoking laws.

Democratic Representative Susan Westrom of Lexington says she will try for a third time to get a ban for Kentucky through the 2014 General Assembly session beginning this month.

The Kentucky Access program is closing to make way for the Affordable Care Act.

The 14-year-old program was created to provide affordable health coverage to high-risk Kentuckians. It's ending because of a provision in the ACA that requires insurers to provide coverage to those people  regardless of pre-existing conditions.

Louisville Rep. Steve Riggs sponsored legislation that created the program in 2000. He says Kentucky Access isn't needed now that the ACA is implemented.

“It’s redundant, yeah. Duplicative. So that’s why the Department of Insurance is phasing it out, because now you can get that same type of coverage with the ACA, with Kentucky KYnect, and in many cases I understand it’s less expensive."

Kentuckians who obtained insurance through the program will now have to sign up for coverage under the state’s health insurance exchange, KYnect, before April or they will face tax penalties.

At its peak, Kentucky Access enrolled about 4,800 people.

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