Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Feds give UK $19.8 million second-round grant to bring health research into communities in Kentucky and Central Appalachia

By Al Cross and Traci Thomas
Kentucky Health News

A four-year, $19.8 million research grant to the University of Kentucky will bring better health care for people in Kentucky and Central Appalachia, U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell said at Thursday's announcement of the grant. "It's great news for the entire commonwealth," said McConnell, the Senate majority leader.

The grant is the second multi-year award for UK's Center for Clinical and Translational Science, which was established with another grant in 2011 after years of effort. There are 64 such centers, funded by the National Institutes of Health, which McConnell lobbied for the money. The grants "support innovative solutions to improve the efficiency, quality, and impact of translating scientific discoveries into interventions or applications that improve the health of individuals and communities," a UK news release said.
L-R: CCTS Director Phillip Kern, grant-funded diabetes screener Brittany Martin, U.S. Rep.
Andy Barr, UK Health VP Michael Karpf, President Eli Capilouto, U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell,
UK Research VP Lisa Cassis, UK College of Medicine Dean Robert DiPaola. (UK photo)
Most but not all of the centers that applied for this round of funding received money, according to Dr. Phillip Kern, director of the center. UK President Eli Capilouto complimented Kern and others who worked on the application but said McConnell was "another reason we got across the finish line."

Capilouto said that the grant positions the university "to recruit the brightest scientific minds of our generation," but the heart of its impact is on communities. McConnell noted that Kentucky has the nation's highest rate of deaths from cancer, and Eastern Kentucky has many great health disparities. The UK center is the translational-science hub for Central Appalachia.

Kern cited several examples of useful research done under the previous grant, including a collaboration that found disruptive behavior and hearing loss among Appalachian children are related.

Brittany Martin, coordinator of the Big Sandy Diabetes Coalition, told how the center had helped her personally screen more than 800 people in five far-eastern counties. She is a graduate of the center's Community Leadership Institute of Kentucky, which provides research and training in health for community leaders.

Dr. Michael Karpf, UK's executive vice president for health affairs, said "Developing new treatments and diagnostics, and training top-notch physicians and researchers who can carry on the processes of discovery" will provide the most advanced care for Kentuckians. "Our focused efforts and investment in translational team science mean we have more clinical trials available to our patients, and we’re able to bring the best and most innovative science to their care," he said.

Part of UK's grant goes to Marshall University in Huntington, W.Va., for work in the Mountain State. Marshall is part of the Appalachian Translational Research Network founded by UK, along with West Virginia University in Morgantown, Ohio University in Athens, The Ohio State University in Columbus, the University of Cincinnati and East Tennessee State University in Johnson City.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Health commissioner leaves political correctness at the door, talks about getting governor to back anti-smoking measures

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

FRANKFORT, Ky. - State health officials didn't shy away from saying that smoking was one of Kentucky's top health issues at a recent meeting about population health, and Health Commissioner Hiram Polk went so far as to say they need to find a way to get Gov. Matt Bevin, who says smoking bans are a local issue, to adjust his policy.

Dr. Hiram Polk
"We've got to find some kind of landmark we can use there that would be acceptable to the governor and get through the legislature," Polk told the Friedell Committee for Health Oct. 25 in Frankfort.

Polk called smoking a "political issue" and said solutions include higher cigarette taxes and enforcement of smoke-free areas. He also said he has been talking to Ben Chandler, the new director of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, about ways to get the governor to adjust his stance on this issue.

"It is really rare for somebody in this position to say publicly that 'I want to try to change the governor's mind'," Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, publisher of Kentucky Health News and Friedell Committee member, told the group as he summarized the day. Cross said the 80-year-old Polk, a noted surgeon, is a "guy who speaks his mind."

Tim Feeley, deputy secretary of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, noted that Kentucky has some of the highest smoking rates in the nation, along with obesity, cancer and opioid abuse. He called for more smoking and nutrition education.

Drug issues

Polk said since taking office his "time has been overwhelmed with the issues of IV drug abuse." And that after attending many meetings on the topic, "There are no good ideas about what to do with drug addiction."

He said the cabinet is working on three opioid initiatives: one that centers around a "healthy living" early childhood educational program, which he hopes to have set up in at least five school districts by fall 2017; a program to increase access to medication-assisted treatments; and beginning this week, a program involving the state's mobile pharmacy, which will travel around the state upon invitation and share educational literature, pass out free Narcan (naloxone), accept outdated drugs and operate a one-for-one syringe exchange.

There was some question about the state's requirement that syringe exchanges be one for one. Feeley said, "As of right now, Governor Bevin has endorsed the needle exchange on a local-option basis. He has also stated that he is in favor of a one-for-one needle exchange. . . . We want to do a needle exchange that encourages the individuals to come in and to get into treatment. . . . Some of the thought is that a one-to-one exchange is the best way to do that."

Cross said the administration's stance seems to be that only exchanges funded by state grants will have to be a one-for-one exchange. He said this strategy might work to appease the legislators who don't understand that this is a public health program designed to prevent the spread of HIV and hepatitis C. "We'll find out during the General Assembly," he said.

Polk also pointed out the increased health disparities among the state's African American population and those living in the Appalachian region, though he emphasized the problems in Appalachia.

"The situation in Appalachia is just appalling," he said. "I think again, Appalachia is more discriminated against than African Americans. If you look at anything. It needs the most help for everything."

Cross said that while Polk "is not politically correct," this is "largely a good thing" because public officials often "don't say what they believe to be fact and try to avoid confrontation. Hiram Polk is not conflict-averse, and we should be thankful for that."

And as for finding health solutions, Polk boldly reminded those in the room that many health decisions are selfishly motivated.

"We've got conflicting and selfish interests of people all over health care, many of which are represented in this room," he said. The perfect example of this, he said, is the pharmaceutical industry, which successfully lobbied to protect its "massive profits" under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. He also said that the "larcenous nature" of this industry is sure to demand "$1,000 for every single treatment" of the newly developed medication assisted treatment drugs, which the state hopes to promote.

Cross said drug makers argue that their profits finance cutting-edge drug research, but also comprise a powerful lobby that knows how to influence the political system. He said the Kentucky Farm Bureau Federation is likewise a powerful lobby, "which I believe is the primary device by which Kentucky's tobacco heritage remains in control of tobacco policy in this state. . . . If you can change Farm Bureau, you can change the game."

Medicaid boss speaks

Medicaid Commissioner Steve Miller briefly reviewed the governor's proposals for the program and said the cost of the current plan is not sustainable. He said the plan "may not be all the answers . . . [but] what we have been doing, and the way we have been doing it, needs to change." After the meeting, Miller told Cross that state and federal officials have entered into negotiations about it.

Miller told the committee his agency is working to hold Medicaid managed-care organizations accountable to their contracts, but said they haven't changed their behaviors.

Providers still struggle with MCOs paying them on a timely basis, if at all. They also struggle with the administrative burden of dealing with five different MCOs. Scott Lockard, public health director in Clark County, asked if the state had considered contracting with only one MCO. Miller said the state wasn't ready to go that far, but averred, "We don't need to have five. I think we need to have more than two."

Raynor Mullins, professor emeritus at the University of Kentucky College of Dentistry, said it is clearly understood that Kentucky's financial woes are "substantial" and  asked, "When are we going to get serious and start to talk about tax reform?"

Miller said he would leave tax policy to others, but added, "The revenue stream as it exist today is not adequate enough to cover the Medicaid expenditures and other things that need to be done. . . . It is not sustainable as we are doing it today."

Monday, October 24, 2016

DEA investigators say officials purposely hampered attempts to slow rise of opioids, doing the bidding of drug manufacturers

Drug ­Enforcement Administration investigators say attempts to staunch the rise of opioids were derailed by interference from higher ups, Lenny Bernstein and Scott Higham report for The Washington Post. Ten years ago, DEA "began to target wholesale companies that distributed hundreds of millions of highly addictive pills to the corrupt pharmacies and pill mills that illegally sold the drugs for street use," but the industry fought back, and administrators caved to industry pressure, the Post reports. (Post graphic: Opioid cases pursued by DEA)
"Former DEA and Justice Department officials hired by drug companies began pressing for a softer approach," Bernstein and Higham write. "In early 2012, the deputy attorney general summoned the DEA’s diversion chief to an unusual meeting over a case against two major drug companies." Joseph T. Rannazzisi, who ran the diversion office for a decade before he was removed from his position and retired in 2015, told the Post, “That meeting was to chastise me for going after industry, and that’s all that meeting was about.”

Rannazzisi vowed to continue the campaign, Bernstein and Higham write. "But soon officials at DEA headquarters began delaying and blocking enforcement actions, and the number of cases plummeted, according to on-the-record interviews with five former agency supervisors and internal records obtained by The Post."

The number of DEA civil-case filings against distributors, manufacturers, pharmacies and doctors dropped from 131 in fiscal year 2011 to 40 in fiscal year 2014, Bernstein and Higham write. During the same time period, the immediate suspension orders, the DEA’s strongest weapon of enforcement, dropped from 65 to nine. "The slowdown began in 2013 after DEA lawyers started requiring a higher standard of proof before cases could move forward."

"Several DEA officials on the front lines of the opioid war said they could not persuade headquarters to approve their cases at the peak of the epidemic," Bernstein and Higham write. "They said they confronted Clifford Lee Reeves II, a lawyer in charge of approving their cases, to no avail." Jim Geldhof, who was the diversion program manager in the Detroit field office when Reeves took over at DEA headquarters in 2012, told the Post, “It was like he was on their side, not ours. I don’t know what his motive was, but we had people dying. We were in the throes of a major pill epidemic.” (Read more)

Kentucky behavioral health specialist says the state has been 'epicenter' of the nation's addiction epidemic for almost 20 years

Though the United States' addiction problem and overdose deaths has sparked national attention, the epidemic in Kentucky dates back to the late 1990s. Geoff Wilson, a Lexington-based substance abuse counselor, said the No. 1 place to get a prescribed narcotic in the United States between 1998 and 2001 was Martin and Lawrence counties, followed by Pike County and Johnson County. "We've been the epicenter of this catastrophe since 1997 and 1998," he said.

Wilson, a business development director at The Ridge Behavioral Health System in Lexington, made these remarks and more at the close of Baptist Health Paducah's 10th annual symposium on addiction and compulsive orders, Joshua Roberts reports for The Paducah Sun. The symposium saw its largest-ever crowd of 140 participants, most of them health-care professionals or educators. Nearly all said they had known a young adult between the ages of 18 and 30 who died from an overdose.

According to the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy, 1,248 people died of drug overdoses last year, up from 1,088 the year before. "We have more deaths by overdose than car wrecks," Wilson said.

"Kentucky's addiction problem -- and the recent spike in overdose fatalities -- has been compounded by the rise of the powerful painkiller fentanyl," Roberts writes. Fentanyl, which is anywhere from 10 to 100 times more potent than heroin, is a selling spot for drug dealers, Wilson told the audience.

"For the drug dealers out there, it kind of makes sense. If I get fentanyl . . . I mix it with heroin, I can spread out the heroin so much further, and I can sell it to a lot larger population," Wilson said.

"Prescribed opiates are nothing new," Roberts writes. "They've been around for decades, but use and abuse has expanded because 'Somewhere along the way our country decided you're just not supposed to experience pain anymore,' Wilson added. The U.S., he said, consumes 95 to 99 percent of the world's hydrocodone and 73 percent of the world's oxycodone. Fentanyl, he added, comes largely from Chinese manufacturers and moves through Mexico into the U.S."

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Kentuckians who qualify for tax-subsidized health plans will sign up on this year; open enrollment begins Nov. 1

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

Kentuckians who qualify for health plans subsidized by tax credits, called Qualified Health Plans, will sign up on instead of Kynect during the open enrollment that begins Nov. 1.

Some Kynect advocates have voiced concern that the changeover will be troublesome, but Cabinet for Health and Family Services spokesman Doug Hogan said in an e-mail, "We expect a smooth transition to People should be aware that Kynect is not health insurance, it is a website. This transition changes the web portal people use to enroll."

Hogan said the state has sent letters about the transition to Kentuckians who have previously applied or been enrolled in health coverage through Kynect, to guide them through the process. He said the state will continue to send informational postcards throughout open enrollment, which ends Jan. 31.

"Only about 2 percent of Kentucky’s population purchases a QHP in a given year, so targeting resources to this group and doing it in the final month leading up to open enrollment and continuing through open enrollment is the most effective use of resources," Hogan said.

Hogan said that starting Nov. 1, Kynect's website will offer detailed messages about the transition and directions on when and were to apply for coverage. The website also has messages for Kentucky residents.

Where to get answers to your questions

The Kynect call center (855-459-6328) will remain available to help tell Kentuckians where to go for coverage, answer questions, pre-screen for program eligibility, and assist with Medicaid applications. The customer service call center (800-318-2596) is also available to help and is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Hogan said insurers are also sending notices to their enrollees about the changes; insurance agents and application assisters have advertising tool kits for their outreach efforts; and agents and assisters have been given lists of their QHP enrollees. Also, social media campaigns, media advertising and other measures have different start times around the state in strategically placed target areas with the highest uninsured rates and QHP eligible populations, he said.

If you qualify for a QHP in 2017, which is a plan that offers a tax credit to help cover out-of-pocket costs, you must sign up for your health insurance through this year instead of Kynect, as you have in the past.

"Kentuckians can only get the tax credit, called APTC or Advanced Premium Tax Credit or a Cost Sharing Reduction that helps cover out-of-pocket costs, by enrolling through," Hogan said.

Open enrollment for these plans is Nov. 1 through Jan. 31, but to get coverage on Jan. 1, you must enroll by Dec. 15.

Why aren't there as many choices as last year?

In 59 of the state's 120 counties, residents will have only one health insurance option on the exchange. Anthem Health Plans of Kentucky is the only company offering coverage on the exchange in every county for 2017. CareSource will offer plans in 61 counties, up from 46 in 2016 and Humana Health Plan will offer exchange plans in nine counties, down from 15 in 2016.

Baptist Health Plan, United HealthCare, WellCare and Aetna, which offered plans on the exchange in 2016, will not in 2017. Most have cited unsustainable losses.

"People should know that this transition to did not affect plan choice," Hogan said. "All insurers made the same offerings regardless of the enrollment website we selected which is the same as in prior years."

Hogan added, "Cost increases were not driven by the transition to" He said premiums on exchange policies are increasing by more than 20 percent.

People whose current insurers are not offering a plan in 2017 on will be given more time to choose a plan for 2017 due to a "special enrollment period for loss of minimum essential coverage," Hogan said.

Do we still have Kynectors?

The state has extended contracts with the same organizations that provided Kynectors, which are now called "application assisters," Hogan said. Application assisters work with Kentuckians either in person or over the phone to answer questions or get assistance with the application and enrollment process.

"We are confident our assister agencies will have the ability to provide the same exceptional service," Hogan said. "Every county in Kentucky is served by a contracted organization for in person assistance. Kynectors have a very active outreach program that includes sign up events, advertising, and education opportunities. They will continue to be very active in the communities they serve."

You can find an Application assister in your area by using the "search" function on the Kynect website or by calling Kynect's customer service.

Many Kynectors are still in the process of being trained to help clients on the federal marketplace, so Hogan said there isn't a firm number of participating application assisters for 2017.

What about Medicaid?

The Medicaid program for low-income and disabled people, and its application process, will stay the same. It was moved from Kynect earlier this year.

Medicaid-eligible Kentuckians can apply anytime during the year through Benefind, a one-stop-shop website for public benefits. But if you are already enrolled, you don't need to do anything until your renewal or recertification date.

"If a citizen believes they may be eligible for Medicaid (any type), we would recommend that they apply through Benefind," Hogan said. "This would be the quickest route to receive Medicaid eligibility."

Benefind also has an anonymous pre-screening tool to assist in determining if you are eligible for Medicaid or a QHP.

Consumers may ask, "What happens if I apply for the wrong type of coverage?" Hogan answered, "Consumers cannot apply in the wrong way or place." He said if an application is started in Benefind, but the applicant is over the income limit, the application will be transferred to the federal marketplace and Benefind will send a notification letter to the participant indicating Medicaid eligibility was denied and that the client information was sent to

If a consumer submits an application to, it will be entered, but if the applicant is deemed Medicaid-eligible, the application will be transferred to the state for final eligibility determination. If the participant is determined eligible, Benefind will notify the participant. If more information is needed, Benefind will ask the participant for it, indicating the next steps to take.

Friday, October 21, 2016

UK center promotes at-home test for colorectal cancer, reports on efforts to get young women vaccinated for cervical cancer

More people in Appalachian Kentucky die from colorectal cancer than in any other region of the state. A screening project of the Rural Cancer Prevention Center at the University of Kentucky is working to decrease those rates.
Cancer Registry maps show in color Kentucky counties served by the Appalachian Regional Commission,
and rates for invasive cancer and cancer mortality in Appalachian Kentucky and the balance of the state.
In July 2014, the center received a $3.75 million, five-year grant renewal from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for a colorectal cancer at-home screening prevention project in Central Appalachia and other rural areas. The UK Center is one of 26 CDC-funded Prevention Research Centers in the country.

Tom Collins, associate director of the RCPC, gave an update on its project at a Center for Clinical and Translational Science clinical research update meeting at UK Oct.18. Robin Vanderpool, associate professor in the College of Public Health, discussed the results and successes of its completed cervical-cancer screening project.

Early screening and prevention are key to surviving colorectal cancer. The CDC says that most deaths caused by colorectal cancer could be prevented if everyone over the age of 50 got screened. And if detected early, treatment for colorectal cancer is highly effective.

In 2013, the last year for which data is available, Kentucky ranked first in colon cancer and fourth in colon-cancer deaths, according to the Colon Cancer Prevention Project.

The project's title and motto is "I did FIT." FIT stands for fecal immunochemical test, an at-home test that allows a person to collect a small stool sample in the privacy of their home and mail it in a provided kit to the lab for testing. The FIT test must be done every year.

Since June 2015, the UK center has distributed more than 700 kits, with a 60 percent return rate in the eight-county Kentucky River Health District. Those with a positive test result, about one in six, have been offered a colonoscopy with follow-up; the rest have been invited to be part of the research, which is ongoing.

To help determine the best way to get people to do a yearly test, researchers divided the volunteer participants into two groups: one that gets social media and personal messages about it along with the traditional standard of care and another that gets standard of care alone. A year and a half remains in this portion of the research.

Cervical cancer and the HPV vaccine

Collins said they are trying to build on the success of the UK Center's previous prevention program for cervical cancer prevention and screening, called "1-2-3 Pap."

Prevention Research Center graphic; click on it to view a larger version
This UK center study promoted the human papillomavirus vaccination to prevent cervical cancer in Appalachia, which also has a higher incidence and mortality rate for cervical cancer than the rest of the state.

The three-dose HPV vaccine was approved by the federal government 10 years ago and is recommended for all adolescent girls and boys 11 and 12 years old. It is approved for females between 9 and 26 and is nearly 100 percent effective in preventing pre-cancers and noninvasive cervical cancers caused by two strains of the virus.

Kentucky falls in the bottom 10 states for HPV vaccinations, with 37.5 percent of its girls and 13.3 percent of boys aged 13-17 vaccinated as of 2014.

An earlier study of adult Appalachian women aged 18-26 that were offered the first HPV vaccination free found that 45.1 percent got the first dose, 13.8 percent got the second dose and only 4.5 percent got all three doses. This and other formative research prompted the UK Center to start a two-stage HPV vaccine promotion program for women aged 19-26 in the Kentucky River Health District.

First, researchers launched a marketing campaign to recruit the women in for the first dose. Then, participants were asked to participate in the study, which was designed to promote adherence to doses two and three. The volunteer participants were randomly separated into two groups; one participated in an informational video-based intervention that was made using local people along with the traditional standard of care; the other was offered standard of care alone.

The study found that 43.3 percent of the young women who watched the DVD completed the three-dose HPV vaccine series, while 31.9 percent of the women in the comparison group completed the series.

Vanderpool said the "take-home message" was that women were two and one-half times more likely to complete the series if they watched the DVD.

Since the completion of the study, 18 Kentucky health departments now use the DVD to promote completion of the three-dose HPV series, and it has also been adapted for use in North Carolina and West Virginia.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth says Bevin's Medicaid plan won't be approved, should be withdrawn; Bevin aide says call is political

U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth
Democratic U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth of Louisville called on Republican Gov. Matt Bevin to withdraw his proposal to reshape Kentucky's Medicaid program at a news conference Oct. 18 in Frankfort, saying the proposal in its current form will be denied.

Yarmuth said it's clear the Department of Health and Human Services will reject the plan because the agency recently rejected similar changes proposed by other states, Deborah Yetter and Tom Loftus report for The Courier-Journal.

"There is no longer any argument about the outcome of your strategy," Yarmuth told Bevin in a letter. "It will fail."

Yarmuth noted that Ohio's plan was rejected for its premium charges without respect to income and because it would create a large loss of coverage and that parts of Arizona's plan were rejected because of its premium requirements for individuals living below the poverty line, work requirements and its six month lock-out period for non-payment of monthly premiums. He said all of these rejected provisions are in Bevin's plan.

The plan, submitted under a waiver from federal rules that allows demonstration waivers, focuses on "able-bodied adults" who qualify for Medicaid under the expansion of the program to those who earn up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level.

The changes are meant to increase participants engagement in their health care through things like monthly premiums of $1 to $37.50, requirements that those who aren't primary caregivers work or volunteer up to 20 hours a week to keep coverage and "lockouts" of coverage for some who fail to pay.

Yarmuth said federal officials have told him that they will not accept this plan, citing the recent rejections of similar proposals. "There's no chance they are going to approve this waiver," he said.

Bevin has said the state cannot afford to have 1.4 million people on Medicaid. Of those, 440,00 are covered through the expansion. The expanded population is paid in full by the federal government through this year. In 2017, the state will be responsible for 5 percent of the cost, rising in annual steps to the reform law's limit of 10 percent in 2020.

And though Bevin has said he is willing to negotiate, he has also said that he would end the expansion if the federal government does not approve his changes.

Yarmuth implored him not to do that. "We want to make sure that Kentuckians understand exactly what's at stake – 10 percent of the people of this commonwealth who now have coverage are going to lose it," Yarmuth said.

Bevin's press secretary, Amanda Stamper, said in a statement that federal officials have "full authority" to approve Kentucky's waiver and Yarmuth's news conference was politically motivated.

"While Congressman Yarmuth plays politics three weeks before an election, Gov. Bevin and his team have spent several months developing a transformative and financially sustainable Medicaid plan that will actually improve health outcomes for Kentuckians and encourage self-sufficiency," Stamper said. "Gov. Bevin remain committed to working with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services as long as it takes to transform Kentucky's Medicaid program to achieve these vital goals."

Yarmuth acknowledged that Bevin's actions represent what he promised during his election last year, but said he doubted voters believed he would do it, The Courier-Journal reports. A poll taken shortly after the election shows that most Kentuckians did not want the expansion scaled back.

Yarmuth also said if Bevin does make good on his promise to take away health coverage from 440,000 Kentuckians, he should "pay some political price. ... But that's not why we're here. We're here because our citizens will pay the price."

Cancer, and death from it, rose in rural Appalachia from 1969 to 2011; Appalachian Kentucky's cancer-death rate was 36% higher

Appalachian Regional Commission service area
From 1969 to 2011 the cancer death rate in rural Appalachia went from the nation's lowest to its highest, says a study at the University of Virginia researchers, published in the Journal of Rural Health. The study, which used data from 23,565 men and 37,847 women first studied in 1999, found that cancer mortality rates were higher in every rural Appalachian area—except in Maryland—than in urban areas.

From 1969 to 2011, "Cancer incidence declined in every region of the country except rural Appalachia, where it increased," Josh Barney reports for UVA Today. "In the rural Appalachian areas of Kentucky, mortality rates were 36 percent higher. People in Appalachia are more likely to die within three to five years of their cancer diagnoses than people in urban areas outside Appalachia."

One possibility for higher rural cancer death rates is a lack of screening, researchers said. Among people 50 or older living in Appalachia, 16.2 percent of rural residents received a fecal occult blood test in the past year, compared to 22 percent in urban areas. Also, 28.2 percent of rural residents had a colonoscopy in the past five years, compared to 35.2 percent in urban areas.

Researchers said other factors affecting rural areas include a lack of health care, transportation hurdles to seek care, higher poverty, smoking and obesity rates and a rural attitude of fiercely independent people who refuse to seek care.

Study: Ky. kids have more access to oral health care, but still have poor outcomes; 1/2 in Appalachia have untreated cavities

By Melissa Patrick and Traci Thomas
Kentucky Health News

The oral health of Kentucky's school children is getting worse, even though access to oral health care is better now than it was 15 years ago, says a study by Delta Dental of Kentucky and Kentucky Youth Advocates.

The report, "Making Smiles Happen: 2016 Oral Health Study of Kentucky's Youth," is the first oral health study of Kentucky's children since 2001, and was presented to Kentucky lawmakers Wednesday at the Oct. 19 Interim Joint Committee on Health and Welfare.

"What leaps out in the report are two big issues," said Dr. Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates. "One is the paradox that more kids have coverage and yet outcomes are worse and the second is that we have factors that kids can't control -- where they live, the color of their skin, how much money their parents make -- and those are real determinants on the state of kids mouths. None of those are easily solved, but they are challenges that we have to tackle."

Delta Dental of Kentucky and Kentucky Youth Advocates study.
(Lexington Herald-Leader map)
Researchers worked with the University of Louisville's School of Dentistry to analyze the mouths of 3rd and 6th graders across the state. The study also asked parents about family oral health history, resulting in the collection of data for over 2,000 students.

The report had four key findings.

First, it found that more 3rd and 6th graders are in need of early or urgent dental care since 2001, rising to 49 percent in 2016 from 32 percent in 2001. It noted that Hispanic or Latino students are "significantly less likely" to have dental insurance than their peers and that children who live in the Appalachian region have the greatest need for urgent dental care, 20 percent compared to 8 percent overall.

Another key finding was that two out of five 3rd and 6th graders have untreated cavities. This measure was also "significantly greater" in the Appalachian region, where more than half of the children in the study had untreated cavities.

"We know in a very pragmatic way that a person with a tooth-ache is probably not paying attention to their multiplication tables at school, so oral health is a significant issue for children in Kentucky," Brooks said.

And despite a 14 percent increase in the number of 3rd and 6th graders with dental sealants on at least one permanent molar between 2001 and 2016, more than 50 percent of the children in the study didn't have them. African-American children in the study were the most likely to not have any sealants.

It also found the 3rd and 6th graders eligible for free or reduced lunch (more than half of students in the study) were more likely to have recently experienced a toothache, have visited a dentist more than a year ago, have untreated decay or be in need of urgent dental care.

The report points out that "there was no significant differences in the presence of tooth decay by race/ethnicity, giving further evidence that socioeconomic status is in the strongest determinant of a child's oral health status."

Delta Dental President Clifford Maesaka said the report recommends the data be used to make a comprehensive statewide plan and that regional coalitions should be formed to find local solutions. The report also recommends school-based sealant programs, oral health literacy campaigns and points out that the state should continue to gather data.

"We need a plan," Maesaka said. "If we don't recognize the need for preventive and diagnostic care in our kids, we are probably not going to make it a priority." He added, "We need our parents, our school administrators, our legislators, everybody to recognize that the mouth is part of the body and things that go on in the mouth have an effect on the rest of the body and vice-versa." If the message can be conveyed, "We will have a better chance of succeeding."

Kentuckians can submit comments about Gov. Matt Bevin's Medicaid plan until federal officials render a final decision

The 30-day federal public comment period for Gov. Matt Bevin's new Medicaid plan ended Oct. 8, but the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says it will continue to accept comments until it renders a final decision.

"While our rules do not provide for formally extending the federal comment period, as a matter of practice CMS has generally reviewed and considered all public comments received prior to rendering a final decision," Eliot Fishman, director of the state demonstrations group at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, wrote in a letter dated Oct. 19 to Kentucky Insurance Commissioner Stephen P. Miller.

The changes in Bevin's proposed Medicaid plan largely target "able bodied adults" who qualify for Medicaid under the expansion of the program to those who earn up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. The governor's new plan is designed to encourage participants to have what he calls "skin in the game" through things like monthly premiums, health savings accounts and work and volunteer requirements for those who aren't primary caregivers. Critics of the plan say it is too complicated and creates barriers to health care.

Bevin has said the current Medicaid plan is unsustainable and that the new plan will save an estimated $2.2 billion over the five-year waiver period, of which the state portion would be $331 million. The federal government is paying the full cost of Medicaid expansion through this year; next year the state will start paying 5 percent, rising in annual steps to the law's limit of 10 percent in 2020.

Nearly 1,800 comments were submitted by the Oct. 8 deadline and the vast majority of them opposed it. The Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, after removing repeated comments under the same names and removing blank comments and those not related to the issue, counted 1,643 individual comments. Of those, they found 90.1 percent were "unfavorable," 8.4 percent were "favorable" and 1.5 percent were "mixed."

Fishman says it will take time to "carefully consider" the "large volume" of public comments. He also added that they are "prepared to continue our dialogue for as long as it takes to find a solution that continues progress for the people of Kentucky."

In a statement made in response to U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth's call for the governor to withdraw his proposal  since similar request from Arizona and Ohio were rejected, Bevin press secretary Amanda Stamper said that the governor was committed to work with the federal government "as long as it takes to transform Kentucky's Medicaid program to achieve these vital goals." Bevin has said that if his plan is not approved, he will not continue the expansion.

Click here to read the proposal. Click here to submit comments. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Pikeville Medical Center hires 3,000th employee

Pikeville Medical Center (Photo:
Pikeville Medical Center said it reached a milestone Monday when it welcomed its 3,000th employee: information systems project manager Judy Lawson.

The center is the region's largest employer and has added 930 jobs this year, according to a report in Pikeville's Appalachian News-Express.

The report cites a $48 million boon to the local economy from the employment boom.

"With coal jobs disappearing at an alarming rate, our region depends on PMC to contribute to our local economy," Juanita Deskins, chief operating officer, told the newspaper.

"We are seeing patients come from further distances than ever before," said President and CEO Walter E. May, who led the facility's transformation from Pikeville Methodist Hospital. "People in our region recognize that PMC is providing quality healthcare closer to home. We will continue increasing our number of employees to meet the demand for our services."

Monday, October 17, 2016

Paducah Sun editor calls for higher cigarette tax in Kentucky

The executive editor of a West Kentucky newspaper known for its conservative editorials is taking a stand against cigarette taxes, but not in the way you might expect.

In a Sunday column, Steve Wilson of The Paducah Sun lambasted the state's low cigarette tax of 60 cents per pack.

"The average tax in all states is now $1.65 a pack. The tax in neighboring Illinois is $1.98. New York has the nation's highest at $4.35," Wilson writes. "With a tax so much less, Kentucky is not doing right by its citizens in terms of revenue, public health and health-care costs."

Noting that Kentucky has the second-highest smoking rate in the country, 26.5 percent, Wilson suggests that a higher cigarette tax would generate greater revenue for the state and would spark a decline in smoking.

"If people have to pay more for cigarettes, they are less likely to buy them. That's especially true for younger smokers who have lower incomes and are less addicted. And when people smoke less, the benefits to their health and the state's health care costs are huge," he says.

Wilson cites research indicating that health-care costs directly related to smoking in Kentucky are nearly $2 billion a year. He says the state's annual Medicaid costs related to smoking are almost $600 million and paid by taxpayers.

The state set up a Blue Ribbon Commission on Tax Reform in 2012. It spent nearly a year evaluating Kentucky's tax policies and recommended a 40-cent raise, to $1 a pack, which would have brought the state an extra $120 million a year, but the General Assembly didn't bite. Wilson advocates passing that 40-cent increase now and committing a portion of the revenue to smoking-cessation programs.

"Given the staunch anti-tax attitude of the legislature and governor, an increase of any amount is a long shot in the next session," he writes. "It's so much easier for the lawmakers to do nothing and proudly say they stand firm against all tax increases. What they don't say is that such a low tax helps maintain a high rate of smoking, the nation's highest rate of smoking illness and ever-increasing medical bills pushed on the backs of taxpayers."